“ Address: Praia do Alvor / 8500-088 Alvor / Portugal „
When my Mother and I decided early in the year to book a holiday to Portugal for ourselves along with my six-year-old daughter, the choosing of the hotel was left mainly (absolutely) down to my Mum. Not only is she more experienced in visiting this part of the world having holidayed several times here in the last few years, she is far fussier than I when it comes to hotel standards and to ensure her approval it was easier to let her decide (if it went wrong, she would only have herself to blame!) The 4 star Pestana Dom Joao II in Alvor, Portugal appeared on both of the travel sites we had been browsing and as my Mum had stayed in this hotel previously and was impressed we decided this was the one we'd book for our week away in October 2011.
The Pestana Dom Joao II is part of Portuguese chain, Pestana with Hotels in Portugal, South America and Africa as well as one in Chelsea, London.
Situated 10 minutes walking distance from the beautiful fishing village of Alvor and right on the stunning beach, Praia de Alvor, claimed to be the most beautiful beach in the Algarve (and I can only agree) it's ideally placed and both are easily accessible.
The four star hotel has 247 rooms and 10 suites, as well as self-catering villa's. There are two salt water outdoor pools, one indoor pool, gym, sauna, salon, meeting rooms, restaurant and four bars. Activities such as diving, golfing, and kids clubs are available depending on season. We paid £850 through Easyjet for our party of three, which also included flights, transfers and luggage.
We arrived at the hotel at almost 10pm at night, in the pitch dark after a pretty long day. Our transfer bus basically ditched us on the side of the road and we had to lug our cases down several steps, through a car park and up more steps to the reception. I was feeling slightly disorientated having temporarily lost hearing in one ear from the flight and not being able to see anything at all other than the large hotel in front, so didn't get much of an impression at all from my first glimpse at the outside. However once entering the large hotel lobby I was instantly took aback by the sleek, modern and airy surroundings. It looked very sophisticated and I was impressed!
My Mum checked us in at reception within minutes by an efficient, if reserved, man and a porter was called to take our cases to our room on a trolley. As he came from just behind reception and had a clear view across the car park, it may have been nice if he'd come to greet us from the bus but otherwise he was polite and helpful. We were given two room cards, a pool towel collection card and advise on breakfast times. While I wouldn't say it was the warmest of welcomes, it was professional and polite.
We were shown to our room by the Porter, which was on the second floor and could be reached by either lift or stairs. After the first time, we used the stairs for the rest of our stay as the lift was always busy, being only two for the whole hotel. Again I was immediately impressed with the room, which was clean, stylish and airy. We'd booked a double room and the two beds were dressed in crisp white bedding, with a compact, but perfectly comfy sofa come bed for my daughter. The room was quite large with plenty of room to walk around and appeared even larger thanks to the large mirrored and glass panels. The décor was simple and inoffensive, having one wall in a cool and light blue wallpaper and the rest painted white and apart from a hideous painting facing the beds, tastefully atmospheric of the seaside and beach. There was more than enough storage space (and we had a lot of clothes!), which was also discreet and matched the tone of the room.
The room did have air conditioning which was switched on when we arrived but felt a little cool, so we turned it off and never bothered with again as despite the weather being in the high twenties/low thirties while we were there, the room was cool and comfortable without on a night. Two double doors led onto a small balcony with a table and two chairs and unfortunately as we hadn't paid for a sea view overlooked the car park. This wasn't a particularly scenic view to put it kindly, and it could be rather noisy with comings and goings while the doors where opened, though thankfully we didn't hear a thing when they were where closed. The hotel information pack specifically requested that you didn't hang towels and clothing over the railings in the balcony, which I understand why...the hotel doesn't want to look like a laundry, but there was no alternative in place...perhaps a clotheshorse or something would have been nice and very useful.
The room was well lit, with overhead lighting and bedside lights on bendy arms that could be positioned at your book without disturbing other people trying to sleep. We also had a TV in the room which had BBC and Sky news, BBC one, Channel Four and Nickelodeon in English as well as numerous Portuguese dubbed channels (my daughter enjoyed watching the Disney channel despite not understanding a word) One notable absence was a hairdryer, which we only discovered after searching high and low had to be requested from reception. I wondered at the point of this, as there was no deposit or hire charge, unlike the safe that cost Twelve Euro for the week. A very useful feature was the unstocked mini bar fridge, which after discovering the extortionate hotel prices was stacked with cans of coke and lager from a nearby mini mart. You could request for it to be filled, but having seen the prices I have no idea why you would.
The bathroom was separated from the room with a huge window between the beds and the baths, which had first had me recoiling until I noticed the roller blind to offer privacy. Like the mirror, the glass created an airy space and allowed natural light into the bathroom if required and I could see the benefits of it rather than a wall, as well as how it added to the clean, modern design. The shower over the bath was huge...the head was at least the size of a dinner plate and very invigorating, although it was difficult to control the temperature, moving from cold to hot in the tiniest of turns. Getting it right was like a game of skill, moving it ever so slightly. A huge mirror was also a major feature of the bathroom, and the sink was massive with plenty of storage. My daughter was fascinated that we had a toilet and a 'little toilet', which made us laugh! We were provided with three bath sheets each and three hand towels and they were changed whenever we left them in the bath. The plentiful supply of shower gel, shampoo and soap were also replenished daily.
Apart from the hideous painting, awkward temperature control on the shower and lack of hairdryer I can't fault the room at all. It was immaculately kept and cleaned to a high standard every day. The décor was light, cool, modern and airy; really suiting it's surroundings. Apart from one night when I'd accidentally sunburnt the back of my knees, I slept soundly every night and despite being a huge hotel we were never disturbed by other guests at all. The beds were extremely comfortable and larger than two singles, and extra pillows could be found in the wardrobe. Everything we needed bar the hairdryer were supplied in the room and replenished generously. While a sea view from the balcony would have been nice, we didn't pay for one, although after seeing the views from the lobby I rather wish I did.
On the first night after dumping our clothes, we went in search of refreshment in the bar area. We hadn't eaten but decided against the restaurant as none of us were up to a full dinner and only wanted something light. The only option for this was room service, so we decided to get a drink in the bar then head up to the room for the night. The 'entertainment' was in full flow then, a Portuguese crooner with keyboard bleating renditions of Hello dolly and various Beatles songs. It was pretty terrible; thankfully my hearing was still muffled at this point. There were very few other guests here, mainly elderly couples or groups. The bar was huge and also had an outdoor patio area both offering table service. This is when we first realised the service at this hotel may not be as good as we'd hoped. My mum tried to order a glass of Rosé, but the waiter didn't seem to understand at all and appeared quite annoyed. Now, I realise we're the ones speaking a different language here but I don't believe no-one had ever attempted to order one before-particularly as we later discovered it on a drinks menu. We ended up with 2 small beers and lemonade for the extortionate price of ten Euro, and then left feeling a little silly and bothersome. This was the last time we used the bar preferring to spend our evenings in Alvor and having evening drinks on the balcony.
I was to realise over the coming days that this level of service was pretty standard at the hotel and quite often we felt that by asking something simple we'd been a bother. I'm not sure if something was going on to make them unhappy, but smiling seemed to be in short supply. It certainly wasn't the overall attitude of the people of Alvor; everywhere else we went we were welcomed with warmth. We spent our first day at the pool, which was clean but cold and was set in beautiful surroundings with plenty of beds and parasols. However we were told off by the pool attendant for moving our beds to face the sun. As there were very few other children at the hotel we decided after that to make the most of the beautiful beach on the doorstep. The beach towel service was very well run however, and it was definitely a bonus having clean, fresh ones daily.
We decided to book a couple of trips through reception while we were there. Again the service was surly, abrupt and cold. I can't say the staff were particularly rude, they just seemed extremely unhappy and put out. I think this is something Pestana really need to look at, as everything else was beautiful. It was quite uncomfortable at times and we spent barely anytime at the hotel after this. I was overcharged by Seven Euro when I paid for the trips and rather than an apology, was huffed and sulked at. I almost wished I hadn't even pointed it out.
In hindsight, I'm glad we went for B&B rather than half Board. Our Breakfast was served between 8am-10.30 am daily and I can't fault the generous and delicious buffet on offer. Everything you could want was there and to save on lunch we filled up as late as possible before heading out for the day. However, again the staff were trundling around, like little grey rain clouds in paradise. The restaurant manager who greeted us each morning was one exception, he was lovely and had some fun with my daughter one morning when she'd left her soft toy by the cereal. We didn't eat any other food at the hotel, apart from room service the first evening, which cost twelve euro for the most basic ham and chicken sandwiches you can imagine! We also felt a little ripped off by the internet service, which we needed to use to confirm our transfers to the airport. It cost 3 Euro for 1 hour, which I find excessive. I feel nowadays free wifi should be standard, particularly in a hotel of this size. We didn't make use of any of the other services while staying although I had a quick nosy in the kids club, which was open but unstaffed. I presume during peak season there is something going on there though.
I feel by harping on about the obvious unhappiness of the staff is doing an injustice to our overall stay at the Pestana Dom Joao II. It was a very, very comfortable hotel...everything was clean and fresh and the surroundings and location were beyond perfect. I would stay here again, without a doubt, as we did enjoy very much. However for the amount of time we spent in the hotel I'd also be happy to downgrade a little. The complaints I have were the ridiculous prices, which are to be expected really and the lack of friendliness from the staff, although in all honesty we were so busy we rarely needed to bother any of them. I admit I'm happy we didn't have any major issues we needed help with though!
The only other negative I noticed was the amount of steps everywhere in the hotel. They were everywhere, a few here and there, going to the lift, to the restaurant, outside etc. This didn't bother us but it may be something people who struggle may need to be aware of. There were ramps and stair lifts dotted around but it did seem excessive. The lifts to the rooms were also heavily used and they could probably do with more than two, especially as the hotel is popular with golfers who took up a lot of room with their kit. Luckily we were only on the second floor so using the stairs was no problem.
So do I recommend the hotel? Well, yes I do, because I feel if like us you're not planning on spending much time at the hotel and using it's facilities then it's the perfect place to stay. However if you intend on mainly staying in the hotel and demand impeccable friendly service and entertainment, then I think you may be disappointed. For us the negatives were far outweighed by the positives of a stylish and beautiful hotel in a perfect location. The hotel caters well for couples, families and golfers and the area is much quieter than lively Albufeira and is worth going to for the stunning beaches and seafood restaurants alone. Overall a four star hotel, which gets four stars from me.