Detailed review by koshkha
Northampton, United Kingdom
The Hilton Vilamoura As Cascatas Golf Resort and Spa (henceforth to be referred to more simply as the Hilton Vilamoura) is an enigma of a hotel. It's a five star resort with beautiful interiors but one that looks from the outside like it was designed by Disney. It's absolutely not the type of place that I'd ever choose to stay in because I just don't do holidays in this sort of destination and it's not the type of place you'd usually go to for business, because there's nothing around here to do business with. So it was a new experience for me to visit such a place and I enjoyed it although I'm quite relieved we've been here during the 'off season' when there weren't too many people around.
The company I work for holds an annual business meeting and invites people from the European team plus visitors from the other regions. For three days and nights we work hard and play hard and it takes a special type of hotel to put up with us. Last year's event was in Prague but this year the organising team decided we needed a little bit of sunshine after the freezing rain of the Czech Republic.
First of all, where is it? Well Vilamoura is roughly a 20-30 minute drive from Faro airport and the Hilton is on the outer edges of Vilamoura, a good mile or two from the Marina. From what I could make out, if you don't sail or don't play golf (that counts me out on both criteria) there's not a lot of reason to come here. Equally if you are younger than retirement age, you'll be in a minority in February.
When we drew up to the hotel on Sunday morning I think we all suppressed a bit of a giggle at the sight of it. There are fairy-tale turrets and trimmings, bizarre arches and an overall sense that the building just doesn't look 'serious'. When you pull in to the drive the main lobby is to one side and the spa is to the other. Apparently the spa is the largest in Portugal but it was a bit wasted on us because we had no free time in the agenda and even if we had, massages at €90 a pop are beyond the means of most of us (you can buy a LOT of beer for €90!)
Walking into the lobby I can only say that it's impressive. Stretching upwards for several storeys, it's filled with light and very spacious. There are plenty of sofas, stacked up with cushions and there's a long check in counter down one side and some shops of the type you don't need and won't visit along the other side. Ahead of you, there are the glass elevators and you can see through them to the waterfall and pools beyond although the waterfall was switched off whilst we were there. However, whilst the check-in counter is long, the check-in process is even longer. Considering that the hotel was fully briefed about what time everyone would arrive and how many people to expect, they seemed to have nothing ready for us and just two people were dealing with the check-in. Checking in 30 or so guests took a considerable time and as most of us had been up since the small hours of the morning (due the ridiculous winter timetabling of most of the airlines) the delays weren't appreciated.
The rooms are excellent and of a splendid standard. I've been lucky enough in the past few years to stay in several of Hilton's newest hotels and I can honestly say that they really know how to design stunning rooms. The outside of the hotel might look like a joke but the bedrooms are deadly serious, stylish and highly functional. All of the furnishings are in a light wood and it really is wood, not just MDF or chipboard; this stuff is built to last and in a hotel that really matters. Nothing says 'down-market' louder than chipped particleboard. All the drawers have soft-close fittings so that as you push them in, they almost sigh into place.
The bathroom was so stylish I wanted to take it home with me. I could happily live in the bath. The room uses glass walls around the bathroom which means that if you wanted to lie in the bath and watch the TV you can do that. And the sound is even piped into the bathroom for you. If you are of a more modest disposition don't worry there are curtains that can be drawn around the glass walls. The toilet, bidet and shower are behind a separate frosted glass door, leaving the sink and bath area free so if there were two of you in the room, you'd have enough privacy for one person to take a shower (a really powerful one of course) whilst the other used the sink. And talking of sinks, it's one of those retro porcelain sinks that stands on a marble topped wash stand.
Moving from the bathroom to the main part of the room there's a large wardrobe which suffers slightly for being in such a position that you really can't leave the doors open and still move freely between the bedroom and bathroom. Yes, fair enough, there's no real need to leave the doors open but it's the only possible niggle I can find. Inside the wardrobe is a full sized iron and ironing board, plenty of hangers (not something you can take for granted) a few drawers and a room safe. Beside the wardrobe is a case stand, then a dresser with the flat screen TV on top and the coffee and tea tray inside. There's a highly complex minibar that somehow knows what you've had and sneaks off to tell the hotel so the goodies will appear on your bill automatically and then next to that there's a good sized work desk with a couple of sockets for your laptop, wireless or wired internet connection (€17 for 24 hours which seems to be standard Swisscom rates) and good lighting. Above the desk is a large mirror which came in handy as the bathroom make-up mirror had a faulty light.
You'll also find a large and wonderfully comfortable bed that's decked out in lots of pillows and a pleasant neutral coloured throw that matches the curtains. There are two bedside tables and a comfy armchair and pouffe as well as a small coffee table. But for a Brit in February the nicest thing is to pull back the curtains, open the French doors and go out and sit on the balcony in the sunshine.
The room is not the largest I've been in but it's so nicely laid out that it doesn't matter. Someone put a lot of thought into this room and without exception, all the colleagues I spoke with really liked their accommodation. Quite a lot of people got upgrades to suites but unfortunately I didn't get to see any of those. We also had some really nice touches like a good fruit bowl and a plate of Portuguese pastries left in the room on the first afternoon. That saved me the bother of going down for breakfast especially as the tea and coffee tray was kept well stocked.
I mentioned the spa already although I didn't use it. However, one of my German colleagues told me that for design, she'd put it in the top three of the many spas she has visited but she felt that the facilities were rather disappointing. She had expected several different saunas and steam rooms at different temperatures and humidities but found only one. Also she'd have liked multiple pools and different temperatures. The hotel had offered us a 50% discount on using the so-called 'Social Areas' of the spa so people paid €10 per day instead of €20 but she felt that it was inappropriate to charge for this.
There are apparently 6 different swimming pools on the site and I think I saw perhaps 4 of them but as I'm not an early riser, I didn't use any. It struck me that during high season the number of sun-beds would have been entirely inadequate in the pool area but to be honest, I don't really care about that. There's also a golf course and many more in the area but it's not a sport I know anything about and can only tell you that apparently Vilamoura is considered to be "the golf capital of Portugal" (according to the hotel brochure). I saw one of the courses which was very green and had lots of trees. Yep, that's utterly vague, isn't it? If you are into such things, there's also a 'golf simulator' but I hesitate to even imagine what simulated golf entails.
Restaurants and Bars
We ate in the Moscado restaurant for breakfast and lunch. I made it to breakfast only the once and the choice available was excellent. Our daily buffet lunches were outstanding and far surpassed the food at restaurants we visited outside the hotel in the evenings.
Lunch in the Moscado on our first day was poor and they clearly weren't expecting so many of us, the service was really slow and some of the portions were tiny. The main course Caesar salad for €14-16 (depending on whether there were prawns or chicken on top) was so tiny that people were left wondering where the rest of it was. By contrast, I had a large bowl of penne napolitana for just €5 which stunned everyone. A main course for that price in a five star hotel seemed somehow entirely wrong.
There are a couple of other restaurants on site although I suspect not all were open at this time of year.
The Rubi Bar is large and very pleasant. At one end of the room there's a stove-type fire that people seemed willing to fight to get near to in the evenings. I went to the bar just the once and there was a really good guitarist singing in the corner and there was plenty of space. We got served fairly quickly and when the bar tender managed to smash one of the glasses in the process of making us two sea-breezes, he immediately threw everything away and started again. Drinks prices were fair with cocktails at €8.50 and beers and wines were much cheaper. The other nice thing about the bar was that it opens onto a wide balcony with lots of outdoor seating.
The thing that mattered most for us was whether this was a good conference venue. We had the main conference room in the basement (level -2) which was a perfect size for 100 delegates. The décor was nice with stunning light fittings on the ceiling and nice walnut-effect wall coverings. The temperature was never right, usually too cold rather than too hot, but I'm not sure if it's ever possible to please everyone. Outside the conference room there's a large concourse where we had coffees and snacks every day and this opens out onto the terrace outside. Some seating in the concourse would have been handy as outside was sometimes just a bit too cold. When we had assignments to do, 6 different meeting rooms were available for us to use, all nicely decorated and pleasant. There's a business centre on this level as well although I didn't use it.
For an off-season conference venue, this was a great choice. As a place to have a holiday it's probably great if that's the kind of holiday you want but it's not for me. It's probably a nice set up for golfers and their golf-widows; he can trek round the courses and she can guilt-trip him into paying for expensive spa treatments. It's not a place I'd ever consider having a holiday but I enjoyed my time there a lot. I can't sadly tell you what it cost as the room charges were billed direct to the company but I checked some of the booking partners and the cheapest off-season rates start at about £140 per room per night including breakfast. I hate to think what it would set you back in the summer.
Hilton Vilamoura As Cascatas Golf Resort & Spa