Quiet location, only found a small, (expensive) mini-market, Chinese restaurant, English restaurant and two Portuguese restaurants (both of these on the two close beaches) within walking distance otherwise it's all villas/apartments and a few hotels.
Rooms are located three different ways off reception and it's quite difficult at first to find your way around - would actually suggest that a map is given to all new arrivals. Our 'garden' room was on the 4th floor and we could actually just see the sea over the palm trees outside. It feels very private, from our balcony we were not bothered by any other persons despite the hotel being fully booked (according to reception). Rooms are spacious, painted in various shades of brown, with tv, kettle (tea bags only, no coffee or milk provided), fridge/minibar, safe, large rain shower room (door didn't fit so flooded outside after using), separate toilet and obligatory bidet. Basin was unusually situated and not very well lit. Lots of hanging space and drawers. Our king-sized bed was a foam mattress and extremely comfortable as were the pillows. Beds and towels seemed to be changed everyday. You are also given white pool towels, new ones from spa reception whenever you need. Air-con worked very well whilst we were there.
Restaurant - we booked online with the hotel and had a good deal on half-board. Breakfast always had mountains of fresh fruit, pastries, cheese and ham, bread, which you toasted yourself, teapots for English (and other tea), fried eggs, (nasty) little pink sausages, 'bacon', hash browns, baked beans (sometimes), scrambled eggs (bit watery looking - I didn't taste this), fried peppers, mushrooms and courgettes, omelettes (made by Mr Misery). There was also fresh orange juice plus 3 other juices and cereals. How could anyone be disappointed with this? Evening meal was always a themed buffet. There were about 3 salads plus normal salad to start and 2-soups, about 6 main dishes plus vegetables, plenty for fussy children ie fish fingers, pizza, plain chicken. About 5-6 desserts and a fresh fruit salad every night. We were there 5-nights and didn't see any chips though we were served potato wedges on one occasion. The buffet food was ok, not stunning but not so bad that we hunted for somewhere else. Only 1 cat seen at mealtimes.
Arabian Sea bar - played chill out music, dj on Saturday night, live band Wednesday night. Lovely relaxed atmosphere but THE most uncomfortable seats ever. Reasonable prices - 7€ for cocktails. We happened upn a special offer which flashed up on the website at booking - buy 1 drink get the 2nd free. What they didn't tell you was you had to ask for a voucher from reception and you were only allowed one drink per stay. Not quite the good offer it at first seemed.
Pool area - 3 different size and depth of pools: All circular. We stayed during school holiday period and although there was a lot of bagging sun beds with towels we could still usually get 3-beds together by half ten, though not with an umbrella, these were at a premium. The pools were never too crowded that you couldn't swim and were not overtaken with kids. About half the people had children the others were all couples. There seemed to be about 50% Portuguese, maybe more and the rest were all mixed nationalities, a few Russian/eastern Europe, French-speaking and English. A lot of people smoked - spoilt our enjoyment when we ended up next to them and made us "fume"! when they put their fag ends out on the floor. there were no ashtrays on the tables but they only had to get up and ask for one. There was poolside waiter service which was prompt when we used it.
Beach - Sao Rafael beach is reached by an electronic gate, operated using your keycard (it failed most of he time we were there) and down about 80 good quality, wooden steps. The beach is not very big and people were packed like sardines when we went - plus usual fag-ends everywhere. It was lifeguard patrolled and had a bar/restaurant facility.. Consequently we stayed around the pool. There was another smaller beach if you went a little trek the opposite way down about ten steps and turned left. Looked lovely, not as crowded as Sao Rafael, also had a lifeguard present and a bar/restaurant
Spa and gym - didn't use either but looked lovely.
A la Carte restaurant - didn't try it, partly because we didn't find it for 3-days.
Free shuttle bus 3x a day, morning, lunch and afternoon, otherwise about 8€ for a taxi. Went once, not our taste.
Conclusion - is this 5-star, well no, not if you're comparing it with the likes of The Savoy, Grosvenor etc but if you look at your usual offer of Mediterranean holiday hotels and the 'star' ratings then it's a very good 4* and that's what we went expecting and we were not disappointed. Would go again and would try get a proper seaview room.
- Official Description (provided by the hotel):
- The Sao Rafael Atlantic Hotel has a spectacular location overlooking the Atlantic sea, direct access to Sao Rafael Beach and only at a short drive to Albufeira centre. The interiors have contemporary design features with space and light throughout. The rooms are modern and have large balconies with views over the sea and gardens. The extensive gardens offer a beautiful mediterranean landscape with olive and palm trees. There is also a state-of-the-art SPA featuring leading wellness therapies and treatments. ... more less
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