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Stunning

Even in a tourist mecca beloved by the Irish such as the Algarve, there are magical little corners to be discovered. Small, family-focused and with largely unknown beaches, the town of Carvoeiro is as close to -- and as far from -- the likes of mass-market Albufeira and Praia Da Rocha as you can get.

It's also home to the area's first all-suite five-star resort, Monte Santo, a recent addition in the sun-drenched Algarve which is growing in popularity in the Irish market. It's got the facilities of a five-star hotel, with all the convenience of having your own apartment, with a choice of suites (from studio to three-bedrooms) to townhouses.

We stayed in a one-bedroom suite, with ground floor seating area outside. Given that there's a pullout sofa bed, they're equipped for four, in total comfort, as they're very spacious inside. Highlights are the kitchen -- straight out of a showhouse -- and the beautifully appointed bathrooms.

It's not your typical holiday apartment, more like a trendy home away from home -- so English channel satellite TV is the norm. Ditto brilliant air conditioning, high-tech sound system and, God knows when you'd need them in these parts, heated floors.

But, above all, this is a fun resort. The stunning centrepiece is the main outdoor pool area. It's spacious, peaceful and not the kind of place where you'll be hard pressed to find a lounger.

A chilled-out spot, it's an ideal location to catch some of the stunning sunsets around these parts. There are seven pools in all and when I visited at the height of summer, the only one getting a wide berth was indoors, for obvious reasons. The biggest hit with kids, though, wasn't the pool, amazing as it is, but the little nature reserve adjacent to it. A haven for butterflies and birds, it's also home to dozens of tiny frogs. Straight out of a Kermit family reunion, they're a hit with the kids who crowd around checking them out each day.

While the lads might like to play on the resort's tennis courts, try five-a-side football on the dedicated pitch, or head for the golf course (literally dozens nearby, with good deals for guests), their other halves might like to try out the good value Seven Spa.

Massages are in the poolside bungalow with a chill out nap on the sunloungers in the shallow end of the pool, in the spa itself or in the privacy of your own room.

Incredibly, I broke the habit of a lifetime and actually used the gym more than once -- and indulged in some of the fine cuisine on offer to offset that.

The town of Carvoeiro is a walkable distance away, but it's an uphill battle on the way back. It's best to avail of the complimentary hotel shuttle and, if arriving back late, take a taxi which have set fares of €4.80 to the front door.

The beaches here, as you'd expect, are spectacular. The main one, though small, is picturesque and right at the end of the town's main street. For a dramatic beach, with few bathers, head to Paraiso beach. Flanked by two cliffs, it's a spectacular scene with waves pounding the rocks and little pools filled with sealife.

Nightlife in Carvoeiro -- a place where you won't find an A to Z of Premiership jersey-clad holidaymakers -- is quiet but fun. There's a host of Irish bars, with the two best --Brady's and The Black Stove -- across the road from each other.

Worth a detour is one of the Algarve's prettiest, and most historic towns, Silves. The Medieval HQ of the Moorish kings of the al-Gharb, it's dominated by the massive castle, constructed between the 8th and 13th centuries and fought over by the Moors and Crusaders. Heading to the coast, Lagos is another historic must-see with a gorgeous marina and plenty of shopping. Founded by the Phoenicians, it's got beautiful medieval walls and the stunning Igreja de Santo Antonio church, one of the few to survive the earthquake of 1755.

And after all that sightseeing there's always a beautiful pool to soak away the stress. Bliss . . .


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