Welcome to Checking In, a new review series in which our editors and contributors rate the best new (and revamped) luxury hotels based on a rigorous—and occasionally tongue-in-cheek—10-point system: Each question answered “yes” gets one point. Will room service bring you caviar? Does your suite have its own butler? Does the bathroom have a bidet? Find out below.
Octant Vila Monte, Algarve, Portugal
Describe the hotel in 3 words: Refined rustic luxury
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What’s the deal? The homegrown Portuguese Octant Hotels group was born in 2022 as a collection of super-chic boutique hotels with an ultra-local ethos. With eight intimate hideaways in some of the country’s most alluring corners—Octant Douro on the banks of the Douro River in the north; Octant Furnas in the wilds of the Azores; Octant Évora in the countryside of the Alentejo—the hotels form a luxe circuit with a laid-back approach. Check in at 8am? Room’s ready before you ask for it. Breakfast at sunset? Just tell them how you’d like your coffee. Need to work off that chef’s table feast at 11pm? The gym’s all yours. And if you’ve come to associate the Algarve with images of crowded beaches riddled with fly-and-flop holidaymakers, perish the thought: Octant Vila Monte, a Moorish-inspired retreat in the heart of the countryside of the quieter eastern stretch of the region, is a dreamy, idyllic escape just minutes from some of the Algarve’s most beguiling—and serene—beaches.
The best room: This summer, Octant Vila Monte unveiled a new collection of suites: three Secret Suites and a Solarium Suite. Each comes with a private plunge pool and the decor leans heavily on quaint woven baskets from area brand Palmas Douradas and ceramics from local potter Francisco Eugenio. But aside from that, no two suites are alike so it’s hard to pick a favorite. Secret Suite 7 has plenty going for it though, from two full emerald-toned bathrooms to a lovely glassed-in reading nook overlooking the plunge pool on the patio.
Does the resort have a standout perk?
Do not, under any circumstances, neglect to book yourself in for the chef’s table experience. The alfresco setup is hidden away in the gardens with the sound of flowing water from a fountain making for a soothing soundtrack. There, the exceedingly charming executive chef Pedro Mendes—if you love geeking out over the history of ingredients and the impact of ancient foodways on contemporary cuisine, you’ve found your match—makes the preparation of a five-course feast look positively effortless. He relies heavily on the Algarve’s bounty of fresh produce and seafood when planning each tailor-made menu, but one ingredient that’s likely to make an appearance in the most unexpected ways is seaweed—he’s literally written the book about seaweed (find it in the hotel’s gift shop), and here it makes appearances in the form of seaweed a bras (a spin on Portugal’s beloved comfort dish bacalhau a bras, usually made with cod) and even in a drink pairing. Other standouts include seabass with razor clams and a luscious scarlet prawn— “this is the Rolls-Royce of prawns,” he declares. Between the food and the company, it’s a can’t-miss experience.
Did they greet you by name at check-in?
Not merely at check-in: My butler, Pedro, had arrived at the Faro train station to pick me up and sought me out amid the crowds without a signboard in sight.
Welcome drink ready and waiting when you arrived?
There was a lovely bottle of fresh juice waiting in the room—a blend of orange, pineapple, and mango—along with a platter of macarons.
Private butler for every room?
Each of the suites comes with a butler, who’s always reachable on What’s App to help with arrangements and outings as needed. Pedro has an encyclopedic knowledge of the property and the region, and planned a lovely boating trip for me down the Ria Formosa lagoon, with stops at an oyster farm and a deserted beach as well as a delicious picnic lunch.
Is the sheet thread count higher than 300?
Yes, and the bedding is so comfortable. There’s also an extensive pillow menu to choose from—options include firm, body temperature sensitive, microfiber gel, and anti-allergy.
Is there a heated floor in the bathroom? What about a bidet?
The floors are heated—not that you’d need it for most of the year, given the Algarve’s sultry weather. No bidet though.
Are the toiletries full sized?
Yes, there are full-size Octant-branded toiletries in both of the suite’s bathrooms.
Is there a private pool for the room’s exclusive use?
My suite’s patio has a heated plunge pool (other Secret Suites have them tucked away in private gardens and other layouts). If you need something bigger, the hotel has two more pools across the grounds, flanked by flowering bougainvillea and towering cypress trees.
Is the restaurant worth its salt?
There are two restaurants: The breakfast-only Laranjal, with an extensive buffet as well as dishes made to order (don’t miss the Octant Special, a Portuguese spin on shakshuka made with Ilha São Jorge cheese), is absolutely gorgeous, with a sweeping terrace overlooking the surrounding mountains. A Terra serves lunch and dinner in a stylish dining room, on a lovely covered patio, and on the surrounding gardens, giving you a different setting for every meal should you be so inclined. Given the range and quality of the fresh produce in the Algarve, almost everything is sourced within a 10-mile radius of the property—which becomes immediately apparent in dishes like the watermelon and cheese salad and the shrimp wrap with mascarpone, lime, and yuzu. Chef Mendes’ touch is on everything, but even more so on seaweed-forward options like the Mar pizza made with seaweed dough and topped with shrimp, anchovies, and (of course) seaweed.
Is there caviar on the room service menu?
No, but there’s plenty of variety—no club sandwiches here. Choose from a range of salads, pizzas with toppings like anchovies and pistachio pesto, and mains like grilled chicken with paprika sauce, then get the Algarve almond sweet rice pudding for dessert.
Do you want to spend Friday night in the lobby bar?
Definitely, but in the most relaxing, low-key way possible: lingering over board games and conversation. If you’re looking for a “scene,” this is not it—this is the antidote.
Would you buy the hotel if you could?
After three of the most relaxing, rejuvenating days I’ve spent in recent memory, I just have one question: Where do I sign?
Rate: Secret Suites start at $794 per night.
What Our Score Means
1-3: Fire your travel agent if they suggest you stay here.
4-6: Solid if you’re in a pinch—but only if you’re in a pinch.
7-8: Very good. We’d stay here again and recommend it without qualms.
9-10: Forget booking a week. When can we move in permanently?
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