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The Algarve's hills are alive

MARK Evans and his son found a hub of activity in an oasis of serenity close to the nightlife of portugal's coast.

A Portuguese marksman taking potshots at your head isn't the first thing that springs to mind when you think of spa resorts. Massages, yes. Pampering, of course. Healthy food, without question. But they do things differently at the Wellness Resort in the south of Portugal.

Here there's enough to keep everyone happy. So while saner people might be taking to the pool, others, like my son and I, are off paintballing in the nearby forest. The resort goes to great pains (and I experienced a lot of pain, too) to keep mind as well as body occupied.

Hillwalking, hiking, team building -- whatever you're into, they'll organise it locally. The paintballing made me realise that an army career was never for me, as my 10-year-old son and the marksman instructor left me full of bumps, bruises and blood as I got my ass royally kicked.

But the nearby Wellness resort is the perfect place to unwind and have my sore body and sorer ego massaged.

High up in the hills, it's got dreamy views of the surrounding forested areas and, far below, the world renowned coastline of the Algarve. But while it's only a short drive from the pristine beaches and manic nightlife, it's blissfully quiet up here. It's well-heeled but you don't need an expense account to enjoy it.

Even if you've booked a package by the sea, it's worth taking a day or two to try it out. You'll be back.



beautiful

The five-star resort's main pool is full of the beautiful people -- and Portugal's got plenty of those. It's the kind of place where Ronaldo would bring the folks. Quiet, relaxing, the pool is a gorgeous suntrap where you can enjoy the mountain air.

The emphasis here is on healthy living, with treatment rooms, massage areas and eating programmes tailormade for the individual guest.

But the greatest healer here is the sense of relaxation and if you could bottle the atmosphere you'd have the perfect chill pill. The country's first medical spa, it can sort out all the mileage of modern living, whether you have a bad diet or you just fancy a rejuvenating facial.

And you can't help but feel better. Having breakfast overlooking the Algarve (massive for me; fruity and small for everyone else around me) refreshes the soul instantly.

Clear air, the kind of view you'd get from an airplane window, and discreet but friendly service and you instantly know you're on holiday.

The Restaurant by Oliver concept is about maximum taste with minimum bad stuff like salt and fats. It's good for you, but you'll be back for more as it's that fresh and exciting.

All this is only 15 minutes drive from the craziness of the likes of Portimao. And if you want to dip your toe back into the nightlife, it's so do-able.

The rooms are fab too, with massive great outdoor verandas, again with stunning views.

Everything here is eco-friendly. Solar power is harnessed to heat the pools; water is recycled, the vast majority of staff are trained-up locals in a bid to give something back to the community.

In such a beautiful national park area, building is tightly controlled and the resort is cleverly designed, with a range of timber materials used, to blend in with the surroundings.

The lobby is stunning, all light and luxury, leading to an oasis of luxury surrounded by an area of absolute beauty that's known as the Garden of the Algarve.

There's free snooker by night to keep the children entertained; by day they have their own kids' club, playground and smashing little boats to pedal around the pool. There's music on the veranda area by night too, so adults can unwind with a glass or two of vino (hey, we can't be healthy all the time) and dance the evening away.



humble

Being your typical Irish male I did take a few further short cuts on the body beautiful front -- after all, this is a holiday. Across the road from the hotel is a humble-looking roadside cafe and souvenir shop, the kind of place you'd stop off en route on your mountain climb.

With vino at 70 cent a glass and beer for a euro, health turned to hedonism for one long afternoon. And the rotund German woman doing exactly the same at the next table gave me that look of 'if you don't tell, neither will I'.

Further up the road is the cutesy Caldas de Monchique, a small spa town reputedly dating back to Roman times. It's a nice spot for a quick lunch or coffee on the way up to Monchique itself -- a friendly, unassuming market town that's really untouched by the mass tourism of the coastal strip below.



Gentle

And it's worth continuing on to Foia -- at 902 metres the highest point in the Algarve. The views are amazing -- and you can see from mainland Europe's most westerly point at Cape St Vincent, further north to Serra da Arrabida, near Lisbon, to the north, and as far as Faro to the east.

In our rush to the beach, we sometimes forget that going inland is like turning back time to a simpler, more gentle Algarve. Take the trip to the mountains. You won't regret it.