Seasons in the sun
One of the world's leading hotel names makes for a memorable sunshine break in the algarve
Long a favourite with Irish holidaymakers, Portugal's Algarve has the ideal mix of sun, beach, golf and family friendliness. Add a leading name like the Four Seasons into the mix and you've got the perfect holiday combination.
The Four Seasons' Fairways resort is situated in one of the region's most picturesque areas, yet it's only 25 minutes drive from Faro airport, which has plenty of direct and chartered services from Ireland.
After just a couple of hours, you're in a world apart; a place boasting 3,000 hours of sunshine a year and some of the world's finest sandy beaches.
Here, it's not about a faceless hotel room, but having a home from home (if your home happens to be palatial, with a pool) in your own luxury villa.
Our property had all the mod cons -- en suite bathrooms, fully fitted kitchens, a laundry room, satellite TV and even Wi-Fi connection for catching up with all those emails from home.
Even better, we had our own pool and the kids weren't long in jumping in after the short flight and transfer drive down from Dublin.
Other villas have a Jacuzzi instead of a pool, but all come with a private terrace overlooking the scenic surroundings with a barbecue for al fresco family dining.
And the nice thing about holidaying in the area is the lack of bustle. You're away from frantic resorts such as Albufeira and Praia Da Rocha, and you really can unwind in a little piece of paradise.
But there's no chance of kids getting bored -- and our brood can testify to that.
During high season the Funclub caters for children from five to 12, with a weekly programme of events and classes.
Ours enjoyed improving their swimming skills, with certs awarded on completion of the course of lessons, which cater for everyone from complete beginners to improvers.
Classes take place in the outdoor children's pool (there's an indoor heated facility, too), there's also junior gym sessions and, for the less sporty, there's a wide array of indoor activities, such as painting, clay work, paper creations and face painting.
And trips to the fun-packed surroundings are laid on, and there's a myriad choice of activities, including a visit to a water slide park (always a must when the sun shines hottest), a tennis workshop, mini-golf and a pony camp for gentle trekking through the countryside.
While the kids are kept busy, mum and dad can enjoy some "me time" at their own pace.
If you want to improve your fitness (a must after too much piri piri or local vino), there's a gym, tennis coaching and personal fitness training.
Mums might want to opt for some interesting fitness class options, including Pilates, core stability and stretch training, all for a small fee.
Dads (if they're up to it) can work off that stress with fat-burning spinning classes, circuit training and core stability workshops.
If that all sounds a little too hectic for your holiday, you can just lie back and let someone else work out on you.
Spa treatments are great value by Irish standards, starting at just a tenner for nail and eyebrow work, up to €20 for some waxing and from €40 for massage treatments.
Afterwards, let the world go by (I know I did), relaxing in the poolside Jacuzzi, while the better half spends some time and money in Amelia's Hair and Beauty Salon.
If you fancy a round or two of golf, look no further, for you're situated at one of the region's finest courses.
No fewer than eight Portuguese Opens have been held here and guests are entitled to substantial discounts on green fees on a range of courses in the area. Food in the restaurant is good value, too, with pizzas at under a tenner up to more substantial -- much of it local -- fare.
The surrounding area's worth exploring, even if it is hard to drag yourself away.
A short drive brings you to bustling Vilamoura, a beautiful resort and marina area; lively Albufeira with its broad beach is well worth a day trip, while there are boat voyages, including sunset trips, available in an area that's simply crying out to be explored.