Seven weeks ago, I flew into Faro Airport in Portugal, spent three days in the beautiful town of Tavira then flew home again, feeling rather worse for wear. I’d spent a long weekend with 12 of my closest friends and family, a trip that had been much postponed over the past few years but we finally made it.
Late nights, copious glasses of wine, gossip, jokes and catch-ups were amazing, but they took their toll. I spent the next few days feeling tired, sluggish and in need of a good detox.
To be honest, in a manner that sounds contradictory, I often feel this way after a holiday. I am incapable of going home early, am possessed of a chronic case of FOMO – that’s fear of missing out if you’re not familiar with the term – and convince myself that burning the candle at both ends won’t undo any of the good work that a holiday is supposed to provide.
Last week, however, I arrived again at Faro Airport after a week away in a very different state. I felt great – relaxed, detoxed and totally zen.The reason? Solar Alvura, Dr Eva Orsmond’s new health hotel in Moncarapacho.
Dr Eva is, of course, the no-nonsense dietitian who used to dole out nutrition advice on RTÉ’s Operation Transformation and who has made several documentaries about Ireland’s relationship with, among other things, sugar and over-the-counter medication.
She also owns several Orsmond Clinics around the country, where people can get a professional approach to obesity and other weight issues, including diabetes.
The new hotel is a form of retreat for those who want to reset their lifestyle, get dietary advice and simply chill. I can highly recommend it for all three. The hotel is a passion project for Dr Eva, one she’s poured her heart and soul into for over five years, far more than it was expected to take.
As you would imagine, she has a meticulous attention to detail, which is evident throughout the property. Her keen eye for interior design shines through as well – she admits herself that some details took far longer to decide than they should have. But the result is worth it.
I spent a week at the hotel, so here’s my day-by-day diary of what guests can expect at Solar Alvura.
After the relatively short 25-minute transfer to the hotel, we enter through electronic gates that open to reveal a lavender-covered path to the main building. Beautiful winding walls are interspersed with large terracotta vases and an array of plants, shrubs and trees.
The hotel lobby is vast, with a high archway, an ornate fireplace and a raised stage-like area, with a polished piano just calling out to be played.
Dr Eva is there to greet me and leads me out through the restaurant to the terrace overlooking the orange grove. There, I meet some of the hotel’s other guests, clients of Dr Eva’s from her Orsmond Clinics back in Ireland, as well as some other journalists from both Ireland and Portugal.
Having travelled that morning, I’m fairly hungry but Dr Eva first takes me into her office for a quick chat about what I’d like to achieve with my week here. There are three options for any stay at Solar Alvura: fast weight loss, slow weight loss or maintenance.
I decide to give the fast plan a try – having put on a little weight during the pandemic I feel like this will give me a kick start to get back to my previous weight and fitness levels. Dr Eva weighs me – 72.8kg – and we return to the terrace, where lunch is served.
Chefs Edgar and Samuel both have a wealth of experience in kitchens around the world – Samuel even worked in Ireland for a while – and they have helped Dr Eva devise tasty dishes for each plan.
Low-to-no carb, no sugar and high protein are the cornerstones, with the fast plan allowing for approximately 1,000 calories per day.
Yet it doesn’t feel restrictive. The calories are divided into three meals and three snacks per day, no matter what plan you’re on – and to be honest, I usually only had one snack per day and never managed to fit in three.
My first meal is a delicious vegetable soup, with three slices of protein bread, a small container of cream cheese and a bowl of sliced peppers, pickles, tomatoes and cucumber. It’s very filling, and I even leave one slice of bread.
After lunch, we sit around and chat for a while – there is a real sense of camaraderie among guests – then I go to my room to unpack. The rooms are very spacious and mine, on the ground floor, is very cool too – despite it being summer in Portugal, I didn’t feel the need to turn on the air-conditioning at all during my stay.
Opening the window ensures not only that the temperature is right, but also that I can hear the wonderful sounds of nature outside – crickets, birds and a nearby cockrel who would crow regularly throughout the day, though thankfully rarely at dawn.
I take my Kindle to one of the hotel’s many cosy corners and curl up for a read.
Dinner that evening is a delicious Greek-style beef and beetroot burger, with feta cheese, mint and parsley. It’s served with a fabulous tzatziki – one of my favourite dishes of the week – and a mixed salad. There’s even dessert in the form of a raspberry sweet rice with chunks of crispy chocolate. I’m not a huge dessert fan, even when I’m not being good, but this is delicious.
There are eight dinner options on each plan, all a variation of each other depending on which plan you’re on. Alongside the burger there’s a striploin steak, a chicken piri-piri, pasta carbonara, bream, jambalaya, sea bass and a vegetable curry. The wide choice means you never get bored.
Chats continue after dinner, until we all retire to bed about 10pm — the hotel has a ‘bar’ but there’s no alcohol available. The mocktails are tasty, however. The Kindle comes out again – I end up reading just shy of two books in the week – and I fall asleep about 11.30pm.
There’s a breakfast option of a frittata, which I excitedly order as I love omelettes – in fact, I love eggs in any form. Unfortunately this is not quite eggs as you know them, rather as a low-fat powdered product reconstituted with water and vegetables. It’s nice but I miss my own fluffy concoctions.
After breakfast we set off for a walk around the nearby salt plains, a short drive away. These are vast tracts of waterways and have stunning views to the nearby sea. There’s also a wealth of unusual plants and cactii, as well as groups of tiny crabs wallowing in the water. We do a 4km loop at a reasonable pace, clocking up a few thousand steps in the process.
Back at the hotel, I decide to check out the swimming pool. Via a winding path taking me by a beautiful relaxation area with small plunge pool as well as a gated underground cavern that Dr Eva assures me is not a dungeon for those who break their diets, I come to the gorgeous infinity pool, with stunning views over the surrounding areas.
The beds are thickly padded and so comfortable and I relax there until we get the call for lunch. Today’s is a halloumi salad, with coleslaw, cucumber, lettuce and sliced peppers, and again I struggle to finish it.
I return to the pool for an hour or so then clean up before a cooking lesson at which our dinner will be prepared. This is one of the best bits of the stay – the chefs and Dr Eva are so helpful and informative about the food elements, giving you ideas and recipes for continuing your plan once you get home.
We all watch Samuel and Edgar on the terrace as they prepare and cook chicken and fish skewers, and that delicious tzatziki, then we get to tuck into the results with a side salad and mushrooms, followed by another early night.
This is the day of the hotel’s big official opening so after breakfast – a crepe pancake with strawberry jam, again from a powdered product – some of the guests take ourselves off on a walk to give the staff some space to prepare for that evening’s party.
Just across the road from the hotel entrance is the start of a track through the local area, through woodland and by some of the beautiful properties nearby. The others have done the trek once before with a staff member and though we still manage to get lost, it’s not hard to get back on the right track. The detour also helps us clock up about 1,000 extra steps.
Lunch is the soup, bread, cream cheese and salad option again – I honestly can’t get enough of that soup, and I tap Edgar for the recipe so I can make it myself when I get home.
The afternoon is spent chilling by the pool before we all don our gladrags for the evening’s party. The chefs really outdo themselves and prepare an array of hors d’oeuvres and party food for us to tuck into.
There’s chicken and fish skewers, meatballs, cheese and crackers, and a range of other options. There’s no limit on what we can have, though we’re all keen to try to stay under our calorie limit. There’s also 0% alcohol gin cocktails and non-alcoholic wine but most people stick to water or sugar-free minerals.
Afterwards in the lobby, Dr Eva and her husband Wyatt make lovely speeches about the battle they’ve had to get the hotel to this stage and we all toast to their success.
A karaoke session then ensues and at one point, as I watch the chefs belt out Backstreet Boys while guests and other staff pretend to be screaming groupies, I have to remind myself that everyone here is sober. It’s such a fun night and it’s well after midnight by the time I get to bed.
Ah yes, the day I almost make Dr Eva’s head explode! It wasn’t my fault, honest. She’s doing weigh-ins for other guests and calls me in to check on my progress. I hop up on the scales and to her – and my – horror, I’ve gained 0.9kg. We both struggle to work out how this could have happened, I’ve been restricted to 1,000 calories a day for three days now, there should definitely be a fall in weight.
She prints me off my stats and I go back to my room, feeling very puzzled. After a few minutes I notice the height statistics – 171cm – which I know I’m not, I’m definitely shorter than that. Then I look at the date and realise the first printout is not me – it’s from a different guest a month earlier.
Oh the relief! I run out to tell her and we re-do it and register my 0.6kg loss, with me all the while thanking the lord. I sit down and enjoy my apple and cinnamon porridge.
That afternoon is pool time again, after a delicious nicoise salad for lunch. I chill for the afternoon and then, after a beef and feta burger for dinner, we go on a sunset hike on the nearby Cerro De Sao Miguel mountain.
This can be as easy or as difficult as you like depending on which path you take, so we plump for a medium intensity and enjoy the stunning views as the sun goes down over the Algarve.
I get up early today for sunrise yoga on the terrace, a wonderful setting to encourage total relaxation. The hotel’s resident teacher, a lovely Brazilian named Joy, ignores my pleas that I’m not very good at switching off in order to fully enjoy yoga and she manages to get me to do just that.
Fully zen, I have porridge for breakfast before taking the short walk down to the nearby village of Moncarapacho. It’s very small and quaint, but there’s some nice cafes and souvenir shops should you need to bring home any gifts.
Lunch is vegetable soup and I retire to the pool for the afternoon, catching up on some news from home but trying to prevent myself from letting my brain go into overdrive.
Dinner is a tofu and vegetable curry with konjac rice, after which we do meditation on the roof to finish the day as I began it – totally relaxed.
I have an early breakfast chocolate croissant today – again one of the products on site rather than a fresh version – before doing a light exercise class using weights from the on-site gym as well as some resistance and fitness work. My energy levels are not great, presumably due to the calorie deficit my body finds itself in, but I do what I can.
Lunch is a halloumi salad and I decide that my body’s reluctance to exercise is its message to me to relax so I find myself at the pool again with my Kindle. I also indulge in a spa treatment – massages, pedicures and even blow-dries are on offer. My back massage is perfect after my morning exertions and should ensure I’m not in too much pain tomorrow.
I enjoy a steak dinner that evening – what we would probably class as half a steak plus a mountain of green vegetables, which is delicious and very filling – then take the short spin into the town of Faro. The Algarve capital is filled with beautiful cathedrals and cobbled streets and we enjoy a lovely walk around the walled town centre before watching the sun set.
My last day and I don’t want to leave. This place is just so peaceful and relaxing, and I’m feeling so good too. We take a final weigh-in, and I’m down a total of 6kg. With the dietary restrictions, I did think it would be more but I actually feel and look so good on it that I’m not disappointed.
It’s a great kickstart for where I want to be on my fitness and diet journey and I’ve come away with so many ideas and so much advice.
I would highly recommend Solar Alvura for anyone who just wants nutritional guidelines or who just doesn’t know where to start with a diet plan. But apart from the food element, the scope for total relaxation is so enticing.
This is a haven of tranquility, where you can do as much or as little as you’d like in terms of exercise, with a real focus on looking after mind, soul and body.
As we drive back to Faro Airport, I feel refreshed and rejuvenated, two words I’d never normally use at the end of my holidays.
Dr Eva really has found something special here – I’ll definitely be back.
Prices start from €275 per person per night in a shared room and €350 per night for single occupancy in the Classic Room. This is an all-inclusive rate and includes meals, selected drinks, group activities and the programme you choose. There is a 20% discount on rates for a stay of five days or more on all bookings made directly with the hotel before the end of this month. Visit solaralvura.com, email [email protected], call 00 351 925 009 405 in Portugal, or 01 282 7500 or 086 823 8027 in Ireland