It’s not every day that you fail spectacularly at a physical activity in the presence of an Olympic gold medalist.
I haven’t been in a kayak since I was 15!” Amy Williams screams as she slices through the lagoon with the razor-sharp precision of a master rower. I, on the other hand, am stranded like a stranded manatee on a mud bank. Every time I push my oar into the silt and tangled sea fennel mass, I somehow get stuck more and more. Soon my paddle is as wedged as the kayak as the group I’m with looks back to see what on earth took me so long.
I’ve always believed that at every Olympic event, a normal person should compete alongside the athletes to highlight the physical achievements of those athletes. However, when I came up with this brilliant idea, I never thought I would do it.
I’m in the Portuguese Algarve staying at the Four Seasons Fairways Resort in Quinta do Lago for its Active Living Week. Over the course of the break, Olympic gold medalist Amy, who has now turned to personal training, is leading a series of movement classes and workouts.
But luckily (for me) this isn’t a boot camp. Instead, it’s an opportunity to dive into the lesson whenever you feel like it and spend the rest of your time eating local bulhão pato mussels swimming in garlic olive oil and lounging by the pool. It’s the kind of balance I excel at.
I can’t remember the last time I trained properly. I could blame it on catching Covid early in the pandemic, but in truth it’s probably down to an intrinsic laziness. So when I go to the sunny patch of grass for the first morning class, I’m happy to see a good mix of people laying out their mats.
The ages range from 20 to 60, and it quickly becomes clear that I’m not the only person who has neglected the movement in the past two years. But it feels good to move and even better when the Portuguese sun warms my bones.
Throughout the week I do crunches, I squat, I lunge and I jump while Amy watches and guides us all. We also explore the area on two wheels and two feet. During a bike ride through the Ria Formosa Natural Park, we glide over the wooden slats of a boardwalk that meanders through the sand dunes and along the islets of the lagoon. The air is salty but the breeze is gentle as beach hoppers dig their beaks into the wet sand and we pass joggers and walkers.
When the sea comes into view, they are joined by a restaurant on stilts, perched above the dunes overlooking Ancão Beach. It is early when we are in 2 Passos (restaurante2passos.com), but lunch tables fill up quickly with a mix of golfers and family gatherings. This is the kind of old-school seafood restaurant you crave on holiday, where the owner comes out hooking the day’s catch and a giant fish is wheeled out on a trolley, encased in a sarcophagus of baked sea salt. When the fish is flaky on our plates, we each get a small jug of warm olive oil with softened garlic bits, and I slather it all over my lunch, thinking this is the kind of fitness week for me.
It’s easy to dive into the class and exit when your day is spread out before you, free of meetings or deadlines. I live in one of the newly renovated villas with a light and airy living room and a whitewashed facade that glows in the sun like Santorini’s domes. There are Miele electronics in the kitchen, which is also equipped with everything you really need as a self-caterer, such as sharp knives and more than one spatula.
But more often than not, I head to the resort’s restaurant instead, where I dip between the healthy (an amazing tuna poke bowl with avocado and mango) and the not-so-healthy (hello, steak sandwich).
Breakfast is about balancing a green juice with a stack of fluffy pancakes.
As well as this special week hosted by Amy, you can travel to the Algarve for other Active Living weeks planned from October to April, where guests can do a bit of healthy living themselves (from €721 per person). These weeks include breakfast, bike rental, personal training and access to the tennis courts.
But there is something special when an Olympian walks around here. During the week I see a cute young Portuguese athlete in training who talks to her for advice and some teenagers from Ireland who get tips on their running technique. There is also something special about listening to someone talk about the experience of winning a gold medal, something only a select few will ever achieve.
Amy of Great Britain won the gold medal at the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics in women’s skeleton. She sprinted at high speed and then hurled her body face down along an ice track traveling at 150 km/h.
In contrast, last year I sprained my ankle simply stepping off the sidewalk.
It is this outstanding athletic energy that I bring to our final activity, a 5km run around the gentle slopes of Quinta do Lago. The General Manager joins us, along with the Irish teenagers and a woman who I’ve learned had given birth just a few weeks earlier. Within seconds they are all distant specs on the horizon, leaving me far, far behind. I’ve never run a 5k before and, spoiler alert, I’m not running a 5k now. But I vacillate between a roller coaster ride and a brisk walk, strolling past millionaires’ mansions on my way down to the sea.
I’m pretty confident that I’ll never win gold at the Olympics. But when I finally make it back to the resort without getting injured or getting stuck in a mud bank, it feels like a win for me.
Do not miss
Visit the nearby Bovino Steakhouse (quintadolago.com) for a meal that will be like heaven for carnivores. Tables are laden with platters of smoked cod, chistorra sausage and fatty jumbo prawns alongside sizzling steaks.
The next Active Living Week with Amy Williams will take place from November 19th to 26th and costs €811 per person for two guests sharing an apartment with jacuzzi.
Nicola was a guest of the resort. See fourseasonsfairways.com for more.
Fly direct to Faro from Ireland with Ryanair or Aer Lingus; ryanair.com; aerlingus.com.
For more things to see and do in the Algarve see visitalgarve.pt.
https://www.independent.ie/life/travel/europe/active-holidays-in-the-algarve-with-an-olympian-to-guide-you-through-your-squats-41462343.html Active holidays in the Algarve – with an Olympian to guide you through your squats