Ed Leahy gives himself the five-star treatment (again) and unwinds (again).

August in the Algarve and the pretty Old Town of Albufeira is buzzing.

Restaurants and bars make the most of high season crowds, while shopkeepers won't close before the midnight hour with post-dinner shoppers perhaps a little more liberal with the purse strings as the Douro Valley's finest vintage takes effect.

The atmosphere around the town is pure holiday and while prices are not as favourable as they once were, the entertainment options are endless and the nightlife continues up on The Strip until well beyond the early hours.

But with the high season comes several reminders as to why such resorts can often be best visited in the quieter months of May or September.

Finding the requisite square inches for your beach towel can be an issue, while back at your hotel or apartment complex the lack of sun-lounging equipment, combined with the clamour and clatter of over-enthusiastic holiday reps and uber-energised children can make a hot Albufeira summer's day a little too long for anyone's liking.

Meanwhile, just a stone's throw away in sleepy Sao Rafael, the CS Atlantic hotel is at full occupancy, yet if a pin was to slip through someone's sunscreened fingers, the noise might be heard throughout the sprawling complex.

The silence that hangs over the large lounging area is not a reflection of the people present but rather of those not staying at the five-star resort. For it appears that there is only one rule at the hotel, and that is children are not allowed.

A bit harsh perhaps, but judging by the very relaxed demeanour of the sun-worshipping guests, the rule was the main reason for their hotel of choice.

For me it was a new, but I must say, novel experience as I came primarily to relax, and by the end of the first day I felt that the batteries were already close to being recharged.

The secluded Sao Rafael strand Three circular pools, ascending in size, provide the centrepiece for the outdoor area, which runs the length of the hotel and beyond to the wooden steps that lead to the secluded Sao Rafael strand – voted best beach in the Algarve apparently.

Loungers, sun-pods (circular bed-type things with adjustable hoods) and giant bean bags are dotted throughout the grounds, giving you a further sense of isolation with the only sounds coming from the occasional swimmer's splash or the gentle rustle of palm tree leaves that provide some extra shade from above.

Venturing indoors to escape from the searing midday sun, the hotel provides plenty to keep you busy for the early hours of the afternoon.

I even found myself donning the ambitiously packed running gear and going underground to take advantage of the excellent gym and indoor pool area, which provided my freckled features with a welcome break from the elements.

There is also a state-of-the-art Spa featuring a whirlpool, sauna, Jacuzzi and steam bath with relaxing wellness therapies and treatments available – for an additional fee, of course.

The bedrooms are clean, classy and contemporary The interior is a very open modern design with space and light throughout, while the bedrooms are clean, classy and contemporary. The higher-level floors offer some breathtaking views of the rolling gardens that fall down to the equally aesthetic beach.

And the golden strand lived up to its reputation – if a bit crowded being August – while the invigorating Atlantic Ocean awoke the senses. You do, however, have to pay particular attention to the strong sideways current and the hidden rocks at full tide while swimming.

Food & Drink
There's an excellent outdoor areaHalf-board is popular in these parts, and can often disappoint. However, the variety of dining choices on offer at the Atlantic provided options every night.

The buffet proved very popular, changing themes on a daily basis, while the Al Fresco restaurant sits on the edge of the resort, providing excellent panoramic views over the coast. Two á la carte restaurants are also available.

The indoor Mediterranean restaurant served up a superb swordfish, while the Beach restaurant sits on the seafront with the soothing sound of the breaking waves maintaining the atmosphere as night falls. Again, the food was excellent as fried garlic prawns and salted sea bass were washed down with a very tasty local cabernet sauvignon.

The obligatory hotel entertainment was kept to the outdoor area, while the Piano Bar and Chill Out terrace were excellent alternatives to while away the late evening hours.

Out & About in Albufeira
If you are going for a relaxing break, there is a good chance that you will not want to leave the resort all week, but if you do feel energised, there are many options available to take you around the resort and the Algarve region.

A variety of boat trips will take you along the amazing coastline, exploring the many caves in the locality, while another option is the river cruise that runs along the Guadiana, which geographically divides Portugal from Spain.

You can wander down to the Old Town and marina in Albufeira in less than half-an-hour, while the hotel also provides excursions to the wealthy resort of Vilamoura or beyond to Fátima, Lisbon or Seville.

The Algarve is also famous for its golf courses and the course at the Atlantic's sister hotel, CS Salgados, is no more than 10 minutes in a taxi and offers very reasonable deals for two players with clubs and a buggy (€85). The hotel reps also arrange a two-hour lesson with the local professional for €15 per person.

The CS Atlantic, Sao Rafael is part of the Thomson Couples summer collection for 2011 & 2012.

Thomson Couples is a range designed just for adults. All of the hotels in this range are strictly child-free and are part of the Thomson Premier Collection.

Summer 2011 – September 15, 7 nights, Half-Board from €721pp
Summer 2012 – May 3, 7 nights, Half Board, 2 adults from €789pp

For more information, call: 1850 45 35 45 or visit: www.thomsonholidays.ie.

Ed Leahy

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