For many people, the name Praia da Luz means only one thing. The disappearance in 2007 of a young girl. At that time, the Ocean Club complex was part of the luxurious, upmarket Mark Warner chain. Today, many of the apartments, including the one in which we are staying, are privately owned and leased to Thomas Cook who now offer the accommodation to package holidaymakers.
There was no sense of the macabre when we booked to stay here. Portugal has been, for many years, at the top of out bucket list and having done our homework on both the complex and the resort, we were content that this was for us. And it is.
Arriving at Faro’s chaotic airport, we expected to be boarding a bus that would make umpteen stops along the way before arriving at our room in a time slightly longer than our two and a half hour flight. Not so. In fact, it appeared that we were the only people headed this way as our fellow tourists boarded buses to the more ‘lively’ resorts. So, a straightforward transfer along the toll road was all it took. Our flight left Bristol at 7.00am. By 11.30 we were unpacking.
The Ocean Club complex is a bit of a misnomer. It’s traversed by roads and pathways. For all the world, it looks like lots of different complexes. The buildings are uniformly white, the apartments are all shuttered and there are regular warnings to keep the shutters down at all times. Our ground floor apartment has two small balconies and below them a small area with a table and chairs. We have a large living room, a kitchen with industrial levels of facilities and cutlery, a decent bathroom and two bedrooms. It is well beyond our expectations. I write this in the early evening on the main balcony, drinking a lovely glass of Sagres, looking out on a well maintained garden area and the sea. A gentle breeze gently shakes the leaves on the trees, distant gulls wheel above us, Thundercat plays from my mobile music system and if there was a God (and may I remind you, there isn’t) he would be in his heaven.
We unpacked and decided to explore the complex and the resort. Lowering all the shutters and locking the triple locked door, we turned left, went along a short path, which opened onto a cul de sac and then a road. And there it was. Apartment 5A. We walked through the entrance to the pool and there was the former Tapas bar, now a snack bar. You know the rest.
I’ll be honest and say it was one of those “blimey, there it is” moments. We did not dwell, or take selfies, or anything crass like that. However, there was no escaping what was there and what happened there, whatever it was, and that we would be spending a considerable amount of time in this vicinity over the next two weeks.
What struck us immediately was the lack of people staying in the complex. It wasn’t just the overcast weather which greeted our arrival. The man at reception said it was “quiet”. He wasn’t kidding. We walked down the road in the direction of the beach, passing a number of bars and restaurants, as well as the obligatory Spar.
Luz is a very small resort, albeit one with a big name. There is a significant elderly migrant (expat) community here which speaks entirely in English. Some of the streets are a bit scruffy and dusty; most are flanked by holiday properties. The beach is long and sweeps towards the cliff that stands over Luz. To be fair, the beach is busy, too, with various watersports taking place.
The children have all gone home now and it’s mainly mature (old) people who are here. For them – and us, at least one of whom fits the ‘mature’ criteria, at least in age terms – it’s a leisurely regime of reading books, drinking beer, port, wine and pretty well anything else we can get our hands on. And eating.
Luz is not cheap. Part of this is undoubtedly because of the collapse in the pound since the UK voted to raise the drawbridge to Europe. The Euro is pretty well the same in value to the pound these days and it could get even worse. Last night, for example, we visited a ‘pub’ called ‘The Bull’ which purports to be British, but despite its largely British menu of roast dinners and fish and chips, appears to be entirely Portuguese run. A pint of San Miguel and a G&T came to a jaw-dropping €12, which is £12 in British money. Worse still, everyone smokes inside the pub. The old Brits love it!
Today, we sunbathed at the far end of the pool and I became aware of people stopping to take photos of the pool area from the road. Why would you do that? You don’t need me to explain anything else, do you? But, I suppose, they are only thinking what I am thinking when they gaze across the area. You can’t help it. I don’t want to speculate or theorise, at least not today, because Luz has had enough of it.
If you had arrived here from space, or had awoken from an 11 year dream, you would simply never know what happened here, as we say, whatever it was. For all that, I love it here and right now would not want to be anywhere else.