It’s all cobbled streets, whitewashed houses, narrow, winding and uneven backstreets, and enough cafes, cake shops and restaurants to last you a lifetime. It’s the sort of place where the pace of life is glacial and time seems to stand still; there’s no real rushing about or hustle and bustle here, everything is slowed down (and all the better for it).
For those who enjoy good-quality fresh produce, coffee and wine, and the café culture that epitomises the countries of the Mediterranean, you could do much worse than Loulé.
Its crowning glory, arguably, is its Moorish-inspired market, which sells fresh fish, meats, bread, cheeses, fruit, vegetables, wines, beers, sauces, olives and cakes. Saturday is market day – hugely popular, even in these socially-distanced, mask-wearing times – which draws people from far and wide (locals, tourists and expats in equal measure).
Other standout landmarks include its 2nd-century castle, its local park (Parque Municipal de Loulé) and a selection of impressive churches, while there are a number of workshops scattered throughout the town where you can peek in and see hats being made from palm or copper instruments being made from scratch.
Parts of the town are run-down and boarded up, and it’s probably not the place to come if you’re after lively nightlife and tourist-friendly venues, but overall, it’s a place with considerable charm.
What it perhaps lacks, though, is the sort of employment opportunities on offer in bigger Portuguese cities in the north. While much less reliant on tourism than some of its neighbours (Saturdays aside, when the main market on the high street and a local flea market are both trading, you are unlikely to see too many tourists, even in the height of summer), it does still rely on the spending power of holidaymakers and expats, with many villas and apartments in the surrounding hills.
Ombria Resort, a sustainable, eco-friendly development, the progress of which PIT has followed closely, is attempting to boost the local economy in Loulé with the creation of branded residences and villas in the nearby hills which aim to complement the natural environment rather than disturb it.
Its sales office is based in Loulé and in all of its promotional material it is keen to extol the virtues of the town and all it has to offer.
Situated a 10-minute drive from Loulé itself, the development started construction in December 2019 and its first phase is expected to complete in Q1 2022. Although there was a short stop to proceedings during the worst of the pandemic, with a small cluster of cases among construction workers, the project wasn’t deterred by the coronavirus and was able to continue throughout. It is still on schedule to complete on time.
The 18-hole golf course – with a front and back nine – is already complete, but won’t open until phase 1 as a whole has come to a conclusion.
“The construction is coming along very well,” Julio Delgado, chief executive of Ombria resort, told PIT. “Last week we also completed our Viceroy Residences show apartment - a great milestone. Our owner Pontos Group [a Finnish family office] continue to be fully committed to Ombria Resort and we have adhered throughout the pandemic (following all safety protocols) to our planned construction timetable.”
What does Ombria Resort include?
The investment opportunities on offer are broadly split into two – the branded Viceroy Residences and the Alcedo Villas. The former offers 65 serviced apartments, providing ‘exceptional facilities and rental returns’ with Viceroy Hotels & Resorts management, while the Alcedo Villas are a collection of 12 private villas offering a ‘year-round luxury lifestyle’.
These hilltop villas will feature ‘tailorable, bioclimatic architecture’, giving owners the chance to create their ‘one-of-a-kind dream home’.
As well as the golf course and clubhouse, there will also be a ‘world-class’ spa, state-of-the art conference facilities and a junior club for the children, as well as on-site restaurants, hiking trails, an organic farming area, a honey harvest and an astronomical observatory.
Sustainability the top priority
Ombria Resort has always placed a key focus on sustainability and integrating into the Algarvian countryside rather than spoiling it. The location is remote and tranquil, with impressive vistas as far as the eye can see, and the aim is clearly for a serene sense of zen for residents and visitors.
In addition to the aforementioned bioclimatic architecture, the development is also employing pioneering geothermal and solar energy, ‘highly efficient’ heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems, eco-friendly water management and lighting, and electric vehicle car points, as well as the creation of a plant nursery.
On its website, Ombria says the resort has a commitment to taking into account its economic, environmental and social responsibilities in order to pioneer a ‘naturally exceptional development in harmony with the surrounding landscape and local communities of the Algarvian Barrocal’.
As well as creating vital infrastructure, improving accessibility and generating new jobs and business opportunities, the resort sees itself as a member of a larger community.
One location nearby that is set to benefit is Quinta Tor, a family-run winery with its own swimming pool for guests and spectacular views on offer. It sits only a short drive away from the resort and you can see the Ombria development from the winery’s outside seating area.
Residences take shape
Those keen on investing in the Viceroy Residences at Ombria Resort - luxury one and two-bedroom apartments, completely furnished and equipped to Viceroy’s Hotels & Resorts exacting five-star standards – now have something tangible to view in person thanks to the recent opening of a model home on site.
Construction is well underway on all the residences, but one apartment is complete to show investors what they could be getting. The apartment has been finished to a very high standard, with all the mod-cons and little touches you would expect from a luxury development.
Owners of these residences are set to benefit from privileged access to the hotel’s facilities and a guaranteed rental return of 5% for the first five years.
The views from the apartment are undoubtedly stunning, and the whole thing is very slick and bespoke, with no stone left unturned and no detail forgotten.
The makeup of the typical buyer is varied, Delgado says, thanks to the wide range of properties on offer. “The Viceroy Residences are an easy, hassle-free investment opportunity while enjoying the benefits of Ombria Resort,” he explains. “You can turn up and know your Viceroy Residence will be fully serviced to Viceroy’s 5-star standards and ready to use.”
The 12 villas, by contrast, are large individual homes complete with river-view garden pavilions that can be used ‘as an idyllic work from home space’.
“We see owners using the Alcedo Villas for living permanently or long periods of time, with the ability to have children enrolled in one of the international schools located just 15 minutes away,” Delgado continues.
“Covid-19 has changed the way people live and the requirements property buyers are looking for from homes. We have buyers coming from all over the world (namely France, the Netherlands, Belgium, UK, Germany and Switzerland), cementing Ombria as a leading resort for international property buyers keen to enjoy an authentic Algarve experience throughout the year.” Buyers from Japan and China have also expressed an interest.
Why the Algarve?
Near year-round sun, a relaxed pace of life and major tax incentives such as the Non-Habitual Residency (NHR) tax scheme and the Golden Visa programme (which is expected to become available to British citizens at the end of the Brexit transition period) all help to explain the Algarve’s enduring popularity among overseas holiday home and second home owners.
The Algarve has also been much less affected by the coronavirus compared to other parts of the country, with the region reporting low levels of infections and deaths.
While restrictions are in place – social distancing, limits on the number of people indoors, mandatory mask wearing and rules on opening hours, etc – life still feels relatively normal in this part of the world, even as winter approaches.
The current quarantine restrictions on travellers from the UK and Ireland (with no air bridges between these countries and Portugal, and the need to self-isolate when visitors return home) is having an impact on one of the Algarve’s largest buying markets, but the increasing ability for people to work remotely from anywhere in the world should help to encourage those thinking of a longer-term move abroad.
Has the scheme faced any pushback?
“We work very closely with the local surrounding communities which includes the neighbouring town, Loulé,” Delgado insists. “Naturally, being located in such a beautiful and precious environment, we wanted to assure the locals that we are adding value at all points. We are passionate about protecting our local environment and sustainability is at the core of our values. We want to ensure that Ombria Resort is enjoyed by our local community as well as by residents.”
This sense of sustainable, responsible development, and Portugal being widely regarded as one of the safest destinations in Europe, has led to a renewed surge in interest from buyers, according to Delgado. Some 30% of the Viceroy Residences are now sold or reserved by a multinational clientele.
“We have currently 46 branded apartments and 12 luxury bespoke villas still available for purchase,” he concludes.