Barack Obama wore the same blue or grey suit daily to fend off decision fatigue. Not sweating the small things gave him a little more leeway to, you know, make crucial decisions about the fate of the planet. Quinta do Lago, one of the most established resorts in The Algarve or in its home country of Portugal for that matter, has put together a special program that takes the choice out of your hands. The hotel designs your itinerary for the stay, custom-tailoring it according to your interests, hobbies and desires, to let you focus on enjoying the holiday to the utmost rather than getting mired in the details. Over three days, I was one of the first journalists to experience exactly how this works.

The brief

Two weeks prior to my arrival at Quinta do Lago, I was asked to fill out a questionnaire laying out my interests to give the hotel staff a clear and comprehensive idea of what I’d like to pursue during my visit. I’m currently in a training block for multiple endurance races this summer, so I asked them to put together an itinerary that leaned heavily into exercise, wellness, yoga and nature. Basically, I requested Quinta do Lago's most active itinerary.

The Bike Shed at The Campus at Quinta do Lago, Portugal
Aerial shot of Quinta do Lago, Portugal
The swimming pool at The Campus, Quinta do Lago
High Performance Gym at Quinta do Lago

The Magnolia Hotel

Upon arrival, we point it to the Magnolia Hotel on the northern end of the Quinta do Lago complex. Quinta do Lago is interesting in that it’s both a resort and, in essence, a small town, with facilities and restaurants peppered among multiple hotels, condominiums, and exclusive properties. Founded over 50 years ago in 1971 by Irish national Andre Jordan, the resort has evolved while integrating seamlessly with the natural environment, building on only 9% of Quinta do Lago’s total area.

The Magnolia Hotel opened on the northern side of the resort in 2017. Essentially a drive-in motel, the property has been redesigned to channel the allure of a 1950s Palm Springs bolthole, with plenty of neon, coral pink and eggshell white intermixing to inviting effect. Many visiting sports teams rent out rooms during their stays, so there’s a fully-fitted gym in the basement, treatment rooms, sauna, steam room and jacuzzi, and chillout rooms, including a gaming centre and a cinema.

During the mornings, we sip strong black coffee poolside over a substantial breakfast with dishes running the gamut from poached eggs on toast with guac to banana pancakes with caramel sauce and whipped cream. In the evening, I experience true happiness necking a pint of Sagres out of a frosted glass and nibbling on salty cancha corn.

Steak at Bovino restaurant, Quinta do Lago

The itinerary

The stay kicks off in indulgent style with cocktails and a steak dinner at Bovino, where a dry gin martini paves the way for lamb croquettes with cider caramel and dijon; chistorra sausage with roasted tomato pepper sauce; and cuts of cow ranging from the fillet to ribeye to rump cap.

The following morning, we rise early and catch a cab to Faro Island and Rio Formosa, 18,000 hectares of tidal marshland that is sheltered from open ocean by a seemingly endless sandbar. We hop a traditional Portuguese fishing dayboat through the strait beyond oyster farms and below little terns and enormous storks to a sandbed where we learnhow to harvest cockles by digging with a clam rake. We then hunt razor clams by finding their burrow holes, pouring salt over the aperture to block the oxygen source, then grabbing their tumescent, tuberous feet as they crawl up for air. The catch-and-release exercise is equally odd and satisfying.

That afternoon I head to The Campus, a multimillion-pound multi-sports hub that has elevated the resort into a premier sporting destination for training, recovery, and rehabilitation. Designed to meet the exacting standards of professional athletes, the facilities have attracted sports luminaries including Rio Ferdinand, Judy Murray, and Brian O’Driscoll. I learn how to play padel, the racquet sport invented in Mexico in 1969 which has become a smash hit over recent years, before heading to the high-performance gym for a personal training session with Pedro Reis, who nearly induces vomit walking me through a 'Circuits from Hell' session, which is suitably hellacious.

The Campus entrance at Quinta do Lago

In the morning, I do mortal DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) damage with a HIIT class, before walking it off with a nature tour of the Ria Formosa Natural Park with Ricardo, the resort’s resident marine biologist, who points out avian and marine species such as barn swallows, great crested grebes, and snowy egrets. This culminates with a different kind of medicine, cocktails at the newly-renovated Gigi’s Bar, where we sip cocktails inspired by the landscape on a wooden deck suntrap and literally watch the tide come in. Dinner that night is my favourite so far. The UMAMI restaurant is situated near the lagoon and boasts a blazing hot robata grill. I’m smitten with selections like the ebi and fermented honey tempura with togarashi as well as crunchy spicy squid in black garlic cream with smoked salt.

I spin off the self-indulgence the next morning, meeting Brazilian triathlete Gabriel Garrido at The Bike Shed. He outfits me with a state-of-the-art KTM Revelator Alto Team carbon racing bike before we take to the hills for a 33 mile loop through olive groves, ancient hilltop villages, the city of Faro and back. Suffice it to say, I am suitably exhausted. On the flight home I spend at least an hour drooling onto the EasyJet travel tray, too tired to retain consciousness.

So, does Quinta do Lago’s Surprise Package deliver? It certainly does what it says on the tin. I am thoroughly worked after running a gauntlet of intense activity. So, yes, fatigued. But not decision-fatigued in the slightest. Having a bit of ambiguity in a holiday makes it easier to focus on the bigger picture.

Where to stay

The Surprise package at Quinta do Lago

Rates for the Surprise holiday package at The Magnolia Hotel, Quinta do Lago start from £435 for three nights in a standard double room. The Magnolia Hotel also offers a Standard Double Room from £139 on a B&B basis. Family Cottages are available from £273 per night on a B&B basis.

For more information about the surprise package, go to