From isolated farmstead to one of Europe’s most exclusive destinations, Quinta do Lago has a fascinating tale to tell.
The story of Quinta do Lago reveals how the creation of a destination can rest in the hands of just one man. This man was property developer André Jordan, and it was his vision, that secured the future of the Algarve’s leading resort. “Sometimes when you look at a property you have an instant view of what you are going to do. There was no road access to Quinta do Lago, so I had to drive along trails and through pine woods until I came to a high point overlooking it, with the ocean on the horizon. Within 10 minutes I had the concept for the whole project in my mind. I wanted to create a high-quality resort that reflected local character and style.”
Interestingly, on that distant day when André Jordan first set eyes on the future site of Quinta do Lago, he stopped off at what is now the refined setting of Casa Velha restaurant. Then it was just a crumbling 300-year-old farmhouse, with earth floors inside, inhabited by Maria and her husband José. “It was a day I will never forget. I sat on that hill, looked across the marshlands and I had a vision more or less of the Quinta do Lago Master Plan,” André Jordan later said.
As Quinta do Lago made its first tentative steps, it did so in a country about to enter political turmoil. This was a time seemingly not conducive to investing in a major golf and real estate development, but Jordan had his dream. The initial and successful phase, from 1972 to 1974, saw the opening of a resort’s first facilities and accommodation: a restaurant in the estate’s original farmhouse, now Casa Velha; 20 timeshare two-bedroom apartments; the Pony Club disco; a tennis club; a horse riding centre, a bridge across to the beach; the creation of the lake and the completion of 27 holes of golf. During this time the resort welcomed its first guests, quickly gaining a reputation among the travelling elite as ‘the’ place to be, while being favourably featured in several international publications. And then, just as sales in building plots began to boom, the military coup of April 25, 1974 and the resulting revolution kicked off a chain of events that would put a hold on any further development.
Following the nationalisation of the banks from which André Jordan had borrowed to develop the resort, Quinta do Lago was taken over by the state and Jordan returned to Brazil. With very few visitors, sales at a standstill and buyers from before the revolution pulling out, the resort was left in the hands of the works committee, some 300 workers with very few resources, low wages, but plenty of resolve. Their efforts helped keep the resort going, ensuring its golfing reputation in particular.
Part of the resort’s founding vision, golf excelled from the outset, with William F Mitchell’s initial 27-hole layout (today’s South Course and nine holes of today’s North Course) paving the way for the Quinta’s very first golfing accolade, when it was chosen to hold the Portuguese Open in 1976, with Spain’s Salvador Balbuena ending with a four-shot lead over Scotland’s Sam Torrance. The tournament and its successful outcome represented an unrivalled achievement for the resort. Initially, because the future of the Portuguese Open itself was uncertain. Only through the concerted efforts of Quinta do Lago and the Portuguese Golf Federation was it able to go ahead. Additionally, at the time the course had no facilities, and as a result it was forced to improvise, using military tents to accommodate the players, media and visitors.
Between 1976 and 2001 Quinta do Lago hosted the Portuguese Open a total of eight times. The 33rd Portuguese Open, held in 1989, was arguably Quinta’s most memorable. Victory went to charismatic Scot, Colin Montgomerie, who took the title with a final score of 24 under par, breaking the course record along the way with a round of 63.
In 1981 the resort’s holding company Planal SA was returned to its shareholders and by April 1982, Jordan was back in the driving seat, keen to continue his dream, despite USD 8 mn in inherited debts. He immediately set about restructuring the resort and redefining its concept, sounding out investors with a view to selling larger developments instead of individual villa plots. This led to the creation of the ‘resorts-within-a-resort’ we know today, such as Victory Village, Vilar do Golf, Four Seasons Country Club, Four Seasons Fairway, etc. Other major investment coups included the construction of San Lorenzo golf course, which was sold to Forte Hotels PLC, and the construction of Hotel Quinta do Lago, by Saudi Prince Khalid-Bin-Fahd-Al-Faisal. These major developments, combined with the Algarve’s growing profile as a real estate destination, led to a rise in demand for villa plots and the construction of many luxury properties. By 1985 Jordan has transformed the debt into assets of more than USD 30 mn. On a high, Jordan sold the resort (its holding company, Planal SA) to a consortium of British shareholders headed by Roger Abraham and David Thompson.
By 1989 Roger Abraham had withdrawn, and running the resort alone David Thompson appointed Domingos da Silva as Planal’s administrator. The nineties saw the resort consolidate its position as one of Europe’s premier destinations, and cement its role as flag bearer for quality tourism in the Algarve. This period also saw the resort retake control of its golfing assets, with its 36 holes, now North and South, back in its full ownership.
In 1998 Planal was sold to Irish billionaire Denis O’Brien. Almost two decades down the line, O’Brien’s leadership has ensured the resort’s position as the leading golf and real estate resort in the Algarve, and as a guiding light in luxury developments for Europe and beyond. Sticking to Jordan’s initial vision, the resort goes from strength to strength, with ongoing improvements to infrastructures, facilities and amenities, including a third golf course, and the creation of new and exciting real estate developments. Under O’Brien’s custodianship, Quinta do Lago, now at 45 years of age, has matured into a truly successful example of luxury residential and golf tourism, more than achieving the vision its founder first experienced on a pine-covered hill overlooking deserted marshlands.
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