What do you want to do when you turn 51? You could do worse than a lunch at Vila Joya, a small boutique resort that allows outsiders to dine in the restaurant as guests! That’s exactly what Russ and I did on my birthday this October 1st, since we were traveling in Portugal.
Vila Joya is the name of the resort as well as its restaurant, which is one of Europe’s Michelin star restaurants. We found this beautiful spot while traveling in Portugal in the Algarve in Albufeira, snug at the ocean’s edge. Chef Dieter Koschina leads the culinary experience there. He acquired his first star in 1995 and has been a two-star chef since 1999.
When we arrived at the wooden gates and pressed the entry button, the gates slowly opened to a circular stone driveway and Bougenvilla that framed the entrance. As we entered the resort, it was hard not to see how unique and intentional each piece of its beachy-elegant decor was.
We sat for a cocktail in a lounge area just inside the outdoor deck area, which expanded the width of the restaurant with a peek-a-boo view of the ocean. I started this luxury dining experience with a glass of Champagne because I am fancy like that. Russ opted for his trusty rum and coke.
We were shortly escorted to the outdoor deck and as we were the first of the lunch guests to arrive we were able to pick our table.
We picked the tasting menu for lunch. I had mine with wine pairings (of course). The meal was a leisurely 3 hours with spectacular views on our plate and beyond. We had 5 courses. Now, what this really means is that there are courses before and after the set menu. All gifts from the chef. I actually lost count but there were possibly 9 courses in total. Each course had its own set of silverware plus its own elegant glassware, stoneware, or uniquely crafted tableware.
Some of the dishes we especially enjoyed were tuna with squid and basil, turbot with Jerusalem artichoke and parsley, and beef filet with braised vegetables and red wine reduction. Experiencing Michelin star restaurants in foreign countries is so fun as some of the ingredients are inevitably unfamiliar.
Each dish was placed in front of us in unison, and our servers took the time to introduce each one properly, telling us all about the ingredients. It was the same with my wine. I was given a brief history of each wine and the reason for the pairing. All Portuguese wines of course!
I loved the Vinho Verde, which is a young wine released shortly after harvest. It’s a crisp and acidic wine and it pairs well with an array of seafood.
I also enjoyed the Pombal do Vesúvio red wine, produced in the Douro region. Aged in French oak barrels for 10 months, it tastes of dark berry fruits. This paired very well with my beef filet.
Accompanying my beef course was a Port wine, aged in French oak barrels. It was a Vintage Port, meaning it was aged to a maximum of 2 and a half years before it was bottled. Vintage Port is made entirely from the grapes of the announced vintage year. Port wine grapes are harvested in the Douro Valley region and transported to Porto to barrel age.
I’ve dined in more than a couple Michelin star restaurants, and Vila Joya certainly meets the standard I’ve come to expect. What a perfect birthday: sitting and enjoying what was right in front of me. Food, wine, an oceanic view, traveling in Portugal, and the best company I could ask for.
So far, at age 51, I’m joyfully happy. I’m grateful for this experience– and the ones to come!