A luxury retreat in the California of Europe
Family-friendliness and five-star luxury aren't two things that tend to be offered together on holiday. Martinhal in Portugal, though, is thoroughly deserving of the accolade of 'Europe's finest luxury family resort' says Barbara Collins
THEY call the Western Algarve the California of Europe. It's a bit like driving along the Big Sur with its wide open spaces, sea views and endless blue skies.
Right at the bottom-right hand corner of Portugal is the historic town of Sagres. It's about an 80-minute drive from Faro Airport and it's where the Martinhal Beach Resort can be found. (They've since opened another resort at Quinta da Lago).
It's set in a 42 hectare protected National Park which means lots of flora and fauna but that doesn't mean a lack of 21st century mod-cons. Far from it. This man-made village has everything you could ever need. There are houses, shops, swimming pools, restaurants, a spa, play areas, bars and childcare and leisure facilities.
The land was bought by the Stern family in 2002. Husband and wife Chitra and Roman have four children and they wanted to build somewhere that they would like to go. As Chitra told me: “I wanted restaurants with Kids' Corners where they could play happily while the parents could have their cappuccinos with the foam still on it."
Being able to eat while having our little ones in sight was one of the major highlights of our trip. We had superb fish with Atlantic views at As Dunas restaurant while John and Clara ran in and out from the trampoline and sandpit. They did the same at the playpark right beside the Os Gambozinos pizza and pasta restaurant and the O Terraco which focused on Portuguese cuisine.
There were also carers laid on at mealtimes for the indoor Kids' Corners if the children wanted to sit and colour or play games with them.
There was also a Surf Bar complete with camper van with another play area attached. We sipped on pre-dinner cocktails while they pretended to drive off into the sunset. I can't tell you how fantastic it was to be able to relax and know that they were completely safe and happy.
We were also delighted with the accommodation. It was a two-storey luxury house with views of the Atlantic. The two bedrooms were downstairs so we could make the most of the view from the open-plan living room. The modern design by Sir Terence Conran's team and Michael Sodeau really worked. The sofas were so comfortable to lounge on, as was the balcony furniture. The beds had memory foam mattresses.
We had the fabulous Voya products from Sligo in the bathrooms and a Magimix coffee machine in the kitchen as well as a generous self-catering welcome pack and hats and toys for the children.
Some days we had the buffet breakfast in the resort hotel. It was as five-star as everything else, complete with those foamy cappuccinos. Other times we went down to the village shop for freshly-baked bread and pastries to have with juice and fruit back at the house.
Our mornings were spent lazing by the Village Square reading and drinking coffee while the kids were at their different kids' clubs. John's Fox Club was for age five to eight which meant he was happy with children his age while Clara was in the two-to four-year-old Rapinsinhos group. Both were a cut above the usual.
John went on a nature trail one of the days and it was great to see both children picking up a few words of German and Portuguese from new friends. You can book them in for half days or for longer if you decide to head off on the bike with your other half, go surfing for have a pampering session. The clubs run for babies of six months right up to 16 years old. I saw plenty of teenagers loving the tennis courts and the beach activities.
The Voya range was also used at the Finisterra spa where I spent a blissful hour having a facial. It was strange to have Sligo seaweed draped over my face but my skin had that Wild Atlantic glow afterwards. There's also a range of treatments for men and the little guests. We would have tried a family spa experience if I'd been able to prise my lot away from the pools, the table tennis, the Blue Room with the pool table and Nintendo Wiis and the playparks.
We did venture off the resort a few times to go into nearby Sagres. It's a sleepy little town with a few nice restaurants. We had lunch one day at Mar e Vista which had a spectacular view of the Atlantic. It was so pleasant to have a salad and a beer outside just watching the ocean. There's also a supermarket but for clothes shopping and the like you would have to venture to Vilamoura.
We just wanted to relax and enjoy the simple things that make Portugal so lovely, like the seafood and the wine and the sunshine.
Naturally, the fish in these parts arrives stiff-fresh off the boats. I particularly loved the clams cooked simply in olive oil and garlic. They were like little sweets of the sea; perfect with a bottle of Portuguese red back at the hotel. I had them two nights in a row.
Other memorable meals include the typical Cataplana fish with rice and one seriously good steak frites. The children had plenty of healthy options to choose from and I was delighted when they asked for fish and pasta instead of the usual pizza, although that was the real deal from a wood-fired oven.
They were truly tired each night after all of the activities which also included afternoon face painting and Retruti the Clown's entertainment shows. There really was something for every age and every taste.
We could have done more outside Martinhal but to be honest, it was just so relaxing and the children really didn't want to leave. It's not a particularly cheap holiday but for pleasure and peace of mind we have never had better.
:: 30 per cent discount on a double room at the hotel when a house is booked so grandparents can go too.
:: The kids clubs are complimentary from November 2 2015 – March 18 2016.
:: There are 37 hotel rooms and a total of 132 luxury houses plus villas to buy at Martinhal Sagres.
:: They also do weddings, conferences and parties in custom-designed marquees
:: 2-bedroom villa situated in the private gated community of Martinhal Quinta with own private pool from €247 per night in September and from €181 per night in October.
:: Christmas packages start from €99.50 per adult per night and can include takeaway Christmas dinner for your house.
:: Three-night New Year's Eve packages from €840 in the hotel and from €1,080 to €1,734 for a house.
:: Check out their Steiff Bear babymoon and baby's first holiday as well as their Cycling Weeks at www.martinhal.com.
:: To book call 00 351 282 240 200 or email email@example.com.
:: Barbara flew with Aer Lingus from Shannon to Faro. To book visit www.aerlingus.com.