Family holidays are all about compromise.
If you want a destination where the thread-count of the towels is high and the stress from the kids club is low, then there aren’t a lot of choices. Worse still, the few hotels that fit that bill can feel a little like “SW London Sur Mer”.
The Martinhal in Portugal aims to redress that balance.
Situated in Sagres, Portugal, which is a bit of the Algarve you probably haven’t been to before, it sits almost entirely surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean. It’s a national park and has a rugged open feeling and the sorts of winds and waves that attract surfers and sailors from all around the world.
Accommodation consists of a hotel with around thirty eight rooms and a selection of villas and apartments scattered across the private estate. Two restaurants sit right atop the beach and sprinkled across the rest of the resort are tennis courts, a supermarket, another restaurant, swimming pools plus childcare and entertainment facilities.
It’s a beautiful set-up and it does a number of things really really well.
The attention to detail is quite incredible. Whether you’re staying in the hotel or one of the many villas and houses dotted around the resort, it’s all beautiful. My (nine year old) daughter summed it up when she first opened the door to our two bedroom house and exclaimed “it’s like a shop, we’re going to live in a shop”, and she meant Conran not Pound.
Myself and Mr NVN had our only argument of the holiday over a set of mushroom shaped wooden “devices” set into the kitchen wall. He’s convinced they were coat hooks and insisted on hanging the children’s goggles from them, I am still convinced they were art.
This attention to detail is also apparent outside. Life revolves around a number of “hubs” from the hotel to the beach and the pools to the village square, which is the central gathering place for the whole resort. These have all been intelligently designed and connected to ensure maximum ease-of-use for the family as a whole. e,g, the crèche is next to the village square which is also by one of the pools
This shouldn’t, however, conjure images of a sterile “country club” where children should be seen and not heard.
Which brings me onto my second point, the Martinhal works very hard on entertaining your little ones.
There are kids clubs throughout the day and a crèche which is calm, happy, spacious and comprehensively equipped. Imagine if Peter Jones ran crèches. This was it. The staff couldn’t be more helpful and cheery and everything I picked and prodded oozed quality. I almost wished my little ones were young again so I could book them in.
For older children the hugely popular “Blue Room” is their dedicated hangout. In effect a technology packed youth club with football and table tennis tables, video consoles, PC’s, a pool table and more.
Children’s movies are shown there every evening and because the whole resort is self-contained and secluded, we were happy leaving our little ones watching “Finding Nemo” whilst we sat in the bar taking in the waves crashing upon the beach. We visited during “surf week” so lessons were organised on the beach and cool beach gear dotted around the resort to reinforce the theme.
Football, “Padel” sport and tennis are also on offer. The latter coaches were particularly good. My sporty 12 year old boy had a joint lesson with his nine year old sister and they were both pushed very hard by the same coach at the same time, something I didn’t really think possible with their very different abilities and ambitions. More importantly, they both loved it.
All this childcare doesn’t, however, mean the adults have to slum it. The food is delicious with an a la carte fish restaurant right by the beach, another in the hotel and a third in the village square. The latter an Italian restaurant which is both eat in and take away which bearing in mind the size of the accommodation is a great idea.
Lastly, they have a serious spa. The Finnisterra Spa sits in the centre of the resort and has all of the usual treatments you would expect, plus a few I hadn’t come across before.
Reinforcing their child-friendly credentials they actually offer treatments for children, although I would be keener to keep mine on the courts or in the sea, and reserve the pampering for the grown-ups.
So what’s not to love?
Well this is a relatively unspoilt area of Portugal. The nearest village could be described as sleepy and if you are looking for a bustling metropolis you won’t find it near Sagres. I found that a plus, but I understand some holidaymakers might be looking for a little more nightlife in the evenings.
Peace and calm.
Everything is done beautifully but in an understated fashion. The childcare is enthusiastically crafted but not “in your face” and there is none of that forced jollity or frantic rushing around that can be the unintended consequence of some activity holidays.
If you want to holiday as a family, stay in a gorgeous resort and squeeze in some serious pampering and sport at the same time, then the Martinhal should be right at the top of your list.
How we got there
We stayed as guest of the Martinhal, flying direct from Gatwick to Faro. It’s a 90 minute transfer from Faro to the resort and it’s probably best to hire a car so you can explore the local area on your own terms. There are a number of family packages from “Baby’s First Holiday” to “Mummy-licious Wellbeing Holidays” plus a wide variety of more traditional family options.