Monday, 2 July 2012

Martinhal Resort - Laid back luxury for families

I have to admit, Ruby was about 3 before we took her abroad by plane.  The nightmare of buggies; nappies; feeding equipment; toys and all the parapheralia that comes with little people was just too much to contemplate.

However, had we known about the family-friendly resort of Martinhal with its own Baby Concierge in the Western Algarve, we'd have been off like a shot.  Travelling from our local airport at Luton was straightforward, we got priority boarding with Easyjet as everyone with young children does, and the 2 hour flight went by in a flash.

We were met at Faro airport by a charming chauffeur, well practiced in collecting families for transfers to Martinhal.  A top-of-the-range, air-conditioned car transported us through the countryside and we were plied with ice cold water while Ruby was entertained with an in-car Disney movie. 

Arriving at the resort, we were greeted with warm and genuinely hospitality.  Check-in was fast and straightforward and Ruby was thrilled with her complimentary welcome pack from the kid's club.

It was clear just from the reception area that I was going to love the interior design of the complex. Stylish, contemporary and sustainable design, with a vintage edge.  The emphasis is on local materials - timber; natural stone; wicker and cork and it achieves the tricky balance of being both luxurious and stylish yet accessible and child-friendly.

Striking the perfect balance is something that Martinhal does naturally.  Throughout our stay, we were called Mrs Elizabeth/Miss Ruby/Mr Simon by all the staff.  This perfectly sums up the whole ethos of the resort - a charming balance of respect and professionalism, mixed with a natural, warm, relaxed friendliness.

We stayed in one of the Garden houses, and like the Ocean; Bay and Pinewood houses it was impeccably styled and equipped.  Ruby was most taken with the funky fold down bunk beds in our one-bedroomed apartment, and it allowed us some privacy and sleep free from wriggling toddler in our mammoth king-sized bed.

The kitchen was comprehensively equipped with a Nespresso machine, larder fridge, washing machine and dishwasher and the welcome basket was a lovely touch. We were staying half-board so there wasn't too much need for us to cook, but you could happily go self-catering - particularly with the delicious produce stocked in the on-site shop.

Having an apartment or villa offers the best of both worlds - the freedom and flexibility to come and go as you please, together with the comfort of luxury hotel services such as a daily maid, laundry collection and a hotline to reception.

Martinhal offers a choice of pools - or if you book one of the Pinewoods you can have your own private pool.  Staying in the Garden House area, we had access to the Oasis pool specifically for our apartments, and often had it all to ourself.  As well as the stunning outdoor pool, there are comfy loungers, huge beanbags and luxurious showers/toilets and changing rooms - a real bonus meaning we didn't have to nip back to our house every time we needed the loo!

Other pools offer their own bar; juice bar; inflatable toys; sea views; indoor areas and baby pools so you really are spoilt for choice.

As well as the snack bars by the pools, there are three restaurants on site.  O Terraco located in the hotel, is the most formal - but not so formal that you'd feel uncomfortable taking your a turbo-charged toddler in to dine.  In the morning, it is the setting for breakfast - more aptly described as a banquet than a buffet.  Ruby didn't quite know where to start when faced with a choice of cereals; toast; pastries; cakes; fresh fruit; dried fruit; cooked breakfast; fish; cold meats; cheese; juices and yoghurts.  Added to that, qualified child-carers from the creche and kid's club armed with pens and crayons, she was in seventh heaven!

In the evening, O Terraco becomes a fine dining restaurant serving contemporary Portuguese food made from the finest local ingredients.  A comprehensive children's menu doesn't patronise parents by offering 'kid's food', but exceptional quality child-sized portions which introduce kids to the local fayre.  Of course, there's always a back-up option of something more familiar, should your child decide that's what they want.

Again, between the hours of 5.30 - 8.30pm there are kid's entertainers on hand on the terrace to occupy the children and allow the grown-ups to relax and eat in peace.

Ruby's favourite restaurant was As Dunas, a more informal environment overlooking the beach.  A huge terrace situated above a play area with sand-pit and trampoline makes this a hit with all the kids.  She happily careered around between courses while we got the chance to unwind and chat over a glass of wine.  As Dunas specialise in local fresh fish and seafood and it was a treat to eat here and cosy up under soft snuggly blankets that the staff provide once the sun goes down.

Last but not least, there is Os Gambozinos situated at the heart of the resort on the 'village square'.  Offering tempting pizzas and pasta dishes, this is a great place to grab a bite for lunch.  They also offer a takeway service!  The village square is a car-free area with safe rubberised flooring, scattered with playhouses; bikes and outdoor games.  Ruby loved making new friends here and we could watch her play while sipping coffee from the village deli or enjoying our lunch.   

The relaxed atmosphere of Martinhal means you can pick and choose how little or how much you want to do.  The excellent childcare facilities can be booked everyday or just as a one-off.  Ruby went to Raposinhos Kid's Club one afternoon and had a ball.  So much so, that when she heard there was a pyjama party going on the next evening, she begged to go along!  The qualified staff are professional and fun and there's a hands-on activity each session for children to get involved in.  For younger babies there's a creche and for older kids and teens there are organised activities and clubs.  The Blue Room offers gaming and film screenings.  There's plenty of sporting activities and tuition and excursions too.

Once the kids are happily settled doing their thing, it's time for the grown ups to relax.  I chose a floaty relaxing aromatherapy massage at the spa, and Simon went off to the well equipped gym.  We were also lucky enough to go on a dolphin watching trip from the nearby port at Sagres.  It was such a special trip, and one we'll remember forever.

The on-site spa is a haven of tranquility, and not only do they offer treatments for grown ups, but they provide parent and child sessions too.  Such a fabulous idea, allowing for relaxing quality time together.  You can learn baby massage techniques, book a mother and daughter facial or a father and son back massage.  There are specially devised treatments for tweens and teens too.  We opted for the Mom and Daughter manicure, and although at age 4 she didn't quite grasp the need to stay still, the therapists were exceptionally patient and professional.

I can't finish my write-up without talking about the local area.  Martinhal itself is set in the midst of a national park, and this undiscovered part of the Algarve is unspoilt; natural and stunningly beautiful.  The beach is a short walk from the complex - either by steps or via the sloping road and path if you have a buggy.  Miles of glorious golden sand and azure sea make for perfect fun in the sun.  A walk along the coastline will take you to the historic port of Sagres from where you can watch the fishermen land their catches; take boat trips and visit the many fish restaurants.

Yes, because of its position this area is prone to windy weather - that's what makes it a wind-sailing hub.  But this is only for a few months of the year and to be honest a cooling breeze would be most welcome at the height of the season.  With its own micro-climate, this area is typically a few degrees cooler in the summer than it's more commercial Algarve neighbours, and a few degrees warmer off-peak than other resorts.

With, on average, 360 days of sun a year, the Western Algarve is indeed a very appealing place to visit all year round.

But most of all, what makes Martinhal and Sagres special is its people.  Their unerring attention to detail; genuine warmth and hospitality and relaxed laid back manner make for a perfect break.

If you have young children, I simply can't think of a better holiday for fun in the sun.

Disclosure:  Very many thanks to Martinhal for welcoming us to your resort.  We were provided with half-board accommodation in a Garden House for 4 nights, trips and treatments as described above and a contribution towards our flights.  However, all opinions and thoughts are my own and I have described both the resort and our experience accurately, fully and honestly.


  1. Agree with all of this, as we had a fabulous holiday in Martinhal last summer. Wished they had paid for my accommodation - it's not cheap, but well worth it!

    1. Thanks Trish.

      Yes, we were amazingly fortunate, but loved it so much we'll definitely be going back. They have some great deals if you take parents/grandparents so I want to look into that.

      I would happily scrimp and save all year to be able to do it all again x

  2. Wow that's a blogging assignment you wouldn't say no too! Looks amazing, lovely pics of you and your family x

    1. Thank you Emily, it was such a fabulous trip, I'd recommend it to anyone. x

  3. This looks amazing. Glad you had a great time x

    1. Thanks Susan, it really was so fabulous. Can't wait to go back again! x

  4. looks like a lovely place, we've just returned from the other end of the Algarve, I love it there x

  5. Looks like you had a blast! Me and my family really had a great time Poconocs Family Resorts for out last vacation. It sounds like we really need to try this place out

  6. I want to be in As Dunas right NOW! Sounds fab! Or lounging in the spa! Lovely post. I'll have to check out Martinhal - we're big fans of Portugal! x