Just two-years-on and Martinhal in Portugal has already been awarded status as Europe’s finest luxury family resort. This is a destination living up to expectations, so we’re back to the historic town of Sagres, to rediscover this hip on-trend destination.
ome of our most avid readers will remember when our journalist Sarah Peters headed out to discover the magic of Portugal’s newest family-friendly beach resort Martinhal. The resort launched back in the summer of 2010, and we knew even back then that this stylish surprise was destined to see British families returning year on year.
As the importance and recognition of the family market has significantly increased in the travel industry, more destinations are using ‘family-friendly’ as a marketing tag than ever before, and trying to predict how genuine these marketing claims actually are before gaining first-hand experience has become much more difficult.
With many marketers using this strategy as a way to simply attract an additional audience to their existing business offering.
Martinhal really mean what they say. At this five-star beach resort families are not simply an add-on, they are the heart and soul of the resort. Staying in home-from-home luxury with all your creature comforts and baby essentials in contemporary calmness.
Meeting the passionate and devoted owners, husband-and-wife team Roman and Chitra Stern, (who live on-site with their four children) it is clear that their family-friendly ethos has been instilled through the resort from the very top.
Roman and Chitra met while living in London working at PriceWaterhouseCoopers.
They shared a similar interest for business, were both MBA educated, and looking for an opportunity to free themselves from the rat-race. After identifying the potential for the under-developed western Algarve back in 2001, they choose to follow their dream and despite speaking barely a word of Portuguese they moved to Lagos!
At first they planned to build and sell a complex of timeshare villas but then they met Nigel Chapman and Nicholas Dickinson, the founders of UK-based Luxury Family Hotels group and this is where their story really unfolds.
I‘m certain as a regular reader you’ll be familiar with these British hotels, which include Moonfleet Manor in Dorset, Ickworth House in Sussex and Fowey Hall in Cornwall, properties we regularly feature in our magazine as must-visit destinations.
Nigel and Nicholas sold-up in the UK to offer additional investment as well as an expertise of knowledge in providing high-end hospitality for holidaying families. Roman and Chitra had now become parents themselves, and as such a new vision formed.
The quartet planned to replicate the winning formula of British ‘luxury family’ overseas. It took them over a decade and £89 million to fully develop and open the resort.
As previous holiday-goers to many of the Luxury Family Hotels, our favourite being the Woolley Grange near Bath, my husband and I were intrigued to see how this vision had been translated in the Algarve with views across the Atlantic seas.
We exchanged thoughts while on the plane to Faro, an acceptable two-and-a-half hour flight from London.
Would a Portuguese translation work? Or would being surrounded by so many other brits with babies feel uncomfortably cliché?
Arriving (following a 70-minute transfer) I realised I needn’t have worried, as the sheer size and scale of the Martinhal resort quickly took away any preconceptions of family claustrophobia!
Spanning an impressive 25-hectare site surrounded by the Costa Vicentina National Park there’s an impressive 38-bedroom beachfront Hotel and around 200 spacious village houses and townhouses with self contained kitchen facilities and parking.
I noticed many family groups of multi-generations holidaying all together, whom I expect might have been taking advantage of the fabulous villas, equipped with private pools, landscaped gardens, Jacuzzi, games rooms and barbeque facilities!
We stayed in an Ocean House with breathtaking sea views, stylish chic accessories including a Nespresso machine and iPod docking system and practical items too such as stair gates, door protectors and a bottle steriliser.
A first in Portugal Chitra told me, the accommodation is upside-down, meaning the living space is upstairs taking full advantage of the incredible sea views. British designer Michael Sodeau, who had taken the best of European inspirations, created the modern, functional interiors exclusively for Martinhal.
The mezzo of Martinhal is The Village Square. Home to the fantastic Raposinhos (Little fox) childrens club which caters for children between six months and 8 years old. There’s a shop and deli selling all the essential items you might expect such as fresh bread and baby nappies, with a few extra surprises including gluten-free products, and a home delivery service for breakfast, lunch or dinner.
Also located in the square, Os Gambozinos Italian restaurant, a favourite of ours, the girls adored their fine Italian pasta dishes, and their pizza takeaway option. In the very centre there’s a fabulous children’s play area and bikes where children can be free to play safely while you relax and watch with a coffee. There’s also the ‘Blue Room’ for older children with table tennis, a cinema screen and games consoles.
Dotted around the resort are four swimming pools (each with fabulous gigantic designer bean bags), several bars, a sports club, state-of-the-art spa, gym and beach club. As Dunas, situated near the beach, specialises in seafood, and O Terraco offers a more formal, yet un-stuffy dining experience, overlooking the ocean.
So while in many ways the resort felt a million miles away from one of the quintessentially English manor houses from the Luxury Family set, there were many family-centric features reminding me of their connection, the fabulous baby concierge service for example, the sunken trampolines adjacent to the beach-side restaurant, glass-sided tennis courts (for paddle tennis) and supervised creative sessions during meal times.
The only downside really was the strong wind off the Atlantic, which at times made us want to add extra layers despite the warmth from the sun. I would try to avoid July and August then you’re sure to enjoy the blue skies and calm seas without the nippy breeze.
One of the main reasons Martinhal has families coming back time and time again, I believe, is due to the endless choice of activities, games and social interaction, which creates such a fun sense of community and friendship. As holiday-goers generally speaking, we’re not a family who really feel the need to interact with others, as we quite like doing our own thing, however at Martinhal this completely changed. This made the holiday both memorable and special, especially for the children.
Picking and choosing from the daily activity programme included family water games, zumba, a hilarious family triathlon, and bike ride tour to Sagres (my favourite holiday highlight) with the most fabulous and passionate tour leader named Manuel.
So whether it’s walking, biking, hiking, swimming, surfing, horse riding, golf or water sports your family is into, there’s just so much choice at this resort!
I loved the windsurfing, much to my family’s entertainment as I fell off several times while surfing into shore, while my husband enjoyed golf, and our daughters adored the pedal boats with slides.
Apparently there are even dolphins! Oh, when can we go back?
An eight day, seven night active winter stay at the Martinhal Village in a one bedroom house starts from £1938 for two adults and two children under 12 years and includes return flights, transfers, breakfast, one other meal (either lunch or dinner), one tennis or padel tennis court hire per day, and one yoga lesson per day. Valid 1 November – 22 March except 30 December – 2 January.
For more details, contact CHIC Locations on 020 8944 1973 or visit www.chiclocations.com
CHIC Locations is a boutique travel specialist featuring luxury bespoke holidays to the Med and Tropics combined with highly personalised, totally flexible and candid service all tailored to your needs.