A giant orange velvet beanbag in reception, Magis Puppy stools and Fatboys by the pool – and we’re talking pouffes here, not the male guests. I’m not sure which of these first made me realise that the recently opened Martinhal resort in Sagres, Portugal is a very special place indeed. Located in an unspoilt, idyllic area in the western Algarve, just steps from the beach and a protected national park, it is perfect for a relaxing family holiday.
Martinhal aims to become Europe’s finest family resort, and if you are looking for stylish luxury combined with a laid-back vibe, it’s already hard to beat. There’s a 38-room ocean-front boutique hotel and holiday villas set in lovely landscaped gardens with a lively village square at its heart where you can eat, drink and shop.
Designed by Conran & Partners with interiors by Michael Sodeau, the 132 modernist-style villas are divided into four areas. If you’re travelling with children, the Garden Houses, at the heart of the resort, are ideal. These semi-detached villas have private roof terraces and balconies overlooking a swimming pool and are set in a walled garden, making it safe for children to explore. The more secluded Pinewood Houses overlook a forest and have their own pools, while the larger Bay Houses have panoramic views over both Costa Vicentina National Park and the sea. Our Ocean house, with its upside-down layout, was as breathtaking as the view of the Atlantic from our balcony and we were greeted with a welcome pack of local wine for us grown-ups, and milk and cookies for the children.
Matilda and Fred loved the Fatboy beanbags on the veranda where we played cards as we watched the sun set. I loved the plush bathrooms, while my husband loved the flat-screen television for catching the footy scores. We also had a daily maid service and made use of one of the restaurant’s home delivery of pizza or curry.
But what strikes you most is Martinhal’s family-friendliness. Perhaps that’s not surprising, seeing as it’s part-owned by Nigel Chapman and Nicholas Dickinson, founders of the Luxury Family Hotels group (which they sold to Von Essen), who teamed up with developers Chitra and Roman Stern to spawn a unique resort with a philosophy of “barefoot luxury” – a philosophy clearly apparent at The Raposinhos Kids Club, which has to be one of the most stylish in the world. Your child can sit on a Panton Verner Junior chair or perch on the Seggiolina Pop Chair or take toys from the El Baúl Storage Box. Not only is it a temple to great children’s interior design, but a fantastic place for three- to eight-year-olds to spend a few hours when the sun is at its fiercest. Activities include arts and crafts, cooking and music sessions and there is an enclosed garden for bike riding, treasure hunts and picnics. The staff speak good English and provide an all-day service for €6 an hour. The crèche is run in similar fashion. For €10, you can leave babies from three to 13 months for a maximum of two hours and children under three for four hours – handy if you want to go for a beauty treatment.
I am hardly adverse to spas on holiday and the Finisterra Spa hit the spot. Meaning “end of the earth” (due to Martinhal being on the southwestern tip of Europe), Finisterra is set in its own tranquil garden, with six sumptuous treatment rooms. There are a host of treatments, including a few specifically for men, but the most enticing are the six Signature Rituals, based on the travels of Portugal’s famous explorers, such as the Vasco da Gama Indian hot stone treatment, where your body is heated with stones, then massaged with aromatic cinnamon and rose oils.
However, with so many activities on offer, you are more likely to opt for energetic family bonding. There are four pools, each with a toddler area and decking festooned with yet more chic beanbags. Just hope your children don’t yell, “Look! There’s a fat boy on the Fatboy” like mine did the first time their father sat on one. For more organised water play, the Raposinhos team stages games on the white sands of Martinhal beach, while the Club 98 sports hub offers everything from surfing to windsurfing lessons, as well as dolphin watching, pony trekking or family fishing trips. They are just as busy on land, hosting football, tennis and many other sports.
The activities helped burn off the food from the two family restaurants, which were excellent. We also appreciated the provision of games nearby so the children could play whilst we supped local rosé. The restaurant Os Gambozinos sits on the main village square and has an all-day menu serving wood-fired pizzas, salads and steaks. In contrast, As Dunas specialises in fish and has a beach-view terrace – ideal for a romantic candlelit dinner. Both have plenty of child-friendly options to choose from, while the surf town of Sagres is a mere 15-minute walk along the beach if you fancy one of the lively restaurants there instead.
If you really want to treat yourself, book a babysitter and head to the glamorous cocktail bar and O Terraço restaurant in the Martinhal Hotel. Here you can sip aperitifs before heading to the wooden deck where you can enjoy modern Portuguese cuisine.
There are a couple of things you should be aware of before you visit Martinhal. The wind blows fiercely on some days, which is why the area is such a mecca for watersports enthusiasts; but in truth, we found it a respite from the blazing sun. Also, if you are looking for formal hotel-style service, you may find Martinhal too laid back.
However, we loved the amazing attention to design detail, the thoughtful staff, the nice mix of clients (over a third were Portuguese) and the range of facilities that kept the four very different members of our family happy from dawn till dusk.
Two-bedroom Ocean Villas at the Martinhal Beach Resort from €139 per night. Tel: 00 3512 8262 0026; www.martinhal.com
Browse the rest of our Europe section and Travel section for more inspiration.