Luxury travel with a 20 month old in tow
Our holiday needs these days are quite specific: a relatively short flight (ideally no more than two hours), guaranteed warm weather (but not too hot) and a hotel which welcomes families, yet maintains some semblance of sophistication. Recommendations for the Martinhal group came in thick and fast. This small collection of child-friendly hotels and resorts appeals to all ages, from babes in arms to tricky teens. Blending luxury and comfort with family friendly facilities, it's a compelling option for parents seeking a little of their pre-baby lifestyle.
The group’s original Sagres property opened in 2010 on the Algarve beachfront, followed by Martinhal Quinta Family Golf Resort in 2015. News that this family-orientated brand has expanded its portfolio with a five-star resort on the Lisbon coast, provided us with the perfect excuse. We booked in for a five-night September break at the new Martinhal Lisbon Cascais Family Hotel.
Set between two championship golf courses, Martinhal Cascais is just five kilometres from the historic centre of Cascais and ten minutes from the surfing beach of Grinch. At this new property, which opened in March 2016, the big bonus is having one of Europe's greatest capitals on the doorstep. Lisbon is just under an hour away by train, so you can easily mix culture with beach in the same break.
But you don't have to go that far if you don't want to. You can take a short golf buggy ride to the private village Quinta da Marinha, home to a mini mart, an amazing pastry shop and international golf course. The Atlantic is five minutes walk away, with a selection of excellent seafood restaurants on the seafront. And shuttles run regularly from the hotel into Cascais town with its lovely cafes, fabulous ice cream parlours and safe, family bathing spots.
Contemporary, stylish and unimposing, Martinhal Cascais features floor to ceiling glass walls and lots of white and natural tones. The 72 rooms (including four suites) and 12 villas are spread out across lush grounds, full of shady palm and pine trees. Our spacious room had views over the adjacent golf course and the large balcony was a peaceful spot to enjoy a glass of wine while our son, Harvey, slept inside. Rooms on this side of the hotel are quieter than those overlooking the gardens, which can experience a little restaurant noise in the early evening. The lighting is well thought out, so you don't have to flood the whole room if you want to read while the little ones sleep, and comfortable beds plus dark curtains equalled a good night’s rest.
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The Kids Clubhouse
The superb Kids Club (above) is set on two floors with a 700-sqm play area and welcomes children from six months up to 17 years, with activities from play-mats to Playstations. On a couple of mornings we left Harvey in the care of the enthusiastic and friendly team there. My initial anxieties swiftly disappeared as Harvey, being tickled by his new favourite staff member, emerged from the ball pool in a fit of giggles. He spotted me out the corner of his eye and threw a look as if to say, 'you still here?'
For older kids there's a zip-wire and huge bouncing dome - both equally appealing to adults as it turned out. In fact this entire resort is a great place to rediscover your inner child. On two occasions I found my husband cruising the pool on an inflatable crocodile while children watched on. Three swimming areas include the Pool Hangout with a shallow paddling area, water jets and a deeper pool with magical, floating bean bags. There's also a selection of land based games like mini football, volleyball, a trampoline and swingball.
Unusually, junior swimmers are welcome in the spa, which meant that Harvey could marvel at the bubbles in the Jacuzzi and splash around in the hydrotherapy pool, while we took turns in the sauna and steam room. A range of treatments for adults and kids (from age five upwards) are available, and I booked in for a much-needed signature relaxing massage. Products are from Finisterra brand and the organic Irish Voya range, which also feature in the bathroom amenities.
What We Did
We happily spent the majority of our time relaxing at the hotel, but there’s plenty on offer in the region. Golfers are spoilt with the two championship courses on the doorstep - Quinta da Marinha and Oitavos – while the nearby beaches offer everything from bodyboarding and surfing to diving and boat trips. With Lisbon just an hour away by train it seemed foolish not to visit. So with Harvey safely ensconced in the Kids Club we took the gorgeous coastal train ride into the capital.
In many ways, it was a good idea to leave Harvey (above) behind. As Lisbon's streets are mostly cobbled hills, it's not a buggy's friend. A great way to see Lisbon is aboard the iconic tram 28, a yellow wooden trolley that passes many of the city's key sites such as the Portas do Sol and Alfama flea market. Our day travel pass included travel on the metro, as well as on the graffiti adorned ascensors that trundle and rumble up tracks along Lisbon's steep passageways. Most emerge at captivating viewpoints over the red roofs of the city and river Tagus.
Without doubt, the city is undergoing something of a renaissance right now, with new openings popping up all over, like the new Museum of Art, Architecture and Technology, situated in the Belem district. But it’s the central neighbourhood of Chiado, set between the party district of Bairro Alto and the Tagus River, which is the most up and coming. Openings here are weekly, so it seems a fitting location for the newest member of the Martinhal family - the apartment-style Martinhal Lisbon Chiado Family Suites - which opened in September 2016.
What We Ate
There's two main restaurants at Martinhal Cascais: O Terraco serving breakfast and modern Portuguese dishes by night, and Os Gambozinos, an Italian Trattoria with a selection of pizza, pasta and fresh fish. For snacks, there’s also M-Bar at the Kids Clubhouse, serving homemade ice cream, paninis and smoothies. Half board is definitely the way to go, which includes a full buffet breakfast and a la carte dinner. We hardly needed lunch as breakfast was so plentiful, with everything from fresh juices (try the spinach, ginger and apple) to the full egg, bacon and sausage or pancakes to order. Chocolate milk and prosecco is also available, thank goodness.
My husband loved the themed BBQ night with its selection of grilled meats and steak ‘done as you like’; Harvey dived fingers first into his tomato pasta, while I salivated over the seared tuna with Parmesan risotto. Younger diners are treated like adults with a choice of three courses from a special menu (for babies there's freshly made purées with no added salt or sugar). The only problem with this, as I discovered, is managing expectations when you get home.
- Kids are, naturally, very well catered for throughout. A welcome kit is presented to all junior guests on arrival, with age appropriate gifts. Harvey was soon to be spotted wearing his Martinhal yellow hat, flip flops and backpack, clutching a cuddly fox mascot ‘Rafi’.
- Interconnecting rooms and foldaway bunks are available, as well as baby essentials from cots and baths to potties and sterilisers. They'll even empty your mini bar if you need the fridge to store baby food or milk.
- It's the small touches that make the most difference though. Like the waitress who brought a clean tray for Harvey's high chair when he managed to decorate the first so entirely with yoghurt. Or taking his bowl, spoon and bib away to wash without us asking. In fact don't bother to pack cutlery or a bib as they have everything there. Mealtime meltdowns are cleverly avoided thanks to the team on hand to entertain with balls, hoops and soft play. There's even padding around the table umbrella stands and curved furniture to protect delicate heads from bumps.
Rates at the Martinhal Lisbon Cascais Family Hotel (+351 211 149 900 / firstname.lastname@example.org) start from €178 per night in a double room, with breakfast included. The nearest airport is Lisbon and the transfer time is 40 minutes (transfers can be arranged through Martinhal’s concierge service at an additional cost). Flights with TAP from London to Lisbon available at Fly TAP.