Fall in Portugal
Menno, Founder of the blog Top With Kids, 46 years old, married, Dad of Tess (10) and Wende (7), from Arnhem, Netherlands
With a whole world of new opportunities to discover, it is not often we visit a destination more than once. But in the case of the Martinhal Sagres resort, didn’t even hesitate for a second. Yes of course we want to go for a second time!
The ultra-child and adult- friendly resort in the pretty town of Sagres, is situated in the most westerly point of Portugal, therefore, the most westerly point of Europe. Arriving at Faro airport, it takes us around 2 hours to drive through the beautiful region of the Algarve to reach the resort. “Wow, it looks like a whole village!” exclaims our daughter on seeing the whitewashed buildings rising from the nature reserve where it lies, basking in the autumn sun. Our oldest straightaway recalls the scene from our first visit five years ago: “Kids’ heaven!”
We are welcomed by smiling and attentive staff. The reception is located in a large building where you can also find the O Terraço restaurant with its stunning views over the ocean and Martinhal beach. We immediately remember that familiar feeling, a combination of a relaxed and refined vibe that drifts around this resort. Art and quirky objects are abundant. The girls spot the mosaiced elephant near the entrance and decide to drink their welcoming drinks while ‘riding it’. No one blinks an eye. Indeed: Kids’ heaven, as our daughter called it, while still maintaining a very aesthetic appeal.
Martinhal is made up of a hotel, apartments, houses and villas. The brainchild of owners Chitra and Roman Stern, who, against the dominant logic dictating that Sagres was too far away from either Faro or Lisbon airport, chose this amazing stretch of land for their first resort. And what a hit it has turned out to be. The hotel itself is more geared towards couples although extra beds can be placed in the room to accommodate one child. A considerable part of the well laid out resort is taken up by nice two-story houses which come in four different types.
For this visit, we stay in one of the Garden houses. A staff member takes us there in one of the resort buggies. All these semi-detached houses are arranged around an area of indigenous parkland. Most have a large walled garden which provide an ideal safe space for younger children to run around. Practical but comfortable luxury best defines the interieur design. People in the know might recognize the hand of the British interior designer Michael Sodeau who worked out a balanced combination of elegance and sophistication, working with mostly natural material such as: timber, wicker, cork and local stone.
“Indeed: Kids’ heaven, as our daughter called it, while still maintaining a very aesthetic appeal.”
Our girls are thrilled with their own bedroom and bathroom. The total quiet, heavenly beds and blackout curtains assure us of one of our best rests. Each morning we have to hurry ourselves a bit to be in time for breakfast. Although, if you feel like it, just sleep in and take advantage of the full kitchen in the house to prepare your own morning meal. And the terrace makes an ideal place for an early morning cup of self-brewed coffee which is included in the welcome package you get upon arrival. Some houses even have an exterior roof terrace to enjoy the views. We go up to ours one night to gaze at the billions of stars glistening in the deep inky sky.
While the Garden houses have a traditional set up with the living room downstairs and the bedrooms upstairs, the Ocean Houses are built upside down, with living spaces created upstairs to take full advantage of the fabulous panoramic sea views. These houses are smack in the middle of the resort carefully built in small terraced groups at the front of Martinhal Village, and all have their own private verandas. The Bay Houses located on the eastern margin of the resort enjoy tranquil views over the Nature Reserve and the ocean. And adding to the abundance of choice, there are the Pinewood Houses along the edge of a pine forest but still within easy access of the main resort facilities.
If you travel with a bigger family, the different luxury villas will delight you. Again, their design strikes exactly the right tone. This is not surprising as the villas have won several prestigious accolades including the Homes Overseas Awards for “Best Portuguese Villa” and “Best Interior Design”. Each property enjoys sea views and is positioned in its own landscaped grounds overlooking a private garden and swimming pool, some of which are fenced for child safety.
As the girls now are old enough to go out on their own, they immediately take off the moment we arrive. Although it is a big resort, everything is well laid out and easy to navigate. The central plaza is at the heart and one of the girls’ first ‘discoveries’. They excitedly tell us about the bungee harness trampoline and of course they have to try it now! For the little ones there are playhouses and smaller trampolines, providing an open-air playground lined with terraces for the parents to lounge while enjoying a good glass of wine or a Cocktail.
“Some houses even have an exterior roof terrace to enjoy the views. We go up to ours one night to gaze at the billions of stars glistening in the deep inky sky.”
And again, our oldest daughter has déjà vu as we enter the M Bar – Family and Surf Bar, also bordering the plaza. “Hey, I remember that van! It is the campervan we played in during our first visit.” Would you not instantly love a bar that has a vintage VW van as a set piece? For us, it is our favorite spot in the resort: surf clips playing, drift word furniture, hammocks to chill in, great cocktails and authentic ‘surf food’ like burgers and fish and chips. It all feels like a homecoming…
And off they go again, now to the sea and sand just a few hundred meters walk (or in their cases run). The beach is gorgeous; the girls like to climb the dunes and run or roll down them laughing as hard as they can. At the beach, the resort operates its own water sports centre where guests can hire equipment for windsurfing and other watersports. The sea water in autumn is fresh but certainly manageable as it gets nicely heated up in summer. In spring it can be rather cold so you might want to pack a wet suit. This is actually a good idea in any season, as there is a top-rated surf beach on the Atlantic Ocean, literally just around the corner.
The next day we indeed spend a great afternoon battling the waves among dozens of other surf enthusiasts at Praia do Telheiro. One of the best wild waters we have ever seen with lovely sand, great waves and an amazing view on the rocks nearby. There is quite a steep trail down from the parking lot to a nice small beach bar selling beers, cokes and some basic food; great for warming up after spending time in the water or just to sit and watch the sunset.
Martinhal’s absolute unique selling point is its total dedication to families with somewhat younger children. But it has also taken great steps to become a magnet for families with teenagers which as we all know is a particularly difficult age group to truly engage with. So, what about offering five kids’ clubs? All of which are carefully aimed towards specific age groups, assuring kids always feel that they are in the right place.
The Crèche keeps an eye on small kids from 6 to 23 months. Raposinhos, meaning ‘little fox’ in Portuguese, offers all kinds of indoor and outdoor supervised activities for 2 to 5 year olds and then there is the Fox Club for 6 to 9 year olds. Older kids from 10 to 13 years can blow off steam while pursuing activities. How about: windsurfing, dolphin watching, diving experience, a kayak tour, jeep safari, archery training, laser tag, making wire sculptures, football and biking, alongside indoor fun, like mocktail contests and t-shirt painting? This in their very own Explorer Club. Older teens between 14 and 17 years old will love the chance to try something new on their holiday and meet new friends at the Blast Club. They even have their own hang out space with game console near the central plaza.
“Martinhal’s absolute unique selling point is its total dedication to families with somewhat younger children.”
Although the pool on the beach is a real gem with an amazing view of the sea and a great cafe to grab a bite to eat, it is also a top favourite with families with younger kids. So, we decide to mainly use the Garden and Club 98 pool, which are nearly empty most of the time. Besides the pool, the Club 98 has two tennis courts and two glass sided PADEL courts. Another favourite pool is the Oasis Pool, a free-form swimming pool that sits in the center of the Garden House area. And indeed, it is an oasis. Just like the Club 98 pool, we have it to ourselves most of the time.
If you still feel you need more pool options, there are the two pools near the central plaza. One generously sized pool spans indoors and outdoors. Adjacent is another smaller pool designed for toddlers. And for exclusive use by guests staying at the Vilas Mimosa there is another 18-meter pool which opens only in the summer.
Once again, a few days seems too short to exploit all the activities and leisure opportunities on offer. Our youngest daughter enjoys searching for all the 11 fairies hidden throughout the resort. The bike station provides you with suitable bikes, a well-equipped gym, soccer court and pump track (for children keen to try their MTB-skills). And these are just the options on site. In the immediate surroundings you will find a multitude of activities and sights. Although the resort can readily arrange horse riding, we decide to drive to the gorgeous region of Aljezur for a three-hour ride and gallop along the beach and cliffs. What a great experience. If you are into horse riding, this is something we strongly recommend.
While Dad and the oldest are having this great experience at the beach, Mum and the youngest are enjoying a mother & child back massage at the Finisterra Spa. There’s more for all ages: baby massages, children’s manicures, teenage facials, body wraps, grandparent friendly relaxing foot massages and treatments for tweens and teens..
After all these activities, we really work up a healthy appetite every day. We are grateful for the choice provided by all the resort’s restaurants. Dunas surprises us with some fresh seafood dishes, while one night we have some delicious pizza’s from Os Gambozinos and eat them at the central plaza. The resort does a great job also offering take away options, for example great burgers from the Pop-up Grill “The Wolf” which gives guests even more flexibility in where and when to eat.
One more thing we really like is the Mercado. A deli type shop that offers a wide variety of take-away meal options with freshly baked bread, croissants and pastries, coffees, teas and fresh orange juice and a lot more grocery items that you might not ever need.
# This resort comes close to perfection. All details are well thought out and at the same time it has a relaxed vibe and is everything besides stuffy.
# With all the activities available on site and in the immediate area you can with confidence book at least for a week (or two). To give you an idea: our girls could participate the Explorer Club with windsurfing, dolphin watching, diving experience, kayak tour, jeep safari, archery training, laser tag, making wire sculptures, football and biking, alongside indoor fun, like mocktail contests and t-shirt painting.
# A splendid destination in summer, but maybe even better in spring or autumn. Check out our review in spring here.