Family Friendly Portugal with Martinhal
The concept of Martinhal was conceived with families and luxury in mind. Having experienced our first family holiday the previous year and really struggled to find a balance between family and adult friendly, the idea of fusing luxury with a family resort appealed no end. I have to admit though, I was sceptical as to whether this concept was just too good to be true. Can adults really experience relaxation and plush surroundings and cuisine whilst maximising very precious family time?
Martinhal promised luxury holiday experiences with high class family-friendly facilities, in some of the most prestigious areas in Portugal – from beach and sophisticated golf areas to Lisbon city centre and so we made our booking and hoped for the very best! Having built their first hotel in Sagres in the Algarve, they must be doing something right as they have now expanded their empire into Cascais, Lisbon city centre and Martinhal. Lured by the resort setting and locality, we chose a 4 night stay in Cascais and a one nighter in Lisbon old town.
The journey from Brighton to Portugal with a young family in tow has the potential to be a little stressful. Kids come with kit and lots of it. Fortunately Martinhal is one step ahead and offers an ingenious ‘Baby Concierge,’ making hassle-free travelling with babies and small children their specialty. This progressive company offers you the opportunity to pre-book baby equipment – from small items like door protectors, potties, bottle sterilisers & warmers, to bigger items like safety gates, baby cots and baby baths. Not only that, they also offer a wide variety of lotions, nappies, and other items for purchase from the reception.
We chose to fly over from London Gatwick with EasyJet, but due to the early flight times, we thought we would aim for ultimate comfort and stay over at the airport itself the night before at the Sofitel Gatwick. I cannot express enough what a good idea this is. The family and I checked in casually at around 4pm and were thrilled to discover the walk to the baggage check in desks was less than 5 minutes away in the North Terminal! Not only are the staff at the Sofitel highly trained and willing to meet your every need (including printing boarding passes and providing luggage trolleys), the hotel boasts an impressive atrium with a multitude of dining options available as well as spacious rooms with floor to ceiling windows that look out over the runways. This ingenious design means that your little nippers will undoubtedly be left spellbound by the aeroplane action taking place right under their noses!
Sofitel had kindly set up a cot in our room for our daughter and we were pleased to find the bathroom came complete with a child friendly bath, ready for the pre-holiday scrub up. Luckily the hotel is also just a stones throw away from a handful of convenient stores within the airport (head towards arrivals), making it a life saver when you realise you have left some essentials at home! The hotel also offers a very hearty continental and full English breakfast buffet, making for a perfect start to the day’s adventures.
Upon arriving at FARO Airport, we were swiftly transferred over to Martinhal Cascais by an extremely polite and efficient Martinhal driver in a spacious and air conditioned Mercedes people carrier, all geared up with an age-appropriate car seat and even a DVD player to keep the masses amused. The hotel resort is just a 30 minute’s drive from Lisbon, a 20 minute scenic coastal walk away from the centre of Cascais, right next door to the world-class 18-hole Quinta da Marinha golf course and just a short rive away from the enchanting Unesco World Heritage Site Sintra.
Martinhal Cascais offers 68 hotel rooms and 4 hotel suites beautifully adapted for families. Each room benefits from spacious private balconies or terraces accessed via French doors and some have Italian designer Lollypop bunk beds to accommodate children or (as we had) cots set up for the tinies. Space-wise, the rooms range from 440 to 660 sq ft for a suite, with 880 sq ft family-friendly interconnecting rooms available too.
Our accommodation came in the form of a standard ground floor double room, complete with kingsize bed and incredibly spacious bathroom. The décor is light, bright and airy, with plenty of room for the little ones to run around. Every piece of furniture has been selected carefully, ensuring there are no glaring areas where accidents can occur to excitable kids! The furnishing are contemporary and Scandi-styled and most impressive of all is the glass wall that exists between the bathroom and the bedroom itself. Not only does this transparent partition allow you to keep a watchful eye on the kids on the other room, it is aesthetically stunning and come the time you want a little privacy, has the ability to mist over.
For those families travelling en mass, 12 villas are available, featuring two bedrooms on the first floor and an open space living room and dining area with sliding doors towards a little terrace on the ground floor. These family villas fuse contemporary architecture and modern conveniences. Each has a kitchen complete with a stove, dishwasher, fridge and basic crockery, cutlery and pots and pans, making it the perfect home from home.
The Martinhal Cascais resort itself is breathtakingly beautiful, with clean and spacious ultra-modern interiors, complete with floor to ceiling windows on nearly all external walls, successful bringing the calm outside landscapes in. The staff are all trained to offer a fun and friendly service to the youngsters and a professional and attentive service to the parents.
The three restaurants are everything to everyone. They all offer luxurious surroundings, cuisine and faultless customer service, but manage to somehow keep a relaxed setting where families can calmly eat together without the worry of their children disturbing other tables. I honestly can’t remember the last time I felt so relaxed in a sophisticated dining setting. So how does Martinhal successfully ensure a stress-free setting? It’s actually quite simple. Firstly, they make sure there are enough high chairs to go round. Each menu not only offers healthy and delicious dishes for children, they also offer home-made baby foods for a variety of age ranges. Then there is the children’s play area that features in every dining area – an ingenious corner of supervised craft, toys and reading that successfully limits the capacity for impatient little diners to get fidgety waiting for their dishes to be served or the adults to stop nattering.
O Terraco restaurant offers buffet breakfast and dinner featuring some typical Portuguese dishes. with a twist created by the kitchen led by Executive Chef Alexandre Cláudio. Os Gambozinos, an Italian Trattoria, does the traditional family favourites of pizza, pasta and other typical Italian dishes for lunch and dinner. M-Bar is located at the Kids Clubhouse and serves coffees, snacks and pastries throughout the day.
It is the kids play areas and the pool facilities that truly sets Martinhal apart from the rest of them. There are 3 pool areas dotted around the resort to ensure that guests can enjoy pool time with their kids in the heated and unheated pools: the Pool Hangout, the indoor/ outdoor heated pool next to the on-site Spa and the heated and covered Kids Clubhouse pool.
With kids being central to the resort ‘s philosophy, Martinhal Cascais have created a superb kids clubhouse with over 700 square metres of play space (over 7,700 square feet) covering the ages of 6 months to early teens. This is a facility where kids can be looked after by the fully-trained, caring and responsible staff in a safe and secure space while parents can enjoy some time out.
The various areas in the Kids Club have been created to interest and stimulate different age groups, ensuring the needs of babies up to teens have a full range of toys, playthings, creative areas and entertainment – from playmats to Playstations! We enrolled our daughter for 2 hour sessions over our stay, which gave us a short time to be able to sit in the sun, book in hand, on the oversized Fatboy bean bags that are scattered over the attractive grassed area just outside the kids club. In addition to supervised kids club areas, there are several unsupervised playgrounds all around the resort where parents can play with their kids, or in our case, the kids can play with the parents! Trampolines, table football, ping pong, climbing frames, slides…..you name it and they have it.
If you prefer to have your children looked after in your villa or room, baby-sitting can be organised for any age from a few months old upon request. This wasn’t a service we took the hotel up on, but following a fine-dining experience at the Cascais Marina with little madam, I would thoroughly recommend it even just for the one night, so you can enjoy a romantic dinner outside the hotel walls. This fine-dining experience cannot go unmentioned – if you visit Cascais, be sure to book in at Hemingway Restaurant and order the tasting menu. This popular dining hotspot is set right in the marina, overlooking the sparkling yachts and the sea beyond. The five course tasting menu, complete with wine pairing is simply exquisite. Designed by Chef Bruno Póvoas, each dish features fresh Portuguese ingredients, married together to create mouth-watering and inventive culinary creations.
In addition to the mastery of the dishes, Hemingway also stands out for its versatility of space, making it an ideal setting for a cocktail, juice or tea with friends in afternoon or evening for a glass, with the venue closing at an impressive 03.00h.
On the subject of adult-time, back at Martinhal Cascais guests are also spoilt with a beautiful spa known as ‘Finisterra’ meaning “end of the earth”. With its special menu of treatments inspired by Voya and its origins, the spa adds an extra dimension of health and vitality to the guest experience. There is also a sauna, Jacuzzi and steam room to help guests relax before and after treatments, so if you get the opportunity (think kids club), then be sure to take a visit and escape to the ends of the earth for a spell or two.
In addition to in-resort activities, the surrounding area to the hotel offers a wide range of options, from beach and sports activities to culture. With Cascais and Guincho beach only 5 minutes away and Estoril, Caracavelos and others further along the coast you can enjoy surf, bodyboard, windsurfing, diving and boat trips. Furthermore, Cascais offers excellent cycling routes along the coast as well as within the city, with bikes being available for hire from reception.
The centre of Cascais is just a short drive or taxi away and Martinhal offer a free and reliable shuttle service (complete with car seats) back and forth, ensuring guests are able to make the most of their visit to the area. Be sure to visit the Paula Rego “House of Stories” museum in Cascais and the multitude of historical buildings. Cascais is famous in history for having housed the summer residence of the Portuguese Royal Family in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, therefore making it riddled breath-taking buildings of note and castles. Nearby Estoril is famous for having provided a sanctuary during World War II for those escaping the turmoil of war and in stark contrast, Europe’s largest casino is also located there.
Our final night was spent at the super central Martinhal Chiado, set in the throng of Lisbon Old Town. True to the Martinhal concept, this contemporary accommodation lies within a beautiful and historic façade, with 37 carefully designed apartments to suit families, ranging from studios to 2-bedroom apartments. Each apartment is completely serviced and has a kitchen complete with a stove, dishwasher, washer-dryer, fridge and basic crockery, cutlery and pots and pans.
It was incredibly comforting to arrive to an apartment that truly felt like a home from home, featuring every facility you could possibly require with a young family and bags of space for the little one to move about in – not an easy find in a city central hotel! As with Martinhal Cascais, a super convenient Baby Concierge is offered and the team even provide a welcome basket of snacks, treats and essentials like milk to kick start your stay.
If cooking in your apartment isn’y on your holiday to-do list, there is a café lounge on the ground floor which perfect for that quick breakfast before departing on a city tour with the kids, as well as a snack or quick meal during the day. Apart from offering to deliver a breakfast basket with some patisserie items, fruit, milk, yoghurt, jams with fresh orange juice to your room in the morning, they also offer a room service delivery, ice again catering for all ages from weaning babes to hungry grown ups.
Once again, it is the kids club that cements Martinhal Chiado as the top family-friendly accommodation in Lisbon. The team have created a superb kids club covering the ages of 6 months to early teens where kids can be looked after by the caring and responsible staff in a safe and secure space while parents enjoy their time in Lisbon – even at night! The pyjama club will look after children till midnight and ensure that they feel comfortable even if they fall asleep in the custom-designed club, enabling parents to have a night out in the buzzing city of Lisbon! To have somewhere in the city centre where a non-walking toddler can let off steam and tire themselves out was invaluable!
Lisbon itself is the least discovered capital city in Western Europe, but when you explore the streets you can feel that it is just on the cusp of exploding with popularity. There is a buzz in the air. With a lot of its old town feel preserved in its historical buildings and its cobbled stone pavements, it is so very intriguing to discover the cool and a edgy bars, restaurants and stores that lie within these aged exteriors. Lisbon is an amazing city to visit. Visit riverfront Belém area where you’ll find Unesco’s World Heritage sites such as Belém Tower, built in early 16th century as part of the city’s defence system or Mosteiro dos Jeronimos, one of the most prominent examples of the Portuguese late Gothic Manueline style of architecture. The Maritime Museum, Planetarium and Archaeology Museum are also in this area.
Don’t leave Belém without tasting the original “Pastel de Belém”, the traditional Portuguese custard tarts that you can find in most Portuguese cafés. The recipe dates back to the 16th century and has suffered some alterations in most places. However, at “Pasteis the Belém” they still use the original recipe!
Kids love to explore the city in one of the traditional trams or in the tuk-tuk and Lisbon’s parks, gardens, belvederes, many with children playgrounds are great for a relaxing moment. Parque das Nações is the modern part of the city, a futuristic glass-and-steel district, home to some wonderful examples of modern architecture. This is the location for the Lisbon Oceanarium, one of the world’s most spectacular aquariums, designed by American architect, Peter Chermeyeff – a “must-see” for adults and children.
The Chiado area is full of excellent cafés and restaurants for experiences outside of the hotel – all within a few seconds to a few minutes. The famous market-turned-sophisticated-food-court, Mercado da Ribeira is located literally 5 minutes from Martinhal Chiado. A large part of the Lisbon experience is dining at one of the acclaimed restaurants by various rising Portuguese stars, experiencing the bars in the trendy Cais de Sodre or Chiado areas, enjoying a rock concert at the Coliseum or Fado night in Alfama.
For more information or to make a reservation, please visit the following websites:
Martinhal Cascais and Chiado – www.martinhal.com
Hemingway Restaurant – www.hemingwaycascais.com
Sofitel London Gatwick – www.sofitel.com