One of the most challenging things about travelling with young children, and one of the things that puts many parents off, is just how much stuff you have to bring with you. It’s a well-known fact that the smaller the child, the more gear you have to drag along. Imagine, then, a destination where the only things you have to pack are your swimsuit and sun cream. If this sounds like family holiday nirvana, then take a look at the Martinhal group of properties.
I recently spent a long weekend in Portugal experiencing two of the group’s four properties. My first port of call was Martinhal Cascais, a resort located just outside the seaside town of the same name (it’s pronounced Cash-Caish). It’s only 36km from Lisbon and the fact that it’s so close means that many Lisboetas consider it a suburb of the capital. I had been invited to attend the hotel’s second annual Luxury Family Brand Event, a day-long conference that saw a host of inspirational and, in some cases entertaining, speakers take to the stage to discuss family, travel, work, life and kids.
The other reason for my visit was to experience the Martinhal Cascais property. I had long heard many good things about this hotel group and, if I’m honest, I was looking forward to seeing what all the fuss was about!
The first thing you notice when you arrive at Martinhal Cascais is the playground. Quickly followed by the zipline, the trampoline, the bicycles and the giant bubble that you soon realise houses the kiddie swimming pool. You also can’t fail to notice the lime green VW van that takes pride of place outside the hotel’s M Bar. You’ll find one of these in each of the Martinhal’s properties – as well as in the holiday photos of anyone that has visited Martinhal (take a quick look at Instagram and you’ll see what I mean!). The van is a nod to the group’s original hotel in Sagres, in Portugal’s Algarve region and one of Europe’s best surfing spots.
The second thing you notice, is that the hotel is serenely calm. Yes, kids are laughing, playing and generally being, you know, kids, but the property itself is incredibly peaceful. There are no garish colour schemes or jolly music playing as you might find in other “family” hotels. Instead, the resort looks like the kind of luxury place that you would choose to stay if you were holidaying without your offspring.
And this is what Martinhal does very well; it welcomes parents and children with open arms and then provides absolutely everything everyone needs to enjoy their holiday. From stools in the bathrooms so toddlers can reach the sink and plastic, kid-friendly plates and bowls in the restaurant, to pushchairs, baby cots, stair gates wherever they are needed, and much more besides. For parents, they offer a stylish retreat where their children’s every needs are taken care of. And, if you’re a parent, what could be better than having your kids occupied for 24 hours-a-day?! Martinhal Cascais really is family travel made easy.
Brand Martinhal started 10 years ago when owners Roman and Chitra Stern, embarked on an ambitious project to create a luxury family-friendly resort in Sagres in Portugal’s Algarve on the site of an old motel that had been built in the 1960s. The location – in a wonderfully wild and rugged coastal corner of the Algarve – had been perceived as too remote to develop a luxury resort. But the Sterns had other ideas and set about developing a high-end hotel that was suitable for families; as parents themselves, they knew what was needed to keep all family members happy. The hotel was – and continues to be – a huge success and the couple now have three further hotels in Lisbon, Quinta do Largo and Cascais.
Rooms at Martinhal Cascais
Martinhal Cascais offers 68 Deluxe Rooms, four Suites and 12 Family Villas. The Deluxe Rooms and Suites are located in the main hotel building and the Family Villas are positioned on the other side of the resort, behind the M Bar. All accommodation options are light and airy with amazing bathrooms, a private terrace or balcony and welcoming touches like a chocolate at turndown time.
The Deluxe Rooms can fit a maximum of two adults and baby and the Deluxe Superior Rooms can sleep two adults and two children. All come with a balcony or terrace and enjoy bathrooms that are nearly the size of the bedroom itself.
The highlight of the deluxe superior rooms are the bunkbeds. For these are no ordinary bunkbeds, instead they fold away into the wall making for an incredible space-saving design – not to mention a lot of fun for kids. Children arrive to find their bunkbeds waiting for them along with a pair of uber cute kiddie flip flops, emblazoned with a picture of the resort’s mascot Rapozinho (or Rafi, for short).
The four Suites come with a sofa bed or bunk beds for kids, separated from mum and dad by a sliding door. These rooms come with a small dining area, handy if you choose to eat in your room. The suites can fit a maximum of two adults and two children, and a baby in a cot.
The 12 family villas can sleep either four or six people are brilliant for my family of five. Located on the edge of the resort, near the indoor kids’ swimming pool, these modernist cubes are bright and airy with two bedrooms upstairs and a living / dining and kitchen area downstairs. The bonus with the villas is that they have the option to self-cater, which can be an advantage. The only thing that would be a nice addition is direct access from the the villa garden into the resort. As it is, you’re located behind the resort fence and have to walk around the perimeter to get to the entrance. A minor detail but one worth pointing out!
Dining at Martinhal Cascais
My experience of dining at larger hotels or resorts, particularly those billed as ‘family-friendly’ has not always been successful. The food at Martinhal, however, is exceptional. With three restaurants on property, you have a choice between casual and marginally more formal and kids are welcome everywhere.
The M Bar, above the kids’ club, is a casual surf bar serving up sandwiches, burgers, salads and the like. O Terraco has a menu filled with Portuguese seafood dishes and other seasonal dishes. They have smaller versions of the adult dishes for kids, as well as typical child-friendly dishes. For babies, you’l find freshly pureed food on the menu (pureed to different textures depending on the age of the child). O Terraco also has a supervised play area for kids, meaning that as soon as your child has wolfed down their food, they can go and enjoy themselves while you have another glass of wine. In the high season Os Gambozinos, an Italian restaurant, is open for dinner.
All the restaurants and bars at Martinhal Cascais have drink options for kids, too. And by drink options, I don’t mean the usual soft drinks, rather all menus feature a fun selection of mocktails. Kids can choose from a Virgin Mojito, a Mosco Mango, a Strawberry Spritz as well as a fresh smoothies and milkshakes.
Activities and Amenities at Martinhal Cascais
From the moment you pull up to Martinhal Cascais, it’s obvious that kids will love it. From the welcome pack given to every child on arrival to the age-appropriate kids’ clubs, children are treated like proper guests with real needs – this is a hotel that knows what children look for in a holiday!
The hotel is especially good for children under 10 years of age with a kids’ club for two age groups that organises lots of fun, appropriate activities and games, including swimming lessons with a qualified teacher. There’s also a baby concierge that welcomes little ones from the age of six months.
There are three swimming pools; the indoor kids’ pool, the spa pool and the lagoon pool. Unfortunately the lagoon pool is only open from June to September so I didn’t get to try it out when I visited – but it looks lovely!
The spa also welcomes kids of all ages and there were plenty of families making the most of the indoor heated pool when we visited (and only a couple daring to dip their toes into the chilly outdoor pool!). What’s particularly lovely about the spa are the number of treatments available for kids. You can choose to enjoy a mother / daughter massage or a father / son treatment. I’ve never had the opportunity to do this and would love to try it out with my daughter when we go back (yes, we will definitely be going back!).
Teenagers are less catered for at Martinhal Cascais but there are bikes to hire, swimming pools to swim in and lots of activities nearby. Lisbon, Sintra and Cascais are easy day trips (although I would highly recommend spending a couple of days in Lisbon at the Martinhal Chiado either at the beginning or end of your trip). The fun seaside town of Cascais is a short taxi ride or cycle away where you can join the locals on one of the many great beaches.
Rates at Martinhal Cascais
Rates obviously depend on the time of year and how many people there are in your family. If you’re travelling in May, for example, a Deluxe Room starts at €235 a night, a Deluxe Superior at €282 and a villa at €577. Check the hotel website for correct prices.
There is the option to purchase half-board and lodging, which includes breakfast and one other meal, as well as full board, which includes all meals.
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Disclosure: I was a guest of Martinhal during my time at the resort for the purpose of this review. All opinions are, as always, entirely my own.