This week, I am thrilled to introduce a new contributor to The Trunki Files, Rachael. An expert in boutique travel with whom I am forever swapping tips and recommends, Rachael has set off on a summer trip round Europe with her family. As and when she has time between changing nappies and supping glasses of rose, Rachael has promised to pen reviews of the places she stays for this blog. Here she offers her thoughts on stop number 1: Villas Martinhal.
How much fun is it to do a European Grand (ish) Tour with a baby and toddler? We thought we’d give it a go. So at the beginning of July we set off for 6 weeks with our 3 suitcases, 3 carry-ons (no Trunki though – couldn’t face carrying it!), a pram, a buggy board and a Bjorn. Oh, and the 2 children – DD1 age 2 and a quarter and DD2 age 4 months. The packing was the first hurdle – having squeezed in 1 scooter, 1 playmat, the Playmobil Zoo, a tea set, some rubber ducks, DD1’s 10 ‘essential’ books, her pillow, a monkey, 2 dolls and 15 cans of dairy-free baby formula (I’m not joking), there wasn’t a lot of room left for DH and I, but hey, we were always near a washing machine, so no matter.
We’d decided to fly between our 3 destinations – 2 weeks in Portugal, 2 weeks in the Swiss mountains, and 2 weeks in SW France. Week 1 took us to Villas Martinhal in Sagres, SW Portugal. Opened a couple of years ago, Martinhal has a hotel, private villas and various self catering ‘houses’. We stayed for a week in a Bay House and loved it.
What did we love? The villas are absolutely stunning and manage to blend luxury (daily maid service, beautiful furniture, organic Voya toiletries, piles of soft towels) with kid-friendly. There is a long list of baby items you can borrow, and nice touches like extra
mattresses for the travel cots so the little ones don’t have to toss and turn on the equivalent of a plank. They have top of the range appliances and everything is immaculate – no mismatched, food-encrusted cutlery and crockery here, thank you very much. Prices are reasonable given the acres of space you have – in our case we had a large, open-plan kitchen diner and living area with 2 terraces on the first floor, and 2 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms and a garden on the ground floor.
The facilities at Martinhal are also excellent. There are tennis courts and 4 main pools, all with fatboy beanbags, very comfy loungers and pool bars. The indoor/ outdoor one with slide and inflatables was perfect for our little ones, but I also loved the pool overlooking the ocean. We spent many happy mornings at the beach pool before having lunch at the restaurant As Dunas, where there is a sandpit and trampoline to keep the kids happy. In the evenings, there are creche staff on hand to entertain the little ones with face painting and games while you eat.
The kids clubs are also worth a special mention – DD1 was more than happy to go back (I think it was the bouncy castle and the Peppa mural on the wall that sold it). What perhaps differentiates them are the purpose-built facilities and the clubs tailored to different ages – a creche for under 2s, a club for 2-4, 5-8, 9-12 and 13-18.
We didn’t venture far, although there was plenty to see and do in the region. Did DD1 fancy an excursion to a 14th century church, or Sagres fortress perhaps? No thanks Mummy, I’d like to have a swim in the pool, eat an ice cream and go to the playground. Simple pleasures. So we had lots of her perfect days, and in truth we were happy to put any exploration instincts on hold. In any case, between DD1 and DD2 we only really had 2 ‘windows’ in between feeds and naps: 9.30 to 11.30, and 3.30 to 5.30. Although the resort felt large, everything was walkable, which made ‘popping out’ (and going back for those forgotten items) easy.
We did find a fantastic beach at Cordoama on the west coast. Popular with surfers, it was also lovely and sheltered. DH wondered out loud if he might enjoy a surf course? 5 days long, 6 hours of lessons each day. Let me think for a moment…… er, no. Another trip to a beach on the south coast was less successful, as we all got a free salt and sand exfoliation treatment. Back at Martinhal, the treatments at the spa were far more pleasant, although I have to admit being a little taken aback at my male facial therapist – he did have very soft hands though….
There wasn’t much to feel disappointed in at Martinhal. If I had to pick, the restaurants seemed pricey although the food was good. And the wind. This isn’t a surfing hotspot for no reason – the wind is fairly relentless. For the most part it was refreshing but at times I did yearn for a few minutes without my hair stuck to my face.
Martinhal won’t be everyone’s cup of tea. If you’re after a character property or ‘undiscovered gem’, best look elsewhere. This is a resort designed from scratch with the needs of young families in mind, and it does this extremely well. It is about as close as you can get to an ‘easy’, relaxing holiday with young children. I would come back…..
Next stop: El Dorado (oops, I mean Vale do Lobo, the Algarve)