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When you hear the word ‘Portugal’, what do you think?
Until a couple of weeks ago I had no strong feelings about the country. In my mind, the mind of one who is not the most geographically inclined it seems, I just thought it was the ‘bit next to Spain that’s probably fairly similar’. It was when I was repeatedly told to eat all those custard tarts that I thought I might be faced with something other than sangria and jamón.
Why yes, all my country references relate to foods. Apart from American references, they relate to TV shows. If you’re more cerebral than me, check out the best places to visit in Portugal here.
My Portugese itinerary was three nights long: two in Cascais, a coastal resort 20 minutes from Lisbon, and one in the capital itself. Both locations would be family friendly resorts from the boutique Martinhal hotel brand.
Getting the boring logistics out of the way, it is mega easy to get to Portugal. I hopped on a TAP Portugal flight from Heathrow (from £98 return), and two hours later we’d landed in Lisbon. Rush hour meant the journey out to Cascais took a little longer than expected, but before long we’d arrived in the gorgeous seaside town, ready to experience what Martinhal had to offer.
Martinhal are a small chain of hotels in Portugal that are not only geared towards the kids having a good time, but the grown-ups too. All four resorts quite rightly boast five stars, and pair high-quality luxury holiday experiences with a brilliant class of family friendliness.
They had me at five stars: I was ready to get stuck in.
The hotel in Cascais very much has a letting the outside in-kind of vibe. The landscaped gardens fluidly translate into the wooden-clad, scandi-inspired rooms, and the indoor/outdoor pool almost becomes part of the vista. The entire property feels airy and bright, and the thing I was struck with during my visit was just how light the atmosphere is. And weirdly, it’s the best smelling hotel I’ve ever visited.
I stayed in room 225 which was a decent walk along an Overlook Hotel-style coridoor: my digs consists of the hugest bed (the size of which I’ve only ever seen previously in Bangkok), a seating area, a huge desk and fold-away bunk beds. I was travelling solo so these stayed up and I spread myself out.
My room overlooked one of the two golf courses the resort is nestled between. Despite not being a fan of golf it was surprisingly peaceful to watch over the green as golfers worked on their putt, though I did shake my head at those insisting on golfing through the driving rain we experienced on the Friday
Martinhal are great at the little touches. I was greeted in my room with chocolates and local port, and the room had everything I could need. Plug adaptors were provided when asked – I’d left mine at home – and the staff were very accommodating when I locked what felt like everything I owned in my in-room safe. Whoops!
Courteous and friendly staff were a trend throughout the hotel, erring on the side of distantly professional rather than over-bearing. Food was also an absolute treat, with some of the best steak I’ve ever eaten served in the traditional Portugese O Terraço restaurant. Unsurprisingly, seafood also featured heavily, with the hugest prawns and delicious huge shrimp served at the lunchtime buffet – à la carte was also available. The desserts were beautifully presented and delicious, and yes: I did sample one or two (or sixteen) of their Portugese tarts!
The breakfast buffet – one of the best parts of a hotel stay, am I right? – was also fantastic, and I loaded myself up with bacon, eggs, tomatoes, mushrooms and hash browns each an every morning. You can’t start your day at a breakfast buffet without a hash brown, in my experience.
Despite travelling without my own children I didn’t notice anyone else’s creating havoc in the hotel. I put this down to the fantastic kid’s facilities: not only are the bedrooms completely geared towards smaller guests but you’ll also find a stellar kid’s club, kid’s pool, trampoline, entertainment and special menu. This is something I’ve seen at other child-friendly holiday resorts like Mark Warner; if you make the children feel welcome and comfortable, they relax and enjoy themselves. For this reason I really can’t wait to bring Elfie and Hux back here… I know they’d feel like valued guests, just as the grown-ups at Martinhal do.
As part of my trip I was at Cascais to take part in the Martinhal Luxury Family Brand Event, a one-day Marketing summit comprising of business owners, bloggers and Marketeers from all over the world. Here, it was incredibly inspiring to here ex-City boss Chitra Stern talk frankly about her journey with her husband to found the Martinhal brand. As parents of four themselves, they’re clearly dedicated to creating really special holiday experiences for their customers and children. Her passion for all things luxury really shone through, and from that she really has created something unique in her hotels.
Martinhal is a quick ten minute drive away from the fishing town of Casais, and I think the sheer beauty of the local area was one of the most surprising things to me about Portugal. The country is beautiful, absolutely stunning: the best combination of natural beauty and glorious history. On the day we toured Cascais the wind was blowing a gale and we were at a chilly 12 degrees, but I can just imagine how wonderful this town and its sandy beaches are in the summer sunshine.
The verdict? If you want quiet luxury and happy children alongside high-quality facilities and a stunning local area, you’d be hard pushed to find a better holiday than Martinhal Cascais. It’s the perfect spot to explore the beauty of Cascais, and is well-placed to retreat to after a couple of days in busy Lisbon.
I loved it.