When you’re picking out a holiday, usually the first thing you think about is the type of trip you’re after: Relaxing or active? Beach or city? Do you want a bit of adventure or are you just after a change of scenery somewhere with a slow pace of life?
What’s brilliant about the family trip we’ve just been on is that it was the perfect mix of relaxing and active, beach and city. Martinhal – a small group of luxury, family friendly hotels in Portugal – has hit the nail on the head with two hotels in Lisbon. One – Martinhal Chiado – is in the heart of the city and the other – Martinhal Cascais – is 30km away, near the beach and offers everything you’d expect from a relaxing break in the sun.
Our trip began in Cascais (pronounced “Cashc-eye-sh”) and our room, which overlooked a golf course, was spacious, had one of the biggest double beds I’ve ever slept in and a single bed for the six-year-old (some rooms have very cool Italian-designed bunk beds). The large bathroom was separated from the room by a huge glass panel, which felt like a nice quirky touch. Like the Sagres hotel – which I reviewed back in 2012 – Martinhal Cascais felt like a luxurious, grown up hotel that does everything it can to welcome kids.
The lobby and lounge areas of the hotel have stylish seating areas, with cool lighting and art, all with the same vibe as the Sagres hotel, a look created by interior designer Michael Sodeau.
The restaurants – a Portuguese one called O Terraço and an Italian one called Os Gambozinos – have the feel of posh eateries yet have an abundance of high chairs, a great kids’ menu and a little supervised play area where kids can go while they wait for their food to arrive, or once they’ve finished eating. Everything is designed with parents in mind – to help us relax and enjoy a holiday without worrying about little details.
One of the six-year-old’s favourite things about Martinhal Cascais was the outdoor play area – with a trampoline, zip wires, jumping pillow, swings and a big castle to climb and slide down, it was pretty much her dream play park. Along with table tennis, air hockey, a football pitch and an outdoor swimming pool (which was out of use during our stay – they were building a roof over it, to make it an all-weather pool) it had something for every kid.
Yet again showing that they really think about what parents need from a holiday, there were giant beanbags dotted around the play area so that the grown ups could chill out while their little ones played. The M Bar, situated next to the playground had plenty of tables and chairs (and cocktails!) for any parents who’d like to enjoy a drink or two while still keeping an eye on their children. I loved the green VW campervan which kids could pretend to drive, and had tables and chairs inside just perfect for a sundowner drink.
The plan for the week was simple: splash around in the pool, head to the nearby beach in Cascais and do a whole lot of nothing, as a family. The six-year-old, however has other plans, and announced that she wanted to check out the kids’ club, pretty much as soon as we arrived. The kids’ club uses the area next to the playground, and do a mixture of indoor play, activities like painting and crafts, and supervised outdoor play. Each morning or afternoon session (complimentary to all guests) has a theme, and if you want to book your kids in for lunchtime too, you can for a charge.
The six-year-old LOVED the Raposinhos kids’ club – she had so much fun in the 700 square metres of play space, making friends with other kids, playing games, bouncing on the trampoline and learning new tricks, and she formed a lovely bond with some of the kids’ club staff.
She loved it so much, in fact, that she begged us to let her go there, all day every day, which is exactly what she did! (Well, how could we say no?!) We had breakfast and lunch together, and then spent the evening with her, but Mr P and I spent rest of the time relaxing with books, wandering around nearby beautiful Cascais, having a spa treatment (honestly one of the best massages I’ve ever had) and just generally chilling out. *Punches the air*
But there was part of us that wondered if it was OK to have our daughter in the kids’ club pretty much ALL the time.
We chatted it through a few times, and kept coming back to the same conclusion: the six-year-old was having way more fun with other children in the kids’ club than she would with us. It kind of felt like a win/win situation. She was happy, we were happy.
One afternoon, we paid €1.50 to get the hotel shuttle bus down to Cascais (you can walk the 45 minutes along the coastline, or cycle into town if you prefer.) There, we wandered along the beaches, checked out the colourful streets and grabbed a beer in a colourful rooftop cafe. Without any little person there, telling us she was bored! Bliss!
We did manage to persuade the six-year-old to hang out with us a little bit, and we spent one morning in the Finisterra Spa – which was allowing children inside to use the indoor and outdoor pools, I suspect because the kids’ club pool and the main pool were both out of action. There were loads of families, with the kids all enjoying the in-pool shower jets and the jacuzzi.
Each day, we had a family lunch at the M Bar (I recommend the burgers – they’re gooood) and every evening we ate in one of the restaurants – and played UNO. Our mealtimes became lovely moments to catch up, play and be silly – which in a hotel like Martinhal isn’t frowned upon. The waiters quite happily moved plates and cutlery out of the way so that we could play cards.
When we ate in O Terraço on our final evening, it felt like a special night out – the sun was setting, we ordered three courses and a bottle of wine – and the six-year-old had a whale of a time picking from the kids’ buffet and polishing off her food before our starters had even arrived. In other restaurants, this might be a problem, with a child getting bored and impatient, but at O Terraço, the six-year-old simply dashed off to the little area where a kids’ club staff member was entertaining a group of kids. While we sat at our table drinking wine…
We were managing to have two holidays in one. A family holiday – pushing our six-year-old on the swing and giggling as we splashed around in the pool – and a couples’ break – exploring the nearby town, reading books, just enjoying some peace and quiet. If we’d wanted to do more activities, Martinhal offer lots of things from yoga to salsa and from bike rides to family football games. It’s one of those holidays where you can do as little or as much as you fancy.
So our verdict on Martinhal Cascais? I think this review probably speaks for itself, but in case you’re in any doubt, the six-year-old’s reaction to having to leave says it all. As our taxi pulled away from the hotel, she sat in the back with me, silently sobbing. Despite me explaining that we were on our way to another hotel – Martinhal Chiado – which would have fun things for her to do, and other children to play with, it took her until we were nearly in the city centre to stop crying and asking to go back to Cascais. I think it’s fair to say she loved it.
Thank you to Martinhal for flying us out for five nights in Cascais and Chiado for the purpose of this review. As always, all views are my own. For prices, offers and to book, head to the Martinhal website. For more travel reviews head over here. Full review of Martinhal Chiado coming soon!