When you have kids you quickly realise that certain words and phrases become oxymoronic. For example:
- Vegetable consumption AND bribery-free
- Warm AND cup of tea
- Just one AND glass of wine
I also used to think about ‘relaxing’ and ‘family holiday' in the same way. I had plenty of evidence to support this notion too. A typical example was the time we went with friends and their kids for a couple of weeks to a gorgeous villa in beautiful rural Tuscany. I spent the entire 'holiday' either a) preventing the toddler face-planting into the pool, b) cooking something none of the seemingly hundreds of kids wanted to eat, or c) washing up after someone else had cooked something none of the kids wanted to eat. I returned home from my holiday in desperate need of a holiday. And valium.
Then one summer we booked a trip to a 'five star family hotel' called Martinhal Sagres, in the far corner of Portugal. I'd heard excellent things from friends who had visited, largely that here, for the first time, was a resort that combined things discerning parents enjoy (cocktails, lovely interiors, delicious food, time to relax, beautiful beaches) with things that small children enjoy (food on demand, amazing play areas, space to run about, not being told to sit still, beautiful beaches). So frequent were the excellent reports, that finally, despite my experience telling me that things that made parents happy and things that made kids happy were fundamentally incompatible, we decided to book a week there.
And it turned out my friends were right; it truly WAS amazing; a bona fide relaxing, five-star family holiday. We came back from our week's holiday feeling like we'd actually HAD a holiday. All of us - not just the kids. And ever since we've all talked about how we must go back. This is why, a few months ago, I made the ultimately cheeky blogger move: I requested a press trip back to Martinhal.
Incredibly, the lovely people at Martinhal's PR office agreed - perhaps they could sense my if-I-don't-have-a-proper-holiday-soon-I-might-cry desperation. Turned out Martinhal's offering had been so successful that they'd opened a couple more resorts since I'd last visited. Would my family and I like to visit their newest, Martinhal Cascais, near Lisbon?
We booked our direct Edinburgh-to-Lisbon Easyjet flights before you could say 'Aperol Spritz'.
Cascais doesn’t have quite the same set-up as Sagres - it's further from the beach, and it’s considerably smaller. However, its smaller size makes the resort easier to navigate, and its hotel-centric nature (there are some villas, but mosts guests stay in family-orientated hotel rooms) means absolutely no cooking at all whatsoever is required. I hate cooking, as regular Pink House Guests will probably have worked out, so this was a huge bonus. And visiting as we did at the arse end of October, even when it rained there was plenty to do inside, including the very popular swimming pool and the amazing kids club (and of course the lovely spa), which meant no 'Mummy I'm booooreeed' whinging whatsoever.
So did Martinhal Cascais still fully deliver on the relaxing five star family holiday front? You betcha. And here are five reasons why:
1) The restaurants are genuinely child friendly
Whenever I visit your average 'kid friendly' restaurant, I always have to a) ask staff to remove breakable glasses from in front of the smallest Pink House Dweller; b) ask for a smaller spoon that actually fits inside the small peoples' mouths, and c) say 'you just need to wait until Mummy and Daddy have finished food before you can have pudding' about a hundred times. None of these things happen at Martinhal. They immediately swap out kids' glasses for plastic ones, replace adult cutlery for suitably-sized mini knives and forks, and, when the kids have finished eating, there's a supervised play area so the grown ups can finish their meals/third glass of wine in peace. And all this in the salubrious surroundings of the O Terraco restaurant (above) where the food also happens to be excellent (special mention to the breakfast buffet with freshly made waffles and all-you-can-eat Nutella). Similar set-ups are available at the M Bar cafe (see below, where you can finish your meal, and/or glass of wine, while keeping an eye on the kids in the playground below), and Oz Gambozinhos pizza restaurant (warning - those pizzas are HUGE - we should have gone for one between two).
2) The staff love kids
And by staff, I mean ALL staff. Including the restaurant waiting staff who always looked delighted to see our boys, whether or not they were halfway through a fight 'in the style of Ninjago' (the kids that is; not the staff - I never saw the staff fighting in any style). And the kids club staff who always looked happy to be there, and actively joined in with the kids' games and suggested fun new games (vault head-first into the ball pool was a winner). And the man-sized fox, Rafi, who all the kids wanted to cuddle. And his girlfriend, Rosita, who clearly liked to wear the same, slightly scuffed blue trainers as her boyfriend, but whose tutu was proof of her femininity. They were all good-humoured, and genuinely engaged the children. In fact, the only time Rafi's good humour slightly wavered was when I asked, "what does the fox say?"
3) There's a kids club the kids actually enjoy
This one is key. There's no point in a resort having a kids' club that isn't a treat for the kids. If the kids don't want to go to the club, they'll make a fuss. Then the parents have the choice of either leaving crying children and ruining their kid-free time by feeling guilty, or not leaving their kids there and missing out on much-needed time off. At Martinhal Cascais, the staff were delighted to see the kids everyday, the programme of activities was fun, varied and relevant ('Mummy! Look at the pom-pom ghost I made!"), and they were in no rush to leave when I came to pick them up.
4) Great pools and playgrounds
The fact that pre Martinhal I had never been on a holiday where the kids' play pool is within touching distance of the jacuzzi is nothing less than a travesty. This is such a simple but effective set up: grown-ups relax in jacuzzi while keeping an eye on the kids splashing about with water jets/foam items. Usually I hate going swimming with the kids due to freezing-tits-off issues, but here I stayed toasty warm while shouting doggy paddle encouragement/warnings to stop smacking other children with foam items. Maybe not as great as the pre-kids days where the relaxing came without the shouting, but hey, I chose to create life, and now I have to live with it. Even on holiday.
As for the playground, it had just enough risk involved to keep the 3yo and 6yo engaged, without us actually worrying about their safety, so we could drink alcoholic orange beverages with only half an eye on our offspring. Oh and the trampoline was brilliant. I think Pink House Husband liked it best of all; my pelvic floor wasn't quite so sure.
5) The spa
I love a spa, me. And the Finesterra spa at Martinhal Cascais lived up to my high expectations (the one at Sagres was exceptional). We're talking well-designed, serene surroundings; a masseuse who knows how to do the digging-into-toddler-damaged-shoulder-knots; snuggly white robes; a calming relaxation room; and absolutely no weird jiggery-pokery (I'm not into spas who click rocks over your head or jingle bells at your feet in a karmic manner - I like my spa experience more sports massage than Scientology). And the best thing of all about the spa? Absolutely no children whatsoever. Now THAT'S what I call a relaxing family holiday.
MARTINHAL CASCAIS: THE FACTS
- Low season: from 178€ per night in a double room, with breakfast included
- High Season: from 248€ per night in a double room, with breakfast included
- Nearest Airport – Lisbon
- Transfer time – 40 minutes/40km – Transfers can be arranged through Martinhal’s concierge service at additional cost
Location & Contact:
- Martinhal Lisbon Cascais Family Resort Hotel, R. do Clube Casa 36, Quinta Da Marinha, 2750-002 Cascais Portugal
- Tel: +351 211 149 900
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Website: www.martinhal.com/cascais
Thanks very much to everyone at Martinhal Cascais for inviting me and my family to stay in exchange for a review. As always, all opinions are my own.