Dr Chiara Hunt forgoes the call of the wild for a family-friendly holiday at Martinhal in Portugal
Holidays for my husband and I have always been adventurous: our first mini-break was a sky-diving trip in Spain, followed by a ‘courtship’ involving a self-made raft on a river in Sweden; our honeymoon was a riding Safari in Kenya; and our ‘baby moon’ was spent in a horse-drawn gypsy caravan – at eight months pregnant it was not the most comfortable holiday, but an adventure.
Two small children later, however, we had to bid farewell to our favourite kind of holidays, and it was diffcult to find a worthy replacement. When I suggested that we go for a week to Martinhal Beach Resort, a ‘children’s hotel’ with kids’ clubs and play corners in the restaurants, I could see my rugged, wilderness-loving husband visibly bristle. Some gentle persuasion later, aided by the fact that various family members and friends had been and loved it, our tickets were booked. On the flight out, it was clear he was not looking forward to it.
Landing in Faro, things couldn’t have been more straightforward. The hotel driver was on time, the car seats were in and the LEGO movie ready to go on the car’s entertainment system. This was clearly a hotel that understood the needs of both children and their frazzled parents alike.
I had been told by my sister that Martinhal is child-friendly without being cringe-worthy. A place where parents can have a properly spoiling holiday knowing that their children are also having a great time. You can choose to stay in a hotel room, a self-catering townhouse or a larger villa. We chose the townhouse with half board allowing us the flexibility of eating at home or in the restaurant.
The hotel has thought of everything. Families with young babies and toddlers are provided with all the necessities and more, from sterilisers, cots and purée machines, to potties and high chairs. The shop in the hotel’s market square also stocks anything else you might need. Nappies, formula and Ella’s Kitchen food pouches sit alongside freshly-baked bread, decent wine and a good ice-cream selection, and if you’re craving a bit of home there are even frozen fish fingers and peas on offer. There are children’s toys
in the restaurants and a huge box of beach toys that you can rummage through.
On sunny days we had an early breakfast on the terrace and strolled down to the beach where we annexed a cubby hole and some deck chairs and settled in for the day. The children built enormous sandcastles, played in the waves and found ‘treasure’ on the beach before nodding off in the shade, giving us the chance to read our books or leap into the surf. But even on days when the sun failed to shine, the hotel still managed to pull it off. For us, the Little Foxes kids’ club was an all-round winner. After we had indulged at the spa and enjoyed a child-free brisk beach walk, our exuberant children emerged with faces painted, balloon swords and lots of stories to tell.
At the end of our fun-filled days came the children’s biggest treat yet – grown-up supper. As a family we would get dressed up and have a drink on the terrace of our little house before strolling down to one of the hotel restaurants.
The menus are tailored to different age ranges, the food is all freshly made and delicious; purées for babies, mushy food for toddlers and the children were delighted to be able to choose a starter, main course and pudding from their very own menus. Having chosen they were off, jumping on the trampoline strategically placed within sight of the restaurant or drawing in the corner with one of the hotel staff until the food was ready, while we sipped our G and Ts and had some adult conversation.
A week passed in a flurry, and on our last night I nearly fell off my chair when my husband told me (after a bottle of wine) that it had exceeded his expectations. Our wilderness was replaced by a beach full of playmates for our children, our wild lake by a heated swimming pool and our idyllic restaurant view had a large trampoline buried in the sand at the edge of it, but it worked. Our children loved it. There’s a saying that goes, “You’re only as happy as your unhappiest child”. And that meant we couldn’t have been happier.