“I just want a break”. That was the sentence that started our search for a holiday destination that would work for our whole family.
A little introduction first perhaps. I’m Kristina, and along with my husband Graham, we run Bon Tot: an independent children’s clothing and toy shop, based in Edinburgh, and also selling online. We started Bon Tot 2 years ago, and opened our Bricks and Mortar store a year later. Graham still works full time as an architect, but Bon Tot takes up a lot of his spare time. We do everything between the 2 of us; running the store and the website; branding, graphics, mailing, sourcing… you name it and one of us does it! And to make life just that little bit more hectic (although endlessly more joyful of course), we have a 3 year old daughter, Clemence, and a 5 year old French Bulldog, Frisco.
Our store focuses on “simple, good design” and we source design-led, minimal, ethically made and gender neutral clothing and toys for kids aged 0 to 6. Our store ethos matches our lifestyle pretty closely. We like simple things, done well, but also look for creativity and bit of an edge.
We’ve had a lot of support from friends and family since we set up Bon Tot, but the reality of working in retail is that we’re open at the weekend, and so we rarely get to spend quality time together as a full family.
Normally when we’re looking for a holiday destination, words like ‘adventure’, ‘experience’or ‘journey’, would be pretty high on the list. You’re equally likely to find us on a remote beach or in a dense city, but we would confidently have said never in a resort.
Martinhal was a name that we’d been hearing repeatedly for about 6 months or so. Friends and customers had visited, and all of them reported what a wonderful time they’d had. These people were, in our eyes anyway, cool, design conscious, well travelled and free spirited folks, so we started to think.. “hmmm, maybe we need to look at this!”
We discovered that Martinhal had opened up a new location, just a few miles outside Lisbon, near a beach-front town called Cascais. Graham had just visited Lisbon for work and came back saying how much he wanted to go back. The images looked good, availability was there, affordability of flights to Lisbon sealed the deal and we booked.
And what a great decision that was! Best ‘click’ of 2016 by a long shot!
Martinhal is branded and marketed as a family resort, which could be slightly off-putting. Let’s be honest; we all love our kids, but that doesn’t sound ‘relaxing’! But what Martinhal does, better than anywhere we’ve ever stayed, is cater for the whole family equally.
When they say ‘family’, they mean that every space has been designed for each family member individually and at the same time. Children are welcome everywhere, and while you might think this would lead to chaos, the result is the opposite. Because everyone there has children, the openness and welcoming nature of the resort creates a calm, relaxed atmosphere, where everyone is enjoying their time. The other fact that’s instantly apparent is that the spaces are designed for adults. They are grown up spaces, with grown up materials that have been constructed with a keen eye for simplicity and detail. No garish colours, plastic wipe clean curves or baby gates. These aren’t kids’ spaces; they are spaces that kids are welcome to be in. Which is such a subtle detail, but such a huge mind shift. And it’s the core of why Martinhal works so well.
Set on a large, beautifully landscaped site, the resort has 4 key areas – the main reception, restaurant and breakfast buildings; the Spa; the Kid’s Club; and the Pool Hangout. With 80 rooms, and 12 villas, the space to room ratio is incredibly generous, which most definitely adds to the calmness of the environment.
The first 2 areas form a main central area, and our room opened on to large balcony that overlooked this. The 2 restaurant blocks and the main hotel block create a naturally secure and sheltered square, where breakfast, lunch or dinner can be eaten, drinks sipped and feet put up while kids make friends and play. All under the watchful eye of on site staff, who do more than keep an eye out; they play, draw, chat with and entertain with a very relaxed, but firm, manner.
The space might be fantastic, but as we all know, people make places. Every member of staff we met went above and beyond to make you feel welcome, and most importantly, to make Clemence feel welcome. By the end of our week’s stay, we knew names of many staff members and Clemence would run to them with a huge smile when she saw them.
Our room itself was another little oasis of calm. Simply and stylishly detailed, with a big balcony overlooking the main pool area and a gorgeous bathroom finished with white marble, his and hers sinks and a separate bath and walk in shower. Again facilities for kids have been designed as an intrinsic part of the hotel; not as an extra over, or add on. Clemence’s bed was a proper bed, wheeled in to a part of the room that was meant to receive it. So often in hotels, roll out beds or cots are crammed in to corners and compromise the ability to use the space properly. But at Martinhal the room looked equally in order before and after the bed was in place. A very clever trick to pull off seamlessly. Potty, buggy, bikes, arm bands, flip flops… nothing needed to be brought (we’ll know that next time!) and nothing was too much trouble.
Although every space is accessible to kids, there is a dedicated Kids’ Club, for parents who want to have some proper child free time. It’s complimentary too and even this space caters for the grown ups. There is a pool directly outside, a restaurant upstairs and a bar! Clemence actually asked to go to the kids club, mainly because the space was amazing, and we sat outside with an ice cold drink by the pool and waited while she had a pizza making class inside and gladly sampled the fruits of her labour!
We met some lovely people that we still keep in touch with – as I write this Graham is catching up with people we now call friends, in Birmingham. Karen, Mike and their little boy Cooper joined us for a day trip to Cascais, which is a very cheap 20 minute taxi ride from the hotel (again the hotel will arrange transfer and pick up, including car seats). It’s a gorgeous beach front town, with lovely shops, a fantastic vegan restaurant with a roof top bar that kept me happy and a modern, minimalist museum that ticked the architecture box for Graham.
From Cascais we moved to Lisbon for a few days, but that’s a whole other blog post for another day!
After about 5 minutes at Martinhal we decided that, while we still wouldn’t call ourselves ‘resort people’, we definitely loved this, and we agreed that this was not “a resort”. It’s a family hotel in every sense of the word and a very unique proposition. I’m sure that the concept will become more common in the coming years, but at present Martinhal really is doing something unique. 6 months after our trip, Clemence talks weekly about Portugal, to the extent that recently, when trying to arrange a surprise getaway for Graham’s mum’s 70th, we had to tell her that Spain was “In Portugal” to get her to accept the proposition!
If anyone reading this has any questions at all, feel free to drop us a line. If we don’t reply quickly, it’s most likely because we’re planning out our next trip!