Posted on June 24 2019
Traveling with the family
Celebrating turning 40 and 10 years of marriage.. I wanted to do something super special. Graham and I talked for some time about how we might mark these unique events. For Graham’s 40th, he wanted to go to the Venice Biennale - he being an architect, and Venice being a city he had yet to visit. I wanted a massive party with 90s hip hop blazing until the small hours . . . but I also wanted to go somewhere that I could relax and enjoy reflecting on the these major milestones (the party will follow!). We thought about going somewhere just the two of us, but then decided it would be lovely to celebrate as a family and bring Clemence with us.
Traveling with kids doesn't always fall in the 'relaxing' bracket of course. We’d stayed in Martinhal’s Cascais and Lisbon properties a few years ago, and had the best time, and Clemence has talked ever since about her desire to go back to Portugal. Martinhal cater specifically for families and so we decided that might be the ideal place to celebrate.
Martinhal have a number of properties and they are all quite different. Cascais was lovely, but we wanted to be right on the beach this time if possible, so opted for their original resort, just outside Sagres in the Algarve. We also hoped that the few extra degrees of latitude would bring a few extra degrees of Celsius!
For those of you that don’t
know Martinhal, the company was founded in 2011 by Roman and Chitra Stern; entrepreneurs and parents, who moved from London to settle in Western Algarve. The goal
was to create Europe's best luxury family focussed resort, where children
and adults were equally catered for. I'll say right off the bat that we feel very priveledged to be in a position to celebrate here. 'Luxury' does come with a price point. But Martinhal do 'family focussed luxury' really so well.
There's a wide variety of options in terms of where and how to stay at Martinhal; from hotel rooms, to multibedroom villas. The villas are a great option if you're travelling with friends and want to keep the costs down as much as possible. You could happily co-exist in the houses; they have balconies, garden areas and generous living spaces. We were very lucky to be offered an upgrade to a villa and Clemence was very excited that the baby she brought could have her own cot!
This is for sure one of the best parts of staying with Martinhal; they provide everything you might need for kids - from cots, to pull out beds, to potties to kids toilet seats. The skill comes in delivering properly family friendly spaces without losing out on style. Martinhal does not look like a "kid friendly hotel". It's really beautifully designed.
The image above shows the hotel rooms and one of the 5 swimming pools available. It also shows a little glimpse in to the landscape the hotel sits in. Setting the development in its context was a goal of the Martinhal owners. The lead architect was Conran & Partners and Director Matt Wood describes the process as, "mediating the environment, creating a place where none existed
before, carving something from a void".
From the start the aspirations for Martinhal were for it to look like it had grown organically and the guiding principal was a low density development. Martinhal say, “we wanted to “touch the ground lightly, and draw attention to the land". A local specialist Landscape company was employed to develop the masterplan in conjunction with Conran & Partners.
"We adapted the buildings to the ground, kept it low density and
simple to take advantage of the views and the environment. The
luxury here is not the use of expensive items but the privilege of
being able to walk barefoot to the beach”, is how Texeira Pinto describes his practice's approach.
Natural materials such as traditional plaster, stone and wood are used throughout the resort. Much of the rock removed during the excavation process necessary for construction, was recovered and used in the buildings and gardens. Also collaborating on the project were Lisbon based 'Biodesign Ltd' who specialize in residential resort landscape architecture and pride themselves on environmental awareness, a critical aspect to the longterm vision at Martinhal, and a shared focus of Conran & Partners and Teixeira Pinto.
concept follows the principals of Conran & Partners and follows
the direction of Filipe Bonito. Recovering the landscape and
coupling environmental awareness with functionality and
aesthetics, particularly in relation to the coastal landscape
system, protecting as many natural areas as possible with the implementation of an
indigenous planting programme.
The final piece of the design puzzle was provided by interior designer Michael Sodeu, who designed an entire range of furniture specifially for Martinhal. “Our goal was to create living spaces that would be strong,
embracing yet transparent, and layered in form. Completely
modern yet saturated with Portuguese traditions. Function has
to be paramount. The stunning views will take centre stage and
the interiors will look and feel like a home from home. The decor
will be accented with the use of as much natural material native
Graham is an architect and specialises in Hotel design, so he looks at these things from a professional as well as personal point of view. He certainly agreed that Martinhal have done a wonderful, consistent and coherent job with design. What was nice to discover, was the environmental and sustainable side of the project . By using native planting, the requirement for irrigation is vastly reduced - garden irrigation is done with
desalinated water from the saline
water sources found underground. Martinhal have also never used plastic straws (one of Clemence's personal ideals) and use glass rather than plastic bottles (we brought our own Blafre of course!). Take away boxes from the various restaurants on site are biodegradable with bamboo cutlery offered. They run beach cleans and a large percentage of the electricity is provided by some 800 photovoltaic and solar panels.
Food is very 'Portuguese' too, again with many dishes sourced locally. Food is, I think, one of the few areas where improvements could be made. As a vegan, there were almost no options for me, despite the resort having multiple dining locations. We raised this with the management and Martinhal say this is something they plan to address. Hopefully some more interesting options for vegetarians and vegans will appear on their menus soon!
Learning about the background of Martinhal across our 2 visits has really been interesting. For us, it's nice to know that there is goal and an ethos behind the company, over and above the premise of "Luxury". Luxury in the Martinhal sense is the whole experience rather than simply the price tag at the end.
So is it the ideal place for a relaxing 40th / anniversary celebration? Absolutely. The entire resort, including the Spa, is child / family friendly, which means that there's never a point where you are worrying about keeping your kid quiet, or out of the way. And since every space is designed with kids in mind, there's always something for both the child and the grown up to enjoy. We could relax in a grown up enviroment, while Clemence played safely nearby.
We walked one evening along the beach to visit nearby Sagres for dinner. But otherwise, we hopped from beach to pool, to pool, to spa and made the most of the sun, the sand and the amazing staff that really do make Martinhal the place it is. A special shout out to 'Marshmallow' who Clemence still talks about today! There is a kids club and a creche if you want to have some child free time, and actually Clemence asked to go there one day; again because the staff are so good and so much fun to be around.
There are also football pitches, tennis courts, bikes to hire (including a pump track to hone your off road cycle skills), a surf school in the summer, swimming lessons... it's a long list!
Both Graham and I would usually want to do something intrepid or adventurous, but to be able to celebrate my 40th year and really properly enjoy the moment, Martinhal was an amazing choice. Clemence already wants to go back... and so do we... so I guess it must be good!