Bring young kids to Europe? Are you crazy? It’s exhausting enough trying to keep up with them at home, let alone in a foreign country. True. But there is another way. Martinhal Family Hotels and Resorts in Portugal wants parents to enjoy their European holiday as much as the kids.
“I want our mothers who are guests here to have their cappuccinos with the foam still on,” says Chitra Stern, owner of the Martinhal properties.
As a mother of four, she understands firsthand that parents are used to having cold coffees as they run after kids and keep them entertained. Chitra and her husband, Roman, dreamed of a place, where parents could unwind and truly enjoy their family vacation. Unable to find what they envisioned when they were looking for a place to getaway when their children were young, they developed the concept of a luxury family hotel to satisfy both adults and children with the highest standards to satisfy both adults and children.
“We wanted to create moments and places where adults and kids can have fun together,” says Stern. They’ve succeeded. Their three properties in Lisbon, Caiscais and Sagres are designed so that families can experience all of Portugal’s many charms in the most relaxed manner possible (which is no easy feat if you’re travelling with kids).
All of their properties house a Kids Club, where dedicated caregivers offer a variety of programming for children aged six months to early teens. Dining rooms have a staffed kids’ seating area, but families can opt to dine together; and the menus are appealing to both foodies and fussy toddlers (it’s even healthy, but don’t tell the kids that). Fresh purees are available for babies, and many of the favourite Portuguese dishes on the adult menu have kid-sized portions for budding gourmets
Details both big and small ensure that family vacations are as carefree as possible, so you’ll find built-in play areas to hang out in, no sharp corners on furniture to hit, spa treatments for the whole family to indulge in and fun activities to engage all.
After a recent visit, I fell in love with both Portugal and the Martinhal properties, and I bet your family will, too. Here are the highlights:
What to do
Chiado is where you want to be in Lisbon. Equal parts historic and hip, its cobbled narrow streets are home to squares with statues of poets, outdoor patios, boutiques and many of the city’s best attractions. A short walk away is the Santa Justa Lift, an ornate public elevator, considered Lisbon’s Eiffel Tower. At the top, admire the view of the red-tiled roofs that stretch out to the Tagus River.
Also nearby is the Mercado de Ribeira (now called the Time Out Market), where dozens of vendors serve up traditional Portuguese meals, international food, snacks and wine by the glass. Be sure to sample the Pasteis de Nata, Portugal’s famous egg custard tarts while you’re there. My eyes rolled back in my head when I tried these heavenly desserts at Manteigaria (which rival Belem’s for best tarts in the city).
Highlights of the hotel
Martinhal’s 37 artfully decorated and spacious family apartment come equipped with a full kitchen, laundry and all the kid essentials you need (high chairs, stools, potties etc.) But what many parents appreciate most about this specific property is the Pajama Party the Kids Club runs in the evening, so adults can explore Chiado by night. Might I suggest listening to soulful Fado music at O Faia restaurant or dining at Bairro do Avillez, owned by one of Portugal’s most highly-regarded chefs, José de Avillez. Or perhaps even something a little more risqué, like a burlesque show at the Pensao Amor on the city’s infamous ‘pink street’. Date night in Lisbon. Bring it on!
What to do: This glam coastal town, situated about 30km west of Lisbon, was the summer stomping grounds for royalty in the late 20th century. Today, the region is a favourite holiday destination, known for its beaches, waterfront and historical attractions, including numerous royal residences and castles. One of the most intriguing is the Quinta da Regaleira, where among the beautifully manicured grounds, you’ll find secret passageways, grottos and an incredible underground initiation tower. Built for the rites of masonry organizations and the secretive Knights of the Templar, a small, discreet entrance on the surface leads to an elaborate gallery tower that defies imagination. Symbolism abounds and the inverted tower structure still exudes power and enigma.
Highlights of the resort
The 84-room property has indoor and outdoor pools, playgrounds, a luxurious spa and the best part for families –a huge children’s clubhouse. Kids can happily tire themselves out jumping on the large trampolines, riding down the ziplines and taking part in organized activities. And while the little ones are occupied, there’s a smorgasbord of activities awaiting --golfing, beach, tennis, horse-back riding, cycling and cultural excursions to name a few. But you’ll be forgiven if you opt to forgo those and take advantage of the Finnisterra Spa and their blissful saunas, steam room and treatments
What to do
The Algarve region in the south of Portugal is justifiably celebrated for its sunshine, nature and beaches. From the resort, bike to the ‘end of the world’, well, what Europeans thought of as the earth’s final point for thousands of years. Cape St. Vincent is the south-western most point on the continent, and in summer, thousands gather simply to stand overlooking the dramatic cliffs and watch one of the best sunsets in Europe.
Highlights of the resort
Martinhal’s collection of luxurious accommodation are located inside the national park of the same name, so you don’t need to leave the resort to enjoy the red sand cliffs and sweeping ocean views this region is famous for. It’s the only development allowed in the protected nature reserve; and so the secluded beaches, hiking trails, bright starry nights and plenty of open space are all at your doorstep. Amenities include indoor and outdoor pools, a large kids club and three restaurants. Their seafood is sourced from a nearby auction house, and is literally fresh from the boat. The talented chefs prepare it superbly, and you can enjoy it with a glass of local wine and the ever-present glorious view. Organized kids’ programming and family activities abound, ranging from surfing and biking excursions to swimming and soccer tournaments.
Or you can pick a corner of this gorgeous resort and sip a cappuccino with the foam still on.
If you go: Flights: Nonstop flights are available from Toronto on TAP Portugal -- www.flytap.com