What a difference a week makes

The children and I were recently discussing the different reasons people go on holiday and how there might be a range of reasons depending on whether you're a kid or an adult. Paul and I have recently been feeling stressed, super tired, and in need to.just.stop. The kids meanwhile, all five, were looking for a bit of half term change of scene and (the older three at least) really needed a break from the daily grind of school work, homework and domestic chores.

So when the team from Martinhal Cascais, near Lisbon, invited me over to conduct some cookery workshops (launching new recipes for guests) I jumped at the chance, particularly having heard really good things about this newest outpost of the Martinhal family travel brand (Martinhal, a five star hotel and resort in Cascais, is only about a year old).

Coastal town

I already have a nice working relationship with the Martinhal team, having been invited to conduct kids cookery classes at their resort in Sagres, down on the beautiful Algarve coast. So I kind of knew what to expect during our stay (an array of kids activities, stylish accommodation, a sense of being somewhere special). But I was also intrigued to find out how the Martinhal concept might work in a part of Portugal that British families don't traditionally head up to (Cascais is a pretty coastal town about half an hour north of Lisbon).

No driving for us

We landed as a hungry, slightly bedraggled, travel-weary sevensome, crawling into the taxi (this trip had a self imposed no driving policy), peering out at the bright lights of the city. Thirty minutes later we arrived to a swanky reception area with the sweetest staff (who pre-ordered paninis for the kids and a glass of wine each for us).

First impressions? Serene, zen, calm. Despite there being a lot of families with young kids, there’s space to breathe. The kids meanwhile were thrilled - with just about everything (and they can be harsh critics). From the pool table at the downstairs bar to mocktails at the beach bar...over-sized trampoline to mini-size football pitch...Martinhal sure knows how to make kids happy. Let me take you on a tour....

Totally child friendly

Martinhal Cascais has a nicely non-busy 72 hotel rooms along with 12 self catering villas, all in their signature style of cool whites and pops of colour (we loved the lime over-sized plant pot outside our villa). It’s all about stylish, uncluttered decor but cleverly keeping things child-friendly (stair gates for toddlers, bottle warmers and blenders for baby). Our villa had a huge, seriously comfy bed (oh we slept so well) while the kids tossed a coin as to who would get the top bunk. Staff had left them little beach bags with, amongst other things, cute flip flops. The whole vibe is light, airy and calm. We basically felt as though we were staying at a friend's gorgeous Californian beach house.

Activities galore

The choice of activities for kids is excellent. From horse riding to bike hire, learning to swim to learning to surf. If they don't do it, they'll find out how to. If your kids are younger they may well love the inbuilt (free) childcare via the kid’s club house.

Our five however (aged 7-13) simply wanted to swim. And with three gorgeous pools that's pretty much how they spent their time (inbetween ordering smoothies and deciding whether they wanted a pool side or take out pizza for lunch).

Mummy and me spa treatment

Within the excellent facilities and activities for kids is also the Finisterra spa and I love the fact that kids are even included on the treatment menu meaning my youngest daughter and I could indulge in a blissful ‘mummy and me’ massage. These are the things memories are made of.

Meanwhile Paul and I truly got to relax. From romantic dinners a deux (while the kids were enjoying the in-house movie night) to leisurely lunches as a family (not to be washing up afterwards felt like such a luxury), all around us we could sense a truly relaxed laid back ethos (oh, the staff are just wonderful too).


All this being said, it was great fun to get out and take a train down to Lisbon (tip: ride the Number 28 tram for an all-round tour - and head to Manteigaria for the best pastel de nata). We also really enjoyed spending time in Cascais town, braving the Atlantic for a few 'initially chilly but you soon get used to it' exhilarating swims. I've got to say, we got really lucky with the weather. It rarely dipped below 23/25 (high 70s and early 80s some days) - not bad for late October.

We overheard countless parents chatting amongst themselves as to why they consistently choose to holiday with Martinhal and the answers were invariably the same: happy kids happy parents. I couldn't put it better myself.

To book:
Martinhal Cascais