At Europe’s southwestern tip, where Prince Henry the Navigator dispatched his sailors to explore the world, Martinhal Beach Resort & Hotel is specifically designed so that families can enjoy playing together in the sun. For the best beach weather without crowds look into travel in March through June or September and October, but the sun shines more than 300 days a year in the Algarve.
Joys of the western Algarve
The long golden beach, Praia Martinhal, is part of Portugal’s famed Algarve, but unlike the more congested playgrounds of the central Algarve, this west end of the coast preserves much of the wild beauty of soaring cliffs unlined by development. The natural landscape of the western coast is protected by a natural park and the south-facing coast follows this lead with well-spaced resorts that fit into the land.
None does it better than Martinhal Beach Resort, a carefully planned community built on a hillside overlooking a broad arch of golden sandy beach and the cliff-protected harbor of Sagres. The low-rise architecture fits into the contours of the landscape, rather than reshaping or covering it. Made-up of private villas, a variety of small condo units and a small hotel, the resort looks and feels like a small town, its buildings set on streets that curve along the sloping shore. The region’s indigenous plants and trees provide the landscaping.
A place for entire families to play together
But the genius of Martinhal is the way in which everything has been designed to maximize the ways that families can play together and separately. While some of the rooms in the hotel are arranged so that they can be joined into suites, most families like the option of having a condo or house to call their own. Five different style houses are available, in two- or three-bedroom configurations, each fully equipped with kitchens, 32-inch satellite TVs and even beach towels in handy tote bags. The Pinewoods houses have their own small pools. A dedicated concierge makes sure that age-appropriate additions are in place on arrival – gates on the stairs, high-chairs, cribs, booster seats, even strollers.
All aspects of Martinhal are tailored to kids of all ages and their parents, who are here on vacation as well. All the restaurants in the resort welcome kids, and the staff is so attuned to them that waiters have no trouble sidestepping stray toddlers. Within sight of each restaurant is a play area where young children can play safely while parents finish leisurely meals. It is not unusual to see hotel staff happily give kids a helping hand, sooth them after a fall, give advice on which activity to do next or even on how to fold and fly a paper airplane. Even the fine-dining restaurant, O Terraço breaks down its children’s menu to five different age-specific listings that include custom-cooked baby foods.
Special places and programs for all age groups, 6 months through age 18
Special activities for kids abound. The Raposinhos center in the Town Square, is a hotbed of choices for families. The Créche program is for kids ages 6 months to 23 months, Kids Club for 2 to 4 year olds, and the Fox Club (Raposinhos means little foxes) for ages 5 to 8. Explorers Club (ages 9 to 12) and Adventure Club (ages 13-18) are even more active and are tuned to active outdoor activities such as surfing, board surfing, swimming, tennis and soccer, with friendly competitions among teams during the school break periods. Activities for school-age kids peak during vacation periods, and a full schedule is available so families can plan ahead.
But this is not a pack-the-kids-off-for-the-day sort of place. There are plenty of opportunities for families -- together or in pairs or small groups -- to do things together. The whole family can enjoy the pool, where there is an adjoining but separate play area for small children. Mothers and daughters can enjoy a spa treatment, and parents can join older kids for kayak, paddle board or surf lessons. Even in the fall and winter, moderate temperatures in the 60s and 70s and in the average year the Algarve has about 300 days of sunshine, so water sports are almost year-round activities.
Adventures on nearby cliffs, beaches and wilderness
Although the resort itself offers enough to keep a family busy, the surrounding coast is just as appealing, with spectacular surfing and swimming beaches, cliff-top walking and hiking trails, even castles to explore. Tour boats take visitors into sea caves and to find dolphins and for water-level views of the towering cliffs.
With its mild, sunny winter weather, the Algarve is a great introduction to Europe for kids, with local culture, history kids can identify with and familiar beach activities in a distinctly European atmosphere, but where everyone speaks English.
Getting to the Algarve is surprisingly easy. SATA, the airline of the Azores, flies from Boston to Lisbon three times a week (Sunday, Tuesday and Friday) and daily in the summer. SATA fights all stop in Ponta Delgada, Azores, en route in both directions. The Portuguese national airline TAP flies daily from Boston with some direct flights, others are available through Newark.