*Review: I was invited to review Martinhal Cascais, but all opinions are my own*
I put my book down on the lounger and turned my face to the sun, pausing for a few seconds to appreciate the moment – to appreciate sitting by a pool in Portugal, with nobody to look after but myself. I thought back to the afternoon I’d just spent exploring Cascais, and I thought ahead to the dinner and drinks planned for that evening, and I let out a contented sigh. Bliss.
Then a little boy caught my eye – a fair-haired boy who looked about the same age as my youngest child, and for just a second, I thought it was him. Of course it wasn’t, but I felt a tug then, a little moment of wishing my son was there, so I could give him a hug. And in a way, that moment summed up the whole stay in Martinhal Cascais – enjoying the freedom, then in the next beat, missing the kids. (Then straight back to enjoying the freedom.)
Because that’s the irony of being in an extremely child-friendly resort without the kids. I kept seeing things I knew they’d love – the bunk beds in the family bedrooms, the brightly coloured melamine plates and cups at the breakfast buffet, the chocolate milk machine, the amazing playground, the built-in trampolines, and the gorgeous, bright, airy kids’ club.
But there were so many elements I enjoyed that were just for me too – the coffee machine in my room, my balcony overlooking the golf-course, the Aperol Spritz before dinner, the lying by the pool reading my book – or at least until a little boy made me think of my kids.
I was there on a press trip with a group of journalists and bloggers from Ireland, the UK, Germany, and the US, to have a look at Martinhal Cascais, a luxury resort that’s made for families. I travelled over with some Irish writers and bloggers – Kellie (MyLittleBabog), Tracey (LoveofLiving), Laura (LoveLifeandLittleOnes), Fiona (DollyDowsie), plus our mammy for the trip, Olivia (CannonConsulting) and coach, trainer and all around fab speaker, my friend Tracy (Mumager), and I suspect all of us had moments over the two-night trip when we missed our kids and wished they were there to see the pool or the pastries. But then just as quickly, we were changing for dinner or ordering cocktails, and thinking that maybe it’s okay to have a bit of time to ourselves.
We arrived on Thursday to warm sunshine, hot coffee, and little Portuguese tarts, then checked into our rooms. That was the first of many wow-factor moments – the bed in my room looked like it could sleep my entire family. The bathroom was the size of my sitting room at home, and best of all, the products were all Voya.
After another quick coffee and pastry (well you never know when you’ll be fed when you’re away, so you have to stock up) we were given a tour of the resort. That’s when the “Oh the kids would love this!” really kicked in, especially as we walked through the playground and checked out the kids’ play area, complete with VW bus for playing in.
There are also three pools (two open now, one further one in summer), a spa, a gym, and a restaurant with an ice-cream cart.
As well as the main hotel, there are 12 villas – suitable for families who like self-contained space (though they sell out quickly).
The two themes that run through every part of the hotel are “luxury” and “family-friendly”. I felt like I was in a five-star luxury resort for grown-ups, but one which caters very, very well for kids – and that’s exactly what Martinhal Cascais does.
Once the tour finished, we were free for the afternoon, so Tracy and I took a taxi down to Cascais town. (It was €8, so definitely doable if you’re staying in the hotel but want to eat out in the town.)
We went for a paddle in the sea, wandered around the beautiful streets, did some shopping, and had ice-creams sitting on a wall, soaking up the sun.
The town is wonderful – small, safe, pretty, seaside-y, and great for holiday-makers who get a bit cabin-feverish staying in one place for too long.
On Thursday evening, we went for drinks in M-bar, the beautifully sunlit bar in the resort, then took a bus to a dinner hosted by the local tourist board. Over delicious local seafood, we were told some more about Cascais before heading back to sleep in our giant (giant!) beds.
On Friday, I woke early and watched the sun rise from my bed, then grabbed a coffee from the machine in my room (as you do) and drank it on the balcony.
We had a long day ahead at the Martinhal Event Conference so I ate as much as I possibly could over breakfast. The buffet is incredible. It’s probably the best I’ve ever had – I had really good scrambled eggs, mini donuts, pastries, more Portuguese tarts (of course) and a cappuccino.
The motto of the resort is “At Martinhal parents have their cappuccino with the foam still on” and I can attest to that, though this possibly had something to do with being there without the kids.
The conference was filled with great speakers – including our own Tracy and Tracey – and though it was a long day, we had good breaks and were completely spoiled with amazing food. ( I don’t think I can ever tell my kids about the endless macaron situation, but I feel I did us all proud with my consumption efforts.)
On Friday night, we had dinner in M-Bar (more amazing food, I’m now giving up eating for two weeks) and with an 8.30 am departure looming the following morning, we decided we’d all take it easy and get an early night. Except then someone said, “Or we could go down to Cascais?” and eight other people said, “We could!” And off we went in a taxi, to check out the local night-life. For about five hours. Including a night-club. And it was brilliant. And for this bit of the trip at least, none of us missed the kids at all.
If you’re thinking of a holiday with kids but would like the kind of luxury that doesn’t always come with family-friendly hotels, I think you’ll find what you’re looking for in Martinhal Cascais. The food, the service, the accommodation, and the little touches that make kids feel welcome are really excellent, and having listened to Chitra Stern – co-founder of the Martinhal hotels – speak about it, it’s clear that providing parents and children with a really great experience is at the core of everything she and her husband are doing. It was also interesting that while she’s a very successful business person and entrepreneur, she was determined to make sure the conference finished on time on Friday as she needed to go see her young son in a play. It summed up everything for me – there’s a serious side to planning anything – work, home, holidays, conferences – but ultimately, once you’re a parent, kids come first. And at Martinhal, I think that’s exactly how it works.
I was invited to stay at Martinhal Cascais and review the hotel, so I didn’t pay for my room. To give you an idea of price: the room I stayed in would have cost €235 per night at this time of year and a bigger room with bunk beds is currently €282 per night. Martinhal is on the Lisbon coast, about 40 minutes from Lisbon airport.