They say everything changes when you have a baby. Even before I actually gave birth I knew exactly what that would mean for me because 3 out of 4 people didn’t waste a minute to let me know exactly what will change. I wouldn’t sleep anymore, they said. I would not have time for friends and I most definitely would have to stop traveling. They said. To my big surprise: none of this happened.

However, there is one odd thing that isn’t what it used to be: I now enjoy family hotels.

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Had you asked me to go visit a family hotel 2 years ago I would have laughed in horror. I’ve always loved kids but something of the idea of a family resort had me envision bouncy castles on the beach and daily evening entertainment by the pool with mom and dad dancing to ABBA songs. Thanks but no thanks. Needless to say I was hesitant at first when I was asked if I wanted to visit Martinhal in the Algarve, which claims itself to be “Europe’s finest luxury family resort”. There was something about the notion of family resort that made me instantly feel old. A part of me refuses to believe that life changes much when you have a baby and believe it or not but so far for me that hasn’t been the case. I still work the same jobs and I still travel the same places and I still write these blogposts about what I’ve seen. I have a lot, and I mean A LOT less time for everything but I somehow make it work.

Sceptical but excited about a few days spent by the sea we got picked up at the train station in Faro. The train ride from Lisbon only takes a short 2.5 hours to Tunes, the closest train station to Sagres, where Martinhal is located. The driver was young and friendly and to my surprise his limousine boasted a fixed car seat that somehow performed a miracle because for once Atlas, my son, did not hate driving in a car. Turns out car rides are far more enjoyable when there is no baby crying.

When we arrived the sun was performing its full magic and showed off the best a November day in Portugal could have offered. It put a spotlight on what is probably Martinhal’s best feature: location!

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A wide beach, fine sand, turquoise water, dramatic cliffs in the distance and a few thatch umbrellas lining up like props for the perfect view. It felt like someone had hit the relax button.

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After check-in, we strolled down to the beach, ate a light lunch at the local shack, let our toes sink into the sand and our lungs fill with sea breeze. As we sat in that restaurant we watched young families make their way to the water, every dad looking like a surfer, every mom seeming like the type of girl I would be friends with. That’s when I knew I had come to the right place.

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While the summer months certainly get a wider array of families of all ages, the winter months see mostly young families with babies and smaller kids as they are not yet dependant on traveling during school holidays. A nice side effect for someone like me. Meeting other families is easy because there is no better subject to start a conversation over than children. Being a parent always leaves plenty to talk about, regardless of how different the other folks might be. It’s a win-win situation: your kid finds a playmate and you get to connect with new people, just like you did before u had those little ones.

I could have stayed on that beach all day but there was too much left to discover! We didn’t get far though, because Martinhal’s fantastic pool area was essentially empty and there are few things in life I appreciate as much as having a hotel pool to myself. Throw in a cocktail from the bar and I will find heavenly bliss. We put on our bikinis, ordered desserts and coffees from As Dunas, the most beautiful of Martinhal’s restaurants, located right next to the pool, and jumped in!

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I’d say that round in 30°C water under the blue sky was probably my favorite moment of the entire month of November. The baby was sleeping in the pram while I got to swim lap after lap after lap – pure luxury for the new parent.

That first day wasn’t the last time we used that pool, in fact we had another swim just before leaving, not even the rain could stop us. Heated pools are just the best, they are ranking highly in my list of favorite features in a winter destination hotel.

Winter destination? Yep, Martinhal is a real insider tip for off-season travelers. While during summer months the hotel is often fully booked, the winter months provide many awesome perks including huge price drops in room rate and free of charge childcare. The latter is available for kids of all ages (from 6 months to 16 years), happening in different rooms which each cater to a specific age group. Think ball paradise, slides, arts & crafts for primary school aged kids, a room full of ping-pong tables, couches, computers and a projector for teens and some colorful premises filled with toys for the little ones.

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If the weather gets really rough, you and the fam can still splish splash all day long in this large indoor pool, complete with an outdoor area, for everyone who loves a swim in warm water while December rains are coming down from above.

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We did catch a couple of rainy days but we spent them well and wisely at the M bar, perfectly equipped with a hammock, an array of comfy couches and a VW van converted into a an awesome little booth. M Bar does great cocktails, coffees and snacks.

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Speaking of food (a big subject on any trip) Martinhal is ideally equipped for self-catering families. Their many double floor luxury family houses come with a full kitchen and supplies can be purchased on every day of the week at the local grocery store. Upon arrival guests are greeted with a little welcome breakfast, so they can dive right into the Martinhal experience, not having to run to any supermarket first.

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People who do prefer half-board are in for a treat as half board means not just any breakfast and dinner but a fine à la carte selection of both. They are served in O Terraço, the restaurant above the reception of Martinhal’s main building. If, like me who has to babysit from 7pm, you can’t or don’t want to leave the house in the evening, you can call the restaurant and order all meals for take-out. Every night Caroline and I ordered a different starter, main and dessert and dined like queens at our trusty kitchen table.

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When it comes to types of accommodation, guests are spoiled for choice at Martinhal. Take your pick between hotel style rooms in the main building, beautifully designed two-floor family houses and serious luxury villas. It’s easily one of the largest resorts I’ve seen which is great because you have a better chance of getting a booking (many families come back for those reasons) and you have lots of other people to connect with. Especially older kids won’t have a good time on your holiday unless they make friends and here they definitely will.

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The resort is located in Sagres, which is well-known for being at “the end of the world”. The very tip of Europe is called Cape St Vincent and is a stunning rock formation (spot the shoe) that attracts many visitors all year around and sometimes has thousands of people gathering for spectacular sunsets during the summer months.

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martinhal algarve portugal travel

Sagres itself is small and quiet but there are a couple of cute restaurants and lovely spots to take a walk.

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All in all I found Martinhal to be the ideal holiday spot for anyone with kids. Each restaurant has a play area, often times with a child minder, so that parents can eat while kids are supervised at the play table), there are tons of activities on offer, the accommodation is luxurious yet casual and the area is super safe and provides everything a family holiday needs. If parents do want to relax, there is always the hotel spa and in the winter months there are great specials such as Yoga Week, Hiking Week, Child & Mother Fitness Week and all sorts of other fun stuff.

For more info, have a look through their website and follow their updates in their facebook page (76.000 fans cannot lie).

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*Photos by Katja Hentschel, Caroline Schmitt and Martinhal Resort