The Sunny Algarve, Portugal
24.05.2012 - 24.05.2012 28 °C
It was our third and final day at Martinhal Beach Resort and Hotel in the south west Algarve. One of my biggest disappointments was not getting much time in the room. Spacious, comfortable, no fuss. It begged for a couple of hours of five star relaxation with the private terrace basking in the sun on the other side of the glass, and a fancy mini-bar looking terribly cramped with so many bottles and goodies aching to be set free.
Some of us were tempted by a final morning kayaking excursion, but then came the expected ums and ers and polite withdrawals… there were those of us still carrying the scars of the previous day’s bike ride, so it was left to Dermot to man-up. In return for a chance to relax, however, we were all expected to turn up on the beach for Dermot’s epic voyage at 10am.
[Photo: Enjoy breakfast with the views]
A buffet-style breakfast is served at O Terraco (the formal restaurant in the evenings). There is such a wide choice that the food needs two rooms. At one end there’s fresh orange juice (probably from the orange grove down the road) and champagne (seriously!)… at the other it’s a selection of cold meats and cheeses. If you want something hot, that’s all there too. It really is one of those ‘where do I start?’ occasions, and you can order anything that isn’t out on display.
[Photo: a view of the hotel from the beach dunes - front left is As Dunas restaurant; front right is one of the swimming pools]
As with the other two restaurants, there’s a special area for children, where a member of staff plays with the young ones while parents get to relax over breakfast. It was easy to see the difference it was making to parents and children alike, and it emphasised that children and family are at the heart of the Martinhal ethos. It’s the sort of place that once you’ve experienced it, you’ll be wanting to come back… if only because the kids will be nagging you all year long.
After the night before I wasn’t that surprised to find myself enjoying breakfast alone on the terrace. The pool below drew some early morning volunteers – doing their laps in perfect morning sunshine – and a jogger moved leisurely along the beach, inches from the lapping surf.
Dermot arrived but no one else had surfaced so we set off for the Watersports centre on the beach. The sand melted between our toes and the sound of the ocean rose up to greet us.
Dermot donned his lifejacket, dragged his kayak to the water and then paddled steadily out into the bay, determined to do a tour of the island. As it turned out, there are actually five islands but they look like one from the beach and the hotel...
[Photo: Dermot sets off for the islands.]
… which explains why Dermot was gone a lot longer than I, or he, had anticipated. He paddled past the island and vanished from view. With so little wind, the sun bright and the water calm, the beach was proving a magnet for families from the resort, but the beach wasn’t crowded. There were only a handful of people in the water, and I finally spotted Dermot reappearing about fifteen minutes after his disappearance. Kayaking, wind-surfing, surfing, parasailing… you can do it all from the Watersports Centre right on Martinhal’s private beach. They even have dinghies and mini-catamarans, but I think Dermot had had enough by the time he returned. It’s over half a mile to the island, which is hard going on the shoulders – and there was still a round of golf to go. What’s more, Dermot was on my golf team so I didn’t need him wearing himself out. We’d pulled straws to create two teams of three with the combined scores from the two days determining the winners. After one round at Penina, we were in front – just.
There was time for one last delicious lunch on the terrace of As Dunas, and then we were off to Amendoeira Golf Resort, where Christy O’Connor Jnr and Nick Faldo have each designed a course under the Oceanico brand. It’s modern, it’s new and it’s big and brash. It is about as far from Penina as it’s possible to go in terms of design and subtlety: to call the clubhouse huge would be an understatement. And it all looked highly impressive on the drive over the specially built bridge that passes above the O’Connor course.
[Photo: the 3rd hole, a par three, with the 18th beyond and the clubhouse above]
Generally speaking, the O’Connor course is on the low ground, while Faldo’s slips up and down a nearby hillside. The O’Connor is longer too with constant water hazards, but by all accounts it is the less strenuous test. We played off the forward tees (we weren’t blessed with time in terms of our flights) and the course was remarkably benign from such a position (5,900 metres). Big fairways and greens and, despite water, it is spacious for much of the round.
[Photo: Brian drives on the dogleg right, par four 10th]
Buggies are almost a must. Temperatures aside, there are some walks from green to tee – and late on a buggy may prove a blessing. As we split up into our two threeballs, someone came out and poured ice into the buggy’s drinks box. I’d bought two 2 litre bottles of water for the heat and it was almost too cold to drink after 15 minutes. There’s a winding drive down to the first tee, past a statue of Christy himself (there’s one of Faldo too), and then a par five to start proceedings. An opening salvo of pars is always going to leave you liking a course, but at the end I preferred Penina. The O’Connor has some superb holes (3, 10, 14, 15 and 18 come to mind) and it is clearly a driver’s course, but Penina demands more restraint and imagination.
On the 15th tee we encountered some woodpeckers who had been knocking around the place all day. It was a nice addition to a very quiet round of golf as the place was deserted.
There was little time to enjoy the impressive clubhouse as we headed for the airport. We returned our golf clubs to the clubstohire shop, next to the Arrivals gate, and then found ourselves standing stationary in a queue for half an hour. Over 70% of traffic through Faro Airport comes from Ireland and the UK. Looking at the Departures screen seemed to back up that claim.
[Photo: The Departures screen]
There was one final twist as we sat on board the Aer Lingus plane at 8.30pm, waiting on someone who’d decided to go walkabout. The Portuguese air traffic controllers were going on strike at 9pm. If we didn’t take off by 8.40pm we wouldn’t be taking off at all as we wouldn’t clear Portuguese air space. The errant passenger finally arrived, a gentleman who looked to be in his 90s and on crutches. As he took his seat – sloooowwwwly – the air hostesses were running up and down the aisle checking that the doors were shut. Yea, I thought as the plane headed for the runway, that helps.
The folks at Martinhal resort are unbelievably generous with their time and hospitality. They epitomise the friendliness and relaxed nature of a five star resort that combines five star service with a child-friendly focus.