A Travellerspoint blog

Martinhal Beach Resort & Hotel - Day 3

The Sunny Algarve, Portugal

sunny 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.

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[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.

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[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...

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[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.

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[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.

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[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.

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[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.

Posted by kevinmarkham 05:03 Archived in Portugal Tagged beach golf kayak portugal sagres martinhal amendoiera Comments (0)

Martinhal Beach Resort & Hotel - Day 2

The Sunny Algarve, Portugal

sunny 30 °C

There was no backing out of it. I had said I’d do it, I was committed, but that didn’t mean I had to like it. My itinerary listed ‘bicycle ride’ on Day Two… which had looked easy enough on paper.

But as I straddled the mountain bike shortly after breakfast, it took mere seconds to discover that certain parts of my body were not happy about the departure from the normal routine, which involved sitting in front of a computer or walking a golf course.

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[Photo: Breakfast on the deck of O Terraco. Now why would you want to go cycling when you could be enjoying this!]

“Put this on,” Manuel said, passing me a helmet. Great, I thought, the pain of mountain-biking combined with the humiliation of helmet-hair.

Five star luxury it might be at the Martinhal Beach Resort and Hotel, but a bike seat is a bike seat, and when one hasn’t met your backside in eons it is bound to be an uncomfortable encounter.

We set off behind the tall and fit Manuel, and by my estimation not one of us had been on a bike in over a decade. As he rode with ease and grace, we fumbled and stumbled our way through the gears, over rocky terrain, through sand and into bushes.

He took us up through the nature reserve that surrounds the hotel, giving the resort a wonderful tranquil air. First we went through the pine forest and then on to the exposed landscape that stretched into the distance.

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Decisions, Decisions

As with any holiday, what you choose to do is up to you, but on this occasion the itinerary was set by someone else. Dermot, from Destination Golf, had invited me to experience the joys of Martinhal and I had accepted willingly. Still, as my bike ricocheted off a large rock and forced me towards a large crevasse, I wasn’t thanking anyone.

On the horizon lay our destination – the lighthouse at Cape St. Vincent, but no matter how hard we pedalled, the lighthouse never seemed to get closer…. until suddenly we were there, passing small stalls selling trinkets and rugs, and camper vans discharging yawning, stretching passengers. The furthest south west tip of Europe this might be, but tourists are still drawn to this enchantingly peaceful spot.

The bright red dome contrasted against the startling blue of the sky and the white walls that surrounded the courtyard. We strolled from one side to the other, looking down from the cliffs into the Atlantic below. On one side you can stare north, on the other you peer east.

Karl, one of our group, forked out for some well-earned ice creams. They soothed our over-heated muscles, but not for long as Manuel drove us out and back onto our bikes for the return journey. This time he took us along the coast, into the ruins of Beliche Fort, and then on to show off some of the area’s beautiful beaches. The pick has to be Donel beach, cocooned by tall cliffs of dark rock, with smooth, velvet sand stretching for almost half a mile towards the headland of Sagres, upon which sits the Fortaleza de Sagres.

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[Photo: Beliche Fort on the cliff tops, with the lighthouse in the distance]

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[Photo: Donel beach]


For History Buffs

The Fortaleza and Cape St. Vincent provide the area with something of an aura that puts Sagres firmly on the world map. And it’s all thanks to Prince Henry the Navigator who built his famous School of Navigation here, in the 15th century. Great mariners, astronomers and cartographers came here willingly during the Age of Discovery to build the ships that sailed the globe and established Portugal as a colonial power. It has left a legacy that is part of the fabric of countries as far away as East Timor and Brazil, and will be for many generations to come.

We stopped by the fort, dropped our bikes and ventured as close to the edge of the cliffs as we dared. The beach had a mere dozen people strewn across the sand as the waves rolled in. The area is a popular surfing spot, depending on the tides, but today it was the sun-lovers who had it to themselves – the surfers were off at one of the other 20 beaches.

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[Photo: the guys looking down on Donel beach, with the Fortaleza de Sagres behind]

After another perfect lunch at As Dunas – I was seriously falling for the Sagres beer – it went with the fish dishes like a charm, especially the calamari. I love my food and while fish has never been a big favourite of mine, I was rapidly becoming a convert. Sitting on the deck, beneath the parasols, looking out to sea – it was one of those ‘where else would you rather be?’ moments.

I have to confess that after a week in Madrid last year, when I was disappointed by the Spanish cuisine, I hadn’t been expecting too much of the Portuguese fayre. But I had underestimated Martinhal. The food at As Dunas is exceptional – fresh fish prepared the Portuguese way (Cataplana is a local speciality) and food is always enhanced by the joy of al fresco dining.

And then, finally, we were off to a golf course. There’s only so much luxury a golfer can take before wanting to hit something.

Penina Golf Resort

Le Meridien Penina Golf Resort is outside Lagos, about 45 minutes east of Martinhal. There are golf courses closer to the hotel (Boavista, for example), but Penina has a proud reputation, hosting the Portuguese Open on ten occasions. It is a flat course that flows gently back and forth between lines of trees that all too often squeeze you. It is not enthralling by today’s lofty standards, but Penina is the grand dame of Algarve courses with subtle design that harks back to the days of Sir Henry Cotton. This was the Algarve’s first course and it remains a favourite, tucked away behind a tall, white hotel that has recently been refurbished. And it is not only the hotel that has seen a face lift – the practice facilities have been upgraded substantially and now claim to be among the best in the Algarve.

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[Photo: green to tee on the par three 13th. Water all the way]

I’m not sure why we turned down the buggies that were offered when we arrived – presumably most of us felt that to experience a golf course fully you have to walk it. It was not the smartest idea as we floundered in the 30 degree heat.

I liked Penina’s easy charm and elegance. The trees gave it a dignity that matched the course’s age, while the water added several thrills, notably on the back nine. A sign by the par three 13th proclaims that the hole was voted one of the best 500 holes in the world in 2005 – although it failed to say whereabouts it ranked in that 500. It is a long par three, over water all the way, and myself and Ed both found the wet stuff, while Karl took the easy route, laid up and narrowly missed his par.

I was disappointed to lose the ball as it had served me well on the previous hole, the Index 1 par four, where I hit my drive 360 yards. A trick if you’re ever over that way – hit your drive onto the buggy tarmac path and watch it bounce all the way to the green.

Martinhal does not classify itself as a golf resort but, even with its focus on family, the resort offers the passionate golfer an opportunity to sneak away for a round (i.e. send your other half to the Spa), in which case the sensible thing to do is hire your clubs from clubstohire.com at Faro Airport, and avoid all of the hassle (and your partner’s frustrated glances) of bringing your own clubs.

A Child Friendly Environment

On our return, everyone headed to their rooms for a well-earned shower before making the short trip through the resort to restaurant number three. Os Gambozinos is the family-style restaurant, serving the staples of holiday food like pizzas, pastas and burgers, as well as a variety of Portuguese dishes. It is relaxed and fun, and the restaurant is located in the resort’s village square. Here you’ll find the Kids Clubs, a small supermarket and a clothes shop – just in case you’ve forgotten that essential item, such as swimming trunks. One of the five pools is located up some steps, with a small gym alongside. It only serves to emphasise that while you can go off and explore the surrounding countryside, it is far too easy to find yourself wrapped up in everything Martinhal has to offer. And the Kids Clubs just make that so much easier if you so choose. You can leave your kids (aged 6 months to 18 years) in one of the five clubs (age dependent, obviously) where they will be looked after, fed and entertained for up to six hours a day by professionally qualified staff – there’s a babysitting service too – leaving you and your partner to check out the pools, the sports facilities, the nature reserve, the dolphin watching trip, the pilates on the beach, the watersports centre and, of course, the restaurants - each of which has play areas alongside.

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[Photo: The Village Square with kids' play area. Photo taken from above the shops]

Martinhal is built on the site of a previous hotel, called Os Gambozinos, which was well past its best. That’s not a charge that will be laid against Martinhal any time soon. Everything is new and pristine (apart from some of the trees which were rather cherished), and you won’t fail but to be impressed.

At the end of our meal, our hosts tempted us to venture into Sagres. They wanted to take us on a ‘pub-crawl’ – although I suspect they had no idea what an Irish pub crawl entailed – but we ended up staying in the one bar all night. It was quite a funky place for such a quiet, laid back village and the beer was cold. Why move? We left shortly after 1am, with only one of our hosts still with us – the others had slipped away during the evening, unable to keep up or overwhelmed by the DJ banging out an assortment of 1980s hits last heard in, well, the 1980s. Still, I suspect we all went to bed humming one of the night’s tunes… Kajagoogoo, perhaps.

Posted by kevinmarkham 09:53 Archived in Portugal Tagged children the golf luxury destination st portugal cape five star algarve vincent sagres martinhal Comments (0)

Martinhal Beach Resort & Hotel - Day 1

The Sunny Algarve, Portugal

sunny 27 °C

A 3.30am start might sound a bit brutal, but as the plane came in to land at Faro a few hours later, the shadows sliding off the wing like sheets off a statue, any thoughts of tiredness vanished. Beneath us, Portugal’s Ria Formosa Nature Reserve ran for miles, separating land from sea. Its 17,000 hectares is home to hundreds of species of birds and it ends just before the wheels touch down. It was an inspiring welcome to a country I hadn’t visited in almost 20 years.

I was visiting Martinhal Beach Resort and Hotel, invited by Destination Golf to experience its five star luxury and play golf at the oldest and one of the newest courses in the Algarve. It doesn’t get much better than that…

… only it did.

The drive west took less than 90 minutes, across an easy highway that rolled past white houses and through stretches of red earth and orange groves.

I have never had the pleasure of five star luxury, but there is something glorious about Martinhal that goes beyond the garland of ‘five star’. It is effortless, relaxed and charming… not fussy, exact or formal.

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[Photo: views from the hotel reception]

A Setting to Impress

And it got off to an impressive start as we pulled up to the hotel. Stepping out of the taxi revealed sun drenched views of beach, islands and a sea layered in blues and greens. We all stopped to look. The hotel rests on a slope above these views and one of the resort’s five swimming pools. It is all tucked away in the Costa Vincentina nature reserve on the Algarve’s most south-westerly tip. This is a quiet, unspoilt corner of the world, reflected by the peaceful village of Sagres which sits bright and white on the distant headland - its houses scattered like sugar cubes across the cliff tops.

The hotel has been designed and built to be sympathetic to its environment: it is only two storeys high. Local materials were used and this shines through in the easy style that falls underfoot and rises overhead. Chandeliers, straw lamps, cork tables and timber floors, it all breathes life into the delight of this place.
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[Photo: the drop off area outside the hotel reception]

Our bags and golf clubs were whisked away and we were taken for a welcome drink on the long balcony of the O Terraco restaurant, on the first floor of the hotel. We leaned against the balcony and took our time drinking in the views. Below us the swimming pool was a source of laughter and joy as children and their parents enjoyed the cool waters. It emphasised the resort’s true audience.

Golfing was my purpose, but Martinhal is a family-focused resort well away from the ‘golf coast’ that proves so irresistible to Irish and British golfers. That’s not to say you can’t play golf – indeed, the resort has preferential rates with local clubs – but this is an opportunity to relax, have fun and keep the whole family happy.

Cool, Calm and Comfortable

David, from Reception, escorted us to our rooms and showed us how things worked. The Bose iPhone/Pod station, the air conditioning and the safe… sadly, he didn’t show me how the showers worked. Yes, plural. There are three showers – two in the walk-in shower and one over the bath. It mattered little. I regard myself as being reasonably intelligent, but I could not get them to work… I ended up seeking help and discovered I should have been pushing buttons, not pulling them. I did, however, discover that the emergency cord – conveniently placed next to the shower controls – worked perfectly. I thought it might be the on-off cord, but some banging on the door and cries of concern moments later indicated that it wasn’t.

The rooms were perfect, both in their understated style and their comfort. Muted greens and greys exuded a cool chic, and the bed was about seven feet wide. Families of four can rent these rooms with a spare bed/cot… but there is little need with a bed that size.

The best part of the room – apart from the bed and the Bose thingy – is the window. Including the glass door, it’s as wide and as tall as the room, opening up perfect views of the ocean and islands, and demanding breakfast on the small, private terrace outside. What’s more, most of the rooms sit in units of four just beyond the hotel itself. It adds privacy as well as novelty.

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[Photo: view from an upstairs bedroom]

A Taste of the Sea

A lunch at the resort’s second restaurant, As Dunas, followed. Fish caught locally was cooked with Portuguese flair and served al fresco on the terrace. Turbot, sea bass, bream, golden calamari. We sat under parasols on the terrace, out of the midday sun.

We headed for Club 98 at the far end of the resort, past the different types of houses that guests – families in particular – can rent. Some come with private pools and gardens, others with balconies on either side to catch the morning and evening light.

Club 98 is where many of the sports activities (non-sea related) are based. Mountain-biking was yet to come, but for that afternoon’s entertainment it was Padel tennis – it’s a cross between squash and tennis, with glass walls at the end and along the sides. It’s a thoroughly entertaining sport but the rules will keep you confused. Vasco, our ever-enthusiastic instructor, kept explaining them – and joining in – but we mostly made them up as we went along.

Finisterra Spa

The fast-paced first day continued with a trip to the resort’s Finisterra Spa. On the way, I walked along landscaped pathways lined with lush grasses and cork and olive trees, and decided that the resort was empty. It wasn’t – it’s just that Martinhal is spacious enough and there’s so much to do that people simply seem to disappear. I pretty much disappeared as well, when Christina got her hands on me at the spa. 20 minutes of bliss later, her fingers had worked their way deep into my shoulders and back.

Portuguese - Through and Through

The day finished in the O Terraco restaurant where we had been earlier that day. I was presented with a bottle of Sagres beer (named after the local village) and a couple of us stood on the terrace as the sun set over the headland. Dinner was served shortly afterwards and we were treated to the chef’s six course Portuguese tasting menu. Each dish came with a recommended wine and it was no surprise that the wine list is exclusively Portuguese (bar a champagne or two for those who wish to indulge). It highlights how proud the resort is of its roots.

Posted by kevinmarkham 10:41 Archived in Portugal Tagged and beach hotel resort martinhal Comments (0)

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