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Going to the ends of the earth

Houses at Martinhal Beach Resort & Hotel
Houses at Martinhal Beach Resort & Hotel

Sonja Cox went to the ‘edge of the inhabited world’ to experience Portugal’s leading holiday resort


If a holiday destination is going to call itself the finest luxury family resort in Europe, I want to know more.

Martinhal Beach Resort and Hotel, near the historic town of Sagres in western Algarve, does just that, and it also boasts accolades such as Europe’s Leading Villa Resort 2014, and Portugal’s Leading Family Resort 2013 from the prestigious World Travel Awards

I couldn’t resist the chance to visit so, eager for something to fill the Easter school holidays, we set off from Edinburgh airport for an easy three-hour flight to Faro – obviously one of the main reasons families with young children love Portugal.

After an hour’s taxi ride to our five-star resort, we soon discovered lots of other reasons to visit the country – although for us, year-round sunshine was not going to be one of them. It was pouring with rain, and continued raining for more than three days.

I’d heard that people call western Algarve the “California of Europe”, but it was just our luck to pick the only week it rained. At Sagres – in the extreme south-west of continental Europe – there is a reason for this inclement weather: it is influenced by Mediterranean currents, but has milder temperatures and harsher weather than other parts of Portugal as it’s also exposed to the Atlantic Ocean.

In Roman times it was part of an area called the Promontorium Sacrum. Then it was believed to be the most westerly part of the entire world. This was the closest travellers could get to the edge of our flat Earth in the days before Columbus.

It was thought that the setting sun off the point made the waters of the ocean boil. It’s still relatively untouched by tourism, with quiet streets, unassuming shops and restaurants.

Sagres is where Prince Henry the Navigator, son of King João I, built his famous school of navigation, where he bought together great mariners, astronomers, ship-builders and cartographers to build and navigate great ships in the Age of Discoveries.

It’s also home to Henry’s fortress, Fortaleza de Sagres, built in the 15th century and rebuilt in 1793 after it was destroyed by Sir Francis Drake in 1587.

It may be the most south-westerly point in Europe, but if there’s a wind blowing, there will always be a beach that’s sheltered if you want to sunbathe. Just remember this is not the Costa del Sol!

Visitors expect a wind-swept barren landscape, but Sagres has beautiful beaches, a quaint harbour at Baleeira, and a square. It is very popular in summer, but all year round with fishermen and surfers because of the Atlantic waters creating such good waves for surfing. We enjoyed a two-hour dolphin-watching trip on relatively calm seas, spotting lots of them, as well as a few sunfish floating on the surface.

But what about the “finest luxury family resort in Europe”?

Despite the weather, we soon discovered that Martinhal is the perfect place for families – big or small – to spend quality time together relaxing or getting active.

Open all year, it was a decade in the making, which is apparent when you see the love and attention that has gone into the pretty landscaped gardens, cobbled stone paths and pin-sharp modern buildings. This year, the award-winning resort celebrates its fifth birthday, but you would be forgiven for thinking it was brand new. Everything is spotless; the villas, the hotel, the beaches and swimming pools.

Spread over 25 hectares overlooking a beautiful sandy beach and surrounded by the Costa Vicentina Natural Park, Martinhal has a luxurious 37-bedroom hotel as well as a wide selection of spacious village houses, and an exclusive collection of privately-owned villas and townhouses with private pools, set in large gardens that are perfect for families.

The many spacious and stylish one, two and three-bedroom self-catering family houses have ocean, bay or garden views, built with families in mind making them safe and practical for all ages.

Martinhal offers four swimming pools, a children’s club and crèche, a dedicated spa and a host of leisure activities including tennis, mountain biking and a wide range of water sports.

Five different clubs cater for children from six months to 16 years. Trained and experienced staff members organise tennis, football, surfing, windsurfing and swimming, and throughout every week of the summer there are football and tennis academies.

Adults can enjoy surfing, kayaking, kite-surfing, jeep safaris, golf, diving, yoga, horse-riding and more. All-year-round facilities include an indoor heated swimming pool, sauna, steam bath and the luxurious Finisterra Spa.

If you have the luxury of a car, there are loads of deserted beaches within half an hour of the resort on the Atlantic coast just waiting to be explored. On hindsight, we should have hired one, because Sagres is only a short drive from Lagos, the largest town this end of the Algarve, with plenty of shops and nightlife, but happily there was enough in the resort to keep us occupied for the best part of a week, regardless of rain.

Martinhal has a choice of three restaurants and various bars, with great service and genuine hospitality from the staff.

O Terraço, As Dunas and Os Gambozinos all serve beautifully-prepared Portuguese cuisine, fine fresh fish and seafood, tempting Italian à la carte menus with hot and cold antipasti, fresh salads, delicious pasta dishes and a wide range of pizzas. You can also order hot take-away dishes to enjoy back at your own villa, and a top-quality on-site market sells wine, fresh bread, fruit and veg, deli and breakfast items etc.

All restaurants offer a special children’s menu – with a variety of fresh purées for babies – but what we liked best of all were the children’s play areas adjacent to them. Parents can relax with a three-course meal with drinks, happy that children are safe nearby, bouncing on a trampoline, digging in the sand pit or running around the playground. Eating out is an important part of your holiday, and this was the most relaxed we have felt – Martinhal deserves its accolades for this alone.

Friendly kids club staff provide entertainment in all restaurants at meal times, a service which all resorts should think about, and one we will be looking out for in future. Why shouldn’t holiday resorts go to the ends of the earth (pardon the pun) to keep customers coming back?

A short walk from the restaurants and pools, our lovely holiday home had TV, fully-equipped kitchen, two bathrooms and bathrooms, luxury bedding and towels, as well as central heating/air conditioning, plus superb views of the waves crashing on Martinhal’s beautiful sandy beach, which is directly in front of the hotel.

Families with babies can contact the baby concierge service and pre-order buggies, bottle sterilisers, thermometers, cots and even nappies all ready for arrival.

Martinhal has everything you need for a relaxing family holiday only a few hours from Scotland. Our helpful taxi driver told us on the way to the airport that we should come back in September, when the weather is perfect…


  • For more information on Martinhal Beach Resort & Hotel and the packages available, and to make bookings, visit Martinhal
  • Martinhal’s summer special package, valid for bookings from May 23 to June 26, includes:
  • Four nights’ half-board (daily breakfast and one meal) in hotel room, from 138 euros per adult per night.
  • Seven nights’ half board (daily breakfast and one meal) in hotel room, from 132 euros per adult per night.
  • For a stay of five days/four nights, a two-bedroom house (max 2 adults, 2 children 3-12 years, and 1 child up to 2 years + free cot) in Garden House and Vilas Mimosa, costs 1,536 euros or 192 euros per adult per night half-board (based upon double occupancy).
  • Garden/ocean houses – all of which are self catering – can be 1, 2 or 3 bedrooms.