Decadent designer hotel perched on a windswept corner of the lower Algarve, with gorgeous sea views and an endless beach
The Martinhal is like no other hotel on the Algarve. Forget golf,
forget built-up, overdeveloped land and rammed beaches; this
infinitely tasteful designer temple is positioned within the
protected Costa Vicentina national park on the cliffy western
rather than flat southern coast - in fact, on the very bottom
left-hand corner of Portugal, sticking out into the Atlantic. As
such, the location is fabulously unspoilt, wild and rugged - a
rather bold if not unlikely setting for such a stunning
contemporary hotel. But it works: this is a magical combination of
luxury and nature.
The hotel has just 38 chic rooms, some in the main building, others in a cluster of private wood-clad blocks beside it, all with views of the impossibly blue ocean. Surrounding them are dozens of villas for self-catering rentals, some with private pools, as part of the resort.
There are 2 excellent, super-stylish restaurants serving variations on Portuguese food, a beautiful swimming pool surrounded by teak decking and lime-green bean bags, and a small spa with sea-inspired treatments. All is cutting-edge contemporary in style, and the place is part-owned by the people behind the former Luxury Family Hotels group, the UK collection of smart country crash-pads for stressed yummy mummies. The same thoughtfulness, flair for design and eye for detail has been applied here, but in an authentic, thoroughly modern, Portuguese setting.
There are 38 rooms at Hotel Martinhal. The décor is
sumptuous 1950s airport lounge, all muted shades, rounded edges and
laminated woods. And the colour scheme is a dreamy, sea-friendly
palette of turquoises and baby blues - from the carpets to the
stripy woollen throws and cushions on the beds. There are lots of
funky touches, including huge Mongolian beanbags on the floor,
oversized cream wicker lamps and giant round wooden hooks on the
walls. Every room has sea views of some sort (you pay a bit
more for the best ones), and bathrooms are spoiling with walk-in
showers (some have tubs too), Voya toiletries, and bathrobes for
padding down to the pool.
Attention to detail is impressive: there are flip-flops in both Medium and Large; Nespresso coffee machines; well-priced and delicious snacks in the minibar (eg roasted fig and salted almonds) plus free soft drinks; and iPod docks and electric blinds. We were particularly impressed by the thorough demo from room service on arrival. The only downside is that rooms open out onto shared terraces, meaning that privacy can be compromised.
The interior design was crafted by British designer Michael Sodeau, who chose lots of Portuguese materials, including local Monchique stone for the coffee tables, wicker for the lamps - as used in baskets for grape harvesting - and tables and stools made of cork from nearby forests.
The rooms are in 2 locations: Terrace Rooms on the ground floor of the main hotel building, and Beach Rooms in their own separate wooden-clad clusters beside the hotel (4 per cluster). The 2 clusters nearest the cliff front contain a pair of top-of-the-range Beach Suites, each with super-private sun deck and split-level interiors that can connect to the adjacent Beach Room. We stayed in a Beach Room and loved being lulled to sleep by the sound of the waves. Price-wise they are divided into partial- or full sea view; it's worht paying the small premium for full sea views, and (in our opinion) asking for the Beach Room location.
The resort is also home to dozens of self-catering villas, clustered round about the hotel.
The food at Martinhal is a real highlight. You can choose
between 2 restaurants: the fine dining O Terraço, a
smart venue with slinky cocktail bar on the first floor of the
hotel, for which you really need to dress up and the more relaxed
As Dunas, a stylish beach restaurant located beside the pool
which specialises in fish and seafood. Villa guests (including
children) are welcome at As Dunas.
O Terraço offers classic Portuguese dishes with a contemporary twist, that make the most of the bountiful local produce. Spanking fresh fish and seafood are not to be missed, from salty sardines - freshly caught and crisply grilled (nothing like John West!) - to cataplana, the Algarve’s fabled fish stew. The focus is on beautifully crafted complex dishes such as sea urchins neatly stuffed with scrambled eggs, and pork loin sautéed with clams and coriander. All is light but sophisticated; the six-course tasting menu comes recommended, and there's an impressive Portuguese-only wine list.
As Dunas is more laid-back, with food ranging from frothily light tomato gazpacho to simple ocean-fresh fish dishes. There's also a newer outdoor wine bar which serves Portuguese wines, beers and soft drinks in the early evening. This is also where you can get takeaway pizzas.
Breakfast at O Terraço includes delicious fresh fruit - mangoes, local oranges, the sweetest pineapple and cherries - as well as a selection of cold cuts and cheeses including a divine local black pork (like Serrano ham or Prosciutto only nuttier). Finish on a high with pasteis de nata, the extremely naughty, melt-in-the-mouth Portuguese custard tarts.
For a change of scene, try the new surf-style M Bar which serves breakfasts, afternoon teas, and light lunches (Sushi or Bento box). In the evening the bar is a-buzz with beach bums supping on ciders and cocktails. Suitable for the whole family, the bar has a 1970s VW camper van booth, a dedicated kids bar and a resident DJ.
The hotel uses heaps of solar energy, has a strict sustainable food philosophy using local ingredients, and has kept many of the wooded areas intact and is a commendably low-density development. Natural building materials (local timber, cane, stone and cork) were used to build the Beach Rooms.
Impressive social responsibility: the Martinhal has been a massive shot in the arm for the underdeveloped local area, providing 250 direct jobs (95% of the staff are Portuguese) and another 250 indirect jobs to suppliers and local shops and bars. It promotes the Sagres region, sponsors big beach clean-ups and even plans to help Sagres paint its church.
September is probably the best month to go, given the soaringly uncomfortable temperatures in July and August (when the thermometer can hit over 40 degrees) and the rather off-putting wind which blows through the resort over the peak summer months. By September it is slightly cooler but still lovely, plus flights are far cheaper and it is less busy – and this place is all about escaping and being unbusy. There are gorgeous wild flowers in April, May and June too, when the temperatures are a pleasant low-mid 20s and there is usually little wind.
Book a Beach Room. These are supremely stylish private capsules, each with their own views of the ocean (it's worth paying the small supplement for the full sea view) and gorgeous teak-decked areas. And make sure you eat out at the Zavial, just around the coast. A plate of fresh sardines, a Sagres beer and a mound of chips overlooking the bay... heaven.
The hotel welcomes children of all ages. The Terrace rooms can take an extra bed; all rooms can take cots (which are free of charge). So it is a good option for a couple with 1 child and/or 1 baby, but other families are better off staying in one of the resort's villas instead, which are brilliantly kitted out for kids, and range up to 3 bedrooms. There's a wealth of child-friendly activities in Martinhal Village, where most of the villas are; these are open to hotel guests too, of course.
Hotel Martinhal overlooks Martinhal beach and a small collection of islands. It is just round the south side of the point at the most south-westerly tip of Portugal, in the western Algarve.
Faro is the closest airport, but Lisbon is reasonably convenient too. Click on the links below for a list of airlines serving these airports.
From the Airport
Most guests hire a car - it's a 1.5-hour drive from Faro - but the hotel can arrange a transfer from Faro, see Rates.
You can pick a hire car up at either of the airports mentioned above. We recommend booking with Holiday Autos, which offers competitive prices and works with local companies.
Detailed directions will be sent to you when you book through i-escape.com.
More on getting to Portugal and getting around
Conde Nast Traveler (US), Hot List 2011
"Just outside the fishing port of Sagres, overlooking a rare golden sand beach that punctuates the rutilant cliffs of the Algarve region's western coast, Martinhal, which includes a 38-room hotel and rental villas, counters the mega-resorts that dominate this region. It's not easy to coin a look that's eye candy and cozy at the same time, but London-based designer Michael Sodeau pulls it off beautifully. Lively beach shack-style rooms have teak floors and are furnished with Italian Gervasoni rattan floor lamps, rounded modular oak pieces by London's Modus, and loads of kick-off-your-Louboutins details, like the knitted wool throw pillows on the green tub chairs and the French doors that open onto private balconies with sweeping ocean views. The resort has fabulous facilities, too, including an indoor-outdoor swimming pool overlooking the beach and three excellent restaurants (seafood, epicurean, and casual bistro with great wood-oven pizzas), in addition to well-trained staff."
Conde Nast Traveller (UK), March 2011
"Set on the unspoilt, south-westernmost tip of mainland Europe, Martinhal Beach Resort & Hotel has truly spectacular views. It also has superb restaurants, four swimming pools, a fully equipped sports centre, and the Finisterra Spa for indulgent treatments. A sandy beach is a few steps away, and the historic town of Sagres just a few minutes' drive."
The Telegraph, July 2010
"Recycled materials and a low-rise design help the hotel buildings blend into the rugged landscape. Natural timber, local cane and stone and recycled cork, teamed with warm furnishings, lend Martinhal a "homespun contemporary" feel. Everywhere you look there is snooze-on-me furniture inviting you to do just that...
Although sheltered by Algarve standards, wind-whipped Martinhal Bay won't be everyone's cup of tea. Some of the newly planted foliage has yet to take hold, but a coastal path to the wild-flower-strewn headland is seconds away...
Lunch on the terrace at the chic As Dunas can slip languorously into cocktail hour. Line-caught fish, fleshy hoops of grilled squid, just-landed oysters and clams, and a peculiar delicacy called perceves, a goose-necked barnacle resembling dinosaur toes, were accompanied by a crisp Portuguese white."
The Independent, May 2010
"At the top of the beach, where there was once just the pines and maritime scrub of the Costa Vincentina Natural Park, stands a flash new hotel with a legion of holiday houses... Sounds like eco-vandalism. But it isn't, at least to my mind. This plot of land had been earmarked for development back in the 1980s. All sorts of monstrosities could have scarred this fragile landscape.
[Instead we got] an audacious modern interpretation of the landscape by London-based architects Conran + Partners... a long, two-storey structure for the hotel, set on the brow of the beach, placing 10 bedrooms with sea-facing terraces at ground level and a glass-fronted lounge and restaurant on the floor above. Twenty-eight more bedrooms and suites were set at one side, in a sequence of huge wood-clad boxes. And, directly below the hotel, the architects laid out a beach club, with a large pool, bar and restaurant.
A large open-air "Village Square" was also marked out to become the heart of the off-beach action, with an indoor/outdoor pool, shop, bistro, ice-cream parlour, gym, crèche and a club for older children. Tennis courts and a spa with six treatment rooms, sauna and steam room were positioned in further-flung corners of the resort."
The Times, March 2010
"Set in Costa Vicentina Natural Park, a secluded corner of the Algarve, this five-star boutique hotel is all about barefoot luxury."
Reviews are from people who have booked through us.
“Fantastic hotel with everything you could want from a holiday. Beautiful rooms and facilities. Nothing hasn't been thought of. Food delicious and breakfast sat on the terrace with a lovely view was perfect. It is a family hotel so something to be aware of if you don't have kids as can be noisy at times. Easy to get away from too though! Great location with loads of beautiful beaches nearby (you need a car). Zavial and the beach restaurant there was a highlight. Also ate in Sagres at Vila velha which was amazing. All in all a lovely relaxed break in beautiful surroundings.”
“The staff were all brilliant - couldn't have been better. We were a
little disappointed with the villa when we arrived as they are (as
you describe) quite suburban - and probably better in summer as a
little stark and uncosy in winter. We ended up moving into
adjoining sea view hotel rooms which were beautiful and perfect.
The manager and everyone we dealt with were incredibly charming and
helpful with everything. Children's club/care brilliant. Maybe we
were lucky with the weather - but it was sunny every day, we were
on the beach, swimming in the sea, t-shirts etc - brilliant place
for New Year and nice that it wasn't crowded.
Head up north on the coast - stunningly beautiful and unspoilt; lots of great beach restaurants.”
“Wonderful resort for families with kids but their presence can be overwhelming during peak season for those couples who want a romantic break alone. Prices are steep (G&T €10 at the pool bar), staff young and polite but service sometimes not quite 5 star. The gym very disappointing - low end exercise machines and no rower. The beach is beautiful, close by and never crowded, but remember it is the Atlantic - probably no warmer than 12º in August. Offshore (northerly wind) guaranteed every day, and pretty strong after about 14.00 - so ideal conditions to either learn to windsurf (in the am) or sail really fast (in the pm). For lunches and evening meals beat the crowds and the kids by going to the beach restaurant - but make sure you choose the one furthest from the hotel - painted blue in Aug 2012, rather than the closest one (painted yellow) as the staff are much friendlier.”
“The hotel is fantastic with a beautiful view. The staff is very friendly and cheerful. It was very windy, so I would suggest going in September rather than July. The spa though was a little disappointing. It is over priced and the therapists aren't very good.”
“Hotel and amenities were excellent and the staff in hotel were very good. Service in the restaurants was slow, even for for southern Europe, and some on-site prices (eg the Mercado supermarket) were excessive. All in all we really enjoyed our stay (apart from the poor weather).”
“Loved the space and the leisure facilities. Nice beach – great for kids”