I spent a fantastic summer half-term in Portugal with my children, Esme (aged 8) and Cormac (aged 4): the weather was perfect, the food delicious, the beaches wonderful. And we stayed at some excellent family-friendly hotels…
I decided that this half-term trip should be very much for the kids; my husband was unable to join us, so for once I didn’t set too ambitious a schedule. Portugal proved the ideal destination: we flew to Lisbon and found our way to our first stop, the upscale Bairro Alto Hotel, very easily. We liked its classic contemporary styling, and there was plenty of space for all three of us in a Superior room, which Cormac road-tested by bouncing on the huge double bed vigorously.
The hotel has a lovely central setting in the groovy Chiado district, and overlooks an open square from where the famed 28 tram’s low-cost tour of the city begins. We boarded the tram for some fun sightseeing: the kids hung out of the window, and we admired the views in Alfama and the switchback ride through Lisbon’s hills. That night we had cocktails, mocktails and hot chocolate on the roof terrace overlooking Lisbon’s iconic red suspension bridge and the Tagus River, and dined in the restaurant on fine Portuguese fare – all very grown-up of us.
The following morning, we stopped off at the pasteleria across the square to watch the experts deftly creating quintessential (and delicious) Portuguese custard tarts.
Fortified, we took the train 40 minutes westwards to captivating coastal town Cascais. A summer playground for the aristocracy from the 19th-century onwards, the Estoril Riviera is still renowned for its gracious mansions and lovely beaches, exemplified by Grande Dame Hotel Albatroz. It has an unrivalled setting on a rocky promontory, with panoramic views and beaches to the right and left; it’s also only 2 minutes from the railway station. We stayed in a suite in one of the two newer wings, which wrap around the charming pool terrace, and could see the sea from our balconies. The kids loved staying here, making a beeline for the pool and then for the beach below, which is very safe and has a lifeguard on duty all the time. We dined in the restaurant one night (scallops on pea puree, the freshest of fish) and tried a local pizzeria another night. The breakfast buffet was superb; Esme loved the fresh fruit laid out in a rainbow wheel of colour. We also visited the local market, and hung out in the playground and park.
Another highlight was our visit to Albatroz’s brand-new sister property, boutique guesthouse Villa Cascais, which sits in another 19th-century waterfront mansion about five minutes away. The makeover is terrific: a bold royal blue coats the lower three floors, and the restaurant terrace is the sweet spot for whiling away an afternoon with drinks or enjoying a leisurely dinner. We were able to peek into a few of the rooms: all have sea views, upscale bathrooms and a classy finish, and the Penthouse with its feature bathtub is perfect for honeymooners.
Our last three days were spent a 10-minute drive further west, at the just-opened Martinhal Cascais. It’s the latest heaven-sent offering from the successful Martinhal stable, which is renowned for its winning formula of wonderful family facilities in a stylish resort-based setting. And this is set to be another winner: smiling and patient staff, lovely grounds with fresh contemporary buildings, restaurants and reflecting pools, a fabulous spa, lawns to romp on, a kids’ clubhouse, a large playground, and no fewer than six swimming pools (all designed for families, including the lagoon-style main pool). Accommodation is in two long wings, and we were indulged with two spacious interconnecting rooms with hugely comfy beds and bathrooms to die for; there are also 12 self-catering villas, each sleeping 4-6.
The children loved dashing from heated pool to playground zip-wire to climbing structure to football pitch. Cormac’s highlight was driving to Africa in the signature camper-van turned playhouse, and meeting mascot Rafi the fox; Esme’s was an afternoon visit to nearby Guincho Beach, where she tackled the Atlantic breakers with aplomb. We also went on a local bicycle ride, and on another morning the kids enjoyed face painting and an obstacle race during their kids’ club session. If we were staying longer a day trip to Sintra or the national park would have been on the cards, too.
There are two restaurants to choose from plus a snack bar in the Kids’ Clubhouse, all of which have kids’ and baby menus. Between the à la carte restaurant and the Italian-influenced brasserie is a supervised kids’ playroom, so children don’t sit at the table fidgeting or playing on electronic devices until their food arrives, which allows parents to have some downtime together. There are plenty of delicious choices at both eateries, and an excellent wine list!
Esme and I had a mother and daughter massage together (the masseurs were lovely), while Cormac enjoyed more playtime in the kids’ club. By the end of this idyllic week the two of them were getting on brilliantly, with barely a cross word. Bless – Portugal certainly brought out the best in them!