“Decadent designer hotel perched on a windswept corner of the lower Algarve, with gorgeous sea views and an endless beach”
There are 37 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 on the first floor of the hotel 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 welcomes children of all ages, and all extra beds and cots are free (including breakfast). You can book a pair of connecting rooms at reduced rates, or the Terrace rooms can fit an extra bed and a cot - which makes a very competitively-priced option for a couple with 1 child and/or 1 baby who don't need lots of space during their holiday. If you want more space (including a kitchen and living area), you might prefer to stay 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.
Babies (0-1 years), Toddlers (1-4 years)
Terrace rooms can take an extra bed and a cot.
English-speaking babysitters available, reserve 24 hours in advance
Equipment is available to pre-book through the baby concierge.
Remember baby and child equipment may be limited or need pre-booking
There's a fully-staffed creche plus various clubs for kids of all ages: the Creche (ages 6-24 months), the Kids' Club (2-4), Fox Club (5-8), Explorers Club (9-12) and Adventure Club (12-16). Entrance to the first two, for the youngest children, is included in the rates during the winter months. The last 3 are only open in school holidays, including half terms; and most are divided into 2 sessions, morning or afternoon - (see Rates for an idea of costs.
There's also the Blue Room: a video-game room and playspace for children aged 8 and above. The new M Bar is great for kids and adults alike. Adults will love the chilled vibe, cider and live music, while the kids will be thrilled by the 1970s VW camper van booth, dedicated kids bar with games area, and the adjacent outdoor protected play area.
All the resort's restaurants have a Baby Menu for 4-12 month old babies, and all have high chairs. One restaurant offers child-sized portions; takeaway pizzas are available from the resort's wine bar. The shop sells takeaways too. The Family Bar at the Village Square is designed for families. There's an ice cream corner, a gelataria at Mbar, which serves homemade ice cream, waffles and crepes.
There is a nurse on site 9am-6pm daily, and until 8pm in the summer months. The resort shop sells nappies and other baby items. There's a mobile phone signal everywhere in the resort.