BEFORE having our son, myself and my husband loved to go on sun holidays. Unfortunately a lot of the time when we stuck to Europe we managed to catch the rain so in the last few years we tended to go further afield. When I was pregnant I had all these plans to travel to New York, Paris, Copenhagen and Rome with our new baby. Sure babies are portable and can’t be that much trouble. The reality was very different. A great day was getting to the local shop to buy milk and a newspaper, so our travel plans changed slightly.
We chose Portugal as it’s near – flight time 2 hours and 50 minutes – and this time around we didn’t want it too hot so we went at the end of May. Both Aer Lingus and Ryanair fly to Lisbon so we had a few flight options. The day before the flight was an absolute nightmare as it felt like we were packing for hours. I think that’s probably what puts people off flying with children. We had two suitcases, a car seat and a buggy. (Doesn’t sound like much but we could barely manage that.) We also needed to make sure all our luggage would fit into the rental car. We booked to stay at the newly opened Martinhal Family Hotel which specialises, as you might guess, in keeping little ones happy. It’s located in Cascais, a small coastal town 30 kilometres west of Lisbon. We had thought about booking an apartment but with no other adults in tow we felt we needed access to facilities such as a pool, playground (trampoline, swings and zip liner) restaurants and a creche. Martinhal have hotel rooms as well as apartments.
From the moment we arrived at the hotel our every whim was catered for – from parking our car to ensuring the baby had everything he needed. The fact they have a mini ‘kids club’ section, where a childcare assistant keeps an eye on the children, meant we were able to enjoy our lovely buffet breakfast (juices, eggs, meats, croissants, pancakes, omelettes etc) every morning. However, because Joseph was still so young, when other kids joined, we had to also supervise him.
The hotel has three restaurants, O Terraço, Os Gambozinos and M-Bar. We tended to go to Os Gambozinos – the Italian Trattoria – as they had pizza and pasta dishes on the menu. This restaurant, which even catered for babies by having pureed meals on the menu, closed a little early for our liking, 7pm, but we were told there were going to be a few changes over the coming months.
It was our second year anniversary while we were in Cascais so we treated ourselves to a trip to the Finisterra Spa. We were really able to switch off as we left Joseph in capable hands at the creche where he was spoilt rotten. The spa has a lovely heated pool, sauna, steam room and jacuzzi.
Our accommodation lived up to what you expect from a 5-star hotel. Our room, pictured below, was huge and included a travel cot and steriliser which made our lives a lot easier. In the evenings when Joseph slept we sat out on our big balcony enjoying a glass of wine.
If hotel life gets a little too much you can always go to Cascais town centre, which is about a five-minute drive away. The hotel also has a car service, which makes the journey a few times a day. They charge €3 per person. Cascais is a small coastal town, with the usual European shops like Zara, MaxMara and lots of lovely restaurants. I found a few recommended restaurants online and asked at reception which ones they rated. We booked Mar do Inferno, which was situated on the coast just before you come to the town centre. It was a Monday night and the restaurant was packed with locals. We ordered an amazing seafood platter (pictured below) of red snapper, hake, prawns, crayfish, mussels and sea bream. It was out of this world. We understood why it was a firm favourite with locals. On another night we sampled a small tapas-style bar called Páteo do Petisco. The food wasn’t fancy but homely, tasty…and cheap. We had prawns for starter (just €6) and steak with mushroom sauce (just €9). The mojitos (€5) were also cheap, potent and rounded off the meal nicely. We availed of Martinhal’s in-house babysitting service. At €16 an hour it was a little expensive but worth it as you could enjoy your meal knowing your baba was in safe hands.
The great thing about staying in Cascais is that Lisbon is only a 30-minute train journey away. It’s a small capital city that could be walked on foot in a few hours. However, I wouldn’t recommend bringing the buggy as it’s quite steep, so a baby carrier comes in handy. Also, leave the car at home as driving to the city was a little scary and even our lovely hotel staff encouraged us to leave it behind. We ate lunch at the Time Out market, which housed every cuisine you can think of under the one roof. It’s a beautiful building and a nice place to have a relaxed lunch.
Another day-trip worth mentioning is Sintra, a picturesque town in the foothills of the Sintra Mountains. It boasts the UNESCO world heritage title for its 19th century Romantic architectural monuments including the magnificent, pastel-coloured, Moorish- and Manueline-style Pena National Palace (pictured below).
Our week-long stay in Martinhal was just what the doctor ordered. It was the first time we’d been on a holiday that saw us get up at 6am and go to bed at 10pm – but we came home feeling relaxed and rejuvenated.
See the Martinhal Cascais website for prices and availability. Just to say the creche was extra but they have off peak prices at certain times of the day.
Recommended: Mar do Inferno restaurant – order the seafood platter
Drink: An after-dinner Port or, in my case, Mojito
Eat: Pasteis de Nata, deliciously soft custard tarts
Seaside lunch: Bar do Guincho
Lisbon: Bario Alto – full of quirky shops