As the nights close in and temperatures drop, it’s always tempting to escape to warmer climes. But there’s no need to go long haul for a bit of winter sun, as I discovered when I booked a half-term family break to Portugal's Algarve. We have had lots of holidays to Spain over the years but this was our first trip to Portugal – and now we’re asking ourselves how we never discovered this lovely coast before.
Lined with open spaces and huge, sandy beaches, the Algarve offers all-year-round sunshine, lush scenery and plenty of activities. I flew to Faro - a two-and-a-half-hour trip from London - with my husband Jerry and children Paddy, 13, and Juliette, 11, for our week-long break and we based ourselves just outside Sagres, a surfing town on the Algarve’s western tip, stopping for a couple of nights at Quinta do Lago too.
Unlike some of the more built-up resorts in this area, Sagres is characterised by a wild, rugged landscape and unspoiled, sandy beaches. At the end of October the temperature was in the low 20s – warm enough to enjoy the beaches and swimming pools pool but not too hot for a bit of activity. The climate here doesn’t fluctuate as much as some parts of southern Europe, so the winters are mild and the summers are warm but tempered by a gentle Atlantic breeze - which I'm told can get a lot breezier at times – making this a popular spot for windsurfing.
We stayed at the Martinhal Sagres Beach Family Resort, a luxury, five-star hotel and villa complex in the national park overlooking Martinhal beach, a sandy expanse that is pretty much empty, even though it’s October half term. The beach is family-friendly and good for swimming, but also popular with windsurfers. There are also paddleboards for hire – Juliette and I spent an hour paddling around the bay – while scuba diving is also available.
Meanwhile, those who want to try their hand at surfing can book lessons with the resort and head around the headland past Sagres, where the more exposed beaches like Praia de Mareta and Praia do Beliche, with their rolling waves, are a mecca for surfers. The family-owned resort – one of four in Portugal - is a great spot to relax and chill out and, even though it is full to capacity during our stay, there is plenty of space, sun loungers and a feeling of quiet and calm.
The resort is full of children, yet there is none of the thumping music and overpowering poolside entertainment that characterises some family resorts and this holiday is every bit as fun for the grown-ups as the children. There’s a crèche and kids’ clubs catering for age groups from toddlers to teenagers, with activities including BMX biking, surfing, art workshops and discos, and while these are chargeable in high season, they’re free over winter.
Paddy joined in the free afternoon football sessions on the astroturf pitch, while Juliette and Jerry booked a tennis court for a knockabout. Keen cyclist Jerry also took advantage of the bike hire facility – not to mention to picturesque surroundings – and went for a guided ride around the hills.
Accommodation is dotted up the hillside and our adjoining, ground-floor hotel rooms – in low-rise, timber buildings overlooking the sea - have decking and private grass areas in front. There’s also a range of private villas to choose from at the resort, from two-bedroom ocean houses with kitchens and all mod cons, to five-bedroom houses with their own swimming pools.
There are five heated swimming pools around the resort; the main one overlooks the sea and served by a poolside bar and restaurant, while for cooler weather there is an indoor pool equipped with fun inflatables. There are plenty of eating options, from the ocean-view O Teraco restaurant serving breakfast and modern European dinners and the sea-front As Dunas, which specialises in seafood to the more casual pizzeria or pop-up takeaway barbecue in the square, where there is also a pub, supermarket and gym. Conveniently for parents who want to enjoy a meal while keeping an eye on their children, there are play areas located outside some of the eateries, which have kids menus and baby purees for the little ones.
Stepping outside the resort, there are a couple of great cafes right on the beach, which serve reasonably priced lunches and dinners, including one of our favourites, the "cataplana" – a Portuguese fish stew. A 20-minute walk along the lovely stretch of sand took us to the small town of Sagres. Its restaurants and surf shops - no doubt bustling in summer – were quiet, while a walk around the headland gave us views of the fishing harbour, while the Cabo de Sao Vicente lighthouse is a great spot to watch the spectacular sunsets.
For those wanting to be closer to the Algarve’s other attractions, Martinhal has another resort at Quinta do Lago. A development of private villas with their own pools, it has a restaurant, pool and shop and is a great base from which to explore the area and its beaches, take in some rounds of golf and visit attractions like the Aqualand Water Park.
From 1 November to 31 March 2019 a 7-night package at Sagres starts from 99€ per adult, per night, for a family of 2 adults, 1 child under 12 and one baby, with half-board.A 7-night package at Quinta starts from €129 per night in a 2-bedroom Villa with private pool, B&B.
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