If you’re unfamiliar with the Club Med brand, the jargon used in many user reviews can be a little confusing. But once you’ve spent a few days in one of their stunning resorts – found across the globe from Europe to the Caribbean and the Maldives, you soon get a hang of the lingo. GEs and GOs are basically Club Med representatives – the former taking care of the hotel side of things, the latter leading the sports and entertainment programs. By the end of your holiday don’t be surprised if many have become friends.
Having been aware of Club Med holidays but not quite understanding exactly what was on offer, we decided to head out to the newly renovated Da Balaia resort in Portugal for a couple of days to try for ourselves what the Club Med experience consisted of. Here’s our guide to taking a Club Med summer holiday – and the tips we learned along the way.
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What is Club Med's most recently rennovated Portugal offering like?
Perched on a cliff overlooking the Algarve’s stunning Atlantic coast, views from Da Balaia are picture perfect. With immaculately tended gardens, a huge swimming pool and an accommodation and entertainment complex so large it takes you a few days to get your bearings, this resort ticks a lot of boxes. Those who are keen tennis players or golfers will be in their element and experts can book private lessons with gifted coaches to ensure their games are better after a week-long holiday.
The resort perches on top of a cliff in the Algarve
Those newer to the sport will be spoilt for group classes which all come as an included part of the holiday fee – as does almost everything on offer at the Club Med resort, from group exercise classes to circus school and childcare.
What childcare is on offer at Club Med?
The childcare provisions at Da Balaia (as at other Club Med resorts) really sets it apart from many other all-inclusive offerings. As the trailblazer of the ‘everything included’ family break, Club Med is certainly leading the way when it comes to the variety and flexibility of holiday resort childcare. Children from 3 months to 18 years are assigned to different groups, which can be tweaked to allow for steps down, or occasionally up, so siblings or friends can be together if required. Children are able to go into childcare from first thing in the morning till late at night, but are also welcome to drop in for a particular activity if preferred.
Those opting to spend more family time together are absolutely free to do so, while others keen to make the most of their holiday time to reconnect adult-to-adult or to focus on some serious sport, are also able to do just that. One question that came up before our holiday was whether – as a French company – British children were at a disadvantage at a Club Med holiday club, but the language skills and level of expertise among the kids’ GMs was impressive.
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It was certainly true during the off-season Easter Holidays that British kids were in the minority at the Club Med kids' clubs, but if the insistence of one of our party’s children to be left in club from morning to night (which really is night, because after a theatre performance and a touch of dinner, late night film clubs kick into action) is anything to go by, being British is not a barrier to having fun.
What relaxation and wellness opportunities area there?
The adult-only Zen Zone is exactly that
Busy families need down time and while junior travellers are making the most of their new friends in kids’ club, or enjoying a session in the football academy, mum and dad can head to the Cinq Mondes spa for a truly first-class wellness or beauty experience. The new Zen Garden is an oasis of calm and tranquillity – an adult-only area which boasts a chlorine-free swimming pool, cleaned entirely naturally and benefitting from a frog chorus which lulls you instantly into a state of relaxation. With freshly squeezed juices (all free and unlimited) and views out across the sea, it’s impossible to return to pick up the kids without feeling a newfound sense of peace.
What is the food like?
There is so much food available, and of such a high quality, it quickly becomes a priority to learn to pace yourself. All food at Da Balaia is made on site, and the choice is extreme. From pizza and pasta zones, to all the meat, fish, cheese and veggie options you could hope for, the main buffet dining room where you can grab breakfast, lunch and dinner becomes a welcome central hub to your holiday. If there’s one thing that’s for sure, being hungry or thirsty isn’t likely to be an issue for any Club Med guest, especially with afternoon tea served daily and cocktail hour starting about the same time.
For those wanting a moment away from the buffet, a la carte dining is available upstairs – with a similarly delicious menu in a slightly more for formal environment. There’s so much choice that kids are guaranteed to find something they enjoy and little ones even have a homemade puree bar.
What is there to do at Da Balaia?
As mentioned previously, golf and tennis are big pastimes here, and golf lovers are welcome to tour local courses through the duration of their holiday. Circus school allows young and old to try their hand at flying through the sky on a trapeze, and the local beach and cliff walks are stunning, unspoilt and less occupied the further you venture – something which we definitely recommend.
Kids clubs run from morning till night
A little further afield, daytrips can be arranged to include adventures such as speed boating along the caves and coastline of nearby Albufeira, a must-visit during an Algarve adventure. And entertainment continues late into the night at Da Balaia. Very much family-focussed, evening discos include everyone from toddlers to grandparents, creating a wonderful environment which pretty much sums up what Club Med is all about.
What is a Club Med experience?
This is a high end holiday with luxurious touches which make you feel indulged and looked after. Staff are numerous and there to help with anything and everything you require. It’s not terribly British to chat to strangers over mealtimes, but if you let down your guard and enter into the Club Med spirit you’ll find yourself wishing it was, and the GOs really help create a special, inclusive and convivial atmosphere allowing you to let your hair down and make new friends.
This isn’t a standard all-inclusive experience at all. The food, while mainly served in a buffet environment, is first class and sufficiently varied to feel like a new experience each day. French is the lead language, which can feel confusing if your resort is in Portugal, but hey – it’s a great way to brush up on your language skills, even if they’re not those of your host country. Out of UK school holidays, you can go hours without hearing a British conversation, but there are definitely potential bonuses to this.
The resort is spacious and spread out so although there are many holidaymakers at any one time, sunlounger space is never a struggle and there is a feeling of space and tranquillity – especially in the incredible Zen zone, which will make you wish you never had to leave.
And while the price of a week away isn’t low, the all inclusivity of a holiday like this is pretty much complete. Lessons and sessions of all activities and sports are part of the fee, as are drinks, food, towels, everything you could think of. So it’s worth comparing like for like when you line up the costs with competitive brands.