During the Age of Discovery, a small but mighty Portugal sent out ships to explore Africa, Asia and what was then called the New World (that’s us!). Now it’s time for us to return the favor.
Although burdened by the recent economic problems, Portugal hasn’t wavered as a destination for savvy European travelers seeking sun, fresh seafood and a knockout coastline — one of few in the world from which you can see the sun rise and set over the ocean.
Lately, the Algarve region on the southern coast is coming into its own. Bordered by miles of protected beaches, the Algarve maintains balmy temperatures year-round — sometimes reaching the 70s in the winter — and averages 300 days of sun annually.
Until recently, the Algarve was known mostly to hippie caravaners chasing surf conditions along the coast. And you’ll still find plenty of them there. But you’ll also start to see more families seeking an affordable and unique holiday. And don’t worry — you won’t have to sleep on the beach.
Anchoring new development in the Algarve is Martinhal Beach Resort & Hotel (www.martinhal.com), an award-winning seaside resort known as much for its sophisticated design as for its family-friendliness. After opening in 2010, Martinhal soon stood out as an affordable luxury destination that still retains hyper-regional charm.
In designing the resort, owner Chitra Stern and her husband made it a priority to sustain the natural integrity of the Algarve. “It’s our responsibility to our children to do that,” she tells us. Martinhal’s architecture is carefully integrated into the natural landscape, and its restaurants serve only local wine and fish pulled from the bay below. Stern calls it “the freshest fish in the world.”
Moreover, Martinhal is one of those rare places where children and adults can enjoy themselves both together and on their own. After having her own children, Stern realized that few vacations truly accommodate every member of the family, so she designed programs at Martinhal that keep kids (from babies to teens) engaged while parents do their own thing. “We try to create moments for everyone in the family,” says Stern.
With Martinhal as a base, you can explore the Algarve on trail bikes with a guided tour through small villages and across coastal cliffs. Wind-surfing and scuba-diving lessons are available right in Martinhal’s bay.
A day on the Algarve ends best by watching the sun set over the ocean. Crowds usually form at Cabo de São Vicente, the southwesternmost point in Portugal. But in the spirit of discovery, we recommend grabbing a bottle of Portuguese wine and finding your own viewing spot in one of the many beach coves on the west coast.
The Algarve is easily accessible from Lisbon airport. From there, you can take the major highways or enjoy a backroad amble along the coast. If you want to sample the city before relaxing on the coast, Martinhal offers an eight-day package beginning at the Four Seasons Hotel Ritz Lisbon and ending in the Algarve. For rates and information, email