Taking a baby on his first holiday is a nerve wracking experience, but Martinhal resorts are specifically designed to cater for families with young children. I took a trip to Lisbon with my husband and five month old to find out for myself…
Lisbon is a hipster-filled, happening spot, high on hills and cobbles and low on atmosphere free shopping malls – exactly the kind of place you wouldn’t expect to see the buggy brigade on holidays. Imagine my surprise, then, when, everywhere we looked in the city, there were other couples with small babies in and out of buggies, trying to navigate the hilly streets of one of Europe’s most beautiful cities.
Martinhal Family Resorts have recently opened what they believe is a European first – a design-led luxury city centre aparthotel with a family focus, Martinhal Lisbon – Chiado. It’s aimed at allowing you to enjoy the best of Lisbon with your kids, rather than giving up altogether on the idea of city breaks while they are young.
The beautifully designed apartments are spacious, and well kitted out with everything you need for a family break. They’re also very well located in the hip district of Chiado, about five minutes walk from the train station and from the upscale shopping district in the city centre.
Unlike most holiday apartments there is a fully functional kitchen with all the appliances you need for a break with kids – even a washing machine for the inevitable baby messes. Baby essentials such as cots, high chairs, potties and sterilisers are available from the dedicated Family Concierge and bookable in advance, so you don’t need to lug all the bits through two airports.
Our only regret about staying at Martinhal Chiado on this occasion was simply that our little boy wasn’t old enough to be left in the kids’ club – it’s fabulous and takes up most of the building’s ground floor.There is also a cleverly conceived ‘pyjama club’, basically a group babysitting service for evenings, letting parents go out for dinner and experience some of Lisbon’s exceptional food scene.
Oh, the food! Although a small baby isn’t an asset in fine dining restaurants, we had a couple of excellent lunches and snacks in the city, which has a really vibrant artisan food scene. The Time Out food market at Mercado da Ribeiro is a fantastic modern food court set in the traditional city market. It’s hipster central, but the quality and choice is exceptional. You’ll get the best of Portuguese meats, cheeses, fish, bread and patisserie (the traditional pasteis de nata custard tarts are a must, but they are only a gateway drug to a plethora of incredible cakes) but also plenty of other street food options like sushi, noodles, burgers and more. You could spend the day here happily eating your way around and you wouldn’t get through half of it.
If you can tear yourself away from the food (difficult), Lisbon is the perfect city for a wander. With kids, tolerance for tourist attractions that involve sitting down, or being trapped somewhere, might be low, but it really is a great city to just explore. There are a lot of hills so a baby carrier or a very sturdy buggy are necessary, but the particularly steep ones have elevators.
Sights like the Elevador de Santa Justa, the Castelo sao Jorge and the Se de Lisboa are all within easy walking distance, and when the mooching around gets too much, finish with a sundowner at the Museo do Cerveja at Praca do Comercio, where you can enjoy a craft beer from their extensive menu.
If you’re looking for a more traditional seaside holiday, Martinhal does that too, within easy reach of Lisbon. After a busy two days in the bustling city, we spent five nights at Martinhal Cascais. An hour from Lisbon (the hotel will arrange a reasonable transfer, but there are regular trains too), Cascais is one of the prettiest, most relaxed seaside resorts I’ve been to. There are some excellent restaurants (check out the Cafe Galeria House of Wonders for fantastic vegan food and Porto di Mare Restaurante Italiano for really good Italian food), and loads of cafes serving great coffee and tasty pastry. The usual seaside seafood restaurants proliferate.
Martinhal Cascais has all the amenities you’d expect from a family hotel – two restaurants, an excellent play area with basketball and tennis courts, a really well equipped kids’ club and pools. A new outdoor pool with a snack bar is being constructed and should be open this summer, but we enjoyed Baby Swim class at the spa pool with a really great teacher organised by the hotel. There’s a huge range of activities available including yoga and bike rental for adults and kids (there are cycle lanes on all main routes), and if you just want to relax on your own for a while the spa offers great treatments using Voya products – you can also avail of couples or parent and child packages. It’s a bit of a distance from Cascais itself, but the hotel operates a shuttle bus, and provides baby seats.
Both Lisbon and Cascais are the sort of places you’d return to again and again. They’re certainly on our list of family favourites now.
TRAVEL WITH BABY
- Travelling on Ryanair with a baby is surprisingly straightforward. Book seats right at the back of the plane to be first on and off. Don’t fall for priority boarding – it just means you queue longer on the tarmac.
- You don’t need to book your buggy (it travels to the tarmac with you), but you can book other baby equipment – like a car seat – when booking seats.
- If your accommodation doesn’t have sterilisers available but could have a microwave, make sure to invest in Medela’s microwave sterilising bags. They’re a godsend.
- Bringing your usual brand of nappies isn’t kind to your luggage allowance, but it’ll give you peace of mind – we couldn’t find Pampers anywhere and the alternative was useless!
- Most car hire companies rent out baby seats, but if you’re not comfortable driving, don’t worry – Lisbon itself is small enough to walk around, and has excellent public transport links to Cascais.
- An apartment or villa will be more convenient than a hotel room for most families with a small baby – 8.30 is rather early for everyone to go to bed, but if you have more than one room this isn’t an issue.