Monday, December 3, 2012

Luxury, Art and Design Weekend At Martinhal: A 5-Star Event and Resort That's Worth Your Trip

*Interested in learning more about Portuguese food and wine with me? Check out my An American In Portugal Tours, and my blog's new home!*

There is something so nice when people make you feel special, the feeling that not just your presence matters, but your happiness and satisfaction as well.   This was the feeling I had two weeks ago when I spent a fabulous weekend at the 5-star Martinhal Beach Resort in Sagres, specifically for their first-ever "Luxury, Art and Design Weekend".  This was a special event featuring presentations from several artists and designers, a champagne label and perfume launch, gourmet dinners paired with high end Portuguese wines and catered by renowned Portuguese chefs and the chance to test drive a Porsche.   When I first heard the details of this event, the "ritzy-ness" was enough to make my head spin.....I had worked in 5-star hotels before but had never been a guest in one so I was hesitant to go thinking I would feel completely out of place....but the thought of enjoying some gourmet food and wine was enough to convince me.   And thankfully not only did I end up doing just that but both the hotel and the entire event showed me luxury, art and design without ever making me feel like I didn't belong there.

With so many fantastic things that I wanted to say about my weekend here, I had to break them down into separately titled paragraphs below, check them out and discover all the little details about why I loved this place so much!

Luxuriously Natural Location
To start with, the location of this resort is perfect, right on the beach and in a part of Algarve that is completely different from the Algarve most people know.  One must understand that almost every Portuguese resident (and British tourist) vacation in the southern region of Algarve every summer, with most people having their own place, including my boyfriend's family.  That said, Algarve tends to have a reputation of being crowded and touristy, especially in the major cities.   However, this is not the case with Sagres.  Located on the southwestern-most tip of the country, the area surrounding the small fishing town of Sagres and Martinhal resort is a protected natural park, part of the greater Parque Sudoeste Alentejano e Costa Vincentina  and is a stunningly beautiful expanse of unique Mediterranean-climate tundra, filled with hundreds of rare plants and species - the perfect place to get away from it all and be one with nature!

And surprisingly, summer in Sagres is not necessarily the most ideal time to go there even though it's the most popular with vacationers.  Summer high season also means more crowded and more expensive as well as July also happens to be the windiest month in here.  Instead, try checking out the Sagres in October or April and May, when the weather is still warm and mild enough for the beach without as much wind.  This also allows one to take advantage of more room availability and low season prices at Martinhal, including special price package events like the one I attended.

Ecological and Artfully Designed Accommodation
You can easily feel the sense of peace and quiet with nature while staying in one of Hotel Martinhal's beach rooms.  These beachfront rooms are situated in the resort's handful of ecologically designed "bungalows", all with a large balcony or terrace facing the ocean.   And what's great is that these are staggered so that guests next door can not see one another, allowing you to enjoy your ocean view in ultimate privacy.  Inside, the spacious bedroom and bathroom are styled in a casual but refined manner, incorporating natural Portuguese materials such as cork into the furniture and traditional stone tiling in the bathroom and in fact, Martinhal tries to use as much local Portuguese products and designs to style the entire resort.  The room amenities are also plentiful, including an assortment of natural seaweed bath products, a complimentary liter of bottled water and 3 complimentary cafés from the personal Nespresso machine.

I slept like a baby in the luxuriously soft king-size bed both of the nights I was at the resort, lulled to sleep by the gentle lapping of the ocean waves against the shore outside my room.  On the first morning, I got lucky when I woke up to catch this gorgeous view of the sunrise from my balcony:

Family-Friendly Resort Designed For Everyone
Boasting to be "Europe's Finest Luxury Family Resort" the Martinhal project was started by Chitra Stern, a mother of 4 originally from Singapore who used her own family experience to create a place where both parents and children could relax.   Because of this, they offer a variety of family-friendly accommodation along with an unlimited amount of children's activities and services to keep the kids entertained while the parents get some alone time.  And basically every area of the resort has some sort of children's playground or corner where kids can entertain themselves within eyesight of the parents as well as watched over by a hotel employee.   There is also a calendar of daily activities for adults, kids and families to sign up for so guests are never at a loss for things to do!  Now I've said in the past that normally I try to stay away from family hotels because of the usual chaos but here at Martinhal I hardly even noticed that there were children around because they were always happily playing in one of the children's areas.   This experience proved to me that a family-friendly hotel could also be everyone - friendly!

Luxury Dining From Dawn to Dusk
Breakfast at Martinhal on the deck of the Terraço restaurant with a blissful view of the ocean was something to remember (See first photo above).   Not only did they offer a wide variety of food but the hotel also had by far the healthiest selection of breakfasts I've seen at a hotel.   Normally in Portugal I'm used to seeing a ton of sweet Portuguese cakes and jams for breakfast (which I do enjoy a lot don't get me wrong) but here I loved how they provided several choices of raw nuts like almonds and walnuts as well as both dried and fresh fruit that you could add to your cereal or yogurt.  And they actually have cold milk for your cereal! (this is hard to get in Portugal).  Another lovely surprise was that the waiters already had a french press coffee pot and creamer of hot milk waiting on the table when you got back with your food, nice!   And if you still wanted to be a little indulgent they also had sparkling wine just for that special touch, it almost felt more like brunch then!

Lunch at Martinhal's As Dunas seafood restaurant exemplified the freshness and flavor of Portuguese fish.  On the first day we enjoyed platters of steamed mexilhões (mussels) and fried gambas (prawns)  mixed with garlic, cilantro and piri-piri washed down with a crisp Algarvian white wine from Quinta do Barranco Longo followed by a rich massada do peixe (seafood stew with pasta).  On the second day, we slurped down a bowl of Cataplana de Marisco (Portuguese fish and seafood stew) cooked in the biggest cataplana pot I've ever seen!  And man was it tasty!  All of this seafood while dining outside by the sun-drenched beach, amazing.


       For dinner, I spent both evenings of the Luxury, Art and Design Weekend enjoying Elyx Vodka cocktails, Piper Heidsick's new label champagne and two, 4-course gourmet dinners.   The first was by Martinhal's Terraço Restaurant chef Micael Valentim and the second by guest chef Igor Martinho, a current contestant on "Portugal's Top Chef".  Both of the dinners we had were absolutely delicious with equally delicious Portuguese wines from two Dão region wineries, Vinhos Darei who provided the whites and Quinta do Lemos with the reds.

For Chef Valentim's dinner we started with Vinhos Darei's 2011 Lagar Darei Colheita, made from a blend of native Encruzado, Bical, Cerceal and Malvasia Fina varietals and paired with seared scallops with a cauliflower purée and olive oil lentil salsa then sea bass filet with beetroot risotto, one of my favorites.  Then we had a 2007 Quinta do Lemos Rótulo Violeta Jaen, made from 100% of the native Jaen varietal paired with a seared duck breast, spinach purée and arugula salad with sun dried tomato pesto oil (pictured right).

For Chef Martinho's dinner we had the Lagar Darei Private Selection which paired wonderfully with the chef's bacalhau (saltcod) and chickpea salad and his scrumptious John Dory with bellpepper cream and tarragon potato rosti.  We then followed with Quinta do Lemos' 2005 Dona Santana, a blend of Touriga Nacional, Tinta Roriz, Jaen and Alfrocheiro and paired with a loin of veal with vitelote potatoes and carrots and an Algarvian orange purée.   And both wineries sent representatives to give a short presentation about the wines during our second dinner, a nice selling point. We ended the dinners with a perfectly sweet apple mille feuille, vanilla ice cream and cinnamon sauce and a traditional Portuguese toucinho do céu (almond and egg custard tart) with yummy local fig ice cream and cream cheese foam.

Luxury, Art and Design By Porsche- A Fantasy Fulfilled
Ok so maybe I never realized before that I had always wanted to drive a fast sports car but I guess Porsche awakened the dream in me.  Aside from all the gourmet food and wine during the Luxury, Art and Design Weekend this activity was definitely by far my favorite and a lot of the other guests seemed to agree!  At first I thought I wasn't even going to able to drive any of the cars because I had always believed that most sports cars came in manual shift which I never mastered but to my surprise and delight the two Porsches had  for to test-drive were in automatic, yay!  Our choices were the Porsche Cayenne Turbo and the Porsche Boxster S and having no clue about cars I went with the coolest, sportiest looking one, which was the Boxster convertible of course.  As soon as I sat down on the driver's side, I saw and felt the seat, steering wheel and rear view mirrors adjust to my size, I was super-impressed already haha.  Then what I thought was going to be some dinky test drive around the hotel parking lot turned out to be an exhilarating joy ride along the open countryside around Sagres.  Porsche had specifically scouted out this perfect stretch of straight road with very little traffic to really show off the car's speed and features, according to my accompanying Porsche assistant, who was telling me about all those Top Gear-style specs about the engine and stuff that the car had while I was cruising along.

To be honest though, I told him to save all car geek info for the guys and just let me enjoy the thrill of not only getting to drive my first car in a couple of years (I sold my last car when I moved to Portugal and haven't driven any since) but a ridiculously expensive sports car that I'll probably never get to drive again!  And man the setting couldn't have been more perfect, beautiful countryside, sunny skies, top down with the wind whipping through my hair and the intensity of going almost full throttle with the gas on a long, straight and empty road, it was like being in the perfect car commercial!  I got out of that Porsche at the end with a new-found appreciation for cars.

5-Star Staff and Service Without the Pretentiousness
During my stay I had the delight of meeting and dining with owner and Board Director of Martinhal Chitra Stern as well as Managing Director Nicholas Montgomery and the event coordinators, Marketing Assistant Rosa Santos and Armando Ribeiro - all of whom were so openly warm and friendly to everyone.  Chitra told us at dinner on our first night that they wanted to make sure that all of us were relaxing and having a good time and that if we had any issues to please let them know so they could fix it right away.  I could tell how she really genuinely cared about the happiness of all her guests and it's not often that you see a hotel's higher management so visible and approachable throughout your stay, mingling with guests and talking to them like an old friend, it really makes you feel at home!  Martinhal's Food and Beverage Director Wadim Alvarez also oversaw both of the event dinners with careful precision and attention to detail, always coming around to ask what we thought of the food and quickly fulfilling any requests that we had.  And it great to see that he had trained his young serving staff to do just the same, our water and wine glasses were always full, plates came out hot and right on time and all with a smile!

Martinhal's Luxury, Art and Design Weekend gave me the opportunity to experience things I would have never thought I would enjoy, all while being in a completely relaxed and friendly ambiance.  The resort plans to make this an annual event to bring in business during the low season and I think that's a fantastic idea.  If you're going to spend a good amount of money and go out of your comfort zone, this place and especially this event will definitely make it worth your while!

Thank you Martinhal, keep up the great work and I promise I'll be back!


  1. Hello Andrea
    I was navigating the web when i surpassingly discover your Blog. I just want to thank you about your positive description from our country. It makes me very happy to know that same foreign people appreciate the beauty of our country when some Portuguese people mention the opposite. I hope that you feel always welcomed here in a country that is yours too. Bye

  2. Hello Andrea,

    So glad I found your blog.. I have been interested in visiting/moving to Portugal for over a year now but hesitate because of all the negative media on the economical state of the country. I am looking at the Algarve region near Portimao and look forward to your visit one day. Any insight you could provide would be awesome !!!

    Thank you.... Marcy-Florida