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Columbia Hillen

Broad cobblestone streets lined by exotic trees and flowers wind their way lazily around a complex of villas and townhouses that comprise Martinhal Quinta luxury family resort in Portugal’s Algarve. 

This gated, holiday complex with 24-hour security, is one of a number of hospitality projects by enterprising couple, Roman and Chitra Stern, the former from Switzerland, the latter from Singapore. 

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Martinhal as a brand was launched 14 years ago with the opening of its ‘mothership’ 5-star beach resort near the Portuguese coastal town of Sagres, before extending to three other properties in Lisbon, including two hotels, Martinhal Cascais and Martinhal Chiado Family Suites.

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At Martinhal Quinta, a mere 20-minute drive from Faro Airport, the company manages around 60 stylish villas and townhouses among 178 privately-owned such properties, some being holiday homes, some permanent. All feature marble staircases,  private pools and ensuite rooms located on attractive streets embraced by a colorful bird of paradise and bougainvillea flowers and overarching orchid, bottlebrush, palm, banana and conifer trees. 

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My companion and I stayed in a 3-bedroom villa for several nights, number 61, which was quite palatial insofar as the impressive number of interconnecting rooms on basement, ground and first-floor levels. A private pool with sun-beds and whicker chairs around it beside a garden with privacy hedge, a wraparound verandah, spacious kitchen and a comfortable living room with soft sofas, big screen TV and a log fire. All kitchen utensils and cutlery were provided and there was even a large outdoor barbecue grill. 

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A family-oriented resort, children splash contentedly in a large public pool nearby with a trampoline and water slide for added fun. A separate, supervised creche caters for even younger ones, allowing parents free leisure time. Martinhal’s Baby Concierge service pre-arranges anything that’s needed for a family with infants or toddlers, from baby gates, cribs, potties, thermometers, special food, formula to bottle sterilizers and more. 

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The nearby Quinta do Lago region offers three 18-hole golf courses within a few kilometres of Martinhal Quinta, as well as a major sports complex with a 50-meter pool and other high-class facilities including tennis courts.

A poolside bistro offers a menu ranging from burgers, chicken wings and pasta to grilled fish, seafood platters and sirloin steaks. 

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For our lunch, I chose mashed crab on an avocado and mango base while my companion opted for a sandwich on traditional Portuguese bolo de caco flatbread with rucola, sirloin steak, mushrooms ragout, onion and aioli. For mains, being a seafood lover, I enjoyed grilled fresh bream with roasted potatoes and vegetables, while my companion had chicken piri piri with sweet potato fries. Desserts included chocolate fondant with cream and fruits and banoffee pie, the latter not surprising as the resort is popular with Irish and British visitors.

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For those preferring self-catering, there is an onsite shop selling everyday basics, from drinks and cereals to meats and cheeses. Guests can also avail of an onsite food home-delivery service for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Dining options outside Martinhal Quinta are plentiful. I was informed there were 13 restaurants within a half hour’s drive. 

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One such is Casa Velha. On a hill overlooking the rolling Algarve countryside, the restaurant resembles a modern hacienda, with open space, rooms divided only by arches, featuring wooden tables and chairs with colorful ceramic plates decorating an entire back wall and another with framed multi-colored ceramic sardines.

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Our dinner there midweek opened with what’s called ‘Snacks,’ small portions meant to be shared, three served in delicate blue ceramic bowls. The first was prawn salad, the citrus fruits complementing the bitterness of the lettuce, and opening up our palates; the second, a pepper and cream cheese paste, best spread on the restaurant’s fresh sourdough bread and the third, wedges of flavoursome pancetta and chorizo with green peas stewed in a tomato sauce.

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My starter of tiger prawns rissoles, two little fried envelopes accompanied by a tiny bowl of coriander mayonnaise, arrived surprisingly in a gift-wrapped package. My companion’s starter – traditional sausage stuffed bread – was akin to a savory bread pudding with layers of chorizo and decorated with Alentejo ham, all sprinkled with pickled carrots and cauliflower.

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We chose seafood as our mains, mine Goan squid blended with coconut milk, peppers and peas and my companion opting for a classic Portuguese dish named ‘bacalhau a Bras,’ salted cod cooked with egg-yolk, lemon garlic, onion and parsley, with a straw potato topping.

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Desserts were easy to select. Mine, being a chocolate fiend, was ‘marafada,’ an innovative blend of warm Algarvian stout beer with dark chocolate, orange sorbet and sea salt from Tavira washed down by a Croft LBV port. My companion enjoyed the Portuguese traditional pastel de nata, a combo of coffee ice cream, egg curd, lemon and puff pastry complemented by a 20-year-old Moscatel Roxo.

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In warm weather, guests can dine alfresco on a spacious front patio with a central pool lined with lemon and olive trees.

Located in a pleasant region of the Algarve, Martinhal Quinta provides an enticing and safe environment for family holidays with various activities nearby for adults to enjoy.  

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