The Algarve air smacks the face and warms the body on arrival at Faro airport. It is a sensation that creates conversation while waiting at the baggage carousel, and it proves very favourable all-round.
On the road and 45 minutes along the south coast motorway, the exits for all the big resorts have been passed, Quinta do Lago, Vilamoura, Albufeira and finally Portimao.
It's another 30 minutes before the western Algarve's Martinhal Beach Resort & Hotel is reached, but first impressions convince that the extra hop along the coast was going to prove very fruitful.
A welcome drink on the terrace of the five-star resort was enhanced by the excellent aerial view of the adjacent Martinhal beach and calm, Caribbean-esque turquoise waters. The protected bay was a novel and appealing addition, considering the Algarve resorts are usually accompanied by the choppy waters of Portugal's south coast.
The Martinhal Resort is set within a protected natural park, just outside the historic town of Sagres on the unspoiled western Algarve. The resort combines luxury hotel rooms with self-catering options, all spread out around a spacious, well-designed complex overlooking the Atlantic Ocean.
And one of the most obvious attractions of this area is the space and apparent emptiness of the surroundings – the hotel was close to full occupancy.
Avoiding the urge to settle in for the day on a poolside sunlounger, I took a bicycle tour from the hotel's impressive sports facility and headed out along an off-road track in the direction of Cape St Vincent.
The track rejoined the road a few kilometres away from the Cape and the lighthouse was a welcome sight for the weary cyclists, with the promise of refreshments and ice cream at the halfway pit-stop.
The cape is the most south-western point of mainland Europe and was once known as the end of the world. The views on both the south coast and up the western side of Portugal are spectacular, with sheer cliffs dropping into the lively Atlantic waters.
An illuminated Cape has guarded one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world for centuries, dating back to the reign of Dom Manuel I. The present-day lighthouse is one of the most powerful in Europe.
Back on the bike, and the coastal route was preferred for the easier cycle back to the resort. The shoreline is dotted with fantastic attractions, whether exploring the ruins at Beliche Fort or taking a dip in any of the spectacular, never-crowded beaches throughout.
Two of the best beaches are on this fabulous stretch of coast. Surfers' favourite Tonel beach is surrounded by the impressive cliffs of Ponta de Sagres, and is also quite sheltered with ideal sunbathing conditions. The spectacular Beliche beach is another enclosed beach located under the coastal cliffs and enjoys one of the most intimate seaside settings in southern Portugal.
The hotel's 38 bedrooms have their own private wooden deck terraces and an area of lawn where guests can lounge and soak in the sun and memorable sea views.
All rooms have well-stocked complimentary minibars offering soft drinks and water, as well as satellite television - the Bose iPod docking station is a very nice touch.
The hotel also offers complimentary wireless internet access throughout and the wide range of luxury Voya toiletries is another quality touch at the resort.
Dining at Martinhal
Martinhal Beach Resort & Hotel has some of the freshest, tastiest and most interesting food and wine options.
The dining experience at As Dunas, where the menu has a wide selection of fresh fish and seafood, was first class. The main courses were prepared tableside, the personal service adding more class to an already amazing feast.
Beautifully prepared Portuguese cuisine is served at O Terraço, which is also the venue where a full buffet breakfast is served. And Os Gambozinos, located on the Village Square, is the ideal venue for young and old. The tempting Italian à la carte dinner menu includes hot and cold antipasti, fresh salads, delicious pasta dishes and a wide range of pizzas.
Wellness at Martinhal
Martinhal's 'barefoot luxury' continues at the spa, offering a genuine sense of wellbeing with a wide range of treatments available. Patrons have lots of relaxation space to utilise afterwards and a large outdoor Jacuzzi adds to the experience.
Activities and Family Fun
The resort provides a wide range of watersport options, ferrying guests around different beaches, depending on the chosen activities – calm waters for kayaking or swells for surfers.
The hotel and complex is ideal for families and kids of all ages are catered for. It was with a tinge of disappointment that I learned that the teenager complex was not part of my package as it boasted a pool table, fussball and a table tennis table.
All of the outdoor sporting options were available, however, and I was introduced to the oddly addictive art of paddle tennis. It's a strange hybrid of a sport, combining squash and tennis where the racquet or paddle, of course, was like one of those old swingball bats. It's played with a technique that mixes tennis and table tennis, surrounded by glass walls, which you can rebound the ball off.
Golfing the Algarve
The Algarve has become a year-round haven for Irish golfers and the quality of championship courses throughout the region is of the highest quality.
The resort can organise excursions to a range of golf courses and I had the pleasure of enjoying two quality rounds at the Christy O'Connor course at Oceanico Golf and at Le Meridien Penina.
The traditional Penina course (now known as the Sir Henry Cotton Championship Course) was the first resort golf course to be built in Portugal and has already hosted 10 Portuguese Opens, while the O'Connor course is more like an American-style resort course with generous fairways and lots of water in play. Both courses were in immaculate condition and were an absolute joy to play, bathed in sunshine throughout both rounds.
Getting to Martinhal Beach Resort & Hotel
Aer Lingus flies daily from Dublin to Faro, with one-way fares starting from €55.99. For more information, visit: www.aerlingus.com.
For more information on Martinhal Beach Resort & Hotel, visit: www.martinhal.com.
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