Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Martinhal Resort in Sagres: My Stress Reliever

I've been thinking about stress lately. How much is too much, where it comes from, how I react to it, and what can be done about it. Probably because I've been dealing with it lately, mostly related to driving. In the last 4 weeks, these things have happened:
  • Rented a car in Lisbon, only to have it break down on the highway an hour away from anything. Now I know what being stranded on a Portuguese highway with two little kids feels like. For the record, my children handled that scenario way better than I did.
  • Got a cab back to Lisbon, only to pick up a new rental car and scrape it against a guardrail coming out of the airport parking garage.
  • Back in the UK, I got a speeding ticket for going 36 in a 30 (caught by a speed camera). Then I learned that if I get just one more speeding ticket in the next two years, I'll have my license revoked. Instead, I have the pleasure of taking a 4-hour speeding awareness class on a Saturday afternoon to get it cleared from my record.
  • Studied my tail off for two weeks and passed my written theory test, the first step in a two-step process toward getting my UK driver's license.
  • Had my first driving lesson to prepare for part 2, the actual driving test. When's the last time you kept your hands at ten and two and performed a perfectly executed parallel park?
White knuckles wrapped around the steering wheel? Yeah, that's been me lately. I swear I'm not a bad driver, just prone to bad luck apparently.

But something else happened during the past month that found me more relaxed than I think I've ever been since becoming a mom. We spent a blissful 36 hours at Martinhal Resort in Sagres, Portugal. (It should have been 48 hours... damn you rental car!) It was the highlight of what was already a pretty magical week in Portugal.

Since I was staying at Martinhal for a writing assignment (you can read my review of Martinhal at Ciao Bambino here), I had obviously done my homework a bit. I knew there would be a kid's club, where we could get a bit of a break from the boys and they could have some fun with other children. I knew we'd be in a two-bedroom villa instead of a standard hotel room. I knew it was on the beach.

Somebody pinch me.

Kid's Club crafts. 

What I didn't realize was that I'd barely want to drop the boys at the kid's club because we were having so much fun together.

Or that not only was there a beach, but that it was truly one of the most magnificent stretches of land I'd ever seen.

Or that my kids, just as rowdy and crazy as your's, I promise, would get to experience fine dining.

Hearing Big Arrow ask me to help him put a cloth napkin on his lap so he could be like mom and dad? And seeing Little Arrow slowly spoon himself some gourmet pumpkin soup? These are the memories that bring tears to your eyes. The moments that make that other type of crying, the kind I did on the highway the day before, long forgotten and totally worth it.

On a very related note: Supervised play areas at fancy restaurants, where the kids can eat 5-star food with their parents, but then dash off to play: the world needs more of this!

And let me be perfectly honest with you. A stay at a place like Martinhal is typically out of our budget (although I will also say that I think their winter prices are extremely reasonable given the level of service and the quality of the experience. I'd be more than willing to splurge on a return trip on my own dime.) I'm extremely fortunate to get the kind of freelance assignments that involve places like this. I know it is a bit out of reach for the average traveling family.

But here's what I take away from this. I want more Martinhal moments. We typically follow a 'spend less, see more' philosophy when it comes to travel budgeting. In fact, I'm currently pricing out our trip to Belgium in a few weeks and it's going to involve taking the "scenic route" in our car and pretty basic accommodation. But having been to Martinhal, I'm much more likely to consider condensing what I might have budgeted for two long weekends into one more luxurious  weekend, if the experience seems worth the splurge. I wouldn't have said that before staying here. I also believe you can find a little piece of family paradise at every price point. I'm going to be writing about that in a few days. Stay tuned.

So to make a long post a little shorter, let's just say I finally have stress figured out.

Less driving. More Martinhal.

Disclosure: My family was hosted by Martinhal for purposes of my review at Ciao Bambino. I was under no obligation to write this post on Arrows Sent Forth, and all opinions are my own. And truthfully, I wrote this for me. Because I want to cherish the memories we made at Martinhal and this is my way of recording it, for me and my boys.

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