Thursday, September 26, 2013

Taking A Winter Break (here and abroad)

It is getting to that time of year when people start thinking about the drift into Autumn and the cold to follow. Having a holiday or even a short break to look forward to can give winter a deserving cold shoulder. If you’re trying to figure out where you can go and what you can do, here are a few thoughts:
The Entrance to Martinhal
  • Enjoy Luxury in the Sun
  • Golf in the Sun
  • Golf on the Irish Links
  • Northern Lights
  • Lazing at Liss Ard

Warning: Readers are advised that this article contains non-golf-related copy from the very start.

Enjoy (Martinhal) Luxury in the Sun

A visit to Martinhal Beach Resort and Hotel should be high on your list. The word ‘beach’ in the title should be inspiration enough but Martinhal, on the western tip of the Algarve, is special. You don’t have to take my word for it either because the resort recently collected two awards at the World Travel Awards 2013.

‘Europe's Leading Villa Resort’ 
At Martinhal, you can rent villas (one to three bedrooms) and have access to everything the hotel offers, from multiple swimming pools, private beach, the spa, sports activities, three restaurants and the extensive children’s clubs. Some of the villas come with a private pool.

‘Portugal's Leading Family Resort’
One of the things that makes Martinhal so impressive is its focus on family. There are five dedicated clubs for kids, aged six months to 18 years old, which run throughout the day. Professionally qualified staff are always on hand and there’s a babysitting service, too. This extends to the restaurants, so if you fancy a peaceful breakfast overlooking the ocean, you can relax while your toddler is being well looked after nearby. The facilities here are child-friendly, from special pool areas, a trampoline next to one of the restaurants and kids activities on the beach. Or hire bikes and venture forth.

View from the restaurant balcony over the pool, islands and private beach
Martinhal Beach Resort and Hotel positions itself as "Europe's Finest Luxury Family Resort” and it’s hard to argue with that. It has been designed with families in mind and combines stylish design, understated luxury, child-friendliness and genuine hospitality.
The resort is currently running its Extended Summer offer, valid until 1st of November, including October half-term break and Halloween. Temperatures are up around the idyllic 23 degree mark in October and the resort welcomes back Quiksilver and Roxy Surf Days – where three surf stars will return to catch more waves with guests.
Donel Beach, right alongside the resort
Prices start at 314 per house per night for a family of two adults, two children under 12 and a baby, half-board (you can eat at one of the resort's three restaurants). 
For my review of the resort, click here. Their Facebook page.

Golf In The Sun

While Martinhal is on the Algarve, it would never claim to be a ‘golf’ resort. You could slip away for a round or two (Boavista is the closest course) and leave the family to enjoy everything that Martinhal has to offer, or you could consider any one of the many golf resorts along Portugal’s southern shores.
Penina's 1st hole
Penina certainly has its charms, playing host to the Portuguese Open on many occasions and being the oldest course in the Algarve. Designed by Henry Cotton, it is not a long course but the trees mean you have to be straight. Located outside Portimao it has a recently refurbished hotel overlooking the course and all the essentials a golfer could ask for – including the impressive practice facilities and other courses roundabout.

And don’t bother bringing your clubs (and the hassle/cost that entails): use instead. You can pick up your clubs in Faro airport and choose from several of the latest sets.

Golf on the Irish Links

Yes, hardly escaping the cold I know but links golf comes into its own in the winter months and green fees plummet alongside the temperatures. You can play some of our and the world’s best courses for a fraction of their usual price. I’d recommend that you enquire about the use of mats/fairways as some courses can be restrictive, but one of the most obvious examples is Royal County Down, which at £50 and no mats is the best invitation in Irish golf. TheEuropean Club is another option with its excellent Winter Series, where €60 can get you numerous rounds of golf (assuming you have the match-winning edge).

That said, all of Ireland's links courses have good winter deals, some including breakfast/lunch, so pick where you want to go and then wait for the weather. You’ll probably only have to book a few days in advance.

Sledding dogs - over 100 of them - in the snow.

Northern Lights

On a completely different level, if your thoughts are of much colder temperatures, no golf and the glory of the Northern Lights inside the Arctic Circle, why not visit Tromso in northern Norway. I went last year and was amazed by the place. We saw the Northern Lights on two occasions, if only briefly, but there are other things to do (dog-sledding is just one of them) and walking around a snow-drenched town has its charms. Here’s a review of the trip.

Views over Tromso (which is on an island)

Lazing at Liss Ard

If you want to stay in Ireland, be pampered, eat great food and wrap yourself around open fires, then Liss Ard in West Cork allows you to laze away in a nice splash of luxury. It’s a peaceful 200 acre estate on the outskirts of Skibbereen, where effortless comes… effortlessly. It’s not a big hotel, using an old country manor and the stables alongside, but charm and character breathe life into your stay. That and a simple, contemporary design. There are dark woodland walks, a 50-acre lake and the Sky Garden (by James Turrell)… not to mention the Swiss spy who used to own the place.

Entrance to Liss Ard
It’s a great place to chill out (back to the weather again) or curl up – either way you get to recharge.

This slice of West Cork life also promises superb food in just about any pub or restaurant you encounter. Try Mary Ann’s in nearby Castletownshend. It has won so many awards it’s hard to believe the 19th century walls have room for any photographs of golfers… but they do.

Here are some Liss Ard packages – one of which is €316 for two nights DB&B for two people – in a Superior Room. Another throws in a woolly jumper, for the weeks running up to Christmas. Sure, why wouldn't you!

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