Since baby George was born in July, we never really got to go on a summer holiday- not taking into account our Tel Aviv trip in May, that is. We were all longing for some sun, but as the first few months proved to be more difficult than we had hoped, we simply could not decide where or when to go. And when we both finally reached the point where we could not even stand up straight anymore because of all the sleepless nights, autumn had spread across Europe…
After checking the European forecast for a few days we simply ‘chose’ a destination that expected the least amount of rain: Faro. As we had been there before a few years ago, we felt that, even if it would rain, we more or less knew the area and did not have to spend hours just driving around to find a nice place to hide and relax.
We literally arranged a hotel, car and our tickets within an hour and tried to prepare for our first trip with two kids… Exciting!
As we were travelling in October, the flights to Faro were reasonably priced and surprisingly frequent. However, the timetables of flights leaving from Amsterdam were not so convenient; as we had to think about our two kiddies, none of the departure times were an option. We wanted a direct flight at a reasonable hour, both ways. This proved impossible… So in the end we decided to leave from Eindhoven airport, as the Transavia timetable was quite ok and it is closer than you think (well, I did not feel like driving all the way to Eindhoven but I had to admit that waking up both kids at 3am to catch a flight from Amsterdam did not sound appealing either…). We always feel comfortable travelling with Transavia and tickets were less expensive than the ones departing from Schiphol. The nice thing about Eindhoven airport is that it is small, lines at security fairly short and you can easily park your car (both short and long parking) near the entrance.
One of the perks of Faro is the relatively short plane ride (less than three hours) and the fact that the airport is just a 25 minutes drive to Quinta do Lago, where we would be staying. Plus there is only an one hour time difference! We made sure to pack enough food, snacks and water for Alba to get her through the day (Transavia sells some items during the flight but these are not particularly healthy nor cheap) and our handluggage was mainly filled with diapers in two sizes. As it was rather cold when we left Holland, and the airconditioner in the plane can be quite harsh, I made sure to pack some scarfs and sweaters for Alba, and changed George into a very handy travelling outfit by Piu et Nau (more on that later!).
To keep Alba busy during this short trip we also packed our Ipad with a few Disney cartoons, some reading books, crayons and her favorite stuffed animal.
We rented a car at Golfauto and arranged for someone to wait for us at the airport so we did not have to stand in line at the car rental desks. Off to our hotel!
This proved to be hard! We had been to this part of the Algarve before and particularly loved it because of all the nearby beaches, some nice restaurants we knew and, of course, the weather…
So we decided on the Almancil area quite quickly. As we were travelling with both a toddler and a little baby we figured we would need two bedrooms- not wanting George to wake Alba all the time… But this seemed impossible to arrange. Even though there are many hotels in the Faro area, we could not find a place that would be either big enough for all of us, or that offered two bedrooms or, at least, connecting rooms. We were specifically looking for a hotel as we hoped we could go for dinner while the kids were asleep, using our baby monitor, and would not have to cook every single night.
Finally we found a place that offered an apartment within their hotel, which sounded very promising. The Monte da Quinta Resort got a good rating at various booking systems, and as we booked very last minute, we were able to get a very good rate as well. It is located in Quinta do Lago, surrounded by a Natural Park and very close to one of the many beautiful beaches. We did not want to stay in an actual family resort, but it was nice that they offered a smaller kids pool, a playground and Kids Club.
Upon arrival we were pleasantly surprised by the huge ground floor apartment: two bedrooms with a big bathroom each, a spacious living room and a small kitchen. And, best of all, sliding doors that led to our own terrace facing the garden. This was exactly what we had hoped for!
As most of the activities in this part of Portugal are outdoors, we specifically checked whether hotels had some sort of indoor ‘fun’ (pools, wellness, a playground etcetera), and our big apartment proved very handy when we had some rainy days. That being said, please note that we were travelling in October, so when you go there during summer you will most likely only sleep inside… We were in search of some autumn sun, so this narrowed our options quite a bit, but if you are travelling somewhere between May and September, there are many hotels to choose from, obviously depending on your budget and wishlist.
Quite some friends told me about the new Martinhal Hotel that had just opened there; I must admit the website looked pretty nice and it had a lot of features for kids, but then again we are not the ones to choose a location or hotel just ‘for the kids’… So I decided not to make reservations there.
Just to give you an idea of which hotels and resorts we looked at in Quinta do Lago:
Hotel Quinta do Lago – Beautiful, expensive hotel with a splendid view over the ocean and brilliantly situated right next to the beach. We went there for afternoon drinks and it is a classy, somewhat old fashioned hotel. Lots of marble, red velvet carpet and elderly couples.
Conrad Algarve – Expensive, luxurious hotel opposite to the little mall with lots of boutiques. Quite some good features and good offers, but smallish rooms (if you want to stay there with more than one child, that is)
Lakeside Country Club
Vilar do Golf
Four Seasons Country Club
Four Seasons Fairways
Pestana Vila Sol Hotel – Beautiful, big resort with lots of nice features and surrounded by a golf course. As we wanted to be able to walk to the beach it was not an option.
Needless to say, there are many independent villas and apartments to rent as well, but we preferred a hotel/resort as it would offer a restaurant and thus some relaxation.
As for your toddler:
See ‘Getting there’ for the necessities during your flight.
The following (non exhaustive!) list of things proved very handy to us:
– Favorite toy and/or stuffed animal (if possible, take a second pair as these items easily get lost)
– At least two Sippy cups/bottles,and a few bottles if you have a little baby
– Your own formula if still needed. We tend to take enough for two or three days so that we have time to find a supermarket and check out the available brands there. Most of the time it is perfectly accepted by your kiddo but make sure to look up the different name so you won’t end up looking for a familiar name and not being able to find it
– At least three pacifiers if needed; attach them to the stroller/maxicosi/car seat and your own handbag; make sure to ‘mark’ which one belongs to the baby as you don’t want your toddler to play with it and subsequently put it in the baby’s mouth
– Enough diapers to get you through a few days- and nights! And follow the same directions as above-mentioned formula
– Optional: some bedsheets or large swaddles. I always use them to make Alba feel like she is at home while she sleeps in the baby cot provided by the hotel. And they also come in very handy during the plane ride when it’s cold and at the beach to either sit on or use as a towel
– Sunscreen! We rubbed her in after her morning shower and I kept using it on her face as long as she was dressed; do not forget to use it every few hours. And some baby body lotion or bath oil to keep her skin hydrated after a long beach day
– Medicines! You do not want to go looking for a drugstore should your toddler or baby get sick, catch a cold because of the air conditioning or get sun burnt. We brought aspirin, nose drops, suppositories, cough syrup and of course their daily vitamin D drops. And you might consider taking tablets against airsickness as well; Alba gets sick every time she sets foot in either airplane or car. We used Primatour (read the instructions!!)
– Optional: A (lightweight!) stroller for your toddler. So much easier to pack, travel with and store when not used. We have a Koelstra and it is perfect. You can take it with you until after the gate (do check that explicitly with your airline!! Some are very vague when it comes to taking them that far and you do not want to be surprised while checking in) and they bring it up again immediately after leaving the airport at your destination. You can take long strolls as they are smaller and more flexible and maneuverable for walks to the beach and they fit in every car you will rent. It is also useable during lunch and dinner, and for midday naps on the beach. As we were taking the big pram for George as well, we decided to leave the stroller at home, but we did take the footboard (http://my-joolz.co.uk/shop/footboard/) for when Alba would get tired of walking by herself
– Swim gear and some little toys for the beach. You can also buy them there, but I hate spending the first few days looking for stuff like that
– Optional: An inflatable little bathtub. Alba enjoys taking a shower now but we used our Mommy’s Helper inflatable Froggie baby bath for baby George
– A few warmer vests or sweaters, as it is quite windy, and some long-sleeved shirts. I also brought some cotton turtlenecks for both kids, and these proved very handy during the colder days spent at the beach. Right before we left I found the perfect travelling suit for baby George: Piu et Nau‘s Perfect First. As you can easily attach top and bottom, it protects the baby from the cold draft in airplanes or at the beach and you can still change the diapers without having to totally undress him or her. Check here for more info on this perfect find AND our giveaway!
– Some scarfs and a light jacket (and possibly a cap for your baby). As it was quite windy Alba did catch a cold, unfortunately, and so I could keep her little throat warm by using a small scarf
– Baby care products. As I use Naif Baby Care at home, I brought their Travel kit as it offers everything you need. I like using the amenities offered by the hotel, but these are definitely not gentle enough for your kid(s)
– Baby monitor
– Enough trousers to be able to change at least once a day; especially when the weather changes a lot. Rain, playing on wet sand and slides all call for a clean pair of pants
– Multiple shoes for the very same reason!
We went to Portugal to unwind, spend some quality time together, and hopefully catch some sun, so we did not plan much. However, as it was October already we had to be prepared for some possible rain and thus chose a hotel with a few indoor facilities. Just in case!
Fortunately, we only had two or three rainy days, so we spent most of our days at the beach. As the season was more or less over, the crowds had gone home again and we literally had the whole beach almost to ourselves. We had breakfast in our apartment (the buffet wasn’t that great so we ended up doing grocery shopping anyways- try Apolonia for an excellent choice of wonderful food), walked to the beach and stayed there until lunchtime. Depending on our children’s mood we either went home to grab a bite before putting them to bed, or walked to Gigi da Praia to indulge on wonderful fish and wine. This place is a true gem; all their dishes are marvelous, fresh and simple. Alba loved their clams with coriander! The restaurant does not look fancy at all, but it offers everything you need and want: shelter from either sun or wind, long wooden tables for your family, good service and a perfect wine selection. We had lunch there quite a few times and those were golden moments… Eating outside with the sun on our cheeks, barefoot, enjoying delicious food and wine and cuddling our babies. Pure happiness!
Another great place to have lunch is 2 Passos; whereas Gigi has a focus on fish, this restaurant has wonderful fried rice with chicken as well and is slightly bigger than Gigi. You can eat both in- and outside so even when the sun isn’t out, it is still a perfect place to go.
As we mainly filled our days with walks, afternoon naps and beach fun, we did not explore other lunch venues, but trust me: there are many restaurants in the area. Just decide on what kind of food you feel like and you will find a place. Be it Asian, Italian, seafood, steaks… everything is possible.
Even though we could prepare our own meals at ‘home’, we still went out for dinner a few times and it was fun!
Just to give you an idea of the places we went:
Casavostra – Good pizzas, relaxed atmosphere and friendly service. They also have a cool shop next to the restaurant with great interior stuff and cute gifts. Plus: they offer crayons for kids! Great spot to eat outside during summer; we had dinner inside and it was good as well.
Sol e Sombra – Local food. The ambiance is old fashioned and it’s nicer when it’s packed, but the food is freshly made and their Torta de Amendoa (almond cake) is homemade and to die for.
Marufo I and II– Great chicken. We actually did not sit down but chose the take away version, but across the street is their actual restaurant where you can order the same bird!
Koko Lane – Great for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Friendly staff, nice pizzas and a cute little playground outside.
During the rainy days we stayed indoors to read, play with the kids and dance (yes, we brought a docking system and love to dance with the kids…), went to the shopping mall in Quinta and visited the old city center of Faro. Even though we only had an hour because George wasn’t having the best of days, we managed to get an ice cream and saw some beautiful old buildings. The small port is beautiful as well, and old Faro is quite pittoresque with its small alleys, old men sitting at the numerous benches to discuss politics and cobble stoned little squares. Definitely a place to visit again when the children are a bit older!
The playground at Koko Lane is also nice as you can sit inside and enjoy a coffee or beer while your toddler moves from swing to slide and back, and do visit the cool Lifestyle Store opposite to Apolonia, which offers both cool items for you as a nice kids corner with great books and toys…Alba did not want to leave!
Having a coffee and a Pasteis de Belém at Apolonia before doing your groceries is always a good idea; the pasteis might not be as good as the original one from the north, but definitely worth a try.
We had also planned a trip to the huge shopping mall in Faro, but as we had such nice weather we decided it would be stupid to go shopping while it was beautiful outside. Nonetheless, definitely something to keep in mind for rainy days as they offer quite a big selection of nice shops and chain stores and you can finish with either a nice lunch or dinner in Faro.
Should you get tired of the beach on a sunny day (fair chance!), the karting area at Karting Almancil is actually quite nice to spend a few hours. Apart from a racing track it also offers a playground and trampolines and it is open all year.
If you love food markets you should definitely visit the (indoor) market in Loulé; lots and lots of fresh vegetables, fruits, cheese, meat, fish, etcetera.
The last time we went to Portugal we did not have children yet, so we had a completely different schedule. Which, I will admit, mainly consisted of sleeping late, deciding whether to go to the beach or stay a the pool, and discussing where to have lunch and dinner. As said before, there are so many restaurants to chose from! But just to give you an idea of our favorite hangouts:
Gigi da Praia – See above. Imagine walking there from the beach, choose a table (sun or shade?) and start with a bottle of cold white wine, while deciding on what kind of fish you feel like… It is an absolutely brilliant venue, completely packed during summer. You can smell and hear the ocean and I guarantee you’ll have a wonderful time.
2 Passos – See above. Be sure to take a seat outside during summer, and order the chicken-and-rice. Prices are more reasonable than at Gigi, and the food is delicious. The place has recently been renovated so it looks nice and fresh, but service is old school and as it should be. Wonderful view.
Casa do Campo – Great restaurant with beautiful garden and a romantic vibe. Make sure to start with an aperitif before dinner so you can check out all the people having dinner and simply enjoy the evening.
Pequeno Mundo – Romantic restaurant, rather upscale. Beautiful terrace and garden, nice dishes.
If you feel like grocery shopping and preparing lunch or dinner yourself, a visit to the aforementioned market in Loulé is obligatory. We could not decide what NOT to buy as everything looks so fresh and tasteful. Apolonia offers a great selection as well, but nothing beats watching the local people do their weekly shopping and trying things you normally would not buy and prepare.
Should you get tired of lounging at the pool, you might consider travelling to Lisbon, either by car or train, as it is only 2,5 hours up north. We visited Lisbon and Belem several times and we loved it. Narrow and steep little streets leading you to wonderful old squares, beautiful shops and numerous bars and restaurants. Do not forget to visit the Mosteiro dos Jeronimos, where you will find Vasco da Gama’s tomb, and get a Pasteis de Belem afterwards!You can easily take the train to the Expo area to go shopping, as there is a wonderful, huge shopping mall and numerous restaurants right on the beach to have a wonderful lunch afterwards. Very much worth the trip! Make sure to inform beforehand which restaurants in Lisbon are hip and happening for dinner; we particularly liked Bica do Sapato (co-owned by actor John Malkovich) and I hear it is still very good.
We always like to work out during our holidays, and this is very much possible in the Algarve, be it jogging, playing golf or tennis, swimming or simply lifting weights in a gym.
In my opinion, the best way to get to know a certain region or area is to simply get in the car and drive from one village to the next; having a coffee and then move on to lunch and dinner. There are so many cute little places so see and explore!
Quinta do Lago on a whole:
As we were looking for some after summer sun and beach life, the place was perfect, as it offered just that. We were lucky with regards to the weather, but there were still many things to do and see should we have encountered more rainy days. The area is safe, well kept and totally equipped for family vacations and outings. Do keep in mind that it is packed with tourists during summer, which makes it less easy to ‘just’ drive to the beach and find a spot, or make reservations at restaurants. Should we be in need of a little family break again, I would definitely consider going here – be it a very predictable destination.
I don’t expect us to ever go to the Monte da Quinta Resort again, as we were very disappointed (apart from the apartment, that is). As soon as we arrived we found out it had recently been taken over by a new owner that definitely tried to cut costs… Think dark corridors at night (not very welcoming nor convenient), horrible food and coffee at the restaurant, dirty pools and a tiny, shabby looking kids area that does not even deserves to be called a playground. Again, the size of the apartment made us decide to go there and we were happy with the spaciousness and kitchen, but we ended up making dinner anyways and did not want Alba to go into the pool as it was clearly not very clean. The staff was rather friendly so nothing wrong there, but the hotel definitely does not deserve the amount of stars it currently has!
I think next time we would consider renting an apartment or small villa, most probably belonging to one of the resorts or golf courses, so you still have the benefits.
Kids are very welcome in this area (actually, I think this counts for the whole of Portugal). Every restaurant offers high chairs and kids menus if needed. There are numerous playgrounds and as the vibe is rather low key, people do not mind kids running around during or after lunch or dinner. All resorts offer kids activities, be it sports or at the beach, and there are several aqua parks just a short drive away.
Do note that the sea is quite rough so you really need to watch your toddler while playing at the shore!
Both our children felt completely at home and at ease, and that made us happy as well!