Where to stay
The Oitvaos Hotel
Who said luxury can’t be family friendly?
20 minutes west of Lisbon airport and nestled alongside the Sintra Mountains, the Oitavos is a one-of-a-kind hotel, with relaxation at its heart and plenty of space for kids to be themselves.
When you pull up outside the square glass building, you’d be forgiven for thinking you’ve arrived at a conference centre or an airport terminal, but as soon as you step inside you understand the reason for the angular glass exterior.
The Oitavos has been designed to embrace, rather than compete with, the natural landscape. The building cleverly brings the outside in, flooding the spacious interior with natural light. When you’re inside, it can be hard to tell where the hotel wall ends and the wild terrain outside begins.
Even the Oitavos’s famous golf course has been carefully built around the existing natural landscape, so the surrounding environment is natural and undisturbed.
Spring is a great time for families to visit, when the landscape is on the cusp of turning brown and there is still a smattering of pretty springtime flowers. We visited in May half term and the weather was a pleasant 27 degrees, with a refreshing breeze blowing in from the Atlantic.
Kids (and workaholics) will be relieved that the free wifi works well throughout the hotel. There is no kids club, but the hotel is happy to provide a nanny and 24hour babysitting services.
The rooms at the Oitavos are more accurately described as suites, as they’re all at least 40 square metres, with a living area with a desk and sofa. Every room has its own sunny, private balcony from which you’ll look our over either the surrounding natural landscape, the Atlantic Ocean or the famous Oitavos Dunes golf course.
The sofa in the spacious living area pulls out to become a bed for kids. The Loft rooms have an open-plan bathroom, where the only privacy for the bath and toilet is a frosted panel. If this is going to be an issue, be sure to request a Room (rather than a Loft or a Suite), as they have enclosed, seperate bathrooms.
The hotel offers 12 rooms with connecting doors and two master suites where it is possible to have two children up to 16 sleeping in the living room.
Start your day by choosing from mouth-watering choice of local breads, cooked eggs and fresh mango, cherries papaya and kiwi at the Oitavos hotel breakfast. There’s a huge range of food, delivered with real Portuguese flair. The warm custard tarts (Pastel de nata) are to die for and we kept going back for more, under the pretense that we wanted to photograph them.
For the rest of the day, there are four dining options at the Oitavos. The Ipsylon Restaurant is an elegant, open eatery in the centre of the hotel, where the food combines traditional Portuguese and French cuisine (the chef is French). Just don’t fill up on local olive oil and dipping bread! Kids love the fresh fish and creamy mash, and the chips are irresistible.
Kids also go mad for the ‘surprise flower’ dessert. It arrives looking like a ball of chocolate and when custard is poured into the bowl and comes into contact with the flower, chocolate petals open and let appear a macaroon with chocolate, a scoop of vanilla ice cream, raspberry and violets. This is the creation of pastry chef Joaquim Sousa, and a video of the flower has over 1 million YouTube views!
At the golf clubhouse, you’ll find Vebrasco Restaurant, which is worth a visit if only for the breathtaking view. Pick a spot on the terrace and take in views of the umbrella pine trees and the Atlantic Ocean. This is a great option for lunch. There’s nowhere better to sample the region’s best dishes.
If you book ahead, you and the kids can dine at the Chef’s Table in the Ipsylon Restaurant kitchen. Chef Cyrill Devillier will create a bespoke menu, to suit your family’s own particular tastes, as well as a special menu for the little ones. Chef’s Table is available on Thursday, Fridays and Saturdays, and are for a maximum of six.
Eating out in Sintra
Lunch at Restaurante da Adraga, on Praia da Adraga beach, is a must. Tucked inside a sandy cove, the restaurant doesn’t look like anything special from the outside – like a regular fish and chip café on the British seaside – but the food is spectacular. Away from the tourist traps and a 15 Euro taxi ride from Sintra , the restaurant has been in the same family for 100 years and is populated by locals, which speaks for itself.
The fish is wonderfully fresh – the chef brings it to the table raw so you choose your portion, and then it returns cooked whole, minutes later, served with potatoes and spinach, and filleted at the table. The clams in olive oil, garlic and parsley are unforgettable, and daring diners are invited to have a go at sucking slippery barnacles from their shells.
It may not be as swanky as other restaurants, but when it comes to food, quality wins over everything else, and that’s what Restaurante da Adrga has in spades.
What to do
Golf, surf and play
The Oitavis is rightly proud of its golf course, which ranks as the 65th best in the world and the second best in mainland Europe. Golf lessons are available on the hotel course for kids from 6 years, and you’ll also find surf lessons and horse riding tours nearby, which can be organised by the Concierge.
In the basement you’ll find a gym, complete with a torturous looking Pilates bed, and an impressive spa, offering a full menu of treatments, as well as a heated sea water pool, a sauna, Turkish bath and jacuzzi, and an ice fountain. Accessing the ‘Baineotherapy Area’ (gym and spa) is 25 Euro per room per day.
Explore the coast
To get around, you can rent a car from the airport, but taxis are also readily available and affordable if you prefer the easy life. You can hire bikes from the hotel for 12.50 Euro, which is good value if you want to take them out for a day trip.
You can walk to the charming town of Cascais in less than half an hour if the little ones are up to it, or a taxi from the hotel costs about 7 Euro. CasCais (pronounced kush-kaish) is steeped in history and is packed with interesting natural and architectural sites – as well as sandy beaches, lapped by the pulsing Atlantic waves, and plenty of yummy ice cream.
The beach at Cascais was already very busy when we visited in May, so we could only imagine that in the summer you’d have to fight tooth and nail for a spot.
Away from the beach, Caiscas’s winding lanes lead you through the pedestrianised old town where you’ll find quirky, small shops selling reasonably priced painted crockery. Watch your step on those cobbled streets though – I came home with a stubbed toe and smashed phone screen. For active kids, there are opportunities to try surfing at Praia do Guincho, 9km to the northwest. To explore further afield, a train from CasCais station will get you to Lisbon in 40 minutes.
A day trip to the enchanting town of Sintra is a must, especially for any fairy-tale fans. Nestled among thick, ferny forests and set against rolling mountains, the twinkling palaces of Sintra are straight from the pages of a story. With a Unesco World Heritage listing, Sintra is was home to 18th century Portuguese royals, and it’s easy to picture them enjoying the idyllic gardens. Unsurprisingly, Sintra is a tourist hot spot, so head there in the early morning, mid-week, for your best chance of escaping the masses.
How to get there
TAP Portugal has daily flights from Manchester, London Heathrow & Gatwick to Lisbon. Prices start at £121 return including all taxes and surcharges. For more information, visit flytap.com or call 0345 601 0932.