PORTUGAL’S ALGARVE COAST averages 300 sun-filled days a year. I’d been there for six of them, and my skin showed every one. I’m not sure which was worse — dehydration from the sun or the layers of SPF-30 I’d slathered on every day. It was time to head to Martinhal’s Finisterra Spa for some serious repair work.
With my husband, Tim, and 16-year-old Mary, I had been at this 5-star resort for two days after spending a few in the central Algarve, where resorts (and beach-goers) sit elbow to elbow. We were enjoying the more laid-back feel of the Algarve’s western end, with its sleepy towns and uncrowded beaches.
The area around Martinhal is a protected natural park, and after arriving we’d followed a cliff-top trail along the wild Atlantic side of Cape Saint Vincent, walking from vertigo-inducing heights to long, golden beaches where we watched surfers challenging some of Europe’s best waves. For us it was a spectator sport, although Mary was inspired to sign up for a surfing lesson at the resort’s Water Sports Center.
While she did face-plants in the surf, Tim and I kayaked with one of the center’s guides to explore the sea caves and crystal waters of rocky outcrops we could see from the balcony of our room. Paddling made Tim notice how stiff his shoulders were from carrying camera equipment, making the prospect of a relaxing massage really alluring. So he was happy to join Mary and me as we headed for our spa experiences.
Martinhal’s spa resides in its own building in a natural landscape apart from the hotel, villas and recreation areas. This enhances a remote-from-the-world feeling appropriate to its name, Finisterra, which means “end of the Earth” — a reference to Martinhal’s location at the southwesternmost point in Europe.
It was on this remote point jutting into the Atlantic that Prince Henry the Navigator gathered the top navigators, geographers and mapmakers of the Golden Age of Discoveries to plan and direct the explorations that made Portugal a great 15thcentury empire. The gold these explorers brought back still covers the altars and walls of Baroque churches like the one we saw in nearby Lagos. The location makes Martinhal a perfect base for exploring the western Algarve, but we were spa-bound, so gold-washed churches and Prince Henry’s outpost on the windswept point had to wait for another day.
Fulfilling its promise as a family resort, Martinhal’s spa has treatments for everyone: mom and child facials, father and child back massages, mother and child manicures, and a range of Tweens & Teens offerings. Along with massages and manicures, the teen options include facials with masks and moisturizers, and introductions to skin care and establishing beauty routines. No stranger to spas, Mary wasn’t the least bit shy about following the smiling therapist who ushered her off for her facial. Tim and I lazed a little longer in the hot tub overlooking the natural landscape before we headed for our own bit of nirvana.
The spa menu offers a dizzying list of options, and I really wanted to say, “One of each, please.” Massages include detox with herbal compresses, anti-stress deep-tissue back massage, full-body massage, reflexology, Ayurveda and head massages, but Tim selected the seaweed leaf and hot stones treatment, designed to relax tense and aching muscles.
The spa’s body treatments use VOYA products, based on organic seaweed that contains iodine, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. I was tempted by the Detox Mud Wrap, an 80- minute seaweed wrap that renews damaged cells, but instead chose the Sweet Ocean treatment, Finisterra’s signature body scrub with local sweet orange and almond bark in sweet almond oil. (Almond trees are a legacy of the area’s Moorish occupation; in February the hillsides are so white with their blossoms, it’s called “Algarve snow.”) This skin-brightening face and body massage with hot towels and organic lavender immersed me in another world, one of divine fragrances.
My sun-damaged face needed special attention, so I added an Ocean Fresh Facial, a mask especially designed for sun-exposed skin, and a Seaweed Marine eye treatment that uses Atlantic seaweed, green tea and vitamin C to refresh, firm and hydrate sun-tired eyes.
Mary and Tim were long gone when I finally emerged a new woman to stretch out with a cool drink in the relaxation area. This, like the entire resort, was built from and decorated with local materials — native woods, stone, cork and natural fibers. The interiors maximize natural light — even the treatment rooms are lit by skylights — and the glass wall of the relaxation area overlooks a garden with a Zen-like design of plants and grasses indigenous to the Western Algarve. All the gardens and landscaping at Martinhal follow this ethic, as does the architecture of low, whitewashed buildings that hug the hillside, echoing the traditional Algarve houses.
As I looked out across the peaceful, sun-drenched landscape, I really could believe I was at the end of the Earth.
Martinhal Beach Family Resort Hotel
Quinta do Martinhal,
8650-908 Sagres, Portugal
tel 351 282 240 200
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I had just taken off my sandals, stepping onto the white-sand beach for a late-morning walk to a secluded spot I heard about from a front desk clerk, when I glanced down and saw the time on my phone. It had just turned 11 a.m., which meant it was only 7 am back home, the perfect time to call and say good morning to by husband before he left for work. Not quite ready to head back to my room, I decided I’d test the WiFi signal and made the call as I continued walking toward the shoreline.
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