Chitra Stern and her husband Roman, who own and run the Martinhal Family Hotels and Resorts; (bottom) kids enjoy themselves at one of the resorts
Image: Martinhal Family Hotels and Resorts
In the course of our stay at three of the four Martinhal Family Hotels and Resorts in Portugal, we witnessed typical cameos: High chairs decked with white napery and sturdy melamine crockery in an elegant fine dining restaurant, where a toddler petulantly flung a glass to check out the law of gravity. No one stared disapprovingly at the tyke. Meanwhile, another toddler chose to have a meltdown because he wanted to head back to the Kid’s Corner. A father pushed his infant son back and forth in a stroller to help him sleep, even as a couple of older kids chugged into the restaurant, with toy suitcases in tow. One night, a magician did the rounds of the tables, doing card tricks and, at breakfast the following morning, Rafi the fox, the hotel group’s mascot, strutted in to shake hands with the children who squealed with delight. There were fugitive and open smiles everywhere as parents looked on indulgently.
“Families, especially those travelling with kids, feel welcome here,” says Chitra Stern, 47, who, along with her husband Roman, 48, owns and runs Martinhal Family Hotels and Resorts. “Elsewhere, children are considered noisy and irritating. There are family-friendly hotels and resorts where the Kid’s Corner is an afterthought with a few toys. But we go the extra mile. At our resorts, children are the primary source of inspiration when providing service.”
Entrepreneur and multitasking mum of four, Singapore-born Stern, whose parents hail from Chennai, met her Swiss husband Roman while working in Munich. Today, you could call her a citizen of the world, for Portugal, where she has lived for 17 years, has also got under her skin.
The magnificent coastline and the champagne-coloured, cliff-backed beaches of the Algarve region is where they opened their first flagship property, Martinhal Sagres Beach Family Resort Hotel in 2010. It overlooks a sweeping beach on the south-western tip of Europe, once believed to be the end of the world. Subsequently, they opened three more resorts: Martinhal Quinta do Lago, surrounded by a golf course and the Ria Formosa Natural Park; the cosy and picturesque Martinhal Lisbon Cascais Family Hotel in the middle of two championship golf courses, a half-hour drive from Lisbon; and the Martinhal Lisbon Chiado Family Suites in a vintage building in the historic and fashionable heart of Lisbon.
The Martinhal group’s core philosophy that kids are the divas and potential repeat guests springs from the Sterns’ own experience with their children on holidays. “We would lug along bottle warmers, sterilisers, mobile cots, strollers and baby potties… the works,” says Stern. All of these items now figure on the Baby Concierge list of the hotels, which also include rooms with bunk beds. “Guests may request these to be put in their room in advance or ask for them after check-in. This allows parents to travel light, knowing that they don’t have to lug heavy luggage across the country or the world! Even today, our two sons and two daughters, who helped develop the product in a way, continue to give us feedback.”
‘Happy kids make happy parents’ is the raison d’etre of their family hotels and resorts. Indeed, Martinhal’s greatest gift of all is the luxury of time to harried parents. “Our guests don’t have to run after their kids, we do that for them,” says Stern, who is the recipient of several international accolades, including Person of the Year by Family Travel Association 2017, Amadeus Brighter Awards 2015, and London Business School Global Awards 2014.