Martinhal Beach Resort and Hotel

September is a lovely time of year to go on holiday in The Algarve – not too busy and not too hot. We’ve just returned from a perfect week in the Martinhal Beach Resort and Hotel near Sagres which is right at the furthest south-west tip of Portugal.Martinhal beachWe’ve been to Martinhal before and have been singing the resort’s praises ever since. There’s something about it which I wish the owner’s could bottle and sell to other beach resorts as I don’t think there are many other places out there which get it so right.

The Location? Tick.Hotel Martinhal Beach Room

The Food? Tick.

The Accommodation? Tick.

The Facilities? Tick.

Weather? Tick.

Staff? Tick.

Martinhal Beach Resort & Hotel

Martinhal is a 5 Star resort in an incredible location on an unspoiled part of The Algarve. We were in a Beach Room and we had a beautiful view of the sea, cliffs, beach and grasses fluttering in the light breeze. No nasty, high-rise hotels to spoil the view, no hordes of sunburnt holiday-makers taking up every single available space on the beach! It was bliss. We had our own private, tranquil terrace to sit Martinhal gardensand read (or sleep) and soak up the views and we made the most of this every day.

It was just a short walk down the path from the Beach Rooms to get to the lovely beach below us. The sea was crystal clear and the beach was clean and quiet – all-in-all idyllic really. A little beach bar serving nice cold beers amongst other things pretty much sealed the deal for us. What’s not to like?

Most mornings we were up earlyish to go for breakfast in O Terraco Restaurant where there was the option to sit outside – always nice to do when you’re on holidays! There was plenty of choice in the breakfast buffet and you could order O Terraco restaurant Martinhalextras if you so wanted. I had crepes one morning and Mr. C had an omelette but to be honest the buffet was so good that we tended to choose from what was on offer. The breakfast pastries were particularly good as was the fresh fruit and most important of all, the coffee was good, hot and plentiful.

The evening meals in O Terraco were excellent, well-presented and reflect the hotel’s 5 Star status. We both ate the fish of the day in As Dunas one evening and it was to die for.  I don’t know what secret the management team have here at Martinhal but on both our visits there, we have only ever come across brilliant staff. The restaurant staff are spot-on with the right balance of friendliness, chattiness and professionalism. The service is  kind of ‘informally’ formal, if that makes sense. The waiting staff do everything exactly as they should but you don’t get that awkward constant hovering seafood risottoobsequiousness you get in some 5 star places.

Since our last visit they’ve opened up a new bar called The M Bar. Great cocktails, decor and staff but sadly lacking in atmosphere at the moment which is a real shame. Perhaps as it becomes an established fixture at Martinhal it will fill-up in the evenings and they’ll get a bit more of a buzz going on? I hope so as it’s a lovely addition to the Resort.

Martinhal poolThere are 5 different pools areas at Martinhal but our favourite was the Club 98 one. Whichever pool you went too though, there were always ample sunbeds and umbrellas (other hotels, take note!) and people to take that vital order for ‘2 Mojitos please’!

We’re the sort of people on holidays who just want to lounge around reading, relaxing and doing nothing in particular except perhaps go for a swim to cool down and enjoy good food and drink. However for those of you who like a more active holiday, Martinhal has activities galore on offer like surfing, sailing, cycling, tennis, Zumba, Pilates and Yoga. Personally I don’t understand how Finisterra Spaanyone can play a tennis match when it’s so hot. I have to escape under sun umbrellas just to read my Kindle! I did avail myself of the wonderful Finisterra Spa though and ‘chillaxed’ so much, I actually fell asleep having my facial.

Martinhal Beach Resort & Hotel is a brilliant place to go for a holiday whatever sort of holiday you want – self-catering, B&B or Half-Board. It’s as perfect a place for couples as young families or families with older children too. We saw quite a few multi-generational famiies there while we were there – handy having Granny and Grandad to babysit occasionally for you to have some ‘Couple-Time’!

Would I recommend Martinhal? Yes I would, of course I would. I can’t imagine how anyone couldn’t have a good holiday there – it’s simply perfect! Book at www.martinhal.com Monarch

We flew with Monarch from Gatwick to Faro with the minimal of fuss and used Holiday Extras to book our parking and a hotel the night before we travelled.

 

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September 2014 in Pictures

 

Celtic Manor Resort

Women say it’s always hard to buy presents for a man.  As a man I tend to disagree: we’re easily pleased really.  A bottle of beer, a new toothbrush, some new socks – they’re all nice to have.  Of course the older we become, the easier we are to please too, I think, so when presented with the gift of a stay at the Celtic Manor for my birthday, I wasn’t just pleased, I was very pleased indeed!Celtic Manor Foyer

By now most people know the Celtic Manor as that place where Obama and Co. stayed for the recent NATO summit.  While we were there, all the preparations were taking place for the upcoming event, with miles of reinforced steel fencing, concrete blocks on the approach roads and, in our own opinion, an impending sense of doom.  Celtic Manor Atrium Front WindowBut once past the ring of steel you can immediately see why this is fast becoming a globally known hotel/resort.  Since its hosting of golf’s prestigious Ryder Cup back in 2010 it has become more and more ‘on the map’.

Once parked in its own internal multi-level car park we made our way into the impressive cathedral-dimensioned foyer, which is encased with curves, modern artworks and sculptures and loads of light from the huge glass atrium and enormous front window which rises the entire height of the building.

After checking-in we were shown to our room – sorry, ‘suite’, which looks out over the lower Usk valley and over to the Severn Bridges.  The resort is shrouded by its own woodlands and the magnificent golf courses, including the renowned ‘Twenty Ten’ where the aforementioned Ryder Cup battle took place.  The room was huge, with a lounge/dining area, a small loo near the entrance, a separate bedroom and the bathroom.  Each room had floor-to-ceiling windows and a little terrace from which you could get a panoramic view of the picturesque surroundings.Celtic Manor - View from our room

Now I, as described at the top of this post, am easily pleased and I thought the Celtic Manor was a really lovely place, with luxurious furniture and beautiful views.  The bathroom was huge with a big double-bath and separate walk-in shower.  Mrs C, however being a little more discerning than me is a stickler for detail, so when she pointed out things like the lighting in the bathroom as being a bit ‘Aaaaarrrggghhh’ with little control and even less ambience – and the decor as being a little short of ‘contemporary’ I immediately started questioning my own sense of judgement. Celtic Manor - The Bathroom Why have all these fancy little cornices and carvings, which are a right pain to keep clean, when you could have new smooth lines which look so smart and have no integral dust-traps? she asks. (Not that they were dusty, of course – everything was immaculate!)  Having forgotten to bring my own duster with me I hadn’t even considered the practicalities of domestic responsibility on this occasion, but perhaps she did have a point.

I, meanwhile, was pondering the evening’s meal choices at the fine-dining ‘Terry M’ restaurant, which certainly didn’t disappoint at all.  The meal was fantastic.  I chose a Sewen (Sea Trout) starter and a Beef Fillet main, both of which were as close to perfect as I’ve ever tasted.  Each course was interspersed with petits amuse bouches, all of which were delicious and our choice of Portuguese Douro Valley wine complemented it all perfectly.

Drinks in Merlin’s Bar were lovely too and again, as I’d forgotten my j-cloth and Cif spray I was blissfully unaware of some cleaning issues dutifully pointed out to me by Mrs C who, returning from the loos, was a little disappointed by the state of play at the time in the ladies.

Breakfast the following morning was …. busy!  It was akin to doing battle with the Boxing-Day sales, with all three buffets 3-deep with malnourished, starving guests who had trekked for days across wilderness and desert to find sustenance in bacon, egg and waffles.Our room at Celtic Manor  In all fairness, the buffet was very well stocked and I enjoyed my ‘full monty’.  Even though it all seemed like a military strategy, the walkie-talkie-clad staff managed it all effortlessly and it ran like a well-oiled machine.

Putting aside Mrs C’s natural tendency to nit-pick, the Celtic Manor is a big, impressive and high-class establishment with so much to do for grown-ups and kids alike; whether it’s a pamper session in the Elemis Spa, a round of golf on one of the 3 courses or simply burying yourself in a good book in a comfy sofa, this place has it all and you’d be hard-pressed to find much better resort in the UK for an ‘away from it all’ break with – or without the family.

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Top Tips For Healthy Hair

Winter is around the corner, and that means bad things for my hair although to be honest my hair’s not in brilliant condition right now either after my recent holiday in Portugal.  Extreme conditions, whether cold or sun, have never been my friend, so I learned long ago that I have two options. One, I go into hibernation every so often which simply isn’t practical or two, I get help from the professionals

The Chapel hair salonBelow is some advice from The Chapel hair salon, Sevenoaks who also happen to have some brilliant tips and helpful hints and videos on their blog. (I love the video tutorial below on how to do a French Braid!)

Top Tips for Healthy Hair:

Let your hair air dry (partially)
It’s winter, it’s cold, so you go straight from the shower to the hair dryer. According to the experts, this is the wrong move. Instead, you should let your hair air dry while you do other parts of getting ready. It’s OK to get the excess off with a bit of dryer time, but most should be allowed to dry naturally. When it’s about 80% dry, it’s the prime time to go into styling it, making sure you use a heat protection serum as part of the routine.

Use only the products you need

There are so many different hair care products available, it can be tempting to fill up an entire bathroom with just things for your hair. However, check what you actually need for your particular hair type and hairstyle. A hair salon can also help you with this, so ask your stylist for recommendations for what you need and what you don’t. Most hairdressers will give you advice even if you don’t have your hair cut with them.

Don’t colour from the box

cutting hairAsk any professional stylist their hair pet peeves and they’re bound to say box hair colour. While it’s convenient and cheap, the stuff you buy in the shops can do some major damage to your hair. Instead, go to a stylist and get the colour done right. It will look better, last longer, and can be more easily touched up as it grows out.

Choose the right style

Amazingly, having the right hair style for your face and lifestyle can make a big difference to the health of your hair. It makes sense, though. If you have long hair, but are constantly pulling it back, you can be causing damage. Instead, consider a shorter style that meets your needs.

Don’t wash it too often

This can be a controversial topic for many women, but the general consensus is that over-washing is a bad thing. Have a think in the mornings whether you really need to wash your hair. In the winter, you might find that you only need to wash your hair every few days. This can help keep the natural oils in place, resulting in healthier hair.

Watch what you eat and drink

The final bit of advice for healthy hair is to keep healthy in general. Like any part of your body, your hair will suffer if you aren’t eating and drinking properly. Good nutrition and lots of water are essential to having great hair. It’s not to say you can’t have a few treats, but keep them in moderation if you want a good hair day every day.

One more thing – I’ve always been pretty useless at doing stuff like French Braids but this video below showing you how to do a French Braid is brilliant!

Docteur Renaud Iris Lift Pore-Reducing Gel-Cream

 Docteur Renaud Iris Lift Pore-Reducing Gel-CreamThe last week or so, I’ve been using Docteur Renaud Iris Lift Pore-Reducing Gel-Cream instead of my usual moisturiser and so far so good…….
One of the things that happens to our skin as we get older (wrinkles, fine lines and loss of firmness apart!) is that our pores become more visible. I can genuinely say that until a couple of years ago, I’d never thought too much about my pores. They’ve never been particularly visible and I’ve never really suffered from blocked pores. Then another ‘big birthday’ passed and woah….where did all those pores come from?! Now of course part of the problem is possibly the fact that my skin tone is less even nowadays and of course the light bounces differently off older skin. This means that imperfections show up even more than on peachy young skin.

Anyway, I was sent this anti-ageing gel-cream by Doctuer Renaud and thought it was worth trying it out to see if it actually did what it said ‘on the box’. It’s absorbed quite quickly which is a definite plus as I hate having to wait ages for my moisturiser to sink in before I put my make-up on in the mornings. Every minute Docteur Renaud logomore it takes to get ready in the morning is another minute less in bed after all!
Some reviewers have said that it leaves their sking feeling velvety but I can’t say I’ve noticed that at all.  It also claims to have a ‘radiance-boosting’ effect but Mr. C hasn’t noticed. At least he hasn’t said ‘Hey you’re looking remarkably radiant today’ recently so I don’t feel I can comment on the radiance-boosting properties.

The crunch question is ‘Would I buy it again’ and the answer to that would be ‘Yes, probably’. Not an unresounding success but definitely worth trying if visible pores are your ‘thing’.

The Thumbs Up to Docteur Renaud Iris Lift Pore-Reducing Gel Cream.

PS. The ingredient which helps tighten the dilated pores and reduce imperfections is ‘pistachio tree resin’. Who’d have thought hey…..?

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My Bread Maker

I bought a bread maker a while back which has been languishing in one of the kitchen cupboards since the initial flurry of excitement and fresh bread every day for a fortnight! A couple of loaves in a row failed to rise and served to dampen our enthusiasm – as it does! The bread-maker was put away and as you know, once you remove something from sight in a kitchen, it very often gets forgotten about.  Anyway I’ve dug it back out again with the intention of baking our own bread again and this time, by hook or by crook, I’ll be keeping it out on one of the kitchen work surfaces to remind me!

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hand sanitiserHere’s a quick Twitter Competition to Win a Mucky Mitts Skin Friendly Hand Sanitiser!

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Our Holiday in Malta and Gozo – The Fortina Spa Resort and The Hotel Ta’Cenc

GozoWe’ve been back from our holidays for over a week now but it seems like aeons ago that we were in sunny Malta and Gozo. I love holidays and I find the switch from work to relax-mode very easy. It’s the other way around I struggle with. Sunday the sun is shining, you’re lying, chilled as chilled can be, on a sunbed catching up on the latest Jodi Picoult or whatever. Monday in a cooler, greyer office you’re meant to shake yourself up as if the holiday never happened and knuckle down to some work which inevitably has doubled in volume in the time you’ve been away. The build-up to holidays is exciting, the come-down though is far less pleasant. Perhaps it should be compulsory to only work half-days in the week you get back from your annual holiday?

Fortina Hotel PoolAnyone enough of the moaning and down to the nitty-gritty. We have just spent a lovely week almost evenly divided between Malta and Gozo. I’d start by saying a week wasn’t really enough but then I’d be back in whinge-mode wouldn’t I? It wasn’t though…… I could have happily stayed a fortnight in Gozo alone!

There were a shed-load of scare stories about our airports in the week before we went and I ended up convincing myself we’d be hanging around at the airport for 12 hours and our luggage would be bound to go missing etc. Huh!! Monarch flew us very comfortably on the Saturday night and we landed in Malta 15 minutes ahead of schedule. There we only waited about 5 minutes for our luggage and were in our hotel amlmost before we should have landed. Thank you Monarch!

The Fortina Spa Resort

Our first hotel was the 5 Star Fortina Spa Resort based on the harbour-front in Sliema with a sleepy Valetta just across the water. As it was 3ish on Sunday morning when we checked in, we understandably thought we’d leave the exploring until after we’d had a sleep. And so it was 6 hours later we woke up, opened the Terrace Restaurantcurtains and had our first proper look around. The sun was shining, the pool below was beckoning from our balcony and our room was ‘something else’. I’ve never seen so many gadgets & gizmos in a hotel room ever. We had a Spa bedroom with a bubbly fairy-lights-lit Hot Tub behind our bed, a shower/sauna for two in the bath-room, another massaging spa bath and (get this) a Dermalife Detox Machine too. Not only did we have all this, but we also had a mysterious spiral-staircase on our balcony which led up to a roof-top PRIVATE POOL!!! Yup, I’m shouting that bit! This pool really made our holiday. It was absolutely fantastic. Every day we lay on our own (guaranteed) sunbeds alternately reading, dreaming and dipping in the pool. It was heavenly.

The various hotel restaurants were based below us in the gardens around the pools. There was a Chinese and Thai, a Japanese, Italian and Taste where breakfast was served every day specialised in Mediterranean and Vietnamese dishes. We really wanted to try the Chinese Restaurant but it was fully-booked the Fortina Whirlpool Spanight we wanted and was closed the next – the moral is make sure to book early. The Pool Bar had lovely low-key entertainment in the evenings and whilst Mr. C went for the local beer, I was more than happy with the choice of cocktails.

I’d say the hotel, which seemed huge by the way, was probably more 4 star than 5 and if truth be told, the bedroom decor could do with updating with a more contemporary look, but The Fortina Spa Resort couldn’t have been in a better location and I now feel spolit for all other holidays in the sun as I’m sure they’ll come up wanting unless they offer me a private pool too!

I found Malta to be a pretty busy, bustling place in stark contrast to the sleepier, quieter, older Gozo where we spent the latter part of our week. The ferry-ride from Tac'Cenc groundsMalta to Gozo took no more than 15 minutes and then the taxi to our hotel in Sannat was another 10 minutes. We stayed in the Hotel Ta’Cenc & Spa (pronounced Tachench) which is at the island’s highest point so has pretty spectacular views all around. The Ta’Cenc is one of these hideaway-type resorts so you don’t really see all the accommodation wherever you are in the hotel and grounds. The little Gozitan bungalows are dotted around in the gardens and blend seamlessly into their foliage-rich surroundings. The pools were lovely with stunning views and the whole set-up was very relaxing. We obviously made our ‘home’ by the ‘adults pool’ and not the family Ta'Cenc Poolpool but neither seemed all that busy and there were sunbeds for everyone. I wasn’t so happy with our room though as I found it too dark and frankly too cold and not in a pleasantly air-conditioned way. I like to have a nice view when I wake up in the mornings on holiday and I was disappointed to find that we didn’t have that. Also I want my room to have a bright, sunny ‘feel’. The rooms though are built in a traditional Gozo style with small windows to keep them cool – perhaps I should have found that out before I went so that I had different expectations?

The food was good though (the breakfasts particularly so), the sun shone, my book was a real page-turner, the setting was amazing and to top it all we were Ta'cenc Restaurantable to spend lots of our time with daughter Maddie, a medical student, who is spending her Summer in Gozo doing her ‘Elective’ in the General Hospital in Victoria. Every day after ‘work’ she’d come over to our pool from Il Girna, the Guest-House she’s based in and conveniently right by Ta’Cenc and the three of us would lie by the pool reading and chatting lazily in the sunshine. It was fairly windy whilst we were in Gozo but the Gozitans were at pains to tell us ‘how this never happens’ and ‘it’s never windy’. I found the breeze a welcome relief to be honest as it was absolutely boiling without it!

Gozo has plenty to offer but this time we barely skimmed the surface. Next time we’ll go for longer and perhaps explore a bit more. Gozo was much more my ‘cup of tea’ than Malta but that ‘Private Pool’ was the real highlight of the holiday!

Monarch logoWe flew with Monarch from East Midlands to Luqa. Monarch operates year round flights to Malta from East Midlands airport with all-in fares starting from £39.99 one way or more realistically £105.69 return – because let’s be fair, most of us have to book a return ticket! Go to www.monarch.co.uk

We used the Holiday Extras Meet and Greet Parking service.

We stayed at the Fortina Spa Resort in Malta  and the Hotel Ta’Cenc & Spa  in Gozo.  I read The Storyteller by Jodi Picoult and it was brilliant!

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Mary Elizabeth Camellia and Geranium Gentle Face Scrub

Mary Elizabeth face scrubRecently I’ve been trying out the Camellia and Geranium Gentle Face Scrub from Mary Elizabeth Bodycare. Mary Elizabeth have been going for a few years now making natural skincare products full of vitamin-enriched plant oils and organic essential oils.

I have tried so many face scrubs over the years which have left my skin feeling raw and very pink (well red really!), that I’m always a tad sceptical when trying out new ones. Well I needn’t have worried as this Camellia & Geranium Gentle Face Scrub was gentle as gentle can be. Like many ‘natural’ skin products, it’s not highly perfumed. It’s got a kind of earthy scent I suppose and not unpleasant like many of its competitors. I don’t know about you but I’m genuinely often put off by many natural products because they don’t smell particularly nice.

Mary Elizabeth Camellia and Geranium Gentle Face Scrub

On the Mary Elizabeth website, it says you can use this moisturising face scrub every day to cleanse and brighten your complexion as it’s so gentle. Well I don’t want to tempt fate so I’ve only been using it a few times a week and that works for me. As well as Vitamin A, the face scrub contains camellia oil and avocado oil which combine with the Geranium and Lavender to ‘soothe, smooth and renew your skin’.

Mary Elizabeth logoIt’s dead easy to use and all I’ve been doing is massaging it onto my face before my morning shower. Once I’m in the shower, I massage my face again and rinse off. My skin is feeling particularly bright and clear at the moment. I’m not sure wheter to attribute it to my new face scrub or a combination of that, my Lulu & Boo moisturiser and good old sunshine!?

Needless to say, I really do recommend the Mary Elizabeth Camellia and Geranium Gentle Face Scrub – I just wish it wasn’t such a mouthful to say!

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Best Mascara

no7 mascaraOk, so over the years I have tried loads and loads of different mascaras and to be honest, most of them were ok some of the time, some of them were awful and I’d say one or two of them are probably the best mascara I’ve ever tried!

My favourite go-to everyday mascara is Boots No7 Extreme Length Mascara. It doesn’t clump and stays put pretty much all day. It definitely makes my eyelashes look longer but in a natural way – in other words it doesn’t look as if I’m wearing false eye-lashes. I’m not a falsies sort of woman so this suits me right down to the ground. I saw over on Helena’s Blog that she’s a fan of the No7 Extreme Length Mascara too and to be honest I’m not surprised. What’s not to like? It’s without doubt, one for the best mascara category!

Clinique High Impact Waterproof MascaraI’ve just come back from holidays where I found that Clinique High Impact Waterproof Mascara is without doubt the best waterproof mascara I’ve ever used. Even though I had my eye-lashes tinted before I went, I was still popping on a bit of mascara in the mornings before setting myself up at the pool for the day. I know, I know …… why was I bothering? Well I’m quite fair and without mascara I genuinely don’t look as if I’ve got any eyelashes as they really are so blonde. Call me vain but hey, I’m no spring-chicken and take all the help I can! My Clinique Waterproof Mascara didn’t run once and only came off if I used either make-up remover wipes suitable for waterproof mascara or my usual eye-make-up remover.

Maybelline Waterproof MascarI actually bought Maybelline The Colossal Volum’ Express Waterproof Mascara first and I’m so glad that I tried it out in the week before I went away. How on earth Maybelline can call it waterproof when it wouldn’t even stay on with the usual everyday wear! Ok granted, it was a hot week and I suppose there could have been a bit of sweating but waterproof mascara which can’t even handle warm weather sweating, is hardly waterproof. If it’s not smudge-proof, how can they call it waterproof? I’ve never had ‘panda eyes’ so bad as when I was wearing the Maybelline Waterproof Mascara – it’s possibly the worst mascara I’ve ever tried, in fact!

So there you have it – the best mascara and the worst mascara!