School holidays looming large? Craving a pre-Christmas escape or a Chinese New Year getaway? Time to fill in tan-lines? These 10 family-friendly designer dens were all contenders at the inaugural Smith Hotel Awards, so you need no excuse to whisk your Brady Bunch away. Each of the Smith Best for Families award finalists rolls out the red carpet for the youngest of guests and has plenty of parent-pleasing extras. From sun-drenched beaches to paddle-perfect pools and rooms dedicated to chocolate, these incredible escapes have kids’ clubs so stylish and activities so squeal-worthy, you’ll never have to venture beyond the hotel walls.
Taking luxury family holidays to a new level, Soneva Kiri has a jaw-dropping jungle-meets-ocean locale, switched-on service, a fun-loving attitude and a beyond impressive kids’ club, sure to seduce the young and young-at-heart. With activities to thrill, excite and occupy broods of all sizes for days on end, it’s no surprise that Soneva Kiri nabbed itself Smith’s Best for Families award.
For a stylish snooze, Oceanfront Pool Villa Suites numbers one to five are a short stroll from the restaurant and kids’ club. Extra beds in the dressing room off the bedroom can sleep up to two young’uns. Larger families will suit the two-bedroom Cliff Pool Villa Suite, kitted out with its own spa deck, balconies and private pool. Featuring expansive ocean vistas, the two-bedroom Ocean Pool Villa Suite has the same relaxed luxury as other suites and has direct access to a private beach, as well as a wraparound swimming pool and sun-drenched decks.
Having asked groups of children to design their own dream play area, architect Olav Bruin created a dream of a kids’ club. His bamboo structure resembles a manta ray, elegantly swimming through the treetops. The focus is on nature and creativity, and highlights include the drawbridge entrance, a slide exit and rooms dedicate to art, music and fashion. Little Smiths will get their cultural kicks from learning the Thai alphabet, creating a local toy, learning a Thai instrument or trying their hand at traditional batik. The club is designed for under-13s; access is free. Outside the Den, children can build sandcastles on the sugar-sand beach, feed Soneva Kiri’s wild boars, play tennis, go snorkelling, visit the local village or hunt for crabs.
Children are welcome at all of Soneva Kiri’s restaurants and chefs are happy to customise meals to suit fussy palates. After a speedboat jaunt through the mangroves, little Smiths will love flopping onto the floor cushions at Benz, a lantern-lit Thai restaurant helmed by Khun Benz and propped up on stilts. For a meal in the trees, book a perch in a bamboo pod at Treepod (suitable for over-11s) and be winched up to six metres in the air to enjoy views of the rainforest and waves below – the acrobatic skills of your zip-lining waiter are perfect mealtime entertainment. Budding Willy Wonkas will go mad with glee at the So Chilled and So Chocoholic parlours that serve go-for-it smatterings of ice-cream, chocolate, cakes and pastries… best not to tell any dentists about this one! Check out Sassy Mama editor Kate’s full review of Soneva Kiri here.
Intro Castle-like and candle-lit, Borgo Egnazia is the first runner up for the Smith Best for Families award. Thanks to its stellar kids’ club, tricked-out games room and staff that are up for a game of football, even the most brooding of teenagers will crack a smile here.
Snag a room in the Borgo – they have a rustic and colourful design, and the added benefit of being closer to the family-friendly pool. Casetta Bella rooms in the Borgo boast a private patio garden and are split over two levels: the downstairs has a living room, cooking nook with kettle and microwave, and space for an extra bed; upstairs has the bedroom with a stone bathroom and a balcony. For the comfort of home without skimping on luxurious hotel style, the three-bedroom villa is great for large families. Highlights include the quaint living room, comfy sofas, fireplace, kitchen, private pool and beautifully landscaped garden.
Going out of its way to keep families entertained, Borgo Egnazia showcases four pools, two beaches, a crèche, a free kids’ club and teenagers’ zone. Children can spend their days at I Trullaleri, the kids’ club designed for children aged 3–13, which has both indoor and outdoor areas, and a wicked stash of toys. Though it’s highly unlikely that children will tire of face-painting, dancing, bracelet-making and cookery classes, staff also help children put on theatre productions and plays in the evenings. Older children can tickle their fancy with tennis, swimming, bike rides, trips to the zoo and excursions to explore local ruins. A teens-only game room, I Fichi d’India, has a Wii, Xbox, ping-pong table, table football and beach toys. La Fonte is the sandy beach, open between June and September, where children can snorkel or have a joy-ride on the pedalos and banana boats (with staff supervision).
Make a beeline for Due Camini, serving traditional Pugliese fare as well as a special menu, so little ones can chow down on burgers, pasta with meatballs, mashed potato and vegetable soup. Children are welcome at Due Camini any time and can tackle the games and puzzles inside. In the Borgo, Da Puccetta has little chairs and tables for children, dishing up Mediterranean pasta, salads, pizzas, fresh vegetables and fruit so delicious they’ll never suspect it’s healthy. La Frasca has a garden area for little ones and delivers scrumptious buffets and barbecues – perfect for relaxed, poolside feasts.
Martinhal Beach Resort & Hotel
A family-focused hideaway, Martinhal Beach Resort & Hotel has sun-blazed beaches and a national park as its neighbours. Think restaurants with tot-tailored menus, a beckoning azure Atlantic with plenty of watersports, and activities and games to occupy your brood for hours – there’s so much fun to be had here, you’ll need another escape to recover.
Ideal for families, the spacious House villas in Martinhal Village are available with one, two or three bedrooms. They also have fully equipped kitchens and an outdoor space: a balcony, terrace or private garden. The Deluxe villas in Pinewood House have their own private and gated swimming pool, or for more metres than you know what to do with, book one of the Luxury Villas.
Trouble keeping boisterous rugrats still? Don’t fret, activities at Martinhal are divided into age categories and are energy-burners. At the Fox Club (for kids aged 5–8), there are football matches, wall painting or a crazy science hour for mini-Einsteins. For the 9–12s, the Explorer Club runs surf sessions or bike tours, sailing trips and scuba; the Adventure Club accommodates teens up to 18 with junior lifeguard courses, mocktail-making contests and dolphin-watching. Unsurprisingly, they’re popular, so reserve early to nab your places. The surrounding protected parkland is a haven for trekking, cycling or horse-riding and the onsite tennis club gives Nadal-wannabes the chance to recreate their own Grand Slam. If lazing on a lilo sounds more enticing, the five pools ensure there’s always a free sun lounger nearby.
Traditional Portuguese recipes are reinvented at Martinhal’s main restaurant, O Terraço: try their signature starter with scrambled egg. Those with ankle-biters in tow should head to As Dunas Beach Bar and Restaurant, which is relaxed by day, candlelit by night and has a trampoline and sandpit for the wee ones. At breakfast, children can colour-in at the kids’ corner, leaving mum and dad free to sip espressos; all restaurants are well stocked with highchairs, kiddie cutlery and children’s menus to satisfy picky-eaters.
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