Martinhal, the Algarve, Portugal

Loungers and lavenders

Review: Tiffany Daneff

Swathes of dusty pennisetum waft gently in the warm south-westerly wind, just the perfect foil for this chic timber-clad hotel in the Algarve.  As you walk down the broad stone steps to the sea you pass more of the same beautifully simple naturalistic plantings – loose and easy combinations of grasses and flowers including lots of Gaura Lindheimeri – that point up the contemporary architecture and lead the eye seamlessly from the gardened to the wild.  If only all hotels were as thoughtful about their plantings as they were their interiors.  But Martinhal in Portugal is pretty special.

The hotel lies inside the Campo Vicentina natural park overlooking the South western most point of the country, just a short taxi ride from some of the finest surfing beaches in Europe.  Only the most sensitive planting was going to do and the Lisbon based Biodesign team headed by architect Jorge Cancella, brought in here in 2004, has more than delivered.

This is a resort hotel with villas and swimming pools dotted around the estate but you never lose sight of the natural park.  There is indeed no edge, one minute you are walking past the tennis courts the next you can walk into the wilderness and head out across the hills.  Much of the original wilderness has been retained.  There are small glades of pine and piles of the local sandstone rocks which are still home to the local lizards all of which sits entirely naturally within the plantings.

Mediterranean herbs – lavenders, (pedunculata, angustifolia, dentate, luiseri and stoechas,)rosemary, juniper and sage – lead to walks lined with fig and apricot, olive, almond and lemon, bay and myrtle.  Bees love it here.

Not to be missed

Head down to the beach where, in June you might see the white flowers of Pancratium maritimum or sand daffodil pushing up through the hot sand.  A narrow path leads left along the rocky coast.  Look out for dusty blue wild eryngium, sedums and lizards.

Quibble

The wind.  But, then again, the wind keeps the air fresh and brings in waves for surfers.

Other gardens nearby

Not so much gardens but do take time to explore the nearby town of Sagres, Cape St Vincent and the Costa Vicentina Natural Park which is typical of the Portugese mattoral with its mixture of bulbs, flowers, low growing shrubs and taller pines and tamarisk.  I am kicking myself for not having had the time to look for menhirs which are dotted around this area.

How to get there

Fly to Faro, the resort is an easy hour’s drive from the airport.