Club Med, Da Balaia, Portugal

Ever since we visited Mark Warner in Corsica, I’ve been really keen to try out Club Med too. I assumed that the two would be pretty much the same – they’re both very family-friendly with kids clubs for all ages and resorts by the sea as well as in ski resorts. And while it turned out that there were some similarities (mainly the excellent provision for children), in many ways, they’re also very different.

For various reasons it was just Livi and I this time. The idea was we were going to check out Junior Club Med (ie the kids club for ages 11 up) but as it was out of school time, it wasn’t running. This, a long with the atrocious weather when we arrived, didn’t seem to bode well.

However, things quickly improved – we discovered that all-inclusive at Club Med really means all-inclusive – even the drinks are free! You would think this would lead to embarrassing drunken scenes but as the majority of guests are French (and families rather than groups), it doesn’t. But it did mean that Livi could order a mocktail from the bar whenever she liked, and that me not having an apero before lunch would simply seem a bit rude.

As Livi was only slightly to old for Mini Club Med, she decided to go along to some of their activities anyway. The kids club is an impressive set up in a newly-renovated building and its own swimming pool. The children are collected every morning from the restaurant by cheery staff in costumes – one morning they were all dressed as bananas. Activities included outdoor games, golf, archery and, most exciting of all for Livi, circus skills. This included a go on a proper trapeze. I tried out the practice one but wasn’t convinced I could even hold up my own body weight for long enough to swing (tragic), so left it to Livi.

There are shows or events every night (one night the theatre was transformed into a casino where you played with paper money) and near constant food – not just breakfast, lunch and dinner but also gouter (a French thing, a little like afternoon tea except usually much more chocolatey) and apero (huge plates of snacks).

The food really deserves a special mention. On an all-inclusive trip, my hopes are never high, especially when it’s billed as “a buffet.” This was SO much more than a buffet. There was a huge choice, everything from cheffy little starters and fresh fish on the grill with a choice of sauces through to pasta and curries, as well as burgers and pizza for kids who wanted. There were also about eight different types of bread, an enormous cheese counter and incredible desserts. It was different every day and I really don’t think I’m doing it justice here. It was amazing. There’s also a restaurant with table service offering Portuguese specialities which you can eat in at no extra cost – you just have to book in advance.

I hadn’t been to the Algarve before and the weather wasn’t amazing this time, but we did manage a walk along the beach which was stunning. In the summer you can kayak there, but they don’t offer sailing or windsurfing because of the choppy sea.

The sun did eventually come out, and I managed a little bit of time by the pool. There’s also golf, tennis and fitness classes for those who are feeling motivated.

We had a really good time – it’s a brilliant place for kids and also for parents who want a proper break where they can just lie on a sun lounger if they want  – they take babies in the creche from four months old. There’s also a lot going on for older kids and it’s set up in a way which doesn’t make it feel babyish – plus they can dip in and out as they like. And while the prices during school holidays can seem steep at first glance, you really can go a whole week and not spend a thing. Plus it’s great not having to field demands for ice creams and drinks from the kids as it’s all on tap.

And the main difference between Mark Warner and Club Med? There are a few but for me, the main one is Club Med’s Crazy Signs – a little dance you’re encouraged to do at various points of the day (or you can Britishly pretend they’re not happening if you choose – that’s fine too.)

A stay at Club Med costs from £1,015 per adult and £605 per child including flights. Under-sixes stay for free

Disclosure: Livi and I travelled and stayed as guests of Club Med.




About catherinecooper

Journalist and author specialising in travel with children. I write for several national publications and am author of Travelling with Children: A Parent's Guide. You can see some of my articles at
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