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What makes a vacation… a vacation?

 The lovely Fiona Faulkner, who creates our healthy and yummy children’s menus for our Explorers clubs went out to Pine Cliffs in Portugal. Here she kindly shares her experience with us…

As many of you know, in 2012 I partnered with Scott Dunn in creating a set of children’s menus for their rather fabulous Explorers clubs in the Mediterranean. This spurned a recent conversation with a friend who asked why a family would book a Scott Dunn vacation as opposed to joining the masses in securing ‘a deal’. It’s a fair question (although note that Scott Dunn do do deals – and rumour has it the last-minute ones are really very good – so it’s always worth a last-minute call). The thing is you see, although Scott Dunn acknowledges “we may not be the cheapest…” you do get what you pay for – and yes, there really is a Scott Dunn difference.

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I’ve vacationed with them twice now and that difference kicks off from the moment you pick up the phone (Scott Dunn Travel Specialists give great advice based on exactly what your needs are).

So in May off we went to Pine Cliffs in Portugal, a five star resort in the Algarve, a mere half an hour or so from the airport at Faro.

As soon as Team Faulkner set foot on Portuguese tarmac, the questions began: “How will we get to the hotel mummy?”…“A man will pick us up”…. “How will we know which man is ours?” Etc. It was hot and Arrivals was heaving with lost-looking families.

As a parade of coach drivers did the circuit, name placards on torn-off bits of cereal boxes (or so it seemed), we had a sudden movie-star moment. There he was. Our man. Suited and booted (!) with a smile as broad as the luggage trolley he was pushing (for us!) And as we passed by our fellow passengers struggling to fit their luggage into clapped-out mini buses, our kids were offered high-fives and cold drinks before being whisked off in an air-con’ed Mercedes. That my friend is the Scott Dunn difference.

In fact anyone who’s ever traveled Scott Dunn style will be accustomed to the personal touches. Huge heads-up and hats-off to the simply adorable George and Louise. These guys (technically Guest Relations Managers but actually so much more) are like a couple of modern-day Downton-esque butlers. They took over the reins and smoothed the path literally as soon as we arrived, checking us in (I know!), asking the right questions, and trouble-shooting any little glitches. I loved them, the kids loved them, Scott Dunn – are you reading this?! – double their wages!

So Pine Cliffs is Scott Dunn’s most popular resort for families (four pools! Crazy golf! A pirate ship!) And since we went self-catering, it was also a great opportunity for me to enjoy experimenting with the local produce (more on that in a later blog).

We stayed in a two bedroomed villa – really nicely decorated, extremely spacious (a kids’ bathrooms and an adults’ bathroom) and a bed that was ten times more comfortable than ours at home (I’m fanatical that a hotel should always prioritize comfy, sizable beds). Louise and George had left a terrific welcome pack – replete with decent booze (told you; the Scott Dunn difference).

It’s called Pine Cliffs for a reason (when it’s hot the air is steeped with the pungent aroma of pine needles) – adding to this, lavender bushes are everywhere – so fragrant and pretty, first thing.

Since the resort is so vast, you can either walk to the main areas (which actually we enjoyed doing) or take the cute ‘noddy bus’ which shuttles around, stopping off at various pick-up points.

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The beach isn’t private but it may as well be.  There are six kilometers of soft golden sand – and in fact it’s the only beach in the Algarve to be classified with Golden Flag status. Pine Cliff guests enjoy complimentary sun loungers and towels (and the Beach Bar and Restaurant is definitely the place to be… stunning views, the freshest of fish, and a great wine list).

Ok, it gets better – but prepare to dislike me:

Day one and up rocked Cherie, our Scott Dunn nanny for the first three days. Disclaimer: we’ve never had a nanny before but frankly, Matt and I have been exhausted of late. This was a much-needed break. So we had a chat with the kids and asked how they felt about having a ‘big sister’ to knock about with; they were as intrigued by this experimental idea as we were. The deal was: if they liked Cherie and wanted to hang with her, that was cool. If they’d prefer to be with us, that was cool too…..

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…ok, so we barely saw our kids for 72 hours. How awful does that sound? (How amazing is the concept of a nanny on vacation?) Here’s the truth: by the time Cherie had packed up her crayons and play dough, Matt and I had caught up on sleep, caught up with each other, and climatised to being away. In short we were in a good place to re-energise with the kids.

Not only that, but they dipped in and out of Scott Dunn Explorers during the remaining few days. What happened there? Stacks. They headed out to a water park, they made new friends (as any parent will tell you: new friends are The Best New Toy Ever) and generally burnt off steam, coming home to us well fed (yes I’m biased), knackered and happy. A highpoint for my son was the arrival of the Boy Rangers – two 20-something real-life versions of Sporticus (any Cbeebies fans out there?) In all honesty it was a really nice touch that some of the childcare team were such lovely male role models.

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Pine Cliffs also has a huge adventure playground – check out the images online to see the pirate ship – along with an indoor pool which set the scene for some lovely early morning swims with my eldest (when the sun’s not quite warm enough to brave the sea). Tip: take your own swim caps or prepare to pay €5 a go; they’re mandatory and staff do check.

Ah, while I’m here let me mention the nearby spa. Ignore the uber facials and go for the 30 minute express. While you don’t get the whistles and bells, it’s distilled down to what really counts – a thorough cleanse; performance-led products; and a glow that lasts for days.

The food was (mainly) hits with a few misses. Corda Café ended up being a favorite for us (great pizza, lovely salads and terrifically friendly service). Note though that the restaurants are expensive for what you get – so don’t be afraid to head just out of resort (there’s a local supermarket nearby). That said, our kitchen was well equipped so self-catering is do-able if you plan ahead.

What was really invaluable was George and Louise’s handholding in respect of what’s available locally (“if you head west on the beach and keep walking you’ll get to….” kind of thing). George had copious recommendations for local food (including Michelin starred restaurants which offered fantastic lunchtime deals). Remember, these guys are in resort all the time that you are – so you can literally drop by the Scott Dunn office and sound them out. And the point is, they’re there for exactly that reason (it’s like having a couple of mates you can drop in on to either ask for advice, have a yack, or – in my case – borrow an iphone).

Granted, a lot of the above (re Scott Dunn) isn’t essential for a family vacation. But I can honestly say that traveling with Scott Dunn does mean that from the word go, you feel utterly zen. And after all, isn’t that why you went away in the first place?

Scott Dunn is a luxury family travel specialist.

Call the Scott Dunn team on 020 3432 7506 or email via www.scottdunn.com

Please note that although this trip was subsidised by Scott Dunn, I speak as I find and the above are my own thoughts regarding this trip and the resort.

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