A family-focused approach to hospitality and upscale homes
Composite: Courtesy of Martinhal
Motherhood helped inspire Chitra Stern to launch Martinhal, a Portuguese hospitality brand that aims to bridge the gaps between luxury living and family friendliness.
“When we started having children, we realized we couldn’t go back to the same places we loved to go as young professionals,” said Singapore-born Stern, who founded Martinhal with her Swiss-born husband, Roman, in 2001. “But parents with kids still want to go somewhere beautiful. We’ve doubled our art, design, fitness and concierge services for adults, and elements like kids’ clubs for the little ones.
The Stern family moved from London to the coastal Algarve region of southern Portugal in 2000. With a view to developing property, they sensed greater opportunities in hospitality. With little experience, they opened two resorts, the 200-key Martinhal Sagres Resort and the upscale Martinhal Quinta do Lago Family Golf Resort.
Besides hotels, their holding company Elegant Group now includes two branded residences
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Lisbon – Martinhal Lisboa Oriente, and Martinhal Lisboa New Chiado in the city’s old town. Seeing the need of expatriate families, the couple also founded United Lisbon International School in 2020; The first international school in Portugal, serving pupils from more than 50 nationalities.
From her office in Lisbon, Stern spoke to Mansion Global about Lisbon’s enduring appeal, how luxury brands can attract families, and why luxury means proximity.
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Mansion Global: With branded residences, you have entered a crowded market. What does the Martinhal brand stand for?
Chitra Stern: We are targeting the luxury side of the family market, which is what the brand has done since the beginning. It’s about looking at every angle to make a special family happy. It stems from the fact that when we started having children – I’m now 53 and my eldest son is 21 – we realized we couldn’t go back to the same places we loved as young professionals. Hence the brand was born. We have design, art, good food and wine. Our restaurant, Terrace, has become a destination for locals. But we also have kids clubs and children’s menus with delicious healthy foods for the little ones, not just pizza and burgers.
MG: Who was your buyer for the Martinhal Lisboa Chiado?
CS: It’s a good mix, as expected. We have families investing because they want a place for their relatives to stay when they visit, and our smaller apartments double as hotel suites. Seniors have invested for the same reason. They want their families close to them when they are in Lisbon. Our expectations regarding nationality have changed. We have over 30 nationalities investing, along with Portuguese (buyers) who are downsizing or upsizing. Our US business in particular has grown tremendously since Covid.
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Melinda: How do you accommodate these foreign buyers? Do they come with different requirements than local buyers?
CS: As a foreign family, you usually don’t have any support structure while you’re trying to settle down. We provide these services to families with the aim of hassle-free settlement and ownership. Services include everything from organizing a babysitter to having a team on site to fix your dishwasher or Wi-Fi if anything stops working. It usually takes a long time for a young family in a new city to get the hang of things.
MG: Did you do Portugal (recently ended) The Golden Visa Program motivates some of your buyers?
CS: We have many Golden Visa investors, especially in the studio apartments that make up our first four floors. They get two weeks a year to use their suites at a very low price. Furthermore, it is a fixed rent of 3% or 4% of the purchase price, with the apartment fee paid by us.
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Milton: What is Lisbon’s endless attraction for foreign buyers?
CS: You gave a TEDx talk about why Portugal is famous over four years ago. These principles still stand. Lisbon’s location is great for the Americas as well as points east. The weather is wonderful, with mild summers and winters. The lifestyle is such a relaxed one that even the malls stay open until 11pm or midnight. Lisbon’s size lends itself to the Goldilocks Principle – it’s exactly right. There has been a lot of investment in infrastructure in recent years. The people are lovely and welcoming. The fact that Portugal is part of the European Union is attractive.
MG: Foreign buyers are used to buying on the coast, in areas like the Algarve. Now, they seem to be drawn to cities. What has changed?
CS: The foreign buyer has changed. Romain and I arrived in the Algarve 22 years ago. They were mostly British and Irish, and we mainly sold to them. 22 years later, the number of nationalities is completely different. Vacation homes were what foreigners knew. When the Golden Visa program began around 2012, buyers became interested in the city. I have become a different mindset. Then came waves of the Digital Nomad Visa, the Portugal Entrepreneur Visa, and other programs.
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MG: What’s next for your company?
CS: We still have to build the rest of the education centre, which will include accommodation for international teachers and boarding students. On the brand side, we are looking for growth opportunities. Times were tough with high interest rates and inflation. But we are big believers in Portugal. Who knows, we may expand abroad.
MG: What is your personal definition of luxury?
CS: For me, it is related to the concept of the 15-minute city here in the Parc des Nations (Lisbon area). Within a very close radius, everything is on your doorstep: Vasco de Gama shopping centre, restaurants, cafes, doctors, dentists, a private hospital and an abundance of walking trails and riverside promenades.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
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