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Andrew Oxlade:  My experience of Maddie's resort in Praia de Luz, the Algarve Mm11

Andrew Oxlade:  My experience of Maddie's resort in Praia de Luz, the Algarve Regist10

Andrew Oxlade: My experience of Maddie's resort in Praia de Luz, the Algarve

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Andrew Oxlade:  My experience of Maddie's resort in Praia de Luz, the Algarve Empty Andrew Oxlade: My experience of Maddie's resort in Praia de Luz, the Algarve

09 May 2007 1:32 PM

My experience of Maddie's resort in Praia de Luz, the Algarve

I need to break from the usual financial slant of posts on this blog. I'm sure you'll understand as I thing's it's important to give my views on this...

My family and I returned last week relaxed from a holiday at the sleepy end of Portugal’s Algarve. We were, however, stunned to wake on Friday morning, days after we returned, to hear news that a girl, three-year-old Madeleine McCann, had gone missing from the same complex, yards from where we stayed.

We picked the Ocean Club resort in Praia de Luz, a quiet village, because of its connections with Mark Warner Holidays. The company has a growing reputation among families for offering comprehensive childcare wrapped in packages with free sports activities, such as tennis and water sports. The balance of a family holiday with time to relax away from the kids is attractive to millions of Britons.

We had a great time, able to spend time together as a family while also having some time out. Sam, our two-year-old son, was well looked after while we lounged by the pool, or why I played tennis or sailed. My wife Andrea and I even made nightly jaunts to local restaurants, a rare treat for new parents.

Luz, as the locals call it, is a laid back resort with a mix of Portugese holidaymakers and locals and, in off-peak May, a smaller number of foreign tourists. A handful of restaurants and bars in the town have a balance of mainly British families and friendly locals. This is an area you would not associate with crime, let alone the abduction of a child.

The Ocean Club has several hubs. One is a 24-hour reception, the other two have swimming pools, restaurants and tennis courts. At their furthest point, these centres are 10 minutes walk apart. In between are Ocean Club apartments mixed with local homes.

The options for childcare were numerous, well organised and of a very high standard. A well-staffed nursery with a child-to-carer ratio that was often just two-to-one, took youngsters from 9.30 to 12.30 every day and from 2.30 to 5.30 in the afternoon.

These creche facilities were next to the poolside Tapas restaurant where Madeleine’s parents were eating when she disappeared.

Madeleine and the younger twins Amelie and Sean were sleeping at the McCanns’ apartment overlooking the swimming pool at the main hub of the resort. Around that pool was the Tapas bar which was in high demand every night. Most guests went to the buffet at the Ocean Club’s Millennium restaurant, a 10-minute walk away from the McCanns’ apartment. But eager guests would queue from 9am to book one of the limited number of tables at the Tapas bar, which served barbecued fish and meat dishes to order. Both restaurants were included in the price of the holiday.

The McCanns’ choice to leave their children at the flat and make regular checks is surprising given the alternatives. In their defence, they may have been expecting, as advertised in Mark Warner brochures, a ‘listening service’. Staff told us that the service had been discontinued because the apartments were too spread out. The resort, however, offered a baby-sitting service for 15 euros (£10) an hour, which was staffed by a member of the daytime nursery teams, or a ‘dining out club’. This involved parents dropping off children at the crèche where they would be supervised watching videos until they went to sleep. Parents would then return before 11.30 to scoop up their sleepy offspring.

I can imagine the McCanns’ dilemma. The ‘dining out club’ was more than a five-minute walk from where the McCanns stayed along cobbled streets or a winding pedestrian path through the apartments. It’s not far - it worked brilliantly for us on most nights - but it would have felt much further if you had to ferry thee children there and back (and hope they were still asleep after doing so). Plus parents were required to wait until children under two, which includes the McCanns’ twins, were asleep. We talked to parents who said this was enough to put them off the option.

The McCanns opted instead to eat 40-50m from their apartment, not much more than a pool’s width away. They hoped it would be just close enough to hear a crying baby but with bar music playing and restaurant hubbub, it wasn’t close enough to hear what happened to Madeleine that night.

I can't imagine what they're going through now. I, along with millions others, only hope they can find her soon and safe.

- Andrew Oxlade, Editor, This is Money

The secret of life is honesty and fair dealing. If you can fake that, you've got it made" - Groucho Marx

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