The school-friendly citybreak: Barcelona
They’ll love: Fairy-tale parks and city beaches
You’ll love: Culture on tap and Cava pitstops
Imagine if your kids were invited to design a city: ‘Right, first I want a giant aquarium and an even bigger zoo, with dolphin shows. I want a theme park at the top, beaches at the bottom, a museum full of chocolate and a street market where I can buy terrapins and white mice – by day or night.’ This city already exists, and it’s Barcelona. Better still, most of what appeals to children is great for grown-ups, too: live music in the streets, the fairy-tale Gaud buildings, and the tapas restaurants with their snazzy snacks on sticks.
Sorry, but have you tried dragging kids round a busy metropolis?
The hop-on, hop-off Bus Tur stic (www.barcelonabusturistic.cat) makes organising things child’s play. Red, blue and green routes loop out from the Pla a de Catalunya, in the centre of town. Sounds pricey at 25 for two days (14 for ages 4-12), but it’s your travelcard to all the city’s best sights.
So what are the must-sees?
On day one, hop on the blue line north into Modernista Barcelona – or in child-speak, Gaud Land. It swings by the architect’s reptilian townhouse, Casa Battlo, and his iconic melting-caramel cathedral, La Sagrada Fam lia – spot the freaky beasts that morph out of the masonry. Next stop, Park G ell, where ecstatic children run riot among Gaud ‘s toadstool-shaped cottages and cock-eyed colonnades.
Day two is red-line day, zipping you between the city’s entertaining zoo, titanic aquarium, and the garlic-infused Medieval alleys of the Gothic Quarter, with its tapas bars, Picasso Museum, and centuries-old shops stacked with masks and magic tricks. If you’ve time, stay on the bus to the glittery marina at Port Ol mpic: Barcelona’s best beaches – Mar Bella and Bogotell – spool out east from here.
Is the city safe at night?
With its menagerie of jugglers, puppeteers and living statues, Las Ramblas is perfect for a wide-eyed wander – hold tight to little hands, and go with the flow. The Barcelonans’ relaxed approach to child-rearing means your brood will be very welcome to join you for dinner – though their stay-up-late culture means dinner’s generally after 9pm. And don’t miss a lemonade at the Bosc de les Fades park (www.museocerabcn.com), decorated like a witch’s grotto, with trick mirrors and a waterfall. EasyJet (0843 104 5000, www.easyjet.com) flies from Gatwick, Luton, Stansted, Bristol, Liverpool and Newcastle from 33.50 each way. Hotel Regina (00 34 93 301 3232, www.reginahotel.com) has spacious rooms that sleep four, within walking distance of Las Ramblas, from 119, room only.
But we’ve been to Barcelona before”
Paris is also great for kids, with a cr perie on every corner and monuments they can really relate to: the Eiffel Tower, Louvre pyramid, and the bells (‘the bells!’) of Notre Dame. Citadines Bastille Marais (0800 376 3898, www.citadines.co.uk) has rooms for four from 192, room only. Or try Stockholm, with its sea-spangled, onion-domed waterfront and an entire island (Djurg rden) devoted to kids’ stuff. Stockholm Package (00 46 8 663 0080, www.destination-stockholm.com) offers good-value weekend stays at more than 40 hotels, with children sharing for free on roll-away beds. Rooms from 104, including attractions and public transport. VC
The big-sky expedition: South Africa
They’ll love: Seeing Simba – and not through bars
You’ll love: Family bonding (without Facebook)
Vast skies and sweeping savanna, steamy forests and blood-red rivers – even without the animals, South Africa gets under your skin. It feels ancient, elemental – years after a trip, kids still get misty-eyed when you dig out photos. Throw in lion kills and elephant herds, horse-riding with wildebeest – and tracking rhinos by foot – and none of you will ever forget it.
Memorable all right, but also terrifying?
We’ll admit, there may be moments when the littler ones suddenly announce they ‘want the impala to win’ five minutes before it decidedly ‘loses’ to a pack of lions, but the thrill nearly always outweighs the fear. As for riding and walking safaris, they only offer that in reserves without serious predators – even five-year-olds will be in the saddle quicker than you can say ‘health and safety’.
Five? Isn’t that ridiculously young for a safari?
Yes and no. Younger kids may well drop off to sleep on afternoon game drives (those early starts, rocky roads, bright skies and fresh air act like brandy on under-sixes), but decent tour operators will tailor drives to fit your family’s needs, with stops aplenty for snacks and loo breaks. Stock up on Top Trumps and tick-lists and let them take photos till their trigger finger drops off, and the two-or-so hours in the 4WD fly by.
What about babies and toddlers?
Some camps take kids on game drives regardless of age, but most draw the line at four or five. Many camps, including Ant’s Nest and Jaci’s Camp – two cracking family safari camps in northern South Africa – provide babysitting back at the lodge, as well as kids’ camp-type activities, so while you’re off with the five-year-old, the three-year-old is happily swimming and bug-hunting at the lodge. Original Travel (020 7978 7333,www.originaltravel.co.uk) has a nine-night safari at Jaci’s Camp and Ant’s Nest from 10,970, all-inclusive, based on a family of four, including flights to Johannesburg. On the cheaper side, Rainbow Tours (020 7666 1250, www.rainbowtours.co.uk) has five nights’ all-inclusive at Umlani Bush Camp in Timbavati Reserve, next to Kruger Park, from 6,480 for a family of four, including flights to Johannesburg and a night’s B&B there.
What about a less intensive safari experience?
Try Tanzania: it’s closer than South Africa and two hours ahead of British Summer Time, so there’s no jet lag, while the wildlife – especially in the Ngorongoro Crater – is second to none. It’s easy to combine with Zanzibar’s beaches – ideal if you’re pooped after all those game drives and early starts (try Adventure Temples: 0843 508 5005,www.adventuretemples.com). Then there’s Ranthambore National Park in India. It’s home to tigers, leopards, bears, crocs and monitor lizards – think of it as the offbeat Big Five. You don’t need to drive far into the reserve to see them (try Abercrombie & Kent: 0845 485 1526, www.abercrombiekent.co.uk). JL
The no-hassle resort hols: Greece
They’ll love: That the whole place revolves around kids
You’ll love: That the whole place revolves around kids
Remember how effortless and relaxing and just downright easy holidays used to be, before the kids arrived? Well so do the geniuses behind the collection of family-friendly resort hotels that dot Greece like chickenpox on a two-year-old’s tummy. So these places aren’t ‘family-friendly’ in the traditional British sense of ‘got some fish fingers in the freezer’; they’re ‘family-friendly’ as in ‘every single detail – right down to the soft-close mechanisms on the doors – is designed with children in mind so that parents can have a proper relaxing holiday instead of worrying about Junior’s fingers getting caught in the door jamb’.
Greece? Presumably everything’s stopped working?
Quite the opposite. The Greek tourist industry has responded to the economic travails with a resounding ‘Whatever!’, and outside Athens, life rolls on as normal. On Crete, for instance, the five-star Domes of Elounda, has an Ofsted-approved set of nannies, cr ches and kids’ clubs. Seven nights cost from 2,649 for a family of four, half board, including flights and transfers, with Sovereign (0844 415 1936, www.sovereign.com). The whole point of this kind of joint is that everything just works, so whatever happens outside, even the most spoilt Little Treasure will find his/her favourite brand of organic baby food or sugary cereal on the breakfast buffet where it belongs.
My lot will go stir-crazy stuck in the same place for a week!
Not in these places, they won’t. Kids’ clubs put on everything from puppet-making to pine-cone-hunting, with more waterslides and pools than you can shake an inflatable at. (At Costa Navarino, in the Peloponnese, there’s even a cool mini hotel where nippers can nap overnight.) Adults won’t get bored, either: there are bars, spas and – at Navarino – an ‘Authenticity Programme’ that includes traditional sea fishing and philosophy. Seven nights cost from 2,495 for a family of four, B&B, with flights and transfers, with Abercrombie & Kent (0845 485 1143, www.abercrombiekent.co.uk).
Seems a lot to spend for bucket-&-spade”
You’re effectively paying a premium for the privilege of being surrounded by other people’s offspring, but repeat guests (and there are thousands) insist you can’t put a price on not having to apologise every time your kid squeaks, which you do in less family-focused hotels. You get some nice extras for your money, too. At Porto Sani Village, for instance, on the Halkidiki peninsula, the hotel’s BabeWatch service gives you 30 minutes’ free childminding on the beach every day. Seven nights cost from 3,719 for a family of four, half board, including flights and transfers, with ITC Classics (01244 355527, www.itcclassics.co.uk). At the same Sani Resort, there are three other hotels, all at different price points; the cheapest, Sani Beach Hotel, has rooms from 62 a night.
My kids won’t eat squid. Same idea but different country, please!
On Tenerife, luxe Abama (00 34 902 105600, www.abamahotelresort.com) has a similar ‘Don’t-worry-we’ll-take-care-of-them-for-you’ vibe that sees parents’ shoulders visibly unhunch when they walk in the door. Or try Holiday Village Algarve: First Choice’s Portuguese all-inclusive is near Albufeira, with one of the best waterparks in the region (0871 200 7799, www.firstchoice.co.uk). EG
Get a face-full of spray from giant waterfalls in Iceland (Travel Pictures Ltd)
The explosive adventure: Iceland
They’ll love: Whiffy geysers and bloodthirsty Vikings
You’ll love: Widescreen nature and spa-wallowing
Today’s geography lesson comes to you straight from the centre of the Earth. A family holiday to Iceland allows kids to walk on lava, peer into belching mud pits, watch geysers erupt 20m into the air and get a face-full of spray from giant waterfalls. Iceland is also a gold-star destination for Viking culture (start with the Saga Museum in Reykjavik and its axe-wielding baddies), while parents can expect extra-curricular activities such as free-spirited adventure touring, soaking in geothermal spas, and wolfing down incredible seafood.
Lava, boiling mud and geysers? It all sounds very “un-child-friendly”
Keep to marked paths and behind safety ropes at hotspots and you’ll be perfectly safe. Some of the geothermal attractions are positively placid – don’t miss a soothing dip in the gently steaming Blue Lagoon, near Keflavik, or the Nature Baths at Lake Mavatn. With neon-blue waters and a floor of white mud you can scoop up and slap all on your body, they’re about as weird and wonderful as swimming pools get.
My kids will run a mile if they think they’re being ‘educated’. What about fun stuff?
Even the ‘fun stuff’ in Iceland teaches children without them realising. In one week you could go whale-watching, rafting, glacier-hiking and snowmobiling – geography, physics and biology have never looked so appealing. This is Europe’s ultimate adventure playground, and although some activities have a minimum age of 10, you’ll still find plenty to keep the whole family happy. Teenagers will get a real buzz from combi-activities: caving plus snorkelling at Thingvellir caves, for instance (seewww.visiticeland.com for details of all pursuits).
Is it best to go independently or on a guided trip?
An independent self-drive itinerary offers maximum flexibility for families especially when you use a site like https://www.rent.is/blog/4×4-camper-van-rental/ to hire a campervan. It’s easy driving, too, though you should consider upgrading to a 4WD vehicle for a day (or book a Jeep safari), to explore Iceland’s rugged interior. You can also pre-book accommodation, from hotels to farm stays, and organise activities in advance. The 12-day Family Highland Adventure from Discover the World (01737 214250, www.discover-the-world.co.uk) costs from 1,712pp (12 and above) and from 485 per child aged under 12 ( 390 if travelling with two or more children), B&B, including car hire (with five days in a 4WD vehicle); excludes flights. You could save money by self-catering and sharing with a couple of other families at the five-bedroom Lava House, near Lake M vatn, also through Discover the World. Allow around 250pp for flights with Icelandair (0844 811 1190, www.icelandair.co.uk) from Glasgow, Manchester or Heathrow to Keflavak.
Can we ‘learn’ somewhere sunnier?
Hone your skills as travel photographers by taking the young (whipper-)snappers on an expert-led photographic family holiday to Cuba. The minimum age is six, though tweens will get the most from this type of trip, as well as young teens. There’s tons of time on the beach, with underwater snapping included, too. The Adventure Company (0845 450 5316, www.adventurecompany.co.uk) has a 13-day Young Photographer trip in Cuba from 1,749pp (1,499 per child), with flights from Gatwick to Havana. Alternatively, Egypt is one big (sunny) history lesson. A felucca on the Nile, a camel ride to the Pyramids, and snorkelling in the Red Sea are included in an Egyptian Explorer trip with Exodus (0845 287 7425, www.exodus.co.uk): eight days start at 1,129pp, including flights. WG
The posh country weekend: Great Britain
They’ll love: Hide & Seek on a rambling country estate
You’ll love: Spas, bars and fluffy robes
Grand gravelled driveways, wild deer wandering the grounds, and four-posters straight out of Austen – a decadent weekend away in a British country pile makes everything better. And you can still do the Friday-to-Sunday jaunt with kids if you choose the right hotel (look for the trampoline beside the pool instead of a yoga pavilion). Forty-eight hours later, you’ll be ready for Monday again and the kids will have grown up just that little bit more”
What if they throw food at the table?
It doesn’t matter. There’s a new breed of country estate in Britain geared up for parents with kids (Babington House in Somerset and Cowley Manor in the Cotswolds started the ball rolling). That means you can eat ‘tea’ with your children as early as 5pm, or dine properly together (posh restaurant, cutlery), or pack them off to bed and use the hotel baby- listening device (or babysitting service) so that you can canoodle deux till late. If they throw fish pie across the room, chances are they’re playing with their new pals at the next table.
Will I really be able to relax?
That depends how flexible your routine is and how independent your kids are. Chewton Glen in Hampshire (01425 275341, www.chewtonglen.com; four-man family rooms from 575) goes beyond the mere kids’ club, and offers children tennis-coaching, treehouses and mountain-biking while parents chill. There’s also a forward-thinking British group of hotels – Luxury Family Hotels – whose mission is to pre-empt your every move or concern. That means properties have space-age spas with hydrotherapy pools, roof decks and hot tubs for adults – but they might be cleverly attached to the ‘Den’ (cr che) so that parents are handy if needs be. The deft Den staff are experts at distracting kids so that you can escape.
And time together as a family?
You can do that too. G&Ts come on tap in Luxury Family Hotels’ gardens and stately lounges, but so do kiddie pursuits: toys, books, PlayStation, Wii, pool table (inside); or swimming pool, trampoline, swings (outside). Its New Forest hotel, New Park Manor, is also on a farm, so family walks will be a tick-list bonanza – spotting deer, ponies and Daisy, the resident greyhound (all hotels are pet-friendly). Its eight properties are in the New Forest, Wiltshire, Suffolk, Cornwall, Dorset, Worcestershire and Cotswolds fringes. Family rooms at New Park Manor start at 215, B&B, with room for two adults, two children and a baby in a cot (01590 623467, www.luxuryfamilyhotels.com).
Where else can I find hotels like these?
Near London, The Grove (01923 807707, www.thegrove.co.uk; family rooms from 310) is a posh property that loves little ones – there’s a kids’ club, walled vegetable garden, ‘city’ beach, outdoor pool, bike trails (with free bikes), golf academy and games arcade. In Perthshire, Gleneagles (0800 389 3737, www.gleneagles.com; family rooms from 225) is surprisingly kid-centric, with a tennis school, pony-trekking, play rooms, karaoke den and pool. It also has family-friendly lodges in the forest so that parents have privacy, with hotel facilities on hand. KB
The theme park fun fest: Florida
They’ll love: Rollercoasters and real-life dolphins
You’ll love: Sundowner shacks and sand between your toes
Thought Florida was just for kids? Hardly. Orlando’s grown up since Mickey arrived – there’s Busch Gardens (the closest you’ll get to a safari outside Africa), day spas, outdoor art galleries and championship golf courses. Then, just a couple of hours down the road, is the laid-back Gulf Coast, where beach shacks serve crab cakes and Cab Sauv, while the kids play spot- the-wild-dolphins offshore.
Sock it to me – is there a lot of queuing in the parks?
Yes, lines can be lengthy (from 20 minutes to an hour, always in the shade), but the most popular rides have a quicker Fastpass option for Disney Parks and a Quick Queue Unlimited ticket for Sea World, Busch Gardens and Aquatica, which allocates you a time slot – book these as soon as you arrive in the park so you can plan the rest of the day. If it’s hot, escape to the ‘water misting stations’ (like outdoor air-con), and bear in mind that every park has a Baby Care Centre, with microwaves, toys and breastfeeding rooms.
Will older kids get as much from the trip?
It’s school-age kids (6-14) who really get a kick out of the life-size characters and rides, but if you have a mix of ages, don’t fret. Older teens will go nuts for Space Mountain or the 3-D Spiderman experience, while under-fives will love Dumbo and the Magic Carpets. Busch Gardens, with its petting zoo, is ideal for toddlers, as is dolphin-feeding at SeaWorld.
When’s the non-timetabled fun?
After a few days in Orlando, rent a car from the likes of StressFreeCarRental.com and take Interstate 4 straight to the ocean. Also, visit the ‘barrier islands’, a string of offshore sandy specks linked by road, and they throw up a new and more idyllic paddling opportunity every day. The loveliest islands are Sanibel, Anna Maria, and Siesta Key; pack buckets and spades for bairns, or boogie boards for teens (dirt-cheap when bought at the seafront stores), and sit back while the children take care of themselves. Virgin Holidays (0844 557 4321, www.virginholidays.co.uk) can package together a week in Orlando at the Ramada Maingate West, with a week in a three-bedroom Gulf Coast villa, from 3,599, room only, for a family of four, including flights from Gatwick and car hire.
What if I don’t fancy the long-haul flight?
Alton Towers stapled to the Peak District makes a perfect woohoo-plus-wilderness week. It’s better suited to over-fives owing to height limits, while most ‘Thrill’ rides suit over-10s. Owners Direct (www.ownersdirect.co.uk) has a three-bed cottage in the Peaks from 325 per week. Disneyland Paris (www.disneylandparis.com) is ideal if you have little ones and feel it’s too soon to go trans-Atlantic; don’t risk winter or it could be a washout. ILD
The (palatable!) history tour: Sardinia
They’ll love: Pizza, pasta, ice cream
You’ll love: Exquisite beaches and some sneaky learning opportunities
If you thought that Mafia-riddled Sicily was the world capital of corruption, think again. On the neighbouring island of Sardinia, there’s a child bribed every second – afternoons on the beach bought with visits to Roman remains; salad eaten on a promise of pizza later; art galleries endured in exchange for ice cream. And it works just fine”
We’ve got pizza and pasta in my local Tesco.
The Sardinians would lynch anyone who tried to sell that rubbish on their island; in fact, their seafood-infused cuisine is the perfect way to introduce fussy young eaters to crustaceans (‘Look, they’re on pizza!’). And the beaches in Sardinia’s southwest corner are among the finest in the world, just perfect for picnics. Head for Chia – itself an absolute corker – and follow the Costa del Sud road: every bend brings a gorgeous new cove into view, each with toddler-friendly gently shelving soft sand and Mum-pleasing calm turquoise waters.
What about the kids learning something?
Children shown no previous interest in Roman remains? Try them on an underwater tour of a sunken city. At Nora, beside the town of Pula on the south coast, a spookily well-preserved Phoenician city lies half on land and half in the lagoon; walking tours are surprisingly interesting, but guided snorkel tours are even better. Inland, things get more mysterious still: scattered across the island are enigmatic fortifications more than 4,000 years old – some still looming over the landscape, others sprawled Indiana-Jonesily across the plains. Perhaps the best is Su Nuraxi at Barumini, near the island’s centre.
OK, but we adults want a holiday, too. Is Sardinia hard work with wee ones in tow?
Not at all. Sardinians love kids – they’re still cheek-pinching and hair-tousling like they’re long-lost aunts and uncles. More importantly, they’re perfectly happy to have food thrown all round their restaurants and sand dragged through their museums. The Forte Village Resort is possibly the most family-friendly in the world (00 39 070 9218818, www.fortevillageresort.com), with a Chelsea Football Academy, mini fashion modelling school, children’s restaurant and every possible amusement in between, from go-karts to massage. Seven nights costs from 3,588 for a family of four, half board, including flights and transfers, with Sardatur Holidays (0208 940 8399,www.sardatur-holidays.co.uk).
It’s still Italy though. Anything more daring?
For the same Tomb-Raider-type-remains-plus-a-bit-of-beach double-bill, try Jordan: the ancient city of Petra is electrifying, and the beaches at the Red Sea resort of Aqaba are as good as any. Try Audley Travel for a package (01993 838415,www.audleytravel.com). Or consider Turkey – Bodrum makes a good base, thanks to its great beaches, Roman remains and Museum of Underwater Archaeology; try Thomas Cook (www.thomascook.com). EG
Take a campervan road trip across the Dordogne (Doug Pearson)
The campervan road trip: France
They’ll love: Sleeping under the stars – in the car!
You’ll love: Spontaneity and the wind in your hair
A map, a campervan, and the open road – if you thought parenthood meant the end of your free-wheeling days, you’re wrong: it’s the perfect time for it. With your transport and accommodation in one, you don’t need to schlepp luggage about, and can rock up wherever the mood takes you; children of any age will get a kick out of an unplanned motoring adventure. And in France – particularly the southwest – it’s easy: you’ll revel in the freedom of spontaneous stopovers in vineyards, farms, and beachy coves.
Can we really just ‘pitch up’ anywhere?
Private land, as you’d expect, is off-limits unless agreed with the owner beforehand – but there’s an altruistic group of wine- growers and farmers across France who offer free overnight pitches to budget-minded travellers (see www.france-passion.com). That means you might wake to chateau views (and some wine-tasting, if you’re lucky), or a long-lashed dairy cow at your window. And unlike in England, where tight restrictions dictate the allowed distance from roads and so on, French rules mean you can park up for the night on public land (albeit at your own risk). You can even set up camp right on the beach if you fancy; and when you want modern conveniences, check in to a campsite, complete with plug-in points, showers and loos (see www.campingfrance.com for a country-wide map); spots in Provence come as cheap as 13 per night and often have extras such as barbecues and on-site wi-fi.
How do we keep children entertained on the road?
Answer: with a sense of humour and plenty of bribe material. All children get the munchies, so a few extra treats will make the trip a triumph. Travel games are perfect for kids who have had enough of scenery (www.travelgames.co.uk is good for low-tech ideas, involving only paper and imagination), but you may have to allow technology for teenagers, or give them a camera (retro Polaroid perhaps?) to record their own holiday moments. At any rate, the great thing about a campervan is that the kids have access to all their stuff – not to mention the fact you can take as many loo stops as you please.
How much should be planned before we set off?
As long as you have access to maps and campsite information – either printouts made before your trip, or internet on the move – the less you plan, the more fun the trip will be and the more involved the kids will feel in the process. To give you ideas, roadtrip specialists and campervan companies provide suggested itineraries: Belle Vie Campers (www.belle-vie.fr), for example, rents classic 1970s Volkswagen campervans for self-drive holidays, and can tell you the best beaches in southwest France, or point you in the direction of great surf schools and cycle routes. Their Westfalia campervans have fun names, such as Felicity and Marmalade, and can accommodate a family of four, plus one small child sleeping in the cab hammock. A seven-day hire in high season costs 560. Optional extras can be added to your booking, such as child seats, bedding, towels, bikes, games packs, and a trailer for added space.
Love the idea, but we always do France”
New Zealand is the spiritual home of the campervan roadtrip – and what you lose in travelling hours (build in a stopover in LA or Asia, otherwise kids may go crazy), you gain in never-forget-them views of glaciers, mountains and epic beaches. Britz is an excellent company (00800 2008 0801, www.britz.co.nz) and can add on bicycles and racks to your rental. Closer to home, there’s Wales – squint and it could be NZ. Pembrokeshire makes excellent roadtrip territory: it’s rugged, coastal and changes by the day. Pembrokeshireclassiccampers.co.uk offers the same set-up as above: restored classic VW vans. JN
The easy epic: Morocco by mule
They’ll love: Walking in Mother Nature’s petting zoo
You’ll love: Heart-racing views at every turn
No piggybacks. No shoulder rides. No bribes to walk the extra mile. The first squeak of ‘Carry me!’ and your children will be scooped up onto the backs of sturdy mules during this gentle introduction to trekking in the dramatic Atlas mountain range – spectacular, yet just four hours from the UK. And when they’re not on muleback, they’ll be scurrying through groves of almond trees, boulder-hopping across melt-water streams and helping your Berber guides tend to their trusty steeds. That leaves you to walk at a relaxed pace, revelling in the scenery, culture and smug sense of achievement that comes with this family adventure.
Sounds a bit risky to me. Is it safe?
The trails are well used by mule teams, and the pace is slow and sure-footed, with each animal led by a muleteer. It’s a sensible precaution, though, to ensure that children wear riding or cycling helmets (take them with you) when they’re on the mule. If you’re worried about the heat – mid-summer temperatures in Marrakech can soar to 45C – bear in mind it’s much cooler in the mountains (24C, even in August). Your guide will find a shady spot for a picnic each day, and you’ll pass streams and springs that are perfect for a refreshing paddle.
I’m worried about culture shock. How will our kids cope?
Better than you might think. The trip starts with a couple of nights in Marrakech, where children will no doubt attract the cheek-squidging attention of stallholders in the souks (aim for half-terms, not summer holidays if you’re concerned about temperature). The snake- charmers, sword-swallowers and magicians of Djemma el Fna Square will hold them rapt. And on the trek, muleteers fuss over the kids more than the mules. Your brood will soon know the names and stories of every beast.
Is there any time for relaxation?
Your hotel in Marrakech has a swimming pool, and your first day in the mountains involves nothing more than a two-hour stroll. The next couple of days are more challenging (up to six hours’ walking each day), as you hike towards a pass at 2,280m, then the trail weaves downhill through terraced fields and Berber villages. When the four-day trek is over, you’ll drive to the fishing port and beach resort of Essaouira for two nights in a riad. The 10-day Atlas Mule Train from Families Worldwide (0845 051 4567, www.familiesworldwide.co.uk) is designed for families with children aged 2-10 (there’s an eight-day alternative for 7-16s) and costs from 769 per adult and 719 per child, including flights to Marrakech, accommodation, most meals and a fully supported trek.
Anything with cute animals that isn’t so steep?
Try self-guided walking with your very own mule through the foothills of Castile in northern Spain (through InnTravel: 01653 617001, www.inntravel.co.uk). Each night you’re met with your luggage at the next hotel, so there’s no hard work involved, and the itinerary includes two free days you can spend by the pool. Or, for a British taster of life on the trail with a four-legged friend, book a weekend llama trek across Surrey’s North Downs (01428 682883, www.surrey-hills-llamas.co.uk). As the company says: ‘If you think your children won’t walk, give them a llama and they’ll walk all day!’ WG
The bling beach break: Dubai
They’ll love: Snow-skiing and beach swimming on the same day
You’ll love: Year-round sunshine, guaranteed
Where have you been all our lives, Dubai? Transforming yourself into a family-holiday fantasyland, it appears. One of the closest destinations to the UK that stays hot all year round, Dubai delivers exactly what you wished for that wet January morning – on a platter with a frozen virgin Margarita. Resorts with six pools, 10 restaurants and peacocks roaming the grounds; wicked kid-appeal architecture (such as the soaring Burj Al Arab); OTT malls; even – gasp! – culture”
Sounds hectic. “We just want to relax”
Then you’ll need an array of diversions for the under-14s. Luckily, you’ve come to a place where pretty much every Dubai Hotel and Resort kids’ club stays open till 10pm – and with on-site parasailing and mini-golf to boot. Come high noon, when most Brits reach their perspiration threshold, catch a cab, hotel shuttle or metro to Ski Dubai, the Middle East’s first (but probably not last) indoor ski resort at the Mall of the Emirates. While kids aged three-plus get to grips with snowboard lessons, the folks can go shopping or, better, wallow at the adjoining Kempinski’s poolside bar.
A mall? We might as well stay home and go to our local shopping centre!
But Dubai does it with substantially more panache. The open-air Dubai Mall has astonishing views: the world’s tallest building – Burj Khalifa – is just next door, with a 124th-floor lookout over the ocean and desert. Meanwhile, the mall’s phenomenal dancing Dubai Fountain (designed by the folks at Vegas’s Bellagio hotel and squirting 150m into the air) comes to life more than a dozen times a day – try tearing kids away. Sceptics will be floored by the quality of the Dubai Mall’s food – even at the gaudiest buffets. And as for people-watching, it’s a veritable United Nations (in Jimmy Choos).
And the ‘cultural stuff’ I was promised?
The kids will feel like Indiana Jones among the dusty sandstone buildings of the historic Bastakia Quarter, a one-time Iranian trading post transformed into a museum and gallery district. The textile souk is nearby, and the gold and spice souks are just across Dubai Creek. Virgin Holidays (0844 557 4321, www.virginholidays.co.uk) has three nights at the five-star Hilton Ras al Khaimah Resort & Spa, from 685 per adult and 545 per child, B&B, including direct flights from Heathrow. The resort has a private beach, an adults-only pool, several restaurants, a kids’ club, spa, watersports, and babysitting on request.
I like the ‘sunshine’ part, but not the ‘glitz’ bit. Anywhere else?
Oman has the same balmy weather minus the bling and high skyscraper count. Kids will love Muscat’s buzzy souk, and camel-trekking beyond – though the downside for families is fewer flights and operators (try Audley: 01993 838000,www.audleytravel.com). Then there’s Abu Dhabi: the neighbouring emirate has all the comforts of Dubai without the brashness (try Destinology: 0800 072 2227,www.destinology.co.uk). It also has a sensational wildlife park and a Ferrari World, with the world’s fastest rollercoaster. EH