Family holidays

Travel

Europe’s hidden coasts: the Deep Mani, Greece

Few tourists venture beyond the Mani’s spectacular Diros caves, but further south lies a dramatic coastline of sleepy fishing coves and fortified villages

The Mani, the central southern prong of mainland Greece, is divided into two halves. The Outer Mani, with the pretty coastal villages of Kardamyli and Stoupa, is now well known for offering a more authentic holiday experience than many of the islands. The Deep Mani, further south, is a different prospect, with its rugged coastline broken by only the occasional cove. Far fewer people visit here, and even fewer stay.

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Europe’s hidden coasts: Costa de Prata, Portugal

Central Portugal’s pristine beaches are pounded by the Atlantic and dotted with simple restaurants, but barely touched by tourists, making it a haven for those who crave space – and great seafood

Theo and I saunter along the road from Aveiro that crosses its wide, shiny, tame lagoon, and arrive in north Africa, or so it seems. We find scissored-leaf palm trees and heavy white sand dunes on the march, and the relentless wild rumble and roar of the unquiet Atlantic.

Portugal’s Centro region is baffling. It’s between Lisbon and Porto, thus easy to get to and easy to get around. It has peerless beaches, a treasury of gorgeous historic towns and villages, and endlessly lovely people. The pristine coastline, horizons and skies go on forever. Yet there’s almost nobody here. This isn’t spooky: indeed we feel privileged, transported to earlier, more innocent times when Theo was a kid and I was a new, naive dad. So we spend timeless days basking in the richness of space, and soaking in the luxury of simplicity.

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Travel

Dreamland Margate reopens (again) after £25m revamp

The 2015 relaunch of the 1920s amusement park proved disappointing to both investors and visitors. Now it has high hopes for its latest incarnation, with new rides, bars and food stalls, and a live music venue

It was hailed as the revival of a seaside mecca that would consolidate Margate’s regeneration, but the fanfare around the reopening of the town’s retro amusement park in 2015 soon fizzled out. Barely one year on, Dreamland was in administration. Now, following a £25m investment, and under a new management team, the attraction is preparing to reopen for a second time, promising a radically different experience.

Dreamland’s second relaunch, just in time for the May bank holiday weekend, will showcase new rides, new landscaping, modern art installations and a better food offering, all of which its management team hope will transform its fortunes.

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Top 10 UK guided walks and tours for families

Avoid moans of ‘walking’s boring’ by trying a children-focused tour, where guides channel Robin Hood and Mary Poppins, or lead ghost trails and fossil hunts

If you’re looking for “gently spooky” rather than “give the kids nightmares for weeks”, then this is the ghost tour for you. Follow “Victorian undertaker” Bill Spectre as he leads you through the back streets and courtyards of Oxford. This twilight tour is peppered with ghost stories, which are illustrated with props, pyrotechnics and illusions. Plenty of jokes and audience participation ensure it never goes to the dark side and is suitable for kids of all ages.
Friday and Saturday evening at 6.30pm from the gift shop of Oxford Castle Unlocked, 1¾ hours, no need to book. Adults £9, children £5-£7. ghosttrail.org

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Travel

City breaks with kids: Nantes

This cycle-friendly city on the river Loire has family attractions galore, super street art and tasty food options for children

In this series: Paris | Barcelona | Amsterdam | Berlin | London | Rome

Not any more … Nantes is a wonderland for kids and parents. The city, on the river Loire, has seen a cultural reinvention in the past 10 years and there’s easily enough to do to fill a week – or a few days en route south, as my family and I tend to do. The best place to start is the Île de Nantes, the creative hub of the city on an island in the river. Here, the masterminds at Les Machines de L’ile Nantes have created a steampunk playground where a robotic elephant carries passengers on its back (rides €8.50 adults, €6.90 children) and sprays water on bystanders. Nearby, a carousel inspired by Nantes native Jules Verne and his novel 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea whirls visitors around on mechanical masterpieces such as smoke-breathing dragons, flying fish and fearsome anglerfish (ride prices as above). It’s possible to tour the workshop and see future creations taking shape.

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Normandy conquest: all-action family fun in the French countryside

On a group family holiday at a Normandy chateau, a sceptical dad is pleasantly surprised by how much fun the entertainment and activities are – and that doing nothing is an option, too

Call it an exercise in contrasts. At the summit of Mont Saint-Michel, the bronze statue of the archangel is glinting in the midday sun, sword raised and wings outspread. At the foot of Mont Saint-Michel, a small jam-smeared boy is wriggling through a tiny window in the fortress wall and idly breaking into the courtyard of a gendarmerie. The archangel is the protector of the mount. The boy is my son.

Four of us – me, my wife, our four-year-old daughter Bethan and seven-year-old apprentice cat burglar, Joe – have come to western Normandy to join 15 other British families on an all-ages adventure break. This group day trip is a mere bit-player in the week’s itinerary. The holiday is primarily based 45 minutes inland, at an old countryside chateau near Les Chambres on the Manche coast, near Brittany. It’s a wholesome setting in which rabbits hop, peacocks preen and mobs of croissant-fuelled children tear around, brandishing makeshift lightsabers.

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10 of the best country campsites in France

The authors of the latest Cool Camping: France book pick the best family-friendly sites from Normandy to the Pyrenees

Since its commission – by none other than William the Conqueror – Château de Monfréville, 10km from the Normandy coast, has housed everyone from Walt Disney’s whole family to invading German soldiers. Today it is limited to just 25 tent pitches, with ample room for little ones to roam and Bert the donkey to graze. There’s a natural swimming pond, an honesty shop (stocked with organic veggies from the garden) and fresh pastries delivered each morning. It’s a 30-minute drive to the medieval town of Bayeux, home of the world’s most celebrated tapestry.
Tent and 2 people from €26.50 (tents only)

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Wild days out for Easter: UK walks, attractions and activities – without the crowds

Big-name attractions are heaving over the spring break but the UK has a wealth of spectacular, less-well-known days out. Our experts reveal their favourites

The sea is not warm over Easter (just 9-10C), but sunshine and warm air make a difference, tempting swimmers to strip for a quick dash and splash. I love Wales for a spring break. Trefalen Farm campsite at Bosherston in Pembrokeshire is basic but perfectly situated – who needs a shower block when you can scramble down to the sea for a wake-up dip? From the site, you can walk across Broadhaven, Barafundle (accessible only by foot) and on to Stackpole Quay, where a National Trust cafe does wonderful hot soups and drinks. Afterwards, you could explore the paths around Bosherton Ponds, where otters are frequently seen.
Kate Rew, founder of the Outdoor Swimming Society and crowd-sourced swim map wildswim.com

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10 of the best British farm attractions

Easter’s not complete without lambs and chicks, and the UK’s family-friendly farm attractions are geared up for the school holidays, with events from rides and races to bottle feeding

This organic dairy and arable farm prides itself on a “hands-on” approach: visitors are encouraged to feed and groom the animals and watch planting and milking parlour demonstrations. Budding farmers can get a taste of agricultural life by signing up for its Young Farmer Academy: two-hour sessions aimed at 7-to-12-year-olds, with the chance to take part in behind-the-scenes activities, while learning about animal husbandry or arable farming (next session 13 April, £15pp). Over the Easter holidays (1-17 April), there’ll be extra activities such as Easter egg hunts, sheep races and bird of prey displays.
Adult £9.20, 2–16s £8.20, under-twos £1.75, family £33, 10% online discount, stockleyfarm.co.uk

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An ‘Arctic’ safari in the Scottish Highlands

Winter in the Cairngorms national park can turn positively Arctic – perfect for Kari Herbert to give her young daughter a taste of the polar conditions, and creatures, she enjoyed as a child in Greenland

The temperature is below zero and a bitter wind is tugging at our clothes. In the distance, the Grampian hills are catching the early sunlight but it’s dark in the shadows of the wood. Curious eyes are trained on us from beneath the trees – a pack of grey wolves are just metres away. It’s rare to see these beautiful creatures at such close quarters: wolves are naturally wary. The privilege of the moment is lost on six-year-old Nelly. Her toes are aching with cold.

We’ve come to Scotland to seek out some of her favourite polar animals, creatures she’s so far enjoyed only in books and wildlife shows on TV – but wolves are not on her list.

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20 of the best places to stargaze in the UK

The National Parks Dark Skies Festival (18-26 February) is an ideal opportunity to try stargazing in some of the UK’s wildest areas. But here, we’ve also selected stellar sites that are good throughout the year

The South Downs became an international dark sky reserve in May 2016, with 66% of the park having bronze-level skies (as assessed by the International Dark Sky Association), which means the Milky Way and Andromeda galaxy can be seen. It has seven stargazing hotspots: Winchester Science Centre and Planetarium, Old Winchester Hill, Butser Hill, Iping Common, Devil’s Dyke, Ditchling Beacon and Birling Gap. To celebrate its new designation, the park is taking part in the second annual Dark Skies festival (until 26 February), with star parties, night hikes, astrophotography sessions and comet-making workshops. A fitting place to stay nearby, open from April, is Big Sky Tipi Holidays near Eastbourne (three nights from £240, sleeps up to six, bigskytipiholidays.co.uk), a glampsite with very little light pollution, close to the Observatory Science Centre at Herstmonceux Castle.
southdowns.gov.uk

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Travel

Take the kids to … Tintagel, Cornwall

Wizards, kings and castle ruins combine with beach, caves and rock pools to make a magical day out – even in February

In a nutshell
The home of legendary kings, beautiful queens and a powerful wizard, this craggy headland is one of Cornwall’s most iconic sites. Supposed birthplace of King Arthur, the Tintagel ruins and surrounding coast are steeped in stories. Kids enjoy playing knights or smugglers in the ruins, and exploring rock pools and caves, one with Merlin’s face controversially carved in rock. Some of the locals are aghast at the feature, but for kids it’s fun to find. There’s also a new, rather imposing King Arthur statue on a neighbouring clifftop – called Gallos, Cornish for power. A little farther afield are scenic coastal walks, which in summer are vibrant with wildflowers, butterflies and sea birds. If you’re lucky you might spot dolphins and basking sharks. There are family events from Easter, but out of season you can have the place to yourself. It’s at its best in fine weather, obviously, but in pouring rain the waterfalls in the area are thunderous.

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City breaks with kids: London

London offers a dazzling parade of attractions and treats for children – but it can empty your pockets faster than Fagin. Here are our tips for making the most of the city on a budget

More in this series: Paris | Barcelona | Amsterdam | Berlin | Rome

Some of London’s most popular attractions are also its most expensive – looking at you Madame Tussauds (from £107 for a family of four), London Zoo (£84.60), London Sealife Aquarium (£136). On the plus side, most major museums are free – though a donation of around £5 per person is suggested – and offer dedicated trails, activities and sometimes apps for children. The Natural History Museum, Science Museum, British Museum, Museum of London, Imperial War Museum are all worth a visit.

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City breaks with kids: Rome

The Eternal City may be stuffed with classical treasures, but it also has plenty to intrigue kids – who will love the ready availability of pizza and ice-cream

More in this series: Paris | Barcelona | Amsterdam | Berlin

Rome offers several offbeat, not-too academic museums and art galleries. The Centrale Montemartini (€7,50, under-6s free) is always a hit with my son. A short stroll from Garbatella metro station, it has Greek and Roman statues, busts and friezes masterfully displayed in a converted power plant built in 1932. The towering turbines, defunct diesel engines and colossal steam boilers create an exciting backdrop for the marble sculptures. There are free guided tours designed for children.

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10 of the best new family attractions in the UK

Waterparks, cycle trails and zipwires through the forest are among the attractions springing up across the UK this year. We’ve included affordable places to stay nearby, too

Forest playground company Treetop Trek will open its third centre this spring in Manchester’s Heaton Park, following on from courses at Brockhole in the Lake District and Ripon, North Yorkshire. The Manchester branch will be its biggest, with giant trampolines, and more than 20 zipwires.
treetoptrek.co.uk/manchester
Where to stay YHA Manchester has en suite family rooms for four from £49 a night, yha.org.uk

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City breaks with kids: Barcelona

It’s a favourite destination for adults, but Barcelona has loads to offer kids, whether they’re into football, science, the seaside or amusement parks

More in this series: Berlin | Amsterdam | Paris

The Gothic Quarter’s warren of medieval alleyways is great fun to explore, and one of its hidden treasures is the original Papabubble store on Calle Ample where jewel-like sweets are made by hand.

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City breaks with kids: Paris

The city of love – or lights – can also be a delight for children, with special sessions at many cultural attractions and parks with playgrounds, ponds and puppets

More in this series: Berlin | Amsterdam

Most kids quickly tire of walking, so make it more interesting with a stroll along Les Berges de Seine, a scenic stretch of river starting from the Musée D’Orsay. Climbing frames, painted floor mazes, hopscotch, board games and seasonal, pop-up play apparatus are just a few of the things that will keep children entertained.

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20 of the best family campsites in Europe

With great restaurants, beautiful locations and lots of activities and entertainment, these sites offer all the fun but none of the hassle of traditional camping

  • Scroll to the end for booking guidance

All prices are for seven nights, for two adults and two kids in a mobile home or chalet for the week 29 July-5 August. Prices correct at time of going to press

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City breaks with kids: Amsterdam

Continuing our series on family-friendly city holidays, we head to popular Amsterdam for bikes and boats, pancakes and play parks

Online now: Berlin | Tomorrow: Paris

Amsterdam East, the “Brooklyn of Amsterdam”, offers a pleasant alternative to the usual tourist jaunts. Its recently redeveloped Oosterpark has a new public playground and terraced Grand Café De Tropen ). Right next door is one of the grandest, but lesser-known Amsterdam museum, the Tropenmuseum (adult €15, child €8). This anthropological museum houses an astounding collection of 175,000 artefacts and offers interactive exhibits and immersive experiences. My children’s personal favourites include the extensive collection of musical instruments for hands-on play, as well as the dozens of short films and educational games. At weekends children aged 4-12 can get crafty at the Travelling Tales exhibition.

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City breaks with kids: Berlin

In our new series of ‘mini’ breaks, local parents tip the attractions kids will love – and the ones to avoid – plus where to refuel and where to call it a night

Tomorrow: Amsterdam

For all its reputation as the capital of cool, Berlin makes a fabulous family destination. Berliners are generally tolerant of children, public transport is easy, cheap and fast, and the city brims with parks, playgrounds and lakes. Queues for the main attractions are usually shorter than in many other cities thanks to Berlin’s relatively small population (3.6 million) and impressive wealth of cultural delights, and it’s usually possible to beat the queues for big sights like the Reichstag and the TV Tower by simply booking online.

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