Family holidays

Travel

10 of the best-value family ski trips

Winter sports breaks can be seriously expensive during February half-term and the Easter holidays but there are bargains if you know where to look

Action Outdoors is the UK partner of UCPA, a French non-profit group that works to make outdoor sports holidays affordable. Its all-inclusive ski trips offer some of the best value going, with ski hire and 12 hours of tuition included in the price. Les Contamines, in the Mont Blanc region, is a friendly, quiet resort with higher than average snowfall that’s often overlooked in favour of big-hitting neighbours Chamonix and Megève. The slopes are especially suited to beginner and intermediate skiers, and the town is picturesque.
From £654pp at half-term (departing 10 February) with action-outdoors.co.uk, including 7 nights’ full-board, 6½ days’ lift pass, 12 hours’ ski instruction, 6½ days’ ski equipment hire and evening entertainment. Accommodation-only options are available and under-3s go free. Return Eurotunnel crossings from £150 per car. Tolls and fuel about £136 according to viamichelin.com

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Travel

Smoke on the water: a boating holiday adventure in France

On a family break along the Canal du Rhône au Rhin, Emma Cook and Co are out of their comfort zone, especially when their new boat breaks down. Still, there’s always Strasbourg to savour

It’s a beast of a boat, more Puerto Banús than Canal du Rhône, satin white curves and chrome handrails gleaming in the sun.

And it’s ours for the week. This is Horizon, the shiniest and newest addition to the range by Le Boat, the canal boat specialist which offers self-drive craft along the waterways of mainland Europe, UK and Ireland.

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Travel

The best family-friendly museums in the UK: readers’ travel tips

Science, technology, art or history … readers recommend fun and educational museums around the country in time for half-term

The Thackray Medical Museum in Leeds does an incredible job of helping kids to understand how lucky they are to have vaccinations, antibiotics and even the basics, such as clean water. It’s a Victorian street complete with smells and printed cards (describing nasties like bed bugs), plus it highlights the horrors of cholera and there’s a chance to pick a character and see whether you survived or not. My 18-year-old daughter is adamant her love of science began there 10 years ago.
Adult £8, 5-16 years £5, family £24.50, thackraymedicalmuseum.co.uk
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Travel

‘The myths and legends surrounding the South Downs are amazing’: writer Cressida Cowell

The beauty and ancient history of the landscape have always fired the imagination of the How to Train Your Dragon author

I spent much of my childhood in the South Downs, where my grandmother lived, and we just ran free. We’d be off on our bikes, or on foot, – or toboggan in the snow – to explore the landscape around the villages of Singleton and Charlton which has, unconsciously, been such an inspiration to me as an author.

There’s an extraordinary atmosphere here, I think because its human history is so old. There’s a feeling that you could turn round and someone from 2,000 years could appear. Paths like the South Downs Way have been trudged for thousands of years and probably haven’t changed much in that time.

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Travel

Modern family: Greece with grown-up kids

A decade after a first family holiday in Greece, Martin Love heads to Paxos – and finds it wonderfully unchanged

The five of us stretched out on yoga mats with our toes pointing towards the sea. Above us the breeze stirred the leaves of the ancient olive trees. “Eímai edó,” intoned Sophie. “In Greek that means, ‘I am here.’” She continued in her gentle voice. “I am here in Paxos. I have arrived. I have moored on this rock surrounded by sea …”

Sophie was training to be a mindfulness teacher. When we lay down I’d have bet my favourite Speedos that we’d soon be in fits of laughter, but not one of us so much as sniggered. We lay in still, neat rows, like sardines, as her soothing words washed over us. After a while, Sophie brought us up from the depths. “I hope you are now at one with this island,” she said. We’d been on Paxos for less than half a day yet I had the giddy sensation I might just chuck it all in and stay here forever.

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Travel

The new CBeebies Land Hotel at Alton Towers

Kids will love the floor-to-ceiling, Postman Pat and Octonauts-themed fantasy on offer – and there’s a bar in the back for adults if their enthusiasm needs a boost

‘Designed through the eyes of a five-year-old” is how Alton Towers bills its latest theme hotel. If my nearly-four-year-old were in charge, there’d be a mermaid-filled swimming pool, ice-cream fountains, and the casts of Moana, The Jungle Book and Octonauts incarnated to be her best friends and French-plait her hair.

The CBeebies Land Hotel, created in partnership with the BBC TV toddler channel, gets close – it has Octonauts bedrooms for a start. Postman Pat, In the Night Garden, Swashbuckle and Something Special ones too. These 34 themed rooms and suites, alas, cost £75 a night more than the 42 standard rooms, decorated with those yellow blob CBeebies ident characters that no child ever gave a dirty nappy about. I imagine those prepared to indulge their little darlings enough to bring them here – and let’s face it, this is up there with a Disney trip as spoiling goes – will feel obliged to fork out on their favourite show’s suite, too.

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Travel

Southend-on-Sea: the arty way is Essex

Paul O’Grady obviously hasn’t visited Southend for a while … The resort where the East End still goes for old-fashioned seaside fun now has a thriving arts scene, too

At the Village Green arts and music festival in Southend-on-Sea earlier this month, festivalgoers were pictured waving placards reading “Southend is not a shit hole”. I thought this was a bit odd, until I learned it was in response to a recent outburst by presenter Paul O’Grady – during filming for an episode of Blind Date, no less – in which he branded the Essex seaside town a shit hole, and “full of single mothers”. Harsh, Paul.

Like generations of Londoners before me, I had my first taste of the seaside at Southend. No matter that the beach was more mud than golden sand, or that the water – where the Thames meets the North Sea – was a murky brown. I have fond memories of making “sand” castles in the silty sludge, riding the roller coasters at Adventure Island until I felt sick, and then walking to the end of the (world’s longest) pier for an ice-cream and to watch the container ships sliding in and out of the estuary.

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Travel

10 of the best narrow-gauge railway journeys in Britain

Hop aboard one of these fantastic British railway adventures – with the chance to see wildlife and wonderful scenery along the route

The Ffestiniog winds its way from Porthmadog through more than 13 miles of stunning countryside. Waterfalls cascade and streams froth down mossy rock sides. Swathes of deep green grass soar on one side while valleys dip spectacularly on the other, affording the chance to look down on treetops far below. Sharp bends in the line offer splendid views of the engine as it chugs onward and upward to Blaenau Ffestiniog, where there’s a chance to travel on an even smaller train into a former slate mine. The slate-waste landscape at the top of the line makes a fascinating contrast with the natural beauties below.
Adult rover ticket £24, one child under 16 travels free with each adult, under-3 free. Dogs and bicycles welcome, festrail.co.uk

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Travel

Hut stuff: Bournemouth’s new beach lodges

The seaside resort has reimagined the classic British beach hut as a chic bolthole that makes for an idyllic family break

When it comes to tourism initiatives, you can’t knock Bournemouth council for ambition. A decade ago, it had the seemingly brilliant idea of creating an artificial surf reef off Boscombe beach aimed at attracting surfers from far and wide, and also help renew the immediate area, one of the most deprived neighbourhoods in the whole of the south-west, according to a local charity. Sadly, it was a disaster and the project sank without trace, though the huge sandbags are still teetering somewhere on the sea bed.

But despite its failure to make waves (at least the right sort – it did generate plenty of unwanted headlines), such was the hype surrounding the proposed reef that redevelopment of the Boscombe pier area began anyway.

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Travel

The best of the UK seaside

Nostalgia, beaches and ice-cream come together in perfect harmony as 12 authors and locals choose their favourite places on the UK coast, with places to stay

Broadstairs must be in my blood. My mum’s family has been going there at least since Edward VII was on the throne. We have an old album of photographs of her parents horsing around in what is presumably Viking Bay. In one picture, my grandfather is posing in a woollen bathing suit with a half-crown stuck in his eye-socket as though it’s a monocle. Considering that he wasn’t known for his levity and that at the time it was taken, in the mid-1930s, the economy had gone south and the world stood on the brink of a terrible war, it says something about the restorative powers of Broadstairs.

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Travel

10 of the best new summer activitiy holidays in the Alps

From ziplines in Switzerland to walking holidays in Italy and France, plus mountain bike breaks and an outdoor festival, the Alps are worth a ‘peak’ this summer

Car-free family ski resort and outdoor activity base Arc 1950 has opened another bike route for the summer, one that goes through the centre of the village – so if staying in the resort, you can pedal right back to your apartment. Buying a mountain bike pass provides access to 180km of marked trails for all levels; that’s 23 trails with nine downhill runs and two cross-country circuits among the count. A short drive from Chamonix, the village enjoys spectacular views of Mont Blanc.
Half-day mountain bike pass €15 adult, €12 children, arc1950.com

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Travel

10 of the UK’s best castles for a family day out

With half-term upon us and summer round the corner, the UK’s castles are rolling out all kinds of entertainment, including medieval-themed activities, theatre, glamping – and a dash of Harry Potter

A 15th-century moated castle surrounded by a 300-acre estate, Herstmonceux is a tranquil site with a range of themed gardens to explore, including an Elizabethan, a magic and a butterfly garden. From May to October, Herstmonceux also offers horse and carriage rides around the estate (from £3 adult, £2 children, under 5s free). The castle hosts England’s Medieval Festival 2017(26-28 August), which is celebrating its 25th anniversary with a weekend-long bonanza of battles, jousting, archery, banquets and all the other elements and ephemera of medieval life.
Adults £6, children £3, under 5s free, family (two adults three children) £14. herstmonceux-castle.com

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Travel

City breaks with kids: Bristol

Our series of city guides for families heads to creative, community-minded Bristol, with its fab, and often free, attractions and acres of parkland nearby
More in this series: London | Brighton | Berlin | Paris | Barcelona | Rome | Amsterdam

Bristol isn’t the most beautiful city in the world (the blitz and brutalist post-war planning saw to that), but it compensates with a unique, offbeat charm. Cycle paths, community farms, street art, street food and a potent live music scene make it a multicultural, civic-minded kind of place with an alternative approach to city planning, green credentials and an unshowy, creative vibe – characteristics that also make it a family-friendly destination.

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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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