Family holidays

Travel

Top 10 last-minute half-term holiday deals

Looking for a family break but no time to browse? Our pick of late deals in Europe and further afield will ease the way to a February escape

Cyprus is one of the most popular winter sun destinations in Europe. In February it won’t be hot and the sea temperature will be a bracing 16C-17C but it’s a lot warmer than northern Europe and in many ways more pleasant without the summer crowds. Base yourself in Paphos and think of this as a sunny city break, rather than a week on the beach. The harbour city, in the west of the island, has a wealth of Greco-Roman and medieval sites including the Kato Paphos Archaeological Park, a fortress, and an old town that was revamped for the city’s stint as joint European Capital of Culture in 2017. Stay at the beachfront Amphora Hotel and Suites, which has views of the harbour and a pool and is within walking distance of the castle and other sights.
£428pp for seven nights’ B&B including return flights departing Gatwick 11 February for 7 nights, book through onthebeach.co.uk

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Travel

Take the kids to … the Ragged School Museum, east London

Once a school that provided a free education for destitute children, a row of 19th century warehouses is now a free museum giving visitors a chance to step back in time – and into the classroom – for a strict Victorian lesson

In 1877 Dr Thomas Barnardo opened the Copperfield Road Free School, the largest of three ragged schools (charitable institutions that offered the poorest children a free education) in a row of three warehouses on Regent’s Canal in Tower Hamlets. Now an underfunded, independent museum (opened in 1990), a small exhibition offers an insight into how tough life was in east London in the late 1800s, but the highlight is one of the original classrooms where visitors can attend a lesson led by an actor in Victorian costume. The museum is in the second phase of applying for a lottery grant, which will allow it to make vital repairs to the largest of the three warehouses, though the aim is to retain the authentic atmosphere of the building.

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Travel

The Secret Life of 5 Year Olds on Holiday review: sort of I’m a Child Get Me Out of Here

It’s Cyprus ahoy for the kids from the Channel 4 show but it’s not all sunshine and water slides, for while there may be chocolate spread for brekkie, there’s also squid tasting to be done. Yuck, sort of!

I’m watching The Secret Life of 5 Year Olds on Holiday (Channel 4) with a five year old and a three year old. Then tomorrow we’re going on holiday. Perfect, maybe we’ll get some tips.

Oh, they’ve got passports (still red, I’m already beginning to feel nostalgic about them). We won’t be needing those where we’re going.

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Travel

Take the kids to … Lappa Valley Steam Railway, Cornwall

With miniature steam engines, a special Santa train, a lake and maze, this charming small attraction near Newquay is a great day out for families with younger children

Board a narrow-gauge (15in) vintage steam train and weave through leafy woodland to the site of historic East Wheal Rose mine. Once there, paddle a canoe or giant swan around the boating lake, explore gentle nature trails or the wooden fortress, play crazy golf and ride more tiny rare trains, such as the 7¼-inch woodland railway, with sit-astride benches.

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Travel

Happy valley: a family gathering in the Yorkshire dales

With families spread far and wide, it’s good to get the gang together. Ruaridh Nicoll sticks a pin in the map, and ends up eating, drinking and walking around Malham

Bill Bryson once said of Malhamdale: “I won’t know for sure if it is the finest place there is until I have died and seen heaven (assuming they let me at least have a glance), but until that day comes, it will certainly do.” The much-loved travel writer was a local resident. He also talked of the “Malham wave”, where drivers would raise a finger in recognition when passing on the local roads.

As my brother and I pulled in one Friday in September after a long drive from London, we got the wave, only it wasn’t a friendly greeting a van driver gave us, but rather the finger.

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Travel

A little piste of Christmas in the Austrian Alps

The high Alpine resort of Katschberg proves perfect for a family of mixed abilities, and December’s lantern-lit advent trail leaves everyone feeling festive

I’m zig-zagging slowly down a beginners’ slope trying to avoid the three-year-olds zipping across my path and under the outstretched arms of a giant Mr Man. My two daughters, age 12 and 10, glide along behind me. As we pull to a stop I breathe a sigh of relief. I didn’t fall over that time.

“High five,” says Nico, our instructor. My daughters slide into position beside me, nonchalantly touching gloves with him as they do so. I try to reach over to his hand without going bottoms up again. I miss.

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Travel

Chhattisgarh: the heart of rural India

Kate Eshelby and family enjoy the pristine lands and age-old ways of the people of Chhattisgarh state

Three men in huge straw hats covered in peacock feathers and tinsel are playing wooden flutes as they herd cows and water buffalo on the edge of the jungle. Even the animals sport necklaces of bright flowers.

This is Chhattisgarh state, in east-central India: little visited, yet rewarding, it’s a land of elusive leopards, tigers and animist beliefs that gained independence from neighbouring Madhya Pradesh in 2000. I’m here with my husband Mark and our two boys, aged four and two. This may sound an unusual choice for a family holiday but Chhattisgarh works, because it’s quiet and rural and free of India’s city chaos.

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Travel

Take the kids … to Jodrell Bank Discovery Centre, Cheshire

Jodrell Bank is famous for the monumental Lovell telescope – but alongside all the serious science there are plenty of fun activities and hands-on experiments to inspire kids

The Lovell telescope, centrepiece of the Jodrell Bank Observatory, which has dominated the Cheshire countryside since it was constructed in 1957, was listed as a UK candidate for Unesco world heritage site status this month. As well as the world’s first fully steerable radio telescope, Jodrell Bank is home to a science discovery centre and for the past two summers has hosted the Bluedot festival of electronic music.

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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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