Family holidays

Travel

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.

Continue reading…

Travel

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)

Continue reading…

Travel

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

Continue reading…

Travel

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

Continue reading…

Travel

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.

Continue reading…

Travel

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

Continue reading…

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.

Continue reading…

Travel

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.

Continue reading…

Travel

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.

Continue reading…

Travel

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

Continue reading…

Travel

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.

Continue reading…

Travel

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.

Continue reading…

Travel

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

Continue reading…

Travel

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.

Continue reading…

Travel

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.

Continue reading…

Travel

2017 travel planner: where to go on holiday … and when

Whether you’re looking for a dream holiday or a last-minute city break, here’s the lowdown on how to find bargains and late deals for all types of getaway from now until December

Book now: summer beach favourites
If you fancy a balmy beach holiday this summer, don’t take any chances. Last year, with thousands sidestepping Tunisia, Egypt and Turkey in favour of “safer” European options, there was a shortage of holidays in Spain, Italy and Portugal in July and August, pushing up prices and limiting last-minute deals. With Foreign Office advice largely unchanged, it’s likely to be the same this year, so take advantage of early booking offers this month. Thomas Cook, for example, has £400 discounts on selected family holidays with deposits from £25pp, allowing time to save up. Airtours has seven nights in Gran Canaria from £1,685 a family (two adults and two children) staying at the three-star Koala Garden on a self-catering basis, flying from Gatwick on 26 August.

Continue reading…

Travel

Ski holiday calendar: will there be snow when I go?

When splashing out on a ski trip, you need to know there’ll be plenty of white stuff. We recommend the best resorts at Christmas, half-term, Easter and more

In these troubled climatic times, skiers and snowboarders can no longer rely on adequate snow cover throughout the season. So planning is vital. In particular, anyone arranging an early or late holiday should choose somewhere at high altitude, then even if there’s insufficient natural stuff, the sub-zero temperatures – at least at night – should ensure that artificial snowmaking can take place.
Prices below are per person for one week, including half-board, flights and transfers, unless stated otherwise

Continue reading…

Travel

50 of the best UK cottages for Christmas and New Year

Sorry to mention it just as the long, hot summer draws to a close, but unless you hurry it will be too late to bag a festive cottage. Here are our choices for romance, partying, winter walks and great pubs

All cottages were available to book at the time of going to press. Outside the Christmas holiday period, all cottages are available at cheaper rates than those quoted here

Continue reading…

Travel

Something for the weekend: activities and events for August bank holiday

Steampunk or steam trains, walking, cycling or outdoor cinema … there’s plenty on offer to keep the family busy this weekend

August Bank Holiday in London means (mainly) one thing – Carnival. Officially turning 50 this year, Europe’s biggest street party is a whirlwind of parades, dancing and booming sound systems, attracting about two million people. Parades start at around 9am on Sunday (known as children’s day, the vibe’s more chilled) and Monday (which can be full-on for some). After the action winds up on Sunday, head south-east to Peckham for the Deadly Rhythm Carnival After Party at the Bussey Building (10pm-5am, residentadvisor.net, from £10). Another option is Secretsundaze’s birthday bash at the Oval in Bethnal Green, from 2pm on Sunday until 6am the next day (secretsundaze.net, from £14.50).

Continue reading…