Summer holidays

Travel

Europe’s hidden coasts: the Maremma, Italy

This stretch of southern Tuscany is chic but discreet – disappear into the dunes, discover beguiling coves and stay on rambling estates amid stunning scenery

Italians were born for beaches. Summer means serried rows of sunbeds and regimented beach games. It’s all about bonding and strutting your stuff in matching tangerine mankinis.

But relax: it’s not all like that. Southern Tuscany makes a more stylish splash. Sugary sands are framed by pine groves and low-slung hills, revealing serene, post-impressionist landscapes. In the Maremma, south of Grosseto, set designers are seemingly in charge of the sunsets and rosemary-scented scrubland running down to the sea.

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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.

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Travel

Want a holiday where beer is just 70p a bottle? Head to Sunny Beach, Bulgaria

Sunny Beach is Europe’s cheapest beach-break destination for the fourth year running, according to the latest survey of typical holiday costs

UK tourists looking for a budget beach-break should head to Bulgaria, where a bottle of beer costs just 70p and a three-course meal for two – including a bottle of wine – will set you back less than £20, according to a new holiday costs report.

The Balkan country’s flagship resort, Sunny Beach, has been ranked the best-value beach resort for the fourth year running by the Post Office Travel Money Holiday Costs Barometer, which compares the average costs of tourist staples in European holiday destinations.

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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)

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Travel

The world’s best hidden beaches: Bali

The holiday island isn’t all packed beaches and tourist traps – you can find secluded spots perfect for snorkelling, surfing or seeing nature in the raw

‘Bali is spoilt.” It’s a complaint I’ve heard regularly in the four years I’ve been based on the island. One made, I can tell, by travellers who’ve visited only the well-worn tourist areas. The truth is: Bali is – still – beyond beautiful. You just need to know where to look.

In the popular areas of Kuta, Seminyak, Canggu, Jimbaran, Nusa Dua, Sanur and Ubud, development has been rampant; most of the rice paddies have been choked into non-existence and traffic congestion is a huge problem. Many of the beaches are lined with hotels, beach bars, umbrellas and deckchairs. It’s easy to see why people think Bali has been spoilt.

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The world’s best hidden beaches: Trang archipelago, Thailand

While popular Thai destinations such as Koh Samui and Phuket stagger under the weight of development, these southern islands retain a sleepy, tropical charm

Framed by jungle-draped limestone karsts, this small but striking bay has serene waters free of riptides, making it safe for families to splash around in the sun. As its nickname implies – farang is Thai for foreigner – you’ll find a large concentration of backpackers here. Still, with only a few sun-loungers and a couple of ramshackle food stops, it’s a far cry from the chaos of Chaweng beach on Koh Samui or Kamala on Phuket. Most of the bungalows, restaurants and Koh Muk’s near-nonexistent nocturnal scene are tucked out of sight in the adjacent woods.

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Travel

Summer escapes: exploring Croatia on a family road trip

Kevin Rushby starts his summer series with a walk amid the gorgeous mountains of Istria – all the way to the Adriatic
Next week: the island of Cres

The farmer stands looking at his vines. This is not like a French vineyard, cloaking the entire hillside in monoculture. This is Istria in northern Croatia. There’s a lush forest, an olive grove, tomatoes running amok and a farmhouse that might be taken for a ruin, were it not for the curtains in one intact window.

“It’s been a strange year,” I say. “Brexit, Donald Trump, Iceland and Wales at the Euros.”

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Travel

The lanes in Spain: swimming the Costa Brava’s new ‘sea tracks’

Vies Braves are a new way of swimming safely in busy seas – on buoy-marked routes north and south of Barcelona for group or independent holidays

We must have made a strange sight: 12 wetsuited swimmers suddenly landing on a nudist beach. I often feel overdressed in a wetsuit, but this was ridiculous. But rather than disrobe and get into the swing of things, we averted our eyes, opened our towfloats and rehydrated with some water, before swimming off again on our exploration of the coastline.

As the nudists receded from view, we stopped beneath craggy cliffs and dipped our heads under the water. Our guide, champion long-distance swimmer Miquel Sunyer, pointed out a bright orange starfish making its slow way across the seabed.

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Travel

How do you survive holiday car journeys?

The Dover traffic jams highlighted the perils of holiday driving. Tell us how you relieve the boredom of long family drives – and stop the kids fighting

The school summer holidays got off to a great start, with blue skies and sunshine. Great, that is, unless you were stuck in a 12-mile traffic jam on the way to catch a ferry in Dover. The tailbacks at the port meant that families had to endure up to 16 hours stuck in the heat in unmoving traffic. That’s a lot of games of I spy.

While this summer’s jams surely can’t get any worse than this, it’s inevitable that thousands of families will face some delays or disruption while travelling over the school summer holidays. So we’re calling on you for tips on how to survive long car journeys.

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Travel

Poll: would you take your children on holiday during school term time?

Let us know whether you’ve followed the official rules for your family holiday this year

The ongoing issue over whether parents should be allowed to take their children on holiday during term time will come to a head on Monday evening when MPs debate the subject in Parliament.

The debate was triggered after a petition attracted more than 200,000 signatures calling for the penalties – which were introduced in 2013 – to be scrapped and a term-time holiday allowance to be reinstated.

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Travel

Thomas Cook repackaged: tour firm opens its first boutique resort in Rhodes

Out with the tour reps and in with the ‘guest experience manager’… the package holiday giant is targeting a new generation with the launch of its first boutique hotel on the island of Rhodes

Casa Cook is out to impress. On arriving at the newly-built Kolymbia resort, on the Greek island of Rhodes, we are informed that the reception area is not merely a reception, but also a “concept store”. The restaurant is not simply a restaurant but “The Kitchen Club”. The poolside bar is, as far as I can tell, just “the bar”, but there are none of the usual fishbowls, no tiki huts, and definitely no Sex on the Beach. Instead, it is filled with cast-iron chairs, wicker lampshades and rustic wooden stools (all available for purchase from the aforementioned concept store).

But this is not the newest branch of the Ace Hotel chain, or a trendy Scandinavian boutique (although there’s plenty of Nordic inspiration to be found and, more importantly, Instagrammed). Casa Cook Rhodes is the latest resort from Thomas Cook, the brand better known for offering family-friendly budget getaways, which is now hoping to harness the “bohemian spirit” of a “new generation of traveller”. It is the first of a newly-launched collection of hotels (with more due to open next year) built specifically for Thomas Cook – a move extremely rare in the tourism industry.

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Term-time holiday bookings surge after high court ruling

Flight and holiday booking firms already reporting increase in online enquiries for holidays in term time as court decision begins to take effect

A travel agency has reported a surge in holiday bookings outside of school holidays following the high court ruling in favour of a father who took his daughter on holiday in term time.

Online travel agency sunshine.co.uk revealed an 88% increase in the number of family holiday bookings (classed as two adults and one or more child between the ages of five and 16) during school term time the weekend after the ruling, compared with the previous weekend. There was also a 32% decline in bookings during July and August. An analysis of the bookings showed that the first week of July or the last week of September were the most popular weeks for parents to take their children out of school.

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Travel

12 beaches with wow factor

Close your eyes and picture the perfect seaside idyll. The result is bound to look like at least one of these beauties from Antigua to Polynesia via Greece and France

As if a beach like this needed any enhancement, pink-hued sand ups the ante in the picture-postcard stakes at Source d’Argent, a secluded cove on La Digue, the Seychelles’ third-largest island (in an archipelago of 115). Huge, weathered granite boulders bookend the shore, and there are nearby restaurants for sampling Creole-inspired cuisine.
• Airbnb has 33 pads rented as a whole property on La Digue, including lovely Holzveranda (£120 a night for four, airbnb.co.uk) in a tropical garden

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Travel

Where to go on holiday in 2016

Every new year brings a host of reasons to choose a destination. We pick new flights, new openings, anniversaries and special events for 2016’s hotlist

To the Barrier … and beyond
With Sir David Attenborough espousing its delights in his latest BBC documentary series, the Great Barrier Reef – made up of the 1,400-mile string of islands, coral reefs and sand cays off the Queensland coast – is ready for the rush. One of Attenborough’s programmes features the giant manta rays of Lady Elliot Island, 50 miles from Bundaberg (a four-hour drive from Brisbane), and visitors can check them out on a stay at the island’s eco-resort (twins from £83pppn).

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Travel

Greek island holiday guide: the Argo-Saronic islands and Kythira

These Greek islands south of Athens make a great holiday on their own, or a relaxing extension to a city break. Andrew Bostock picks the best places to eat and stay, and things to do on and off the beach

• More Greek island guides: north-east Aegean | the Dodecanese | the Cyclades | Crete | the Ionian islands | the Sporades and Evia

The Argo-Saronic islands hug the coast between Piraeus, the port of Athens, and the Peloponnese, the stunning southern mainland of Greece. They could easily fill a holiday on their own but, combined with Athens and the mainland, would make for a trip that summed up the very best of Greece.

Having said that, and unless you’re keen to see the site where the Greeks defeated the Persian navy in 480 BC, Salamis is probably not worth the effort. Aegina (an hour by ferry from Athens) is a much better bet. The classical temple of Aphaea is everything you imagine a Greek temple to be and is far less visited than some.

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