Where to go with Kids

Written by  Kat Mackintosh

It was the best of times and the worst of times… My parents had found us an Italian villa to spend Christmas in which reeked of cabbage, had no central heating, had plumbing constantly threatening to go nuclear and had an ancient Yoda-like Italian woman living secretly in the roof. We know this because in my room was hung a truly maniacal painting of Dante (circles of Hell in the background), one where his eyes followed you, and I refused to sleep with it in the room – but whenever we moved it, it magically re-appeared back on the wall…then my brothers set off fire crackers in the back yard and saw her in the window looking out. But that Christmas now holds a magical place in our family lore – shared hardships which we joke about whenever things get a little tense round December.

Memorable Holidays

The thing is my parents were only trying to give us a memorable experience; which is what most parents are attempting when they plan a family holiday, but that much pressure means things often don’t turn out as planned. And frankly, kids, especially if you have more than one, are notoriously difficult to please. Polling the office the consensus on what made our most memorable childhood holidays, those golden sunny school-less days that we will treasure forever, were three things: 1.) Water 2.) Independence (or some form of say in the decision making process) and 3.) A hook (something that made you look forward to going and made it easy to brag about to the kids at school.)

The Beach Option

It varies with age but from toddler to teenager, the beach is always an easy answer. A small town by the beach seems to be ideal, you can trust the older ones to go exploring a al Famous Five (or these days Lara Croft), and the ocean provides an endless array of potential entertainments. Corsica or Euboia, Crete, Naxos and many other Greek Islands are littered with tiny towns on bays of bright blue, clear water, but equally so is Cornwall.

Lake Maggoire is surrounded by appropriate sized towns, just substitute the lake for the ocean. Here beautiful gardens line the shores and the towns have a more elegant, cosmopolitan vibe which may suit cultural kids – lots to paint, draw and write about, but still plenty to do outdoors. And if your own preference is for the great outdoors as well then a slow mosey around a scenic part of Cyprus on the Aphrodite and Adonis Trail or the one of the many paths along the Amalfi Coast will keep everyone happy and occupied. Again the focus is on changeable scenery, small pretty towns and the water.

Added Value

Further along the Italian coastline, Naples has a pretty big hook – a volcano, Vesuvius, and Pompeii, the excavated town it destroyed. Adults see history and ancient humanity, kids see mass carnage, mayhem and a chance to play Indiana Jones – cool! And it’s the birthplace of pizza, another useful parental bargaining chip. Staying with the volcano idea (which was very popular with the office democracy), Tenerife’s Pico de Teide frequently emits gases in menacing puffs and has a free cable car to a spot close to the top, which means you only have to walk down not up, another useful tool of persuasion. Part of the unique terrain of the Teide National Park, it’s close enough to the coast to get a bit of beach action as well. From personal experience Uluru and the Grand Canyon (where the mule trek comes highly recommended.) are the other continent equivalents - few people have the kind of kids you’d want to fly around the world with.


Claws are another kind of hook. Being part of the baby turtle hatching season in Bahia, Mexico is a life changing experience; turtles lay their eggs on the same strip of beach they hatched on and watching both the mother turtles lay their eggs and the freshly hatched babies scuttle towards the sea is unforgettable. The seahorse nursery in Reclif, Brazil is a similar kind of incredible lesson in biology and ecology; seahorses have colonies amongst the mangroves where the young are protected and have easy access to the beautiful reef (ideal for snorkelling) beyond. Berenty Lemur Reserve on Madagascar is a more exotic choice, but the cheeky lemur will charm even the most savage temper (show them the film Madagascar before you go.), and kids will feel like they’re going on a proper adventure.

Memorable Sleeps

The hook doesn’t have to be in the location, it can also be where you stay. Another consensus was reached when I suggested staying in a lighthouse, or a tree house, and there was much oh-ing and ah-ing when I suggested one of the Tunisian underground hotels used in the Star Wars films.

Or Failing That...

If nothing but Disney will do don’t despair, the Florida Keys are perfect for when the Micky fix is sated, snorkeling and kayaking are great fun for active kids. And if that’s too far, any castle in Europe will suddenly become more appealing if you tell them it was used as a set in Harry Potter. Or that it’s haunted…as we thought our Italian villa was for a while.

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