Christabelle Dilks has just made her first foray into family travel…
Go on holiday with small children? We just couldn’t imagine how to do it. The flight, getting through security, getting them to sleep in a strange environment, wrangling them while eating out. It made us feel weak. And so for five years we didn’t go anywhere at all.
Then – dreaming of Spain – I read this: ‘Kids love Ea Astei and Ea Astei loves kids.’ This pretty hilltop house in deepest Basque country had enormous self-catering apartments, a heated pool, and beaches within a 15-minute drive. It might just work…
The flight was a breeze (definitely worth paying to fast-track through security), and by 11am we were driving up winding roads through forested hills, with patches of sunlight and spring flowers, heading east into the heart of Basque loveliness. The children were thrilled.
Just 45 minutes later, we stepped out at fragrant Ea Astei, a beautiful old chalet surrounded by gardens that sweep down to eucalyptus forest. A sweet, fluffy deaf-blind dog called Tin Tin greeted us and the children ran off with him ecstatically to explore.
Our host Mertxe immediately made us feel at home: warm and twinkly, she certainly loved children. We gulped when we saw our apartment. One of several eco-cabins designed by Mertxe’s husband Peio, it was vast, sleek and impeccably chic, with white walls, spotless floors and a classic Italian white sofa.
‘DON’T TOUCH ANY…’.we started. But the children were too busy feeding the tame rabbits hopping about on our private lawn.
And that’s how they began each day, while we snoozed on in our gorgeous room. We discovered that so much space had a very calming effect on them, and no-one even thought of leaping on that white sofa! Our apartment was beautifully designed for family life; we all felt uplifted by the clean lines, and by swooshing the sliding doors open to do yoga on the terrace.
Our mornings were spent exploring beaches. We loved the wide and wild expanse of Laga beach where only surfers roamed, and the children spent hours building dams and digging channels.
Our first unforgettable lunch was my first taste of pintxos, the Basque equivalent of tapas: slices of bread piled high with delicious local anchovies, serrano ham, cod in a sauce or inky squid. All in dazzling sunshine, overlooking the vast Urdaibai estuary.
We returned to Ea Astei to swim in the warm pool with views of mountains and forest all around. The children were in heaven, and we started to relax. We had done it!
Each day we explored a new beach, or discovered a new port. We ate grilled monkfish at Elantxobe, and the children chatted to Basque kids at the playground on Ea beach. Most memorably, on a rainy day we found Bermeo: a busy port with great fishing boats to admire, some grand sculptures, and endless pintxos bars for a relaxed lunch.
We loved the nearby Biodiversity Centre, also designed by Peio.
Even shopping in the local supermarket was a hoot for our children, sampling sheep’s cheese and chorizo, and choosing shellfish for the barbecue.
Further afield, Lekeitio was a charming little town, with a port and a beach where we spent a lovely day. A friendly local chap actually took us to his favourite artisanal bakery to buy bread for our picnic.
And an hour away we had a fabulous time in Getaria. Our son spent hours watching vast catches of anchovies landed on the quayside, and then we ate our weight in fresh pan-fried anchovies at a harbourside restaurant (this was my highlight) before spending the afternoon with the beach to ourselves.
Two very happy children returned to Ea Astei to sleep deeply, while their parents sipped chilled Txakoli on the terrace in the hush of the eucalyptus forest. It really was heaven.
Christabelle used to work in film and TV as a writer and script editor before i-escape lured her back to Argentina to select fine estancias and boutique hotels in BA. Trips to Sweden, Chile and Costa Rica followed, but having children grounded her for five years, until a recent trip to northern Spain proved that you can travel with hyperactive children. Now she’s hooked again.