If your child starts primary school in September, or will be soon, you’ll be locked in to school holidays for the foreseeable. So, you’d better make the most of your freedom to roam when prices and availability are optimised. Here are some favourite hideaways which work beautifully for pre-schoolers – and their parents!
Deep in the bucolic countryside is this former farm now comprising 7 family apartments, heated pools and a free creche and play group (from 3mo-6yrs) across 4 acres. In mid and low season you self-cater (there’s a farm shop on site) in your fully equipped kitchen. The endless activities on tap from tractor rides to the petting farm to trampolines and tree-houses will keep young’uns busy all week. Pleasingly, the parent pampering includes 2 nights of babysitting so adults can have date nights, beauty treatments and massages, wine-tasting and tennis. And there’s a weekly breakfast party for the kids so adults get to lie in. Heaven!
With smaller children the best holidays are the simplest ones (sightseeing can be a fraught experience): all you need is great food, space to play, wonderful service, a beach, and sunshine. This coastal all-suite retreat (half-an-hour from Paphos airport) delivers in spades. The kids club is free (they organise weekly movie nights and mini-discos), there’s a designated family swimming pool (with toddler pool beside), each eatery has a kids menu, and every suite has its own private balcony or terrace. And relax…
Family city breaks are best in spring and autumn with fewer crowds and lower temperatures. Although not ideal to tackle with a pushchair, Lisbon has lots for small fry from horse and carriage rides to the Castelo Sao Jorge to tram rides, and Europe’s largest indoor Aquarium. The best place for families is Martinhal’s stylish hotel in central Chiado whose gorgeous apartments all come with kitchens. There’s a family cafe with vintage car to play in, weekly pyjama parties, heaps of baby and toddler kit to borrow, and a brilliant complimentary well-stocked kids club which even has an indoor climbing wall.
Perfect for family holidays any time of year, this cluster of 6 cosy cottages overlooks a lake and valley, with hills to the distance, and the beach and Kingsbridge Estuary are just down the road. Shared amenities include an indoor heated swimming pool, tennis court, football field and a playground with Wendy House. Each cottage is characterised by airy open-plan living spaces upstairs, and bedrooms beneath; all have a wood-burning stove and great kitchens. Nearby attractions include steam railways, animal sanctuaries and Paignton Zoo.
For guaranteed warmth, both for temperatures and the welcome, stay at this carefully constructed terrace of riads in a surfing village near colourful port town Essaouira (just 15 minutes from the airport). Half the riads have their own private pool, the others share the main pool (all are heated to take the chill off), and all have private space, large bedrooms and roof terraces for stargazing. Breakfasts and dinners are delicious and served in-riad (you also have a kitchen if you want to self-cater). But what your pre-schooler will remember are the tortoises and chameleons in the garden, the large lawn for charging about, camels and donkeys, and the fascinating sights and sounds (and the souks) of this exotic North African country.
If you’re on a budget, and aren’t keen on flying – whether for environmental reasons or find it a hassle with a pre-schooler (or two) in tow – take the train on a city break. Eurostar now goes to Amsterdam, so base yourselves in these funky (and homely) apartments (each with kitchenette) and live like a local. You’re in a quiet residential street by a canal in the happening yet family-friendly Jordaan district, near a tram stop for exploring the city. There’s a great playground down the road, and plenty of shops and kid-friendly restaurants close by.