As we shared in a previous post, some of our favourite places to stay in Europe are mountain hideaways where you can make the most of the crisp, fresh air and jaw-dropping vistas. And they’re not just for couples or friends. One of my most memorable childhood summer holidays was to Switzerland; my 9-year-old self was sceptical about the lack of beach but it turned out I loved walking in the hills, watching cheese being made and throwing a snowball in July.
Here are our favourite spots for action-packed family breaks, plus somewhere to just escape it all, en famille.
Best for horse riding
Pristava Lepena, Soca Valley, Slovenia
This group of stone-and-wooden chalets in Slovenia’s Triglav National Park is one of our most exciting discoveries. They sit in a pretty alpine meadow surrounded by soaring mountain peaks and are a simple but comfortable retreat for outdoors enthusiasts. One of the highlights of our stay was learning to ride on one of their pure-bred Lipizzan horses: there’s a riding school for beginners and forest treks for those with more experience. The youngest members of the family can get a taste of the action too, on short pony rides. For the extra adventurous, there’s also rafting, canoeing and canyoning.
Italian lakes and mountains without the crowds. This gasthof-meets-design-hotel near to picturesque Lake Ledro has views over lush farmland to the snow-capped foothills of the Dolomites. There are mountain bikes to borrow and plenty of tracks to explore, and you can hire boats on Lake Ledro in summer. If you want a bit more hustle and bustle, Lake Garda is a 30-minute drive away, where you can wild swim or ferry across to pretty lakeside towns. And for downtime at the hotel, there’s an outdoor pool and a playroom filled with books and games.
High in a wooded valley in the western foothills of Crete’s White Mountains is a settlement of 14 stone cottages, where the simple pleasures of life are celebrated. There’s a feel of absolute serenity to the place: bedrooms and bathrooms are rustic but comfortable; the home-grown food is enjoyed in a communal atmosphere. Six waymarked hiking trails lead out from the door and there’s a small spring-fed stream that kids will love splashing around in.
This chic mountain hotel is surrounded by rugged wilderness 1550m above sea level, and yet you’re only a 2-hour drive from Porto airport. Hearty breakfasts will set you up for a day of hiking through glacial valleys and past vast granite tors before returning for afternoon tea and trip to the spa to ease those aching legs. Owner João is passionate about the region and has mapped out various trails from gentle strolls to full-day expeditions; he’ll even tailormake a hike for your family with the option of a jeep pick-up if the littlest legs get too tired.
Surrounded by traditional 5-star palaces in one of Switzerland’s smartest mountain resorts, this Scandi-style design hotel really stands out from the crowd. In a good way. The décor is striking yet homely and the attention to detail is second-to-none, from binoculars and tablets in the rooms to interesting books scattered around. The lifts to access 250km of pretty pistes are just 5minutes away by shuttle bus and the hotel hires out equipment. In winter months they lay on complimentary snowy activities like snow-shoeing and sledging.
This gorgeous chalet in the French Alps comes very close to being a perfect place to stay. The timbered building has a vast comfy lounge with a huge window overlooking a beautiful mountain vista, 5 chic bedrooms and a playroom. Dinners are absolutely outstanding (including kids’ options), and the perfect end to days spent on the slopes of the Portes du Soleil. The fun doesn’t all happen in the snow; come summer you can hike, mountain bike, zip-wire or go wild swimming. Whole chalet bookings are preferred in peak ski season; at other times you can book individual rooms.
Best for getting away from it all
El Tejar, Nr Ronda, Spain
The village of Montecorto near Ronda is the kind of place where a busy day is one where a car or donkey passes by its small square. At the top sits a self-catering villa (sleeping 2-6 or 8 at a pinch) with views over almond and olive groves to distant peaks. You can easily while away entire days just playing in the gardens and splashing in the spring-fed pool. And if you eventually have enough of lazing, you can hike (you’ll be given a copy of the owners’ walking guide to Andalucía as a thank you gift for staying) or day trip to Ronda and the surrounding white villages.