Tom Barber one of the founders of Battersea-based luxury travel company Original Travel and travel editor for Esquire Magazine picks his top ten destinations, long and short haul, for a family holiday
As an accidental father of four (twins run in my wife’s family – who knew? Well, strictly speaking she did, but somehow never got round to telling me) and owner of Original Travel, I’ve got a vested interest in knowing where the best family holiday spots are. Here are my top ten destinations, both long haul and short, for family fun and games.
Beloved of honeymooners, the Greek islands have well-deserved classic status, but the mainland has a huge amount going for it as well, and particularly for families. Exhibit A: the three-pronged trident-like region of Halkidiki in the north of the country, home to the excellent Sani Resort, a four hotels in one family friendly gem. At the other end of Greece lies another peninsula, the Peloponnese, which is our tip for the hottest new destination in all of Europe. The Costa Navarino region of olive groves and impossibly beautiful beaches is home to the Westin Resort, with possibly the coolest kids club around, and there are new Easyjet flights (SO much more palatable these days) direct into nearby Kalamata.
2 Costa Rica
A giant adventure playground masquerading as a country, Costa Rica has beaches, rainforests and volcanoes populated by brilliant beasties of every shape and size that will entrance children with even a remote interest in wildlife. Your little ones can watch giant turtles coming ashore to lay their eggs on the Caribbean coast; zip-wire through the Arenal volcano cloudforest canopy, listen to the deafening dawn din or howler monkeys at magical eco-resort Lapa Rios and learn to surf on the beautiful beaches of the Pacific coast. All the while they will hopefully be gaining an understanding of the environment in a country that is 25% national park and an admirable advocate of eco-tourism (and mercifully without sanctimonious lecturing).
Lapland, in Sweden and Finland, is the perfect winter wonderland. Sorry, Hyde Park, but it is. So, which country offers what? Well, Finland has cornered the market in Father Christmas tourism, and if that phrase alone makes you shiver, I can reassure you that the whole Santa thing can be done with a degree of sophistication – think lovely accommodation and private family time with the great man himself. So plausible is the whole experience that we recently had an eight year old ‘non-believer’ come back re-convinced of FC’s existence. Across the border in Sweden, the main lure is the extraordinary Ice Hotel and wonderful dog-sledding where elder children (12 and up) can mush their own team of huskies between private wilderness lodges.
4 South Africa
We all know flying with children can be a shocker, but of all long haul destinations SA has the best credentials, with civilised timings, overnight flights and minimal time difference to keep jetlag at bay. When you arrive, it just gets better, from the wondrous wildlife inMadikwe (which is malaria-free – another bonus for families and mums-to-be) to blissful Eastern Cape lodges such as Kurland, a horsey heaven for budding riders. And then there’s Cape Town, which just so happens to be wonderful for parents too, but this is all about the children, so let’s (try to) forget the superb restaurants and elegant wine estates and concentrate on the views from Table Mountain and seeing the waddling penguins at Boulders Beach instead.
We’re big fans of the Middle East here at Original Travel, and particularly Oman. My wife and I take the children to Zighy Bay every year and it works a treat but there’s much, much more. The capital Muscat is home to the ponderously named Shangri-La Barr al Jissah, a three-in-one mega-hotel (better than it sounds) that caters beautifully for children (eg: a ‘lazy river’ that children – and the occasional dad – drift along in rubber rings) but the real highlights lie beyond where families can see turtles coming ashore at night near Sur, spend a night in the Wahiba Sands with dune bashing and camels, and finally drive back to Muscat over the dramatic Hajar Mountains past the second biggest canyon on Earth.
Check out our family holiday video in Zighy Bay
Kenya has had its fair share of problems over the last few years, but this remains THE classic safari destination. Kenya is both fun and (don’t tell the children this, obvs) hugely educational, as many of the best safari lodges have wonderful programmes where your budding Attenboroughs can learn to track animals and identify spoor and visit Masai villages. Away from the savannah, the beaches of the Kenya coast are some of the finest in Africa, with Kinondo Kwetu and Manda Bay among the best places for family beach action. If you’re having any problems pitching Kenya, point out that Lion Rock from the Lion King is based on a place in Laikipia and the little ones should be suitably sold on the idea.
Another place where the wild things are very much in evidence, including the inimitable orang-utan. Your cheeky monkeys can see their distant (or not distant enough) cousins in action at the Sepilok Orang-utan Sanctuary. Families can adopt a baby orang-utan and receive updates on their progress over the years. Our adoptee, Sen, is starting his work experience at Original Travel this summer. Orang-utans aside, there’s a cast of thousands of exotic beasties to marvel at from macaques and monitor lizards to pygmy elephants and proboscis monkeys with noses guaranteed to raise a laugh. Next stop, the lovely island ofLankayan where waterbabies can indulge their inner Octonaut on snorkelling trips or even learn the basics of diving on a PADI bubblemakers course.
No list would be complete without the Maldives, a destination so clever it can appeal to honeymooners and families alike. The best bits for families? Direct BA flights, ace weather in most key holiday times (bar summer) and lagoons surrounding each island that are like natural 3ft deep shallow ends filled with iridescent fish. The choice is bewildering, but the best of the family-friendly desert island idylls are, in our humble opinion, Reethi Rah (which was good enough for the Beckham clan last Christmas) and Constance Halaveli with its excellent Kuda Club for kids. The final word should go to our old favourite Soneva Fushiwhich originally launched as a grown-ups only resort but had a change of heart after pressure from repeat guests who’s little ones had been conceived there.
Suffering from something of an image problem, Jamaica is under-rated at your peril and your children’s loss. Geographically one of the most interesting Caribbean islands, Jamaica is well worth exploration, with mountains, beautiful waterfalls and beaches galore. The main events, however, are the children friendly hotels, and particularly Round Hill, set in beautiful gardens with a lovely private beach. There are rooms, but best of all are the private villas, many of which have private pools. The Pineapple Kids Club arranges nature walks, watersports, arts and crafts sessions and even reggae lessons for mini-Marleys, in keeping with the island’s musical heritage.
We couldn’t complete this list without somewhere to ski, as younger children tend to pick up new things remarkably easily and are seemingly made of rubber. The best place to take your future Winter Olympians? Hands down I’d say the Arlberg ski area in Austria, and Lech in particular. Why? Austrian ski school is quite simply the best, with the ideal balance of firm but fun instruction. In Lech, the Miniclub has an on-piste kindergarten, a ski school that includes making snowmen and snowball fights and weekly races as the children progress. Meanwhile parents can enjoy access to 150 miles of interconnected Arlberg ski area and après ski the family can enjoy ice skating or on a horse-drawn sleigh ride. All rather heavenly, basically.
For more family holiday ideas, including travel tips and fun packs from children’s party planner extraordinaire Sharky & George, visit originaltravel.co.uk or call 020 3582 4990