We take a trip to the home of Ronaldo – the beautiful Portuguese island of Madeira
There’s a spontaneous and enthusiastic round of applause as our plane touches down in Madeira.
We are cheering both the gentle landing and the stunning approach to this airport said to be so challenging to land at that pilots need special training.
Stepping off the plane, I catch a first glimpse of the countless red-roofed homes scattered over the hills which will become an abiding memory from this trip.
That and the view from our hotel room, pina colada slipping down as easily as the waves roll over the rocks in the Atlantic Ocean below us.
I’ll be as bold as to say this might be one of the best hotel room views we’ve ever had.
But then we are in Madeira – an island where stunning scenery is around every corner.
Our particular corner of this Portuguese island is the village of Canico de Baixo.
And our hotel is the Riu Madeira. A large, all-inclusive resort with two outdoor pools, an indoor pool, as much fresh food as you can eat and as many cocktails as you can drink.
One of the outdoor pools
There’s also a tennis court, games room, an area to play bowls and evening entertainment from singers, bands, magicians and a ballroom dancing duo who call up our daughter to help demonstrate her Strictly Come Dancing skills.
The applause makes her day. And it’s the staff here, especially those in the busy restaurant area, who deserve a pat on the back.
It can’t be easy to keep guests from over 300 rooms fed and watered but they come round to top up your wine glass with an efficient smile before it’s even half emptied.
We’re almost as quick to clear our plates of tasty food. The main restaurant is buffet style catering to every possible preference. There’s also a more adult focussed Kulinarium restaurant with table service. And a poolside bar and grill.
The main bedroom in our junior suite
Our room is a junior suite with two large beds and a sofa bed for the four of us to choose from.
Having a separate lounge area allows us to spread out as does the large dressing room area – all kept spotless by our lovely maid.
Oh and that balcony I mentioned earlier overlooking the sea. It is literally a stone’s throw from the Atlantic Ocean.
Sea view from the balcony of a junior suite room at the Riu Madeira hotel
And there are plenty of stones to throw on the rocky beach.
The area around the hotel is a fun place to explore with caves, a small seawater pool, exercise equipment and a busy promenade to enjoy.
The lure of the swimming pool at our hotel is just as popular with our children – indoors if the showers sweep in, or outdoors when the sun shines.
Fortunately the sun is out for most of our week in Madeira so we can explore the narrow, hilly roads around the island.
We head east to the stunning clifftop walk of Ponta de São Lourenço .
The view from our walk at Ponta de São Lourenço
Drive north west through mountains and tunnels to the natural seawater pools and aquarium in Porto Moniz.
Seawater pools in Porto Moniz
And go south to Câmara de Lobos – a fishing village made famous by Winston Churchill, who painted its pretty harbour when he came in 1950.
Looking at Churchill’s view in Camara de Lobos
One must in Madeira is to head up high.
We take the cable car from the centre of capital Funchal to Monte. It’s a spectacular ride and at the top you can enjoy the beautiful Monte Palace gardens before riding back down again on the cable car.
Monte Palace Garden
Another way down is by toboggan on a traditional wicker basket sleigh along steep streets, guided by two people with nothing for brakes but the grips on their shoes.
If you like heights it’s worth stopping by at the Madeira Skywalk. You can walk across a glass walkway on a balcony 580 metres above the sea attached to some of the highest cliffs in Europe.
After a busy week of highs, it’s nearly time to leave.
The cliffs beneath the Madeira Skywalk
For a last time, we awaken and pull back the curtains to enjoy the view and the sound of the Atlantic from our bed.
Then it’s back to the airport, named after the island’s most famous export.
Not its fortified wine but the footballer Cristiano Ronaldo.
He was born here and returns regularly and this is one happy family which may follow suit.
Our 10-night Florida itinerary – Universal, Disney World, Legoland, a basketball match, five hotels, three waterparks and four days by the coast
A trip to Florida can be a once-in-a-lifetime holiday so if you are lucky enough to be going, you need to plan wisely.
There is SO MUCH to see and do that when you first sit down to organise this adventure for your family, it can seem overwhelming.
We’ve just taken our children to Florida – it was their first time in America and very special.
Our trip included Universal, Disney World, Legoland, a basketball match, five hotels (including one dream hotel – more of that later), three waterparks and four days by the coast staying on two of America’s best beaches.
I feel tired just writing all that! But it was manageable thanks to enthusiasm and some down time.
So here is our 10-day itinerary, we hope it inspires you.
Travel and settle in at our first hotel
Hotel 1 – Springfield Suites at Marriott Village Orlando.
This was a great location – a 20-minute taxi drive to Universal and a free shuttle to Disney World.
The amazing attraction that is Universal Resort Orlando is made up of the theme parks Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure plus the Volcano Bay water park.
This had the edge over Disney World for us especially as three of us are Harry Potter fans. It’s where the Wizarding World of Harry Potter is – Diagon Alley is at Universal Studios and Hogsmeade is at Islands of Adventure. You can even catch the Hogwarts Express between the two.
Highlight: Our son being chosen by ‘Olivander’ to select a wand for him in the mini-show at Olivander’s Wand Shop.
Disney World is one of the reasons that Florida is so popular. There are four parks – Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Animal Kingdom and Hollywood Studios plus water parks.
We did a long day here to maximise the value of the expensive tickets. We started at 8am and left Epcot at 8pm. Yes, it was tiring but we saw a lot in one day.
We bought a Park Hopper ticket and started at the iconic Magic Kingdom, leaving after the parade in the afternoon and heading for Epcot. This was a great decision as the Frozen Ever After boat ride there is amazing.
Legoland Florida Resort
Now with a hire car, we drove 45 minutes to Legoland.
Fantastic for younger ones and without the queues of Universal and Disney World (at least not when we went), this was a slower-paced couple of days in the park and at its water park.
We stayed on site at its Pirate Island Hotel and our favourite part was the Ninjago ride, which we went on four times.
Our room opened out on to the beach and we enjoyed water slides and zip wires and an evening’s magic show.
We headed into St Petersburg to enjoy its pier, markets, museums and laid-back harbour vibe and our final lunch overlooking the water before a last beautiful Florida sunset. For more ideas on what to do in Clearwater and St Pete, read our guide to the best attractions for families.
After pancakes for breakfast, we left for our flight home.
What do you like to do in Florida? We’d love to hear your thoughts.
We take our children to stay at Legoland Florida Resort in the US
As part of an action-packed holiday in Florida, we squeezed in two days and nights at Legoland Resort, enjoying the main park and waterpark and staying at one of its three hotels.
The entrance to the park was just a few quiet steps from our room at Pirate Island Hotel – bliss after racing throngs of people at Disney World and Universal.
When we arrived in our hotel room, the children were thrilled at the bunk beds, the theming, the LEGO to play with and the treasure hunt for LEGO gifts.
And we adults were quite content to sleep opposite a giant image of a bearded Lego pirate next to wallpaper and curtains depicting Lego pirates.
If first impressions are anything to go by then Legoland Pirate Island Hotel was a hit. And we still hadn’t entered the park!
Read all about our mini-break to find all about what we thought of the park and hotel and don’t miss our top tips to make the most of your visit.
LEGOLAND Florida Resort.
Where is it?
Legoland Florida is in the Winter Haven area. It is about an hour’s drive from Orlando in central Florida, America.
The resort is in its own grounds next to Lake Eloise in a self-contained safe site.
What is it?
LEGOLAND Florida Resort is a holiday destination made up of Legoland theme park (the second biggest in the world after Windsor), Legoland Waterpark, a new Peppa Pig theme park and three on-site hotels – the Legoland Hotel, Pirate Island Hotel and the Legoland Beach Resort.
Is it family friendly?
Do you really need to ask? The resort is all about families and their target age is two to 12.
The hotels have themed rooms, bunk beds, Lego to play with around the hotel, evening entertainment and specialised family dining at breakfast and in the evening.
Then there’s the theme parks…
At Legoland Pirate Island, the rooms are, you may have guessed, pirate-themed. Images cover every wall, curtains and even the carpet.
The rooms themselves have a children’s area with bunk beds, and a rollaway third child’s bed if needed, a tray of Lego and a child’s TV which can play all the Lego movies on demand.
Bunk beds and Lego to play with
Adults get a king-sized bed (which was surprisingly high off the ground), plus side tables with lights and their own larger HD TV.
The bathroom is compact with toiletries provided in Lego-branded tubes.
The room also has a small desk, safe and good storage for cases.
With lots of pirate ship-style brown wood it is quite dark in the room and the corridors of the hotel.
For a fresher, brighter feel – but fewer pirates – consider the Legoland Hotel which is next door.
Food and drink
The Shipwreck Restaurant serves breakfast and dinner.
Breakfast (included free with all rooms) is unusual as it is table-service and you get a family skillet (basically a big round tray) with hot food on it to share.
Ours had waffles, bacon, sausage, scrambled eggs, fried potatoes, American breakfast biscuits (a type of savoury scone) and a gravy/creamy sauce to go with them.
Breakfast at Pirate Island Hotel
Friendly waiters and waitresses take your drinks orders and you can request other items like cereal.
A big shout out to our lovely waitress Bailey who went the extra mile to get us some fruit and pancakes on request.
We enjoyed experiencing something different, but the skillet won’t suit every family at breakfast time.
There is a similar skillet offering in the evening for all courses of a three-course menu (adults $36 and children $15).
We were given a salad starter with bread then a choice of two skillets as a main course with a range of meats or fish and sides like mashed potato, rice and beans.
Pirate Island Hotel
The restaurant will also do specific dishes for children like chicken and chips on request.
Dessert was either an ice cream and cookie dish or fresh fruit and marshmallows with chocolate sauce to dip in.
The quantities are absolutely huge, if you have a big appetite you will get value for money here. For those who prefer smaller portions, it might be a bit daunting!
More Lego stuff – the adjoining hotel next door has a large reception area and Lego to play with. There is also a nice bar area, more pleasant than the Smuggler’s Bar in Pirate Island.
Lego fun in the hotels
But of course, the main nearby attraction is the theme park itself – only 130 steps and 30 seconds away.
We could see the entrance opposite our room!
Legoland theme park
Legoland Florida has most of the rides you might expect if you have been to Windsor.
Lego Ninjago was our favourite as all four of us could compete together, shooting the villains with 3D glasses on as we spin through the ride.
Fortunately, the park was lovely and quiet when we visited during the week in October half-term so we could ride it four times!
Lots of photo opportunities
The site is spacious and with the lake on one side and plenty of greenery, it is quite a relaxing place to visit.
Most of the rides are suited to younger children, but there are some speedier ones.
We also enjoyed the aqua coasters and the fire engine ride where you have to pump your own engine to reach the blaze and put it out.
Some of the rides might feel a bit dated and quaint if you have just been to Disney World or Universal Studios but our children really enjoyed driving their own motorboats or steering a car in the driving school. Plus it was a relief to escape the crowds and the queues from the bigger parks.
Meeting a life-sized Lego figure
There are several places to cool down from the Florida heat – such as indoor spaces where you can create with Lego and a 4D theatre.
For a bigger cool off there is Legoland Water Park on site.
Legoland Water Park
You can only enter the water park with a ticket to the main park itself, but you need to pay extra.
Frustratingly it is at the far end of the park – a 15/20 minute walk from the entrance which means if you return to the park after a break/lunch like we did, you have to carry your swimming gear past all the rides – there is no separate entrance.
Once you make it inside, there is a nice, long lazy river with giant Lego bricks floating along to play with and a pool with a wave machine which runs every 10minutes. The water is lovely and warm and it feels very safe.
There is seating at the front of the wave pool and some umbrellas for shade.
Opposite the wave pool is a section with small slides and a splash park for younger children.
Slides and splashes for younger children
It has a large bucket which tips water over everyone every few minutes, five or six gentler slides and spray guns to fire water at parents.
For older children, there are the Twin Chaser and Splash Out rides. These were much bigger, faster water slides but unfortunately were closed when we visited.
There is only one changing room at the entrance to the water park and it is fairly basic.
We enjoyed our visit to cool off but parts of it do need updating and painting.
It includes interactive rides, themed playgrounds, a cinema and character shows and an indoor cinema for quieter moments.
There’s a splash pad for practising jumping in muddy puddles, fair games and a little roller coaster.
*Location – it is amazing to be staying so close to Legoland park. You can leave your hotel room just before the 10am opening and be straight on a ride minutes later.
No accommodation at Disney, Universal or most UK theme parks gets you so close to the entrance.
*Rooms – the theme is fun, the treasure hunt on arrival is entertaining and it is a magical experience for small children. It is brilliant to see their faces when they enter the room for the first time and discover their bunk beds, TV and Lego tray.
*Pool options – you can choose the theme park waterpark or there are smaller, shallow pools at both Pirate Island Hotel and the Legoland Hotel. The pool at the Legoland Hotel had its own small slide.
Legoland Hotel swimming pool
*The setting by Lake Eloise – it feels very calm and tranquil compared with other theme parks. You can do a short boardwalk along the lakeside, although the signs warning of possible alligators and snakes could be alarming (we think we spotted an alligator eyeing up its prey in the lake near to the shore).
*Go to the park at opening and you get the place to yourself for a bit. It is so close to the hotel that it makes sense to get in first. We visited on a quiet midweek in October and didn’t have to wait more than five minutes for any ride all day. At the same time of year at Disney and Universal, some ride waits were 90 minutes!
*Breakfast got very busy after 8.30am so try and go beforehand if you don’t want to queue for a table. Also, the restaurant is more relaxing when it is quieter – the rest of the time it sounded like a full-on children’s party!
*Grab some towels from your hotel pool area to take to the waterpark if you haven’t brought your own with you. You use your room card to access the towels from inside a cabinet and check them back in when you return after your swim.
*There are strollers and lockers to rent just inside the entrance to the park.
*Download the Legoland app for help navigating the park and seeing theatre times etc.
Legoland Florida Resort information
Food: There are various food outlets around the parks serving a range of fast food, ice creams and drinks.
For bigger meals there’s a pizza and pasta all-you-can eat buffet.
The hotel is really well-positioned about 10 to 15 minutes from the city centre in a quiet spot next to the river.
Radisson Blu Hotel Durham
It’s idea for families – our large, modern family room contained two TVs and excellent WiFi.
Its indoor swimming pool is a real bonus for children and we used it every day. And parents can enjoy the jacuzzi, sauna or a spa treatment if they’re lucky.
However, for us there was too much to do to spend long relaxing.
We even managed to take a trip back in time at Beamish – the living museum of the north.
This popular day out is great fun for all the family as you travel by tram or old bus to different eras.
We visited the 1950s, 1940s, 1910s and 1820s with a cast of staff and volunteers in period costume manning traditional bakeries, sweet shops and hairdressers.
Particular highlights for us was our daughter getting a 1950’s hair-do and having a family photo in Edwardian outfits.
Our Edwardian family photo
The museum is on a large site in lovely countryside with woodland walks between some of the different attractions.
But we had to wait until our last day to fully explore County Durham’s countryside.
Heading inland, our destination was the Northern Pennines. On the edge of the hills lies Raby Castle – a beautiful castle with deer park to explore and a new play area called Potters Forest with a wooden assault course for adults and children to explore.
Our final stop was England’s highest waterfall.
A few miles outside the pretty village of Middleton-in-Teesdale lies High Force.
You can buy a ticket and snacks at a kiosk next to the High Force Hotel and then set off towards the waterfall.
An accessible 15-minute walk brings the gushing water into view. It is a spectacular sight and you can get right down onto the rocks near the waterfall.
High Force Waterfall
Once you’ve enjoyed the sight and sound of High Force, the trail takes you through woodland back to the car park – but don’t forget to keep an eye out for the wooden carvings of people and animals on the route.
A visit to High Force makes for a suitably spectacular end to a wonderful mini-break with a little bit of everything.
We take our children to stay at this hotel in the centre of Porthmadog opposite the railway station
Premier Inn Porthmadog Hotel.
Where is it?
This Premier Inn hotel is in Porthmadog in the county of Gwynedd, North Wales, a small coastal town on the Glaslyn Estuary.
It’s in a great location, opposite Porthmadog Railway Station and the estuary. The rear of the hotel has views over Snowdonia National Park.
What is it?
Premier Inn is the UK’s biggest hotel chain with over 800 hotels and this one only opened in 2022.
Our Standard Family room had three beds – a really comfortable and cosy king size, a single and a smaller pull-out.
Our Standard Family room
All rooms have an en-suite bath and shower with shower curtain, tea and coffee facilities, hairdryer, desk and chair, plus free Wi-Fi and a flat screen Smart TV.
Other room options are a Standard Double, Premier Plus Double, Standard Twin and Standard Accessible which includes adjustable beds, more space and wider entry bathrooms.
We were very grateful that the room had very effective air conditioning, as we stayed during a heat wave.
Food and drink
The hotel’s Thyme restaurant serves breakfast and evening meals.
Breakfast is self-service and includes hot options like bacon, eggs, hash browns, mushrooms and baked beans plus fruit, cereals, croissants and yoghurts.
You can toast your own bread, pancakes and crumpets. Breakfast was £9.50 per adult or £7.50 for just the continental options when we stayed.
In the evening, you can choose from a huge menu which includes reasonably-priced standard pub favourites like lasagne, steak and pizza.
Is it family friendly?
Yes, this is a family friendly hotel, our room was a great size for the four of us.
Breakfast is free for children (up to two children eat free with a paying adult).
Also, travel cots are available at no extra cost.
*The location – this is a great spot to explore Porthmadog and we enjoyed several walks from the hotel.
It’s a two-minute walk to the pretty harbour and town centre.
*Spooner’s cafe bar at the railway station opposite serves good value drinks and its terrace has a nice view across the bay.
*The views – from our window at the front we could watch steam trains arriving and departing from Porthmadog Station and the estuary beyond.
Windows at the back look over a pretty pool with mountains beyond.
*The comfortable beds and the room’s air conditioning were a real bonus, as was the cleanliness and the modern fresh feel of the whole hotel.
*Car parking is described as limited on the website. Although the hotel was full when we visited we did manage to park on site each day. If you are keen to ensure your vehicle is left in the hotel car park, then we suggest arriving earlier as it rapidly filled up from around 5pm.
*Don’t miss out on a lovely short walk directly behind the hotel around a lake. If you follow the green railings around the back of the hotel, it looks like a dead end, but you can head out on to Cob Crwn – a short, circular stroll.
A view of the hotel from the lake behind it.
*Breakfast times were allocated at 6.30, 7.30, 8.30 or 9.30am. The area was busy around 8.30am but quietened down afterwards so we suggest if you don’t want to wait for a table, get there either before 8am or after 9.30am.
*There are six electric car charging points in the car park. However, none of them were working when we visited! The nearest charging points in Porthmadog are at the Tesco supermarket, which is a 10-minute walk away.
Porthmadog Railway Station
Porthmadog Railway Station is opposite is a major hub with three lines – the Ffestiniog (which runs to Blaenau Ffestiniog), the Welsh Highland Railway (which goes to Caernarfon) and the Welsh Highland Heritage Railway.
Porthmadog Railway Station is opposite the Premier Inn
The Welsh Highland Railway is the UK’s longest heritage railway and runs 25 miles between Porthmadog and Caernarfon.
The Ffestiniog Railway is a vintage railway which has been running for nearly 200 years. It is 13.5 miles long and runs from Porthmadog to Blaenau Ffestiniog.
The Welsh Highland Heritage Railway offers a short train ride in historic narrow-gauge railway carriages to Pen-y-mount station and back.
This Italian-style tourist village, built between 1925 and 1975, is two miles south east of Porthmadog.
It is famous for being The Village in the tv show The Prisoner.
Black Rock Sands (Morfa Bychan)
This big beach is two miles west of Porthmadog. It’s very accessible as you can park your vehicles on it.
Just be careful of little ones running around and also keep an eye on the tide and your car – one had to be towed out of the sea when we were there.
Cars parked on the beach at Black Rock Sands
We visited Harlech Castle and Harlech Beach, which were 20 minutes away.
Harlech Beach is large and sandy and is a fair walk from the car park.
It is overlooked by the castle, set high on the cliff.
You don’t have to go far from the hotel for a stunning stroll.
The marina is very close or you can head around the back of the building to a footpath which takes you around a lake. A 20-minute walk brings you back to the hotel.
You can find out more about the attractions by reading our feature on what to do around Porthmadog with children here.
Premier Inn Porthmadog Hotel, Britannia Terrace, Porthmadog, Wales, LL49 9NB.
The stony beach isn’t the most comfortable for children to play on but there is fun to be had skimming stones and walking along it – to the nearby village in one direction or – in the other – to the spectacular Cape Aspro hiking trail.
If you want to travel a little further, the popular Aphrodite’s Rock, reputed as the place where the Goddess emerged from the sea, is just a few miles away.
Or you could enjoy more Cypriot history at Kourion Amphitheatre and Kolossi Castle – both less than 30 minutes’ drive.
A similar journey gets you to the tourist hotspot of Paphos with the Tombs of the Kings archaeological site and the bustling harbour worth a visit.
More active families can enjoy the water park, Luna Park funfair or the zoo.
We try out a city centre hotel in Stratford close to its top family attractions
Hotel Indigo Stratford upon Avon.
Where is it
It is in a great location in the centre of Stratford, opposite two tourist attractions – Shakespeare’s Schoolroom and Shakespeare’s New Place.
What is it
It’s a boutique hotel with 93 rooms in a stunning building made up of a Georgian townhouse, a 16th century building and a modern wing.
Is it family friendly?
Our children really enjoyed our stay but we didn’t see any others during the trip – this classy hotel seems more aimed at couples, friends and older families.
Inside the hotel
However, staff couldn’t have been nicer.
Our suite was in the Tudor section of the hotel and was a heady mix of modern comforts and 16th century character.
The main bedroom in our suite
The fun layout was made up of two rooms with a Jack and Jill bathroom in between and a wide, furnished corridor which also links the two.
The main bedroom had a big comfy bed and the second room had a sofa bed which the children loved.
The second room
The decor was modern and quirky. There are plenty of nods to Shakespeare with paintings of characters from his plays on the walls. Our children enjoyed discovering which plays the characters were from.
Further rooms are in the Georgian townhouse section and the contemporary wing. There are rooms suitable for families in all three areas of the hotel depending on if you want traditional Tudor or a more modern-style room.
Food and drink
Breakfast was served in the ‘Feasting Room’ and included a good continental spread of cereals, pastries, toast, hams, cheeses and extras like carrot muffins.
Breakfast at Hotel Indigo
Hot food to order such as a cooked breakfast, French toast with fruit and honey or egg, hash brown and spinach on a brioche bun, was delicious.
You can book a table to eat dinner in the upscale, on-site restaurant The Woodsman, which serves a changing menu made up of farm-to-table dishes like deer, boar, beef and lamb.
The chefs cook in an open kitchen, using a wood fired oven and charcoal grill.
It is quality over quantity – there were five main course options when we ate there including cod and a vegetarian mushroom option. My pork was melt-in-the-mouth delicious with a side dish of crunchy potatoes.
This is not the restaurant for you if you are after very simple food or pub favourites, but we really enjoyed the tasty fare and the desserts were equally delicious and well presented.
There was no printed children’s menu, but they offered to make a smaller version of any of the main meals or serve sausage and mash, chicken or fish goujons and chips.
Chicken goujons for the children
*The snacks in the hotel room like popcorn and crisps, are complimentary.
*The fun layout of our room.
*The great central location – we could just leave our car here and explore the town, without having to worry about finding somewhere to park in Stratford.
There is a gym/fitness room, bar, nice little seating areas dotted around and also a pretty little garden with tables to sit at.
Opposite is Shakespeare’s Schoolroom and Guildhall. This is where William Shakespeare went to school and has guides showing you around the different sections who are passionate about the site and its history.
Also opposite is Shakespeare’s New Place – the site and gardens that housed his home for 19 years.
Plus, there are other interesting places to see nearby, boat trips on the River Avon, shows at the Royal Shakespeare Society and dozens of places to eat and drink on the doorstep.
Read our full, detailed round-up of the best places to visit in Stratford.
The hotel entrance at the back of the building
Address: Hotel Indigo, Chapel Street, Stratford upon Avon, Warwickshire, CV37 6HA.
Parking: There is a small car park which costs £10 per car per night. It can not be booked in advance and is first come, first served.
We stay at the magnificent Mallory Court Hotel in Leamington Spa
Could there be a warmer welcome than the one we received at the glorious Mallory Court Country Hotel and Spa in Warwickshire.
This stunning venue is everything a hotel should be – a luxurious home from home, exquisite food, wonderful staff and beautiful gardens – take a look at our exclusive video tour below.
We were thoroughly spoilt here and loved every second.
Mallory Court Country House Hotel and Spa.
Where is it?
Between Warwick and Royal Leamington Spa in Warwickshire.
What is it?
This beautiful country house hotel and award-winning restaurant is set in 10 acres of gorgeous gardens.
Mallory Court Hotel
It also has a spa, function suite and civil license. Plus, some of the rooms are dog-friendly.
It’s privately owned by the Eden Hotel Collection and is one of the most prestigious hotels in the county.
Is it family friendly?
Yes, our two loved it here and made the most of the grounds, exploring every lovely section.
The hotel’s main market is for adults who enjoy fine-dining and luxury but there is still a very relaxed vibe.
Our suite was fabulous for them – they had their own room, sofas and bathroom. They were even given a mini-welcome pack on their beds including a mini-bathrobe, slippers and a soft toy.
The ability to swim and play tennis or croquet, plus use the gardens to burn off energy is another plus.
There are other family rooms in the hotel plus standard rooms can take an extra foldaway bed or cot. Children are £25 per night including breakfast. Cots are £15.
There are 43 luxurious bedrooms.
We stayed in the Blenheim Suite, a very spacious two-bedroom, two-bathroom area with its own private corridor. In both rooms there are desks/dressing tables, televisions, coffee machines, lots of storage and plenty of places to sit and relax.
One of the bedrooms in our suite
It really was so easy to unwind here, there is everything you could need including toiletries, drinks and snacks.
Relaxing in their bedroom in the Blenheim Suite
The main bathroom even has two baths as well as a shower.
Food and drink
There are two options for dinner – we ate in The Dining Room. This restaurant offers fine dining at its best and has three AA rosettes.
The dining room
We enjoyed a five-course tasting menu, which was absolutely delicious including a choice of two main courses of lamb or plaice.
They use organically grown, seasonal produce from the hotel’s kitchen gardens to keep the menus fresh.
For children, they can make separate dishes such as sausages, chicken or pasta. Their children’s desserts included a heavenly sticky toffee pudding.
There is another restaurant called the Brasserie in the spa building where they do a £12.50 three-course dinner for children.
The breakfast is of a high quality – there is continental or cooked – both are served to the table by the attentive staff. They didn’t even act surprised when my daughter asked for three different types of cereal at once.
*The swimming pool is lovely and warm and a nice size to enjoy a family swim. It’s located in the spa in the grounds.
The swimming pool in the spa area
*The grounds are stunning – there is even a huge croquet pitch and equipment to play as well as a tennis court.
In the grounds
*Enjoying a drink on the terrace in the sunshine before going inside to eat.
*The welcoming staff throughout the hotel – on reception, at dinner and at breakfast they were so lovely and interested in how the children were enjoying the stay.
*Swimming costs extra, it is not included and is pricey at £15 per adult and £7.50 per child for one hour. Children under four can’t use the pool and family access is at set hours and needs to be booked.
*Car parking is free and there are plenty of spaces.
*Dogs are welcome at the hotel but check in advance to see if there is a dog friendly room available. We saw several dogs during our stay enjoying the grounds!
We stay at this revamped aparthotel in the centre of Leicester with our children
The Gresham Aparthotel.
What is it
This is an aparthotel (apartments with a hotel booking system), which opened at the end of 2021 following a £17 million refurbishment.
It’s in an iconic building which was once a department store, made up of several buildings designed in the 1800.
There are 121 apartments, a restaurant and bar, a gym and conference facilities.
Where is it
It’s in Leicester city centre, a five-minute walk from the cathedral.
Rooms range from a studio through to a two-bedroom apartment and a sky room with city views.
Our two-bedroom apartment
They all have a kitchenette, dining area and lounge area with television.
The one we stayed in was modern and clean with two bedrooms and two bathrooms. It was one of the apartments on the inside of the building so only had one window, but the lights are bright.
One of the bedrooms in our apartment
Is it child friendly?
It is not in the most salubrious of areas, but once inside, the children loved exploring the apartment. We entered through one of the bedrooms and gradually discovered more and more rooms, there was definitely plenty of space.
Another bonus was the smart tvs in both rooms which enabled them to catch up with YouTube and Disney+.
The other bedroom
Their bedroom was bright and spacious and it’s great having access to kitchen facilities, a fridge and dining table.
The lounge area was big enough for us all to sit down and enjoy a movie although the sofa could have been comfier.
It’s an open plan kitchen-diner and living space
There is a restaurant and bar on the ground floor called Black Iron Social which serves breakfast, brunch, bar snacks and dinner and seems really popular.
The bar and restaurant Black Iron Social
Plus there’s a Tesco Express around the corner if you want to eat in.
*The rooms are modern, fresh and clean. The size is great with lots of space to relax in.
*The modern facilities are a big bonus
*It’s a good central location in Leicester, you can walk to all the major attractions in the city centre.
*Make sure to ask for a room on the outside with windows, if you want them.
*It is on a pedestrianised street so if you have heavy luggage, get one person to drop the other off nearby before going to park your car.
Leicester has some great family attractions, including the National Space Centre and the Richard III Centre, read our full guide to places to go in the city here.
Address: The Gresham Aparthotel, 36 Market Street, Leicester, LE1 6DP.
Parking: The hotel does not have its own car park. There are car parks within a short walking distance, we used Newarke Street car park, which is about a 2/3 minute walk.
The very first Masked Singer Live UK tour has begun
The Masked Singer is the surprise television hit that is part singing competition and part guessing game which sees celebrities dress up in crazy costumes.
Clues are given about each celebrity so you can try and guess ‘who is behind the mask’.
In our house we are avid viewers – the children love it – so we were thrilled when it was announced that a stage version was to tour the UK.
We bought tickets to the first night in Liverpool, so here is our review plus all you need to know.
The Masked Singer Live
We saw it at the M&S Bank Arena in Liverpool for the very first live show.
It will also be in London, Birmingham, Newcastle upon Tyne, Glasgow, Manchester, Leeds, Sheffield and Nottingham.
Who is in it?
*The host – as in the ITV show – is comedian and presenter Joel Dommett.
He got a great reception from the audience.
Joel Dommett on stage in Liverpool
*The panel is made up of singer and tv personality Denise Van Outen (Fox in Series one) and JLS star Aston Merrygold (Robin in series two), plus a different third celebrity judge in each city. Ours in Liverpool was Samia Longchambon from Coronation Street.
*Five of the favourite characters sing and dance – at ours were Panda, Badger, Dragon, Unicorn and Traffic Cone.
Sadly it is not the original celebrities inside the costumes, but other great singers. They don’t take their masks off so younger children may not realise.
*Then there are two new celebrities to sing and be unveiled at each venue in new costumes – Space Pug and Baby Dino.
Who was behind the mask?
In Liverpool we had Simon Gregson (Steve McDonald, Coronation Street), who performed as Space Pug.
Simon Gregson as Space Pug
And singer and friend of Simon Cowell, Sinitta, as Baby Dino, voted best by the audience clapometer.
*Solos, duets and group numbers from the favourite characters.
Badger, Dragon and Panda, plus Unicorn heading out on stage
*Most of the audience and all of the judges (including his Coronation Street colleague) guessing Simon Gregson to be Space Pug. The clues are much easier to guess than the television series thankfully.
*Joel going into the audience to ask people who they thought the masked stars were.
When is it?
April 2, 2022: M&S Bank Arena, Liverpool
April 3, 2022: The O2, London
April 5, 2022: Utilita Arena Birmingham
April 8, 2000: Utilita Arena Newcastle, Newcastle upon Tyne
April 9, 2022: OVO Hydro, Glasgow
April 10, 2022: AO Arena, Manchester
April 13, 2022: First Direct Arena, Leeds
April 15, 2022: Utilita Arena Sheffield
April 16, 2022: Motorpoint Arena Nottingham
April 18, 2022: OVO Arena, Wembley, London
Who are the guest judges at each venue
The third judge at each venue to sit alongside Denise Van Outen and Aston Merrygold will be:
We take a family holiday to Mallorca and stay at the five-star Zafiro Palace Alcudia
To land at night is to preserve the mystery of your surroundings until morning – and we were in for a pleasant surprise on our break to the Balearic island of Mallorca.
Early signs are good – we land at Palma and are out of the plane, the airport and into our hire car in a record-breaking 20 minutes.
Safely at the hotel a little later, we love our big, open-plan, ground floor room despite the partially see-through frosted toilet door!
Zafiro Palace Hotel
The huge comfortable bed and sofa which converts into two singles mean it’s easy to sleep.
And when we pull back the curtains the following morning, we are greeted with a sight befitting this five-star hotel, Zafiro Palace Alcudia.
A big terrace awaits us, furnished with a table and chairs and comfy sun loungers.
But there’s also a gate. A gate which leads on to a swim-up pool. Bliss.
In fact, most ground floor rooms here have this luxurious option while top floor suites benefit from a hot tub.
Water is a common theme, perfect for a Mediterranean island known for the aqua sea surrounding it – I count at least 12 swimming pools.
For children, there’s a pirate-themed pool with water slides and another with a ‘wet bubble’ in the middle to climb and bounce off which opens out into the biggest pool here, with a swim-up bar.
Water slides in a pirate-themed children’s pool
But as it’s October and the water is a little chilly, the warmest pool here is the busiest, with one lane sectioned off for serious swimming and double sun beds over the water on the other side for those who’d rather watch.
The warmest pool
All that swimming builds up appetites and the food here is fantastic. Thankfully the main buffet restaurant has enough pancakes, pizza and pasta to keep even our daughter happy.
Plus a good variety of Spanish favourites like Paella and fish and other international cuisine to satisfy all palates.
There are several a la carte restaurants too – an Italian, Japanese, Mediterranean and Bistro/Grill. All of them offer high quality food in a relaxed atmosphere which caters to children.
And the younger ones are also well-served by a playground, entertainment such as mini discos in the afternoons, a mini golf course and a basketball court/football pitch.
The hotel is in Puerto de Alcudia, in the north of this popular island.
It’s surrounded by mountainous scenery and is within walking distance of Playa de Alcudia, a long sandy beach with shallow waters and playground equipment.
Playa de Alcudia beach
We also spend time on other stunning beaches and explore Port de Pollensa, which inspired Agatha Christie’s story Problem at Pollensa Bay.
The beach at Pollensa
Alcudia Old Town is also worth a look as are the fabulous Caves of Drach with its stalagmites and stalactites and stunning musical experience.
One day we take the twisty mountain road up to a clifftop vantage point at Es Colomer, with fabulous sweeping views of this wonderful island.
Es Colomer – walking up to a view
We admire the keen cyclists cruising up the steep slopes – they didn’t appear to have overindulged in a hotel buffet like I had.
We may have arrived at night but we departed in the morning – just time for a final trip to the breakfast buffet.
We stay in a beautiful cottage and explore the area and discover if Cornwall is dog-friendly as well as child-friendly
Our dog is barking furiously, drowning out the sound of waves washing the rocky Cornish shoreline below, as our daughter approaches a huge, sword-wielding man.
High on a rocky headland, peaceful family picnics are interrupted by what Charlie, our nine-month-old golden retriever, believes to be an urgent life-or-death situation.
Thankfully, the rest of us can see the the sword-wielding giant is only a statue – that of the warrior Gallos at Tintagel Castle.
It’s the first day of our dog-friendly family break to Cornwall and we’re exploring the dramatic castle, mythical home of King Arthur.
It’s a site which tests dog and human stamina. There are steep walks from the village to the castle and then down to the beach which houses Merlin’s Cave. It’s a challenging spot to visit but a worthwhile one, don’t miss our full review.
In fact, steep Cornish hills are quite a feature of our break, especially at our accommodation.
The aptly-named The Valley is in – yes – a valley, near the village of Carnon Downs just outside Truro.
It’s perfect for children and dogs. For the kids, there are indoor and outdoor pools, a tennis court, brand-new playground, games room and activities laid on during school holiday periods.
Swimmng pool and play area at The Valley, Truro, Cornwall
For the dogs there’s a range of walks on footpaths around the site, a cosy bed, welcome treats and his or her own comprehensive guide of dog-friendly activities, all waiting in our holiday cottage.
A walk near our cottage
The cottage, one of 46 on the site, is clean, fresh and very well equipped. Ours is a two-bedroom Villa Gallery over three levels.
There’s two bedrooms and bathrooms on the ground floor, then a lounge, toilet and utility room on the middle tier with a kitchen-diner on the top level complete with balcony overlooking the swimming pool and green fields.
Our cottage at The Valley
Read our full review of the accommodation for more details.
The staff are happy and efficient, their reception has a treasure trove of books, DVDs and games you can borrow. Every evening, a note drops through the door of our cottage with suggestions for activities around Cornwall.
We take Charlie to a range of dog-friendly attractions. As well as Tintagel Castle, we visited Lappa Valley to enjoy his first ride on a steam train and the Lost Gardens of Heligan where he could sniff out plants from around the globe.
But could he run free on the beaches? The answer is yes on most of them. Our handy cottage guide showed more than 60 beaches welcoming dogs across the county and we found some gems.
Charlie on Holywell Bay beach
Probably our favourite was Holywell Bay with huge sand dunes protecting a stunning beach framed by cliffs. Rock pools, caves and streams kept the children happy and there was space for Charlie to stretch his legs and chase balls – mainly those belonging to other dogs unfortunately.
Holywell Bay beach is where some of Poldark was filmed
Among the other sandy spots we loved were Carne beach on the Roseland Peninsula, Porthmeor at bustling St Ives and dramatic Gwithian with acres of wide-open space.
The Valley is centrally located in Cornwall meaning none of the county’s attractions – or its beaches – are that far away.
But one of the most spectacular sights is just a few miles from our cottage via ferry.
The King Harry car ferry gently delivers your vehicle across the River Fal on the way to the pretty village of St Mawes.
King Harry ferry
Once there, the stony shoreline, working harbour and gorgeous views lead up the St Mawes Castle, which overlooks the bay and has protected the area since it was built by Henry VIII.
There are benches in the grounds where we all sit and relax with the sun on our faces, Charlie gently snoozing at our feet, finally worn out by our Cornish adventures.
St Mawes Castle
We decide to let sleeping dogs lie and reflect on the truth that Cornwall is definitely dog and family friendly – unless you come face-to-face with an eight-foot high warrior statue.
We take our children to Cofton Holiday Park and explore the surrounding beaches and attractions
“This is amazing,” says our son and we all feel the same.
The sheer joy of a family swim makes the months of lockdown seem a distant memory.
This perfectly warm indoor pool is just one of the excellent facilities at Cofton Holiday Park near Dawlish in Devon.
Swim sessions are pre-booked and limited to an hour to ensure the pool isn’t too crowded while Covid precautions are in place.
It is the same with Cofton’s large outdoor pool, which opens over the warmer months.
The pools are at the centre of the sprawling site along with restaurants and arcade and it’s all just a short walk from our static caravan.
We are in a Tamar model and it is a superb place to stay – modern, spotlessly clean, with two smart TVs, fast WiFi, two bathrooms, good kitchen facilities and plenty of space in the well laid out lounge/dining area.
Our static caravan
There are also luxury lodges with hot tubs, holiday cottages or you can bring your own tent, caravan or motorhome.
The lounge area
Children could spend their whole holiday at Cofton – there’s also a woodland adventure park with zip line, small playground, fishing lakes and woods to explore.
It would also be pretty easy to eat here every night with three restaurants (one closed during our visit), serving good family food and drinks at reasonable prices. There is also an excellent fish and chip shop and a small store on site selling essential food and drinks.
The outdoor pool and restaurants
Plus there are children’s activities run by the entertainment team with daily activities like pond dipping, fishing lessons and pirate adventures, when we visit.
With beautiful Devon on our doorsteps we have to get out and about too.
The beaches are our main aim and the nearest is Dawlish Warren. You can walk from the site – up steep woodland, along a footpath to a walk which takes about half an hour.
Alternatively it is a 10-minute drive from Cofton to the beach’s large car park, past a popular funfair.
This child-friendly flat beach stretches along a sand spit at the mouth of the Exe estuary.
It’s good for games and sandcastle building, there are lifeguards patrolling during the summer and a cafe and ice cream shop.
We also spend time at Coryton Cove near Dawlish, a sheltered partly sandy spot with a cafe.
For an adventurous trip out, try Holcombe Beach. You can’t park there but have to leave your car in the village and negotiate the steep Smuggler’s Lane.
Once you walk under the railway line, which hugs the shore, you come out on a high sea wall path (beware, there’s a sheer, high drop) with steep, narrow steps leading down to the sand.
The beach is good for bodyboarding and offers great views with dramatic red sandstone cliffs at both ends. If you love train-spotting then you can stand inches from the main railway line as services whizz past.
For a more sedate pace of life, try Dawlish town with its gentle river running though the park and traditional seaside appeal.
Devon clotted cream ice creams from Gaye’s Creamery, eaten beside the ducks floating along the weirs on the river makes for a relaxing afternoon.
You can also enjoy the crashing waves along the sea wall and games of mini-golf.
Cofton Holdays is only 20 minutes from Exeter and a similar drive to the hills of Dartmoor.
Haldon Forest Park with its range of bike and walking trails is another good option if you want to head inland.
Back at the park
After one hearty dinner at the park’s Amelia’s Cafe, as the evening sun shines over the rolling hills, we set out to explore the area on foot.
We look down to the holiday park laid out before us. “This is amazing,” I say.
We take a trip down memory lane in Exeter and find out if it is family-friendly and good for children
A tatty white door, three overflowing bins and a weed-covered driveway isn’t the normal tourist photo opportunity.
But it’s the outside of this terraced house in Exeter which has inspired our visit.
It’s where my husband lived when he was at university in Devon – and now he’s come back with a wife and two children in tow.
His time as a student hadn’t resulted in much knowledge of whether the city was child-friendly.
But on our short break we discover there is plenty – apart from taking a trip with dad down memory lane – to entertain the little ones.
This is the best place to start – the bustling waterfront has quirky shops, bars, restaurants and wide paths for cycling, scooting and strolling alongside the River Exe and Exeter Canal.
Saddles & Paddles
We take a different mode of transport by hopping into a canoe, hired from Saddles & Paddles on the Quayside. As the name suggests they hire bikes and boats from a waterside store.
After a cheery and comprehensive briefing, the four of us are paddling, occasionally even in unison, along the river and then canal.
Family canoe ride on the River Exe in Exeter
We work as a team to travel the two miles or so to the Double Locks pub where you can moor up and grab a drink in the large garden, which has a playground and plenty of space.
We then turn round and head back to the Quay, returning via a super low bridge which you have to duck under.
The canal is very safe as no motorboats are on it, just canoeists, kayakers and paddleboarders. It is a peaceful and fun way to start our visit.
Where is child-friendly to eat in Exeter?
After working up an appetite, we tuck into giant pizzas at On The Waterfront, which is next to Saddles & Paddles. It has good outside seating and an atmospheric inside in an old customs house.
On the Waterfront restaurant
The children’s pizzas, only £6 each, disappear in a flash and even our large adult portions go down well. This is a good, friendly, relaxed family restaurant.
On the opposite side of the water, in a glass building, sits another excellent eatery.
Lobster at Rockfish
Rockfish is a chain with restaurants around the South West. It’s known for its fresh seafood and changes its dish of the day daily to reflect what’s come out of the waters around Devon.
I have a fabulous lobster and our children tuck into tasty fish and chips.
The children’s menu, well priced at £7.95, includes an ice cream dessert and a great pack of goodies to keep them entertained.
It has a puzzle book, dolphin jigsaw, card games and colouring pencils.
The activities all carry a message about protecting the maritime environment.
Once you’ve headed up the steep streets (Exeter is a fairly hilly city) into the city centre, the cathedral should be your first stop.
The Cathedral Green is a lovely space and inside the large cathedral (entrance £5 adults, children free) you can collect a free children’s activity booklet, guiding you around the building with questions and clues to answer about what’s inside. There is also brass rubbing sheets you can do at a cost of £2.
Exeter is an historic city with links to the Romans, Normans and more. You can wander past Sir Francis Drake’s favourite pub – the half timbered Ship Inn, as you walk from the cathedral to the castle.
It is more castle walls really than traditional fortress but most of the walls sit in Northernhay Gardens, the oldest public open space in Britain, which dates back to the 1600s.
Today the gardens are peaceful, picturesque and a good space for children to run around.
If you exit the gardens via the war memorial and turn left you come to Exeter’s most colourful street, Gandy Street, with coffee shops and bars lining the cobbles. It is a good spot to stop for snack or drink.
The RAMM and Underground Passages
Two of the city’s other top attractions are closed when we visit.
The Royal Albert Memorial Museum and Art Gallery (RAMM) reveals the area’s rich history and global connections.
And we were sad to miss the city’s Underground Passages where guided tours have taken place since the 1930s. They were designed to bring clean drinking water from natural springs outside the walled city.
The Underground Passages (pic: Mike Alsford)
Haldon Forest Park
One place which wasn’t closed – and very much open to the elements as we discover on a wet walk – is Haldon Forest Park.
Haldon Forest Park
About four miles outside the city, this large woodland area is packed with walkers, cyclists and Segway riders.
There is a Go Ape course, cafe, playground and lots of different length trails to tackle. As it’s pouring, we take the simple green route, which is a 1.5 mile circular walk with spectacular views out towards the sea.
You could easily spend most of the day at this large park, especially if you brought bikes with you.
There are other attractions on the outskirts of Exeter like Crealy Theme Park and Darts Farm Shopping Village.
The city is only around half an hour from the seaside resorts of Exmouth and Dawlish, as well as the hills of Dartmoor.
If you wanted to you could base yourself in the city and explore all of those areas.
But our time in Exeter is up and we have created plenty of new family memories to add to the student stories from two decades ago.
Our first boating holiday takes in the famous Pontcysyllte Aqueduct on the Llangollen Canal
I have been in charge of an 18-tonne canal boat the length of a lorry for roughly a minute.
Concentrating hard, I navigate on to the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct, the width of our craft Askrigg, trying to ignore the 40-metre sheer drop on one side into the River Dee.
The expert, who has just given us an hour’s worth of thorough instructions, steps off the barge and we are alone crossing the longest aqueduct in Britain and the highest in the world.
As introductions to canal life goes, there’s nothing like being thrown in at the deep end as our two children enjoy the ride and my husband helps direct from the front – almost 70 feet away.
We are on a Drifters waterways holiday and our Anglo Welsh boat has just left Trevor basin near Llangollen in north east Wales.
About to depart from Trevor basin
Our four-day route is along the Llangollen Canal with overnight stops at the border village of Chirk and the Shropshire town of Ellesmere.
I quickly discover that canal boating is simultaneously very relaxing and stressful. Once we cross the aqueduct with its amazing views, there are other boats to dodge, tight turns to master and long tunnels to chug through.
There’s even a swing bridge to lift and our six-year-old gets out, armed with the windlass (the tool to lift canal locks and bridges) and starts helping turn the gauge to raise it high above the canal and allow us to pass through.
At first, bridges and locks may be daunting but they quickly become part of the fun, giving the children some activity and making them feel part of the team.
Luckily, every boater seems friendly and happy to help if you get in a fix.
Helming takes some practice, the boat is steered from the rear with a tiller. You may find yourself gently bumping the sides, glancing off low bridges or getting stuck in shallow water.
Coming out from a tunnel
It is all part of the adventure and steering quickly becomes second nature, even if you can never entirely relax at the helm.
We take it in turns so one of us can be with the children, prepare food or even relax, lazing at the front, enjoying the scenery.
There’s something pretty awesome about travelling along in a floating home but I recommend mooring up as often as possible to explore the towpath and surroundings.
We love stopping where we want, discovering walks through the countryside with just cows for company. This slow pace of travel needs to be embraced.
We also make planned stops at Chirk near to the famous castle, Ellesmere with its mere, playground, sculpture trail and quaint town centre, the small village of St Martin’s and also the base at Trevor, from where you can cross the famous aqueduct, a world heritage site, on foot.
As your confidence dealing with the boat increases, so does your speed carrying out its regular checks, filling with water and tying the ropes.
And the quality of our craft Askrigg really helps make the holiday (read our detailed review of the boat). It is one of Anglo Welsh’s Bond class boats and sleeps up to six (read our full review of it here).
Inside our boat Askrigg
There is lots of space inside, two bedrooms, two bathrooms with showers, a well-equipped kitchen, lounge/dining area, television, radio, central heating and WiFi. It is also extremely clean and Covid compliant.
By the end of our mini-break it has become a home from home so as we head back over the aqueduct four days later, the view was just as stunning but any novice nerves about taking a canal boat holiday have disappeared.
We try out family-friendly activities around the lake and take a trip to Verona
We are holidaying in the beautiful Lakes – but for once it’s not our beloved English Lake District.
The waters are a clearer turquoise, there isn’t a walking boot in sight and ice creams are in greater supply.
We are in the fashionable Italian Lakes for a slightly chilly October half-term break and I am feeling cosy but a little out of place in my ‘school run coat’.
We are staying on the southern end of Italy’s largest lake, Lake Garda, loved by families and affluent travellers.
And home for the trip is also a family favourite with a great lakefront location.
Bella Italia – a five-star campsite – is a 15-minute lakeside walk from the town of Peschiera Del Garda.
It has four pools (sadly closed at this time of year), the same number of restaurants with well-priced tasty food, playgrounds, a children’s club, ice cream parlour, bouncy castles, fairground rides and more.
Our three-bedroom mobile home, a Girasole Suite, is smaller than similar holiday homes we have stayed in but is an ideal base to explore the area.
And we start out on the pebbly beach in front of the holiday park before getting on to the water itself – the quickest way to get around the lake’s beautiful towns and villages is by ferry.
You can hop on and off, visiting several spots in a day. Among our favourites were the enchanting village of Lazise with its castle and playground and tourist magnet Sirmione – the most picturesque yet busiest spot on the lake.
Another busy spot is Italy’s biggest theme park, Gardaland, just 15 minutes away.
There are plenty of rollercoasters for older children but younger children are well-catered for too – there’s even a small Peppa Pig Land.
And a Sea Life aquarium next door is a good rainy day option – you can buy one ticket covering a visit to both on the same or consecutive days.
Just a short drive away lies a more relaxing day out. Parco Natura Viva is a zoo and safari park with hippos, giraffes, rhinos and bears among a lovely site.
Parco Giardino Sigurta
Another attraction worth a visit is Parco Giardino Sigurta. This 600-acre garden has a maze, small animal farm and plenty of space to run around in beautiful gardens. We explore on foot then hire a golf cart for 18 euros to get around the whole site.
Further afield, but still only half an hour away, is Verona.
Our children love the huge Roman amphitheatre, the 2,000-year-old Arena.
Others head to this city of Romeo and Juliet to leave love notes at Juliet’s balcony, linked to the fictional star-crossed lovers.
But it isn’t the most child friendly spot with a cramped courtyard full of selfie hunters taking photos at Juliet’s statue and balcony.
You are better off exploring Verona’s pedestrianised centre, the square around the Arena and its riverside walks. It is a compact city and in a day you can see historic churches, castles, museums or stop by one of countless gelato outlets.
To keep younger ones really happy, the city’s new Children’s Museum is a fantastic hands-on place where they can learn about light, water, power and science through play. It is well worth a couple of hours of your time.
Children’s Museum, Verona
We throw ourselves into the Verona experience with an authentic Veronese feast prepared for us at Locanda Ristori – one of the city’s traditional eateries.
We explore the family-friendly attractions in the city of St Albans and eat at the oldest pub in Britain
As we climb up and up, twist after twist, turn after turn, the staircase gets narrower and narrower.
The top of the Clock Tower is a particularly tight squeeze, its 600-year-old roof can only take a few visitors at a time – but the view at the summit of the 93 steps is well worth it.
Stretching in front of us is St Albans – a city where the ancient and the modern sit side-by-side.
For example, the Clock Tower was built in 1405, but on the street below, people queue up outside Darlish, the UK’s first Persian ice cream parlour, whose speciality is a deliciously sweet baklava ice cream sandwich.
The city’s park contains both a modern splash pool and Roman remains. And pubs which played host to Oliver Cromwell now serve the latest culinary trends.
And that theme of ancient and modern is clear at our first stop, St Albans Museum and Gallery.
St Albans Museum and Gallery
St Albans Museum and Gallery
Refurbished in 2018, the city’s main museum contains 2,000 years of history over three floors. Children are given an activity pack and trail to follow around.
You can visit the underground cells which used to be the city’s prison and then climb up into the former courtroom.
While your little ones pretend to be a judge or a villain in the dock, pensioners merrily sip away at cups of tea and tuck into slices of cake.
Our little magistrate sentences her big brother to life imprisonment
Upstairs there are more displays of the city’s history and on site is a tasty cafe. You can eat in the old courtroom or on the market square as we did, tucking into large sandwiches, varied salads and a wide range of excellent cakes.
Information: St Albans Museum and Gallery, Town Hall, St Peter’s St, St Albans AL1 3DH, open daily 10am to 5pm, 11am to 5pm on Sundays. Entry free.
St Albans Market
It is worth visiting on market day – Wednesdays and Saturdays between 8.30am and 4.30pm – if you can. There has apparently been a market in the city since the 9th century. 1,100 years on and the stalls are packed, stretching along the high street. You can buy everything from toys, to handbags, to Pakistani or Indonesian street food. It is a vibrant, colourful sight with more than 160 stalls.
Market day in St Albans, our view from the Clock Tower
At the bottom end of the market and high street is the Clock Tower. The stairs to the top do get very narrow but it is fun to climb and you are rewarded with views across Hertfordshire and even London on a clear day. The friendly volunteers at the bottom of the tower let children help ring the city’s 600-year-old bell, which has been clanging away since the Wars of the Roses.
The Clock Tower
Information: Clock Tower, High St, St Albans AL3 4EL. opening times vary. Entry £1 adults, children free. This is the only surviving medieval town belfry in England.
St Albans Cathedral
Even older than the clock tower is the building which dominates this city. St Albans Cathedral, known locally as The Abbey, is named after Alban, Britain’s first saint.
St Albans Cathedral
It is a huge building and entry is free. Children can get an activity pack from the new welcome centre, which has a shop, cafe and toilets. The pack contains 12 questions taking you around the cathedral, encouraging youngsters to explore the whole site.
The quiz also explains to them some of the history of this building and the story of how Alban became St Alban and met a grizzly end at the hands of the Romans.
There are also tree trails to explore the cathedral’s gardens, which takes around 45 minutes to complete.
On certain heritage open days there are also graffiti trails where children can hunt for clues on the various etchings visitors have drawn into the stone around the cathedral.
All the trails cost £2 per child and include a badge when successfully completed.
Some churches can feel a little stuffy and unwelcoming to children but this felt like a site where little ones were actively welcomed.
A short walk down the hill from the cathedral brings you to Verulamium Park, a former Roman site.
It is named after the Roman city of Verulamium on which it stands. And there are Roman remains dotted around its 100 acres. It was full of families when we visited, there is lots of space to run around, you can stroll by the lake, feed the ducks and climb trees. There is also a playground, fairly new splash park open during the summer, football goals, cafe and indoor swimming pool.
Verulamium Museum next to the park grounds has artefacts, which explore everyday life in Roman Britain.
St Albans has a wealth of options for eating out with almost every conceivable chain restaurant having an outlet around the city centre. We took a chance on something slightly different. Ye Olde Fighting Cocks is officially Britain’s oldest pub, the octagonal building dates back to the 11th century.
Britain’s oldest pub
It is well situated near the entrance to Verulamium Park and has a beer garden. Inside, the low ceilings and timber beams make the pub feel medieval. Fortunately, the food is most definitely modern. There are four children’s options (£8 each) including pasta, burgers and sausages. The quality was high, as were the adult meals.
The pub becomes less family-friendly the later into the evening it gets so I would suggest trying it for lunch or an early dinner.
As we stroll back from the pub where Oliver Cromwell once stayed the night, the beautiful cathedral is lit up and it’s easy to see why this is a city is a great place to introduce children to our country’s history.
Where we stayed – St Michael’s Manor
St Michael’s Manor
Our hotel, St Michael’s Manor, is next to the park and has a lovely garden of its own – five acres to explore and its own lake.
The hotel’s original building dates from 1500, which practically makes it a modern development in St Albans.
This luxury hotel has excellent family rooms – our suite had two televisions and a huge bathroom.
Our hotel room, Sycamore
Breakfast is in a beautiful orangery-style restaurant.
We stay at a holiday park in the middle of the Netherlands with our children
Sand stretches before us. A vast expanse of gold, nothing on the horizon save for a makeshift den of withered tree branches.
Where is this extraordinary landscape? The Sahara? Outer Mongolia?
Try central Holland, the Dunes of Loon.
This natural phenomenon was created by sand drifts 10,000 years ago and its 30km of desert are fun to explore.
Dunes of Loon
You experience it by walking just five minutes from our family campsite at Duinhoeve (read our full Duinhoeve Holiday Park review and tips here).
And we certainly feel like explorers as we unzip the door to our glamping lodge at the park.
Our glamping lodge at Duinhoeve
From the outside it is a huge tent, but through the zipped entrance you find a fabulous, modern interior.
There are three bedrooms, a den/storage area for children, spacious shower and bathroom, TV, well-equipped kitchen and large dining table. See our video below.
The park is ideal for younger children with three playgrounds aimed at under-7s and two swimming pools – one large and heated by solar power, the other for toddlers complete with pirate ship.
There’s a restaurant/cafe selling hot and cold meals every evening.
There’s also bike and go-kart hire. Very useful as Duinhoeve is well located to explore what the natural world has to offer with cycle paths and walks through the dunes and woodland.
If you want to experience further afield then the small medieval city of Den Bosch is less than 30 minutes away.
If you are browsing its ancients streets, squares and markets don’t forget to try the local delicacy Bosch Bollen – a type of giant profiterole sold in every bakery.
Bosche Bollen, yum
The city was home to the medieval painter Hieronymus Bosch, famous for his fantastical imagination.
And if it is a wild imagination you want to witness, then just 10 minutes from Duinhoeve is the fairytale themed theme park of Efteling (full review and top tips for visiting Efteling here).
Efteling Theme Park
Think Disneyland minus the schmaltz, the sky high food prices and super-long queues.
Not that Efteling is quiet, it is still Holland’s largest theme park and draws visitors from around Europe.
The best place to get a feel for Efteling is the Fairytale Forest with recreations of Sleeping Beauty’s castle, Pinocchio’s workshop and the witch’s gingerbread house from Hansel and Gretel, which even smells authentic.
The park is broadly divided into two halves, to the left of the entrance is mostly aimed at younger children. Head right if you have roller-coaster loving tweens and teens who are seeking plenty of thrills. See our exclusive video below.
With our younger ones, some of the best rides are Symphonica – a theatrical indoor adventure and the Pirana River Rapids Ride.
If you need a break, there are plenty of places to sit and rest. You can hop on a steam train around the park, take a leisurely boat ride on a lake, or head up the pagoda viewing tower to see Efteling from above.
When you are hungry you can pick from plenty of food options with more than just the usual expensive fast-food.
A day at Efteling ends with a 15-minute fire and water show called Aquanura, set to classical music.
Efteling is a reminder that this area – capable of extraordinary landscapes is also pretty good at man-made mythical lands as well.
Aquanura water show
There’s more water and drama back at our glamping lodge that night.
After days of humidity, a terrific thunder storm breaks out. As we look out across the park, enjoying the sight and the sound of the rain hammering on the canvas roof, we are very glad to be in safe and secure in our very, very posh tent.
We take our children via mini-cruise to Amsterdam in Holland
Amsterdam may be a stag and hen do favourite – but there is much more to the city than its infamous seedier side.
We head to the beautiful Dutch capital with our children, in search of a family-friendly break.
It’s just a short, 45-minute plane journey from the UK. So we decide to travel by ship. Obviously.
Billed as a mini-cruise, our overnight ferry crossing is with DFDS from Newcastle.
The children love it and it doesn’t feel like part of the journey – more a highlight of the holiday.
It sets sail at 5.30pm, so enough time to explore the ship, eat and enjoy the entertainment.
Then most of the journey is spent asleep in our cabin, before waking up for breakfast and disembarkment. Read our review and tips for taking this ferry crossing here and watch our video below.
Our visit to the Netherlands is in two parts so it’s a bonus to have our car and lots of luggage.
Part 1 Amsterdam
There are bicycles EVERYWHERE we look. I’m expecting this but am still staggered at the sheer volume of cyclists, their confidence and the natural way they rule the road.
All ages are on two wheels, children too young to pedal themselves ride on a seat or in a trailer with an adult.
And NOBODY wears a helmet.
It’s a stressful city for car drivers to negotiate – it’s also difficult and expensive to park.
So we use a cheap park and ride car park on the outskirts (read our Amsterdam park and ride guide here) and take a couple of trams to our hotel.
NH Amsterdam Center is a good base to explore from plus it was great value when we booked. (See our full hotel review and pictures here).
Our hotel room
It’s a well-positioned hotel next to Leidseplein square in Amsterdam, across the road from canal cruises, within five minutes’ walk of Vondelpark, Rijksmuseum and the Van Gogh Museum. Plus, our room is huge.
Then, armed with an I amsterdam city card, which gives free access to attractions, public transport including ferries and a free canal cruise, we start our exploring.
We tick off Nemo Science Museum, a great hands-on attraction, where our children even get to be scientists in a lab.
Nemo Science Museum
We take a pancake cruise – a 75-minute cruise – with all you can eat pancakes and toppings. None of us get near to the record of 15. Then, part of the boat’s floor opens up to reveal a ball bit below deck.
The Pancake Boat
We pop to see the outside of the real-life Hunter Street house from the Nickelodeon programme of the same name.
And we get close to nature at Artis Zoo – a beautiful attraction, with some species you don’t get to see in English zoos.
Less child-oriented but a must-see for art lovers, is the Van Gogh Museum which houses the biggest collection of the Dutch painter’s work in the world. Even his famous work Sunflowers is there when we visit.
We use our cruise tickets (free with the I amsterdam card), with the Blue Boat Company. The cruise really caters for children – they have their own Pirates commentary on headphones and goody bags.
The Blue Boat Company
Read our complete reviews and guides to Amsterdam’s children’s attractions here and watch our video below.
Walking is a great way to see the city and the canals but it’s a challenge to negotiate the roads and crossings with children, remembering to check the cycle lanes and look out for trams as well as other traffic.
Amsterdam is fascinating, brilliant and intensive and when it’s time for part two of our trip, all four of us are ready to head south.
We stay in an idyllic spot near Chipping Norton and visit Cotswolds Wildlife Park, Blenheim Palace and a crocodile zoo.
Violet is an enthusiastic tour guide. Energetically sprinting down woodland paths, she throws herself on to a trampoline and encourages our children to do the same. Violet is five. One of three generations who live and host visitors to Heath Farm Holiday Cottages.
Our daughter tries out the trampoline
Our children are wowed as she carefully points out the farm’s facilities, views over golden fields and the honey-coloured cottage which will be our home from home.
Heath Farm has five cottages on a 70-acre site on the eastern edge of the Cotswolds, near Chipping Norton. The views and atmosphere make you feel like you could be in the Tuscan countryside rather than the heart of England.
The Barbour family converted the site 25 years ago and still play a hands-on role welcoming visitors – owners Nena and David are there to answer questions and give tips on exploring the area.
Our children love doing their own exploring of the farm’s trails, trying croquet on the lawn and enjoying the pool and table tennis tables in the games room.
Our cottage, Cobnut, is traditional yet modern – wood furnishings mixed with modern appliances. There are two good-sized bedrooms with en suites, a dining room with spectacular views overlooking the farm’s pond and an outside table looking on to a colourful floral courtyard. We feel happy and comfortable there straight away. Read our full review of the accommodation plus see pictures and a video here.
We are hungry and we’ve brought our own supplies but you only need to travel a mile to find a good pub. The Boxing Hare is a modern restaurant with large garden for outside dining. There’s a good selection of freshly cooked children’s meals and the friendly staff make our two feel welcome with colouring books and pens. Plus the food is delicious.
The next day it is time to head out further into the surrounding area. First stop, Cotswolds Wildlife Park and Gardens.
The sun is shining as we wander the beautiful grounds, spotting rhinos, lions and wolves. It is a large site, which takes the best part of a day to get around. Highlights for us include the adventure playground, the train which tours the park giving weary legs a rest and the clever fencing design which makes you feel close to the animals as you walk around. Read our full review and tips here.
Cotswolds Wildlife Park and Gardens
Later in the day, at Crocodiles of the World, we get close to a three-metre slithering saltwater reptile. The UK’s only crocodile zoo has 160 different types of crocs, alligators and caimans to see. The enthusiastic staff talks are worth catching as they explain all you need to know about these rarely seen creatures. See here for our full review and tips.
Crocodiles of the World
Unfortunately, the Tuscan-style weather doesn’t last for our visit to Blenheim Palace the next day. One of the country’s finest stately homes, even on a rainy day there was more than just ancient artefacts to entertain our children.
This was the birthplace and home of Winston Churchill and for the first time, we tried our two with audio guides. They are aimed at adults and the commentary is detailed. But they loved wearing the headphones and operating the guides, which kept them interested in the stories of paintings, pictures and life of the Churchill family as we walked around.
Once you have explored the palace and magnificent grounds you can hop on a small train (50p per person each way) to the family pleasure gardens. This area has a butterfly house, maze, playground and small model village. Read our full review and tips on Blenheim Palace here.
Then we couldn’t wait to get back to Heath Farm. Our children urgently seeking out their on-site guide.
As they and Violet took turns on the swings hanging from trees, we couldn’t help but wish that every holiday home came with a fantastic five-year-old expert.
Bournemouth Beach has been voted Britain’s best for two years running by TripAdvisor so we take our children on a trip to Dorset to see it for ourselves
Children start digging their first sandcastles, surfers ride the morning waves and a little land train sounds its horn as it heads along the promenade.
Bournemouth Beach is gearing up for another day doing what this resort does better than most.
And despite its large green spaces, genteel buildings and bustling town centre, it is the beach which remains the big draw here, a beach officially recognised by TripAdvisor, as Britain’s best, in both 2018 and 2019.
You can see why – soft sand, gentle waves and family-friendly activities stretch along the seafront.
The best way to get a feel for the area is to head for its pier. There you can ride the Observation Wheel to get your bearings, enjoy some traditional amusement arcades and set foot on the sand.
The pier itself is home to zip wires, climbing walls and other action-packed activities, which is another example of how this resort is modernising its appeal to families.
The popular land train pootles up and down the promenade, a Red Arrows simulator is available for those who like to move a little quicker and deck chairs to hire are luring those who prefer a leisurely pace.
The seafront runs for miles from surf haven Boscombe at one end to the millionaires’ mansions of Sandbanks at the other.
But what if it is raining? As it was for part of our visit.
It’s a busy aquarium complete with shark tunnel, penguin enclosure and a small children’s play area. There is enough to pass a pleasant hour or two especially if you visit when one of the fish-feeding sessions and talks are on. See our full review of Bournemouth Oceanarium here.
When it does dry up, we head for the beach. It is perfect for young children because the sand is soft, there are no hills or dunes, the tide doesn’t go out too far and the sea suits a paddle. Wild and rugged it isn’t but safe and secure it most certainly is.
It is well worth heading to Boscombe’s seafront too. A couple of miles along from the centre of Bournemouth, they have just as good a stretch of beach here as well as a pier with mini-golf and a musical trail.
Boscombe also has surf schools and volleyball courts on the sand. And it is home to the superb family-friendly restaurant Urban Reef.
Urban Reef restaurant
We ate here during our stay and it has a perfect blend of an informal seaside feel matched with fine food for the adults. Plus, a fabulous sea view.
Urban Reef’s beach setting
There’s a restaurant upstairs and café downstairs and there’s plenty for children – the kids’ menu is designed by eight-year-old chefs, there are books to read, quizzes to do and menus to colour in.
Head to the other end of Bournemouth’s 10 miles of beach and you come to somewhere with a different feel entirely – Sandbanks.
This peninsula has its own pleasant beach but people and property watching is almost as much fun. You can take one of the ferries to Poole Harbour or Brownsea Island to get a glimpse of some of the mansions with their own jetties.
Homes in Sandbanks, view from our ferry
Alternatively, just take a stroll around the streets of Sandbanks, home to the likes of footballer manager and I’m a Celebrity winner Harry Redknapp.
We had our own taste of luxury with an overnight stay at Bournemouth’s Orchid Hotel.
The Orchid Hotel in Bournemouth
This stylish venue has 31 rooms and is set just a few streets back from the beach between Bournemouth and Boscombe.
We had the choice of family rooms or two interconnecting rooms. We enjoyed the latter along with its comfortable beds, quality furnishings and a tasty breakfast with lots of good options for small children. (Read our full review of the hotel here).
And filled up with a hearty breakfast it was time to explore again.
Our Famous Five adventure
As this area has three resorts – Bournemouth, Boscombe and Sandbanks – on the same stretch of beach – it was hard to leave.
But we were off on a fabulous Famous Five adventure elsewhere in Dorset – read all about it here.
*Bournemouth was hailed TripAdvisor’s best beach for 2019, is your favourite among the top 10?
Bournemouth Beach, Bournemouth, Dorset
Luskentyre, Isle of Harris, Scotland
St. Brelade’s Bay Beach, St Brelade, Jersey
Woolacombe Beach, Woolacombe, Devon
Barafundle Beach, Stackpole, Wales
Filey Beach, Yorkshire
Rhossili Bay, Rhossili, Wales
Gorleston Beach, Norfolk
Perranporth Beach, Perranporth, Cornwall
Newborough Beach, Dwyran, Anglesey, Wales
(Our hotel, restaurant meal and aquarium access were supplied by Bournemouth Tourism and Tourism South East for the purposes of this review. All opinions are our own).
We spend a day exploring the spiritual home of the Famous Five in Enid Blyton’s beloved Dorset
“Dick,” shout my children, calling to their dad as we climb the hill to ‘Kirrin Castle’.
“DIIIIICK, come here!”
I fare best when our children ask us to pretend we are the Famous Five for I get to be feisty cousin George (Georgina).
My son is Julian, my daughter, Anne and Timmy is our imaginary dog.
Today’s game feels far more real, as we are playing at the very locations in Dorset which inspired the Famous Five stories.
I devoured Enid Blyton as a child. Night after night I’d stay awake until all hours reading book after book, series after series.
So, it’s been magical to revisit childhood favourites with my own children from The Magic Faraway Tree through to the Adventures series.
The Famous Five stories may be old fashioned with some outdated ideas (I take the opportunity to explain this as I read). But with more than 100 million copies sold they remain as popular today.
The daring children have remarkably grown-up free adventures, finding treasure and smugglers and, it strikes me these days, never needing the toilet!
All amidst a rural backdrop of blue skies, sea and countryside, bicycle rides and lots of deliciously described picnics.
Today we are exploring the Dorset Enid Blyton loved and visited with her family for over 40 years, on the Isle of Purbeck, (which is more a peninsula than an isle).
The first Famous Five book, Five on a Treasure Island, was published over 75 years ago, in 1942.
In it, we are introduced to Kirrin Castle, on Kirrin Island, which belongs to George, near her home in Kirrin Bay.
“It had been built of big white stones. Broken archways, tumbledown towers, ruined walls – that was all that was left of a once beautiful castle, proud and strong.”
The inspiration for Kirrin Castle is said to have been Corfe Castle in Purbeck, so this becomes our first stop.
It is not on an island but our children are thrilled as we near the fabulous ruins which loom over the surrounding area.
Corfe Castle, the inspiration for Kirrin Castle
They race up the grassy slope to explore the 1,000-year-old castle, which survived the English Civil War when it was partly demolished by Cromwell’s troops and now belongs to the National Trust.
We explore all the hidden nooks and crannies and remember the adventures the Five had here, such as finding lost gold.
Even without the Blyton connection, we would have had a great time.
(Tip: If it is a school holiday get there early as parking in the small village of Corfe can be difficult. The small car park opposite the castle fills up quickly and the other option through the narrow village is a five to 10 minute walk away and was almost full when we visited).
Enid Blyton first saw Corfe Castle when she arrived by steam train.
The steam train at Corfe
And this is something you can still do today – Swanage Railway runs steam trains between Swanage and Norden. There is a picturesque stop at Corfe Castle so you could arrive or depart from here on your Famous Five adventure.
Of course, the Famous Five often travelled by steam train – particularly to return from their boarding schools ready for the holidays and more adventures.
Bathing – Swanage Pier
Next stop is the pretty seaside town of Swanage where Enid Blyton enjoyed swimming around the pier with her husband.
It was too cold for a swim when we went but we enjoyed a picnic, sadly no hard-boiled eggs, lashings of ginger beer or lemonade for us though.
On quiet days – if you are in the car – you can park on the seafront, alternatively there are large car parks a short walk from the beach.
Brownsea Island, in Poole Harbour, is said to have been the inspiration for Whispering Island, described by Enid Blyton as Keep Away Island in Five Have a Mystery to Solve.
In Enid Blyton’s day, visitors were not allowed – but now it’s owned by the National Trust.
The ferry to Brownsea island
We caught a ferry over from Sandbanks to explore. Brownsea Island Ferries run regular services from Sandbanks and from Poole Quay to the island. Greenslade Pleasure Boats also run a ferry service from Poole. Departures are about every 30 minutes with the last boat leaving at 5pm.
Once you have landed on the island there is lots to explore, the wildlife there includes rare red squirrels and we were lucky enough to spot three.
A red squirrel we spotted on Brownsea Island
There are also clifftop walks, which lead down to rocky beaches. If you explore the far end of the island you can see where the first Scout camp was held by Baden-Powell in 1907.
Exploring Brownsea Island
A trip to an island, always led to an adventure for the Famous Five and we wished we had longer here. But our only adventure was nearly missing the last boat back!
This is a fabulous way for Enid Blyton fans to spend their ‘hols’ with lashings of fun.
You can base yourself in the Isle of Purbeck but it is only a 25-minute drive to family-friendly Bournemouth which has more accommodation and activities for children if you want to make your Famous Five day into a mini-break in Dorset.
Read our review of a beach hotel stay near Alcudia in Mallorca and a visit to the magnificent Caves of Drach
The Spanish Balearic island of Mallorca (or Majorca*) was a favourite holiday destination for my family when I was growing up.
I have hazy, happy memories of golden sands and learning to swim in a warm, blue sea.
Then there was the Spanish keyboard player in our hotel who inspired me at the age of three to take organ lessons.
He’s probably retired now but the seas and sand remain so 30 years after I last visited it was time to make new memories of the island with my own children.
And so we found ourselves joining hoardes of other British families in August heading to this Mediterranean hotspot.
We used our air miles (see here for more information) and flew with BA City Flyer.
Once again, we were really impressed with the service, the planes (2-2 seating) and the leg room.
Leg room on our BA City Flyer flight
The flight at just over two hours was perfect for our children, they enjoyed the taking off and landing with just enough time in between to eat, read and watch iPads.
My first impression after landing was how enormous the island’s only airport Palma is now. My parents remember it as just a ‘hut’ in the 1960s when they first went.
There is an extraordinarily long walk to collect your suitcases, something to plan for if you have young children.
We collected a hire car, fitted our children’s car seats (see here for our car seat advice) and headed north to our hotel.
It took 45 minutes to reach the Prinsotel La Dorada, a four-star resort in Playa de Muro near Alcudia.
Prinsotel La Dorada
This aparthotel has all the benefits of self-catering and a hotel stay combined.
The rooms are like apartments with mini-kitchens but you can choose to eat at the hotel or mix and match.
Our living area
The resort is a great size – just big enough. And really well designed. The rooms are located in five blocks around the pools so everybody is in a good position.
Our room overlooked an adjacent nature reserve so we had a beautiful view. Other rooms overlook the pools.
The view from our room
And the pools are gorgeous – beautifully designed in different sections to keep the interest up for children, with varying water depths to suit all.
There is also a pool for babies, toddlers and younger children with a slide and other water fun.
The entertainment was great – we all enjoyed the evening shows and entertainers were busy in the day as well, leading aqua aerobics and other games and activities.
The pools kept ours entertained but there is a miniclub for children aged four to 12 with a programme of activities. There’s also a playground and a mini disco in the evenings. Our two tried one of the activities – pony riding around the grounds (an extra €6 per child), which was a highlight, even when my daughter’s horse stopped to relieve itself on the pristine hotel gardens!
There is also a maxiclub for older children, who have access to a PlayStation.
Then there’s a crazy golf course, pool and table tennis tables for adults and children.
A nice touch in the main buffet restaurant is a children’s section set inside a train where they can help themselves to food displayed at their height.
It is a five-minute walk (200m) to the lovely, sandy Muro Beach. Here, the sea remains shallow for quite a way out – great for children.
We hired a pedalo one day for €15 and although I never made it to the hotel spa (or obviously the gym), I enjoyed two foot massages on the beach for €10 each, while the waves crashed in front of me. Bliss.
You can stay self-catering or half board or you can pay as and when you fancy for breakfast, lunch or dinner.
For evening meals, we did a mixture of cooking in our room, eating at the hotel buffet restaurant and sampling the local restaurants – a great variety which really suited us.
For more details of the hotel, click here.
Cuevas del Drach
I was keen to take my children to the Caves of Drach which I had enjoyed as a child (apart from the year we went to the wrong caves and didn’t realise – apparently this still happens now so check the website for the exact location as there are other caves nearby).
The attraction is on the east coast of Mallorca in Porto Cristo and we were glad to escape the August heat to the 21C temperature inside.
It is incredible – there is a long path and lots of steps through the caves, which are dimly lit and bursting with stalagmites and stalactites.
Finally, you reach one of the largest underground lakes in the world, Lake Martel where you sit down, the lights go off (some children may not like this) and three lit rowing boats appear, the first with musicians in, for an unforgettable 10-minute classical music concert. See here for more information on this attraction.
We also visited Alcudia old town on market day – a Tuesday morning – and haggled for a few bits before a welcome stop in a restaurant for tapas (and pizza).
It is a pretty, walled town with lots of atmosphere and lots to see and buy.
Alcudia old town
We went to a couple of other beaches, Alcudia and S’illot, but preferred the Playa del Muro by our hotel.
Mallorca was as lovely as I remembered. August was a touch too hot for us, so we are keen to try it out at a different time of year.
*Finally, Mallorca or Majorca what is the difference?
The Spanish spell it Mallorca, the British started to call it Majorca as they struggled with the double L sound, although both are pronounced Ma-yor-ka. So now you know!