REVIEWS

Delight in Devon on a family holiday to Dawlish with our children

Delight in Devon on a family holiday to Dawlish with our children

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.

The indoor pool at Cofton Holiday Park

Indoor pool

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 at Coftons Holidays

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 of our Tamar static caravan at Cofton Holiday Park

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.

Woodland adventure playground at Cofton Holiday Park

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 at Cofton Holidays

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.

Our daughter gives you a tour of the site in this video! Plus read and see more details of our caravan and the site here: Cofton Holiday Park near Dawlish in Devon

Exploring the area

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.

Dawlish Warren

Dawlish Warren

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.

Holcombe Beach in Devon

Holcombe Beach

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.

The river and church at Dawlish in Devon

Dawlish

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

Coftons Holiday Park - view from the hill

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.

RELATED CONTENT: Cofton Holiday Park near Dawlish in Devon – Family Holiday Guide review

RELATED CONTENT: We discover all the best places and activities for children in Exeter, Devon

We discover all the best places and activities for children in Exeter, Devon

We discover all the best places and activities for children in Exeter, Devon

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.

Dad and children at Exeter University

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.

Exeter’s Quayside

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.

The exterior of Saddles & Paddles in Exeter

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

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 pizza restaurant in Exeter

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 in Exeter

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.

Child fish and chips at Rockfish in Exeter

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.

Children's bag of goodies at Rockfish restaurant in Exeter

Exeter Cathedral

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.

Mum and children outside Exeter Cathedral

Exeter Cathedral

Northernhay Gardens

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.

Northernhay Gardens in Exeter

Northernhay Gardens

Today the gardens are peaceful, picturesque and a good space for children to run around.

Gandy Street

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.

Underground Passages in Exeter

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.

Stick man at 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.

Surrounding area

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.

For more ideas go to Visit Exeter.

RELATED CONTENT: Delight in Devon on a family holiday to Dawlish with our children

RELATED CONTENT: Cofton Holiday Park near Dawlish in Devon – Family Holiday Guide review

We were provided with complimentary meals and activities through Visit Exeter for this trip. All opinions are our own.

Canal boat family holiday review – we take our children on a 67-foot barge

Canal boat family holiday review – we take our children on a 67-foot barge

Our first boating holiday takes in the famous Pontyscyllte 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 Pontyscyllte 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 in a narrowboat from Trevor basin

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.

Children can help lift swing bridges on the canal

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 on the Llangollen Canal

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.

A family travels on a canal boat

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).

A girl sits in the lounge of the bond boat Askrigg from Anglo Welsh

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.

RELATED CONTENT: Canal boat holiday guide for beginners – EVERYTHING you need to know

RELATED CONTENT: Our 10 top tips for taking children on a canal boat holiday

RELATED CONTENT: We review an Anglo Welsh canal boat with our children – is it family friendly?

RELATED CONTENT: Top 10 canal boat family holiday destinations in England and Wales

Drifters’ 2020 Fact Box

Drifters Waterway Holidays offers 550 canal boats for hire from 45 bases across England, Scotland and Wales.

There are over 3,000 miles of waterways for you to discover, all at your own pace and you don’t need to be an expert. Tuition is included as part of Drifters’ holiday packages.

Drifters’ 2020 hire prices for a boat for up to four people start at £530 for a short break (three or four nights), rising to £855 in the peak summer holidays.

A boat for up to four for a week starts at £915, rising to £1220 in the peak of the summer holidays.

Narrowboats range from 32ft to 70ft and can accommodate from two up to 12 people.

For more information visit the website or call 0344 984 0322.

More information about visiting the canal network is available from the Canal River Trust.

*We received a complimentary break for the purposes of this review. All views are our own.

Holiday fun with our children on a family holiday to Lake Garda and Verona

Holiday fun with our children on a family holiday to Lake Garda and Verona

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.

Peschiera

Peschiera

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.

For our full review of our accommodation read Bella Italia holiday park and watch our video below.

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.

Girasole Suite at Campeggio Bella Italia at Lake Garda

Girasole Suite

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.

The ferry around Lake Garda

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.

Boats at the town of Garda in Lake Garda, Italy

Garda

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.

Riding a golf buggy at Parco Sigurta

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.

Read our full guide here: What to do in Lake Garda with children – our top tips and watch our video below.

Further afield, but still only half an hour away, is Verona.

Our children love the huge Roman amphitheatre, the 2,000-year-old Arena.

Two children outside the Arena amphitheatre in Verona, Italy

The 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.

Romeo and Juliet's balcony in Verona, Italy

Juliet’s balcony

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

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.

Afterwards we plan to walk it off up the Torre Dei Lamberti – the city’s 368 step tower.

However, the lure of the lift taking us most of the way up is too strong. And from there stretches street upon street of terracotta roofs, spectacular even in the rain.

For all our Verona ideas read: What to do with children in Verona and watch our video below.

As we stroll away from the city, one last ice cream in hand, it isn’t hard to see why this area has been one loved by visitors for centuries.

Our time in the city made famous by Shakespeare and Lake Garda has definitely been a triumph, not tragedy.

Disclaimer: We were provided with complimentary accommodation, entrance to attractions and a Verona Card for this visit. All opinions are our own.

A family break in St Albans with our children proves a great mixture of old and new

A family break in St Albans with our children proves a great mixture of old and new

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

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

Market day in St Albans, our view from the Clock Tower

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.

St Albans Clock Tower

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 Alban's Cathedral

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.

Information: St Albans Cathedral, St Albans AL1 1B, open daily, entry free.

Verulamium Park

Verulamium Park in St Albans

Verulamium Park

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.

Information: Verulamium Park, St Peter’s Street, St Albans, UK.

Eating Out

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.

Ye Olde Fighting Cocks is officially Britain’s oldest pub

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.

Information: Ye Olde Fighting Cocks, 16 Abbey Mill Ln, St Albans, AL3 4HE.

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 hotel in St Albans

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 at St Michael's Mount

Our hotel room, Sycamore

Breakfast is in a beautiful orangery-style restaurant.

It’s well-situated with lots of parking spaces, so we could walk to and from the city centre, read our full hotel review with pictures and video here: Review: St Michael’s Manor Hotel in St Albans

This was also the perfect base from which to visit Harry Potter Studios the next day – read our review of that here: The full guide to Harry Potter Studio Tour London with must-read tips and family review

Information: St Michael’s Manor Hotel, Fishpool Street, St Albans, AL3 4RY.

Breakfast at Lakeside Restaurant

Breakfast St Michael’s Manor

Disclaimer – Our hotel, food and attractions were provided to us in exchange for this review. All views are our own.

Deserts, fairytales and glamping – a family trip to Efteling and the Brabant region of Holland.

Deserts, fairytales and glamping – a family trip to Efteling and the Brabant region of Holland.

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.

the Dunes of Loon in Drunen National Park

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 holiday park in Holland/The Netherlands

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.

The cathedral city of Den Bosch

Den Bosch

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).

Children at Efteling Theme Park

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 at Efteling

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.

*This was the second of a two-part holiday to Holland, starting in Amsterdam, read the first part here: Is Amsterdam child-friendly? We take a family trip to the beautiful capital of the Netherlands to find out

*We travelled via mini-cruise with DFDS – read about our journey here: We review a mini-cruise from Newcastle to Amsterdam with DFDS ferry operator

RELATED CONTENT: Amsterdam’s top attractions and activities for children

RELATED CONTENT: Our full guide to getting around Amsterdam with children

RELATED CONTENT: Amsterdam’s park and ride service – all you need to know

RELATED CONTENT: We review Efteling – the biggest theme park in the Netherlands – and give our top tips for visiting

RELATED CONTENT: We review a mini-cruise from Newcastle to Amsterdam with DFDS ferry operator

(We received complimentary accommodation, tickets to Efteling and ferry crossing, all views are our own).

Is Amsterdam child-friendly? We take a family trip to the beautiful capital of the Netherlands to find out

Is Amsterdam child-friendly? We take a family trip to the beautiful capital of the Netherlands to find out

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.

Our cabin on the Princess Seaways

Our cabin

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.

Bicycles parked in Amsterdam

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).

A suite at NH Amsterdam Centre hotel

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 exterior

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

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 in Amsterdam

The Blue Boat Company

Read our complete reviews and guides to Amsterdam’s children’s attractions here and watch our video below.

We get around by trams and on foot (read Our full guide to getting around Amsterdam with children).

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.

Go to Part 2: Deserts, fairytales and glamping – a family trip to Efteling and the Brabant region of Holland.

RELATED CONTENT: Amsterdam’s top attractions and activities for children

RELATED CONTENT: Our full guide to getting around Amsterdam with children

RELATED CONTENT: Amsterdam’s park and ride service – all you need to know

RELATED CONTENT: We review Efteling – the biggest theme park in the Netherlands – and give our top tips for visiting

RELATED CONTENT: We review a mini-cruise from Newcastle to Amsterdam with DFDS ferry operator

(We received complimentary ferry crossing and two i amsterdam cards, all views are our own).

A family holiday in the Cotswolds – read about our stay at a fabulous farm cottage and the attractions we visited with our children

A family holiday in the Cotswolds – read about our stay at a fabulous farm cottage and the attractions we visited with our children

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.

A girl jumps on a trampoline at Heath Farm 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.

Cobnut cottage at Heath Farm Holiday Cottages in the Cotswolds

Cobnut cottage

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 Boxing Hair in Swerford

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.

A giraffe at Cotswolds Wildlife Park and Gardens

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.

A crocodile at Crocodiles of the World in the Cotswolds

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.

Blenheim Palace exterior

Blenheim Palace

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.

RELATED CONTENT: Heath Farm Holiday Cottages set in 70 acres in the beautiful Cotswolds – our review and tips

RELATED CONTENT: Cotswold Wildlife Park and Gardens – our review, tips and all the information you will need to visit

RELATED CONTENT: Blenheim Palace in the Cotswolds – our family day out review and top tips

RELATED CONTENTCrocodiles of the World – we visit the UK’s only crocodile zoo with our children

Review: A family holiday to beautiful Corsica at May half-term with Eurocamp

Review: A family holiday to beautiful Corsica at May half-term with Eurocamp

Magnificent mountains and beautiful beaches – we take our children to Corsica and stay at Eurocamp’s two sites on this Mediterranean island

We have just arrived on a gorgeous, sunny beach, framed at each corner by pink and orange rocks.

I lay out a towel, get out the bucket and spades and our children squeal with delight as they take to the clear blue waters of the Mediterranean.

Minutes later we are scurrying to our car as a thick, black cloud descends down from the improbably steep mountains towards us and the heavens open.

This is Corsica: a land of extremes. Bright sunshine then brutal showers. Shallow bays and steep mountain passes. French-owned with an Italian influence.

An abstract concept which, for a family, boils down to croissants for breakfast and pizza for dinner.

And our week is a tale of two very different Eurocamp holiday parks (read our full comparison here).

Marina D’Erba Rossa holiday park, Ghisonaccia (full review here)

Marina D’Erba Rossa is our first stop. On the east coast, near the town of Ghisonaccia, an hour’s drive from Bastia Airport.

Swimming pool at Marina d'Erba Rossa holiday park in Corsica

Marina D’Erba Rossa swimming pool

“Mummy, an ostrich woke me up and now I’ve spotted a llama”.

We are next to the small animal park on this large site. Bulls, kangaroos and chickens alongside the holidaymakers who have arrived here from across Europe.

The holiday park is a little tired in places and our mobile home isn’t the newest but we can overlook that as there is so much for children to do.

The exterior of our Eurocamp mobile home at The swimming pool at Marina d'Erba Rossa in Corsica

Our Eurocamp mobile home

For a start, it’s on a big beach with inviting waves. There’s a great pool, next to the beach.

Then there’s a new playground/play area, mini golf, trampoline and zip wire enclosure, gym, ice cream parlour, tennis courts, crazy golf, pool tables – the list goes on.

Play area with slides at Marina d'Erba Rossa holiday park in Corsica

A small shop on the site sells essentials including fresh croissants and baguettes in the morning and at night you can tuck into very tasty pizza at the on-site restaurant.

Ghisonaccia is a fairly non-descript Corsican town but has all the facilities you need. Nearby Aleria has some of the island’s history on display at its museum.

The fact that Marina D’Erba Rossa is on a lovely beach was the biggest draw for us. But this island, birthplace of Napoleon, is much more than just a beach holiday.

You have to head inland. Onwards and upwards into the mountains.

Sampolo Lake and mountains in Corsica

Sampolo Lake

The routes immediately become steep and twisty, rocks hang over the edge of the road, ears pop, civilisation becomes more sporadic.

And it’s at the start of one of these roads we find our second campsite, Sole di Sari. Keep reading for all the details.

Sole di Sara campsite, Solenzara (full review here)

Outside the town of Solenzara, the small site Sole di Sara campsite is fresh and modern.

Eurocamp Sole di Diri mobile home exterior

Our mobile home at Sole di Sari

The mobile home is nearly new, nestled into the hillside overlooking a stunning backdrop of mountain peaks and a gentle river.

A girl sits beside the river at Sole di Sari

The river at Sole di Sari

And the river isn’t just for looking at, it’s for swimming in too. The water is even colder than the site’s clean but small pool but is well worth exploring.

Sole di Sari swimming pool complex

Sole di Sari swimming pool

There’s also a play area with swings and slides, a modern bar and restaurant, boules, table tennis and a basketball court.

Sole di Sari play area

Sole di Sari play area

From Sole di Sari, you can get to the nearest beach by car in five minutes or head up the mountain road that the park sits on.

Just watch out for the wild bulls! One comes charging down the road and then chases us on our way up the snaking route to the Col de Bavella.

A 20-minute slow drive rewards with astonishing views across the mountainous valley. We stop about two-thirds of the way up after losing the bull, where there is a short but spectacular walk.

The vew at Col de Bavella mountains in Corsica

Col de Bavella

Adventurous families with older children can go canyoning and hiking to hidden waterfalls.

There is also a zip wire and treetop rope courses including one for youngsters (but check for opening times, they are closed when we go).

Children will also enjoy the rocky streams and turquoise coves lower down the mountain road.

Back at sea level we sample an abundance of colourful beaches on this stretch of coastline. Highlights near Solenzara are Scaffa Rossa, Fautea and Canella.

Palombaggia Beach in Corsica

Palombaggia Beach

Further afield we combine a visit to the wealthy walled town of Porto Vecchio and its yacht-filled marina, with a trip to Corsica’s most famous beach Palombaggia.

Shallow waters, soft sand and a wonderful view along the coast draws thousands to this beach, which means sharing the sand with plenty of other people, something we haven’t had to do elsewhere.

Peaceful, picturesque places aren’t hard to find whether you choose the mountains or the beaches on this island of contrasts.

Corsica facts

Where is Corsica?

Corsica is a French island in the Mediterranean, north of Sardinia. It is west of Italy and southeast of France.

Is it family-friendly?

Yes. And families in Corsca can combine a beach holiday with adventure in the mountains and rivers further inland.

English isn’t widely spoken everywhere so you do need to be a bit more adventurous than, say, heading to Spain but that’s all part of the fun.

Is it easy to get to Corsica?

It’s short two-hour flight from the UK to Bastia in the north and Figari in the south.

When is the best time to travel?

Between April and October. We went at May half-term which was nice and quiet.

Have you been to Corsica? Where did you stay?

Eurocamp

Eurocamp has a choice of camping holidays in more than 175 parks across France, Spain, Italy and elsewhere in Europe.



We visit Bournemouth – home to ‘Britain’s best beach’ – for a family stay with our children

We visit Bournemouth – home to ‘Britain’s best beach’ – for a family stay with our children

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.

We took cover at Bournemouth Oceanarium, next to the pier.

Exterior GV of Oceanarium the Aquarium in Bournemouth

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.

Bournemouth Pier and beach

Bournemouth Pier

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

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 exterior by the beach and sea

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 Poole Harbour

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.

Hotel

We had our own taste of luxury with an overnight stay at Bournemouth’s Orchid Hotel.

The Orchid Hotel in Bournemouth

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?

  1. Bournemouth Beach, Bournemouth, Dorset
  2. Luskentyre, Isle of Harris, Scotland
  3. St. Brelade’s Bay Beach, St Brelade, Jersey
  4. Woolacombe Beach, Woolacombe, Devon
  5. Barafundle Beach, Stackpole, Wales
  6. Filey Beach, Yorkshire
  7. Rhossili Bay, Rhossili, Wales
  8. Gorleston Beach, Norfolk
  9. Perranporth Beach, Perranporth, Cornwall
  10. 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).

Four holiday in Dorset: Following in the footsteps of the Famous Five

Four holiday in Dorset: Following in the footsteps of the Famous Five

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 three Famous Five Books

Kirrin Castle

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

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).

Steam train

Enid Blyton first saw Corfe Castle when she arrived by steam train.

The steam train at Corfe Castle

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.

Swanage

Swanage

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.

Island adventure

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

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

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

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!

In conclusion

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.

We visit Mallorca/Majorca in August with our children to find out why it is so popular with families

We visit Mallorca/Majorca in August with our children to find out why it is so popular with families

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.

Flight

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

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.

Palma airport

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.

Hotel

It took 45 minutes to reach the Prinsotel La Dorada, a four-star resort in Playa de Muro near Alcudia.

Prinsotel La Dorada entrance

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.

The lounge area of our room at Prinsotel La Dorada

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 nature reserve our room at Prinsotel La Dorada overlooks

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.

Swimming pools at Prinsotel La Dorada

There is also a pool for babies, toddlers and younger children with a slide and other water fun.

the baby/toddler pool at Prinsotel La Dorada near Alducia

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.

Children

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!

A pony ride around the grounds of Prinsotel La Dorada in Mallorca

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.

Children's buffet train at Prinsotel La Dorada near Alcudia

Beach

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.

Muro beach near Alcudia, Mallorca

Food

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.

Surrounding area

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.

The boat show at the Caves of Drach, Porto Cristo, Mallorca

Alcudia

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.

A boy at the walls of Alcudia old town

Alcudia old town

Beaches

We went to a couple of other beaches, Alcudia and S’illot, but preferred the Playa del Muro by our hotel.

Alcudia beach in Mallorca/Majorca

Alcudia beach

In conclusion

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!

Chocolate, Harry Potter, trains and Vikings – all the ingredients for a family trip to York

Chocolate, Harry Potter, trains and Vikings – all the ingredients for a family trip to York

York with children – the City of Chocolate is rich in history, but will it prove a sweet treat for this family?

Our children jumped up and down in excitement when we said we were going to York. 

When our daughter asked about the aeroplane and our son mentioned Home Alone 2: Lost in New York, we realised they thought we were spending our two-day break in the Big Apple. 

Thankfully they were still pleased when we explained that York is walled city in northern England. 

Our Harry Potter-mad son was especially keen when we said we would visit the real-life Diagon Alley.

Shambles – Diagon Alley

Shambles – the oldest shopping street in Europe – was the inspiration for the wizarding street in the films and it didn’t disappoint.

The SHop that must not be Named at Shambles in York

Shambles

A few businesses in this narrow medieval lane have capitalised on the link – The Shop That Must Not Be Named and other wizarding stories were selling Harry Potter wands and other goodies.

The City of Chocolate

York is also famous for chocolate. Its popular products include Rowntree’s Kit Kats, Smarties and Aero and Terry’s Chocolate Orange and All Gold.

So, a guided tour at York’s Chocolate Story was top of my wish list (make sure you book in advance, it’s popular).

York's Chocolate Story exterior

We learned about the city’s famous chocolate-making families and how to eat chocolate like an expert.

Best of all we had some ‘free’ samples along the way and got to make chocolate lollipops!

For our full review of York’s Chocolate Story read here.

York Minster

York is great to explore on foot – all the attractions we did were within walking distance and lots of the centre is pedestrianised.

Presiding over it all is the city’s huge 13th-century Gothic cathedral, York Minster.

It is magnificent but we feared our eight and four-year-old might still find it dull. Thankfully, they were given a treasure trail and binoculars which saved the day.

A girl uses binocular to look for items off a treasure trail inside York Minster cathedral.

On a treasure trail

Also go armed with facts if you can – ours liked hearing that it took 250 years to build and is 160 metres long, for example.

York Castle Museum

Most of the activities we enjoyed celebrated the rich history of this city, which was founded by the ancient Romans.

York Castle Museum doesn’t go back quite this far but it does showcase 400 years of York’s past.

A Victorian Street at York Castle Museum

The Victorian street

Our son’s school topic this term is the Victorians. So, a replica Victorian Street here really grabbed his interest. 

A sweet shop seller in a Victorian street at York Castle Museum

A Victorian sweet shop

Toy exhibits were also a highlight, along with old prison cells which held criminals including highwayman Dick Turpin.

For our review of York Castle Museum and tips, click here

National Railway Museum

Another place with a huge collection is the National Railway Museum, home to around 60 vehicles

Trains at the National Railway Museum

National Railway Museum

Our favourites here included the collection of royal train saloons. You can peep through the windows to see the lounge and bedroom carriages on trains used by monarchs from Queen Victoria through to Queen Elizabeth II. For a full review and pictures, see here.

Entry here is free but you have to pay for extras – a ride on a miniature train cost £10 for the four of us. For our full review and tips, click here

Jorvik Viking Centre

Next we had to travel further back in time to discover The Vikings.

Jorvik Viking Centre is built on the site of amazing archaeology finds.

It tells the story of an excavation in the 1970s which pieced together the story of the Vikings of Jorvik.

A ride takes you around recreations of 10th century York, then you can see 1,000-year-old artefacts from the dig on display.

Figures seen as part of the ride at Jorvik Viking Centre

Jorvik Viking Centre

There was a long queue to get in when we visited – apparently it is quieter first thing and around 3pm.

Our eight and four-year-old were not as interested in this attraction but their eagerness to get around quickly may have had more to do with the fact it was nearly lunchtime. 

City Cruises York

We found a nice warm place with a great view to eat our picnic – aboard a York City Cruise.

This 45-minute ride up and down the River Ouse was accompanied by excellent commentary from the driver.

City Cruise York - a boat on a tour on the River Ouse

City Cruises York on the River Ouse

And it was nice to relax for a bit amid all the activities.

Staycity Aparthotel York

After a day of history we were able to enjoy the modern comforts of our base – Staycity York.

This aparthotel was built in 2016 and has studio, one-bedroom and two-bedroom apartments.

The lounge/diner/kitchen in our room at Staycity Aparthotel York

Our lounge/diner/kitchen area

We had a roomy two-bedroomed apartment with a lounge/dining/kitchen area and two modern bathrooms. It was fully equipped with everything you could need including a cooker, microwave and dishwasher.

A bedroom at Staycity Aparthotel York

But it also has he benefits of a hotel – there’s a gym, café, laundry and 24-hour reception. Plus there’s a nearby multi-storey car park where you get a discount – we left our car here for the whole trip.

Staycity York is in a good spot next to the Barbican theatre (for our full review click here). We could even see part of the city walls we had walked earlier from our room.

York City Walls

The walls are the longest medieval walls in England at over two miles.

York city walls and daffodils

York city walls

There are some good views but make sure to keep hold of little ones as only the higher drops seem to have railings.

Conclusion

Cobbled streets, tea rooms, a city steeped in history and a bit of Harry Potter thrown in made for a magical two days.

New York can take a back seat. Our children love old York.

For more ideas and information go to the VisitYork website.

York Pass

A York Pass is the city’s official sightseeing card. It gives you free to more than 40 attractions in York and beyond. For more information see here.

We were given York Passes for the purpose of this review (all views are our own).

RELATED CONTENTOur top 10 tips for visiting York with children

RELATED CONTENTChocolate factory fun – we review York’s Chocolate Story

RELATED CONTENTThe National Railway Museum in York – review and tips

RELATED CONTENTYork Castle Museum – our review and top tips

RELATED CONTENTReview: Staycity Aparthotel in York

We were given free accommodation for the purpose of this review. All views are our own.

 

 
 
Portsmouth – we take our children back in time to explore the city’s naval history on a family holiday to the south coast of England

Portsmouth – we take our children back in time to explore the city’s naval history on a family holiday to the south coast of England

Read our review of a family break to Portsmouth where we try out some of the best attractions for children

We’re standing on the top deck of Britain’s most famous warship, looking out over a bustling harbour.

Suddenly there’s a bang and my son is clutching his chest – he’s recreating the final moments of the country’s greatest naval hero Nelson.

We’re all aboard HMS Victory – at the exact spot where Vice-Admiral Lord Nelson fell.

Getting close to Britain’s naval history is a must in Portsmouth after all – even on a family holiday.

Spinnaker Tower

Portsmouth is known as the great maritime city and we begin by taking it all in more than 105 metres above its harbour at the Emirates Spinnaker Tower.

An aerial shot of Emirates Spinnaker Tower

Spinnaker Tower

It takes just 25 seconds to reach the top in a lift and from the viewing gallery you can enjoy the entire Portsmouth panorama as well as views of the Isle of Wight.

One of our children loved the glass floor you can walk over – the other isn’t keen on heights! And both liked finding letters to complete a word search around the tower.

There are three viewing levels and two cafes (read a full review of the tower here).

Portsmouth Historic Dockyard

If you want to see some of Britain’s best known ships up close then it’s a short walk from the tower to Portsmouth Historic Dockyard.

This huge site, which is still home to the Royal Navy, has enough attractions to occupy an entire day.

Out first stop was HMS Victory, Nelson’s flagship from the Battle of Trafalgar.

It is amazingly well preserved with a well thought-through route that takes you right down into the bowels of the boat.

Hammocks on HMS Victory

Where they slept on HMS Victory

You can follow in Nelson’s footsteps and also experience life below deck where the sailors had to eat, sleep and be treated for war wounds.

Also at the dockyard we sampled the Action Stations hanger which has a climbing wall, rope course and a helicopter simulator giving children the chance to act like Royal Marines.

The site also has HMS Warrior, the biggest ship in the world when it was built in 1860, Henry VIII’s famous Mary Rose and plenty more.

Perhaps the best way to appreciate its scale is to go on the museum’s 45-minute harbour tour. This takes you around the Royal Navy’s current warships and onto The Solent. You can hop on and off at Gunwharf Quays near the Spinnaker Tower to cut down on walking (and enjoy a shop if you have time).

Read our full review of Portsmouth’s Historic Dockland here.

Beaches

Being so close to the sea means there are beaches aplenty around Portsmouth at places like Lee-on-Solent and Hayling Island.

Nearby Southsea and its pebbly beach is the closest but if you want soft sand then you have to head for the Isle of Wight.

Hovercraft

Fortunately there is a quick way to the Isle of Wight – on a Hovertravel hovercraft.

It is the last remaining passenger hovercraft in the country and is a great experience.

The Hovertravel Hovercraft crosses the water from Portsmouth to the Isle of Wight

The Hovertravel hovercraft

You can get from Southsea to Ryde in 10 minutes and the journey is smoother and quieter than we imagined.

At Ryde, it is just a short walk to a lovely sandy beach with views back across the water to Portsmouth.

Read a full review of the hovercraft here.

Accommodation

After a busy day, we continued the nautical theme at our base – the family-friendly Solent Hotel & Spa, midway between Portsmouth and Southampton.

The exterior of the Solent Hotel & Spa

The Solent Hotel & Spa

Pictures of yachts and boats adorn some of the walls and if you fancy a dip in something warmer than the sea then there’s a 13 metre pool with plenty of space for children.

In fact, little ones are well looked after at The Solent with a goodybag in the room, mini dressing gowns, a games room with Xbox and table tennis plus a large woodland to explore.

There’s a relaxed restaurant and a modern pub on site and the fabulous breakfast certainly filled us up for a day’s exploring.

The swimming pool at the Solent Hotel & Spa

It’s also only 20 minutes from Peppa Pig World at Paultons Park.

Read our full report of the hotel here.

Marwell Zoo

You don’t have to be near the sea to have a good time in this part of the country. We spent a full day at Marwell Zoo on the outskirts of Winchester, on our way home.

This wildlife park is certainly large and the spacious habitats for giraffes, zebras, hippos and tigers mean plenty of walking to see everything.

A rhino drinks at Marwell Zoo

It was a busy day but didn’t feel crowded and you can pack it all in with the help of a road train and a miniature railway around the site.

For a full review of the zoo, click here.

Conclusion

Naturally, the sea and Portsmouth’s role in our naval history is a big draw to holiday here with your children.

But you don’t have to be on the top deck of HMS Victory to discover a family break in this part of the world can be a real winner.

Thomas the Tank Engine proves just the ticket for a boy’s birthday break at Drayton Manor hotel and theme park

Thomas the Tank Engine proves just the ticket for a boy’s birthday break at Drayton Manor hotel and theme park

We stay in a Thomas-themed hotel room before trying out Thomas Land at Drayton Manor Theme Park in Staffordshire

I wake to find a giant Thomas the Tank Engine staring at me.

Then my son’s excited face pops up over the top.

What a wonderful way for a boy to wake up on his birthday – in the top bunk of a Thomas bed.

A boy looks over the top of his Thomas bed at Drayton Manor Hotel

Thomas-themed bedroom

We are at Drayton Manor Hotel near Tamworth in Staffordshire. It is on the same site as Drayton Manor Theme Park and our stay-and-play package includes breakfast and tickets to the park.

Our Thomas-themed room has no less than four television screens and a railway line printed on the floor which continues into some of the corridor.

We choo choo our way along it and make our way down to breakfast before skipping into the park.

A Thomas-themed room at Drayton Manor hotel

A Thomas-themed room at Drayton Manor hotel

Thomas Land

First stop – and our main reason for the visit – is Thomas Land. Having heard tales of long queues over the holidays, on this term-time day, the place is blissfully quiet.

James and the Red Balloon Ride

James and the Red Balloon Ride

And with the sun shining, we go quickly from ride to ride, enjoying such delights as Cranky’s Drop Tower and Jeremy’s Flying Academy. And the quite exhilarating Troublesome Trucks Runaway Coaster is clearly enjoyed by us adults as much as the children.

The rest of the park

Then we climb aboard a Thomas the Tank train at “Knapford Station” and ride to another part of the park. Here, our two children enjoy all the birds and animals at the zoo and take the Dino Trail where there are model dinosaurs.

We then try out the handful of bigger rides suitable for younger children in the rest of the park, like the big wheel and the water rapids, which I scream my way through, much to everyone’s amusement.

Daringly, we board the very fast (I think) Accelerator (formerly known as The Ben 10 Ultimate Mission Coaster), suitable from aged four.

We alight full of happy laughter.

And it is this, not just Thomas, which is the theme of our stay.

People ride Shockwave the stand-up roller coaster

Drayton Manor is also home to the stand-up roller coaster Shockwave

Accommodation: We stayed as guests at Drayton Manor Hotel for the purposes of this review. All views are our own.

Activities: Drayton Manor Theme Park.

Fuerteventura’s Corralejo beach is full of surprises on a family holiday to the Canary Islands

Fuerteventura’s Corralejo beach is full of surprises on a family holiday to the Canary Islands

We take our children to review the all-inclusive Clubhotel Riu Oliva Beach in Corralejo, Fuerteventura

“Everybody is naked,” said my brother in a mock whisper.

The glorious beach at our hotel in Fuerteventura is full of surprises.

Not only is Corralejo bigger and sandier than any beach I can remember. With gently crashing turquoise waves, perfect for the children to try out their new bodyboards. And camel rides along sands which stretch for miles from the front of our hotel, the Clubhotel Riu Oliva Beach Resort.

A boy bodyboards in the sea on Corralejo beach in front of the ClubHotel Riu Oliva Beach Resort.

Bodyboarding in the sea on Corralejo beach

But one day as we turn right out of the hotel and venture further along in search of rock pools, we unwittingly gatecrash a naturist section.

This eye-opening experience was not part of the plan for a family trip away to celebrate my mum’s 70th.

My embarrassed mum picked up her pace, I tried not to snigger like a child while the actual children with us didn’t bat an eyelid, except my eight-year-old nephew who asked if it was legal.

While I had carefully dressed my son and daughter in their UV swimsuits, the youngsters in this area were in their birthday suits, while relaxed adults strolled in and out of the sea.

And the giggle we had about it later (apologies to naturist readers) confirmed this as a holiday to remember.

Hotel

The Riu Oliva Beach is a huge, all-inclusive resort set back from the sands.

We are Riu regulars and love the good food, child-friendly pools and fun feel of their hotels.

We knew this one was soon to be refurbished but the location more than made up for the slightly tired surroundings.

One of the pools at the Riu Oliva Beach hotel, with the beach behind

One of the pools at the Riu Oliva Beach hotel, next to the beach

The hotel is divided into a main tower and a lower rise annexe area better suited to families, where we stayed.

Our family room had a lovely large balcony, double bedroom and two single sofa beds for our children.

Swimming pools

There are two swimming pools – the fish-shaped one was where we spent most of our time. It is well designed for children with varying depths and an island to swim around.

Hotel guests relax by one of the wimming pools at Clubhotel Riu Oliva Beach Resort

The fish-shaped swimming pool at Clubhotel Riu Oliva Beach Resort

On one side is a handy shop, filled with temping inflatables for the children and buckets and spades.

Restaurants

On the other side of the pool is the smaller of the two main buffet restaurants.

There is also a restaurant specialising in Asian cuisine and another boasting Canarian favourites.

Our party of 11 – aged from three to 70 – all found something to their taste.

Entertainment

There is children’s entertainment daily with a party at 5pm, plus an adults’ show every night at 9.30pm.

A children’s disco would also have been welcome in the early evening which we have had at other Riu hotels.

All-inclusive

All-inclusive here means just that, all we paid for all week was a camel ride along the beach. And our inflatable dolphin for the pool!

Having all your food and drink included certainly makes it easier when you are in a big group as we were.

Surroundings

The nearby town of Corralejo has a pretty square, markets, a water park plus a ferry to nearby Lanzarote.
But we found plenty to entertain us at the hotel.

A camel ride along Corralejo beach in front of the Riu Oliva Beach Resort in Fuerteventura

A camel ride along Corralejo beach

In conclusion

Mornings in the pool, afternoons at the beach and evenings enjoying the food, drink and entertainment.

One magic show for children was especially good.

You might find plusher venues in the Canaries but I doubt you will find one in a better spot to enjoy the landscape.

Just remember to watch where you walk if you want to explore the sands.

Or pack extra sun cream.

*For a more detailed review of the hotel, see here.

Accommodation: We stayed as guests at Clubhotel Riu Oliva Beach Resort, an all-inclusive hotel in Corralejo, Fuerteventura in the Canary Islands, Spain, for the purposes of this review. All opinions are our own.

Duinrell holiday and amusement park in Holland gives triple the fun for children on a family holiday

Duinrell holiday and amusement park in Holland gives triple the fun for children on a family holiday

We review Duinrell in the Netherlands to find out if a theme park, water park and beach makes for a perfect family holiday

Forget double Dutch. We have discovered a triple treat in Holland – a holiday heaven for children which combines a theme park, water park and beach.

I’m sure we never would have stumbled across this gem without a recommendation from a friend whose family return year after year.

Duinrell holiday and amusement park is in the upmarket town of Wassenaar, 25 miles from Amsterdam, on the south-west coast – where the Dutch royal family spend some of their time.

The tranquil setting of the accommodation, between woodland and sand dunes, is in contrast with the high octane excitement of its theme and water parks.

Duingalows

There are a choice of chalets, called Duingalows, as well as various camping options.

Two children stand in front of their Duingalow at Duinrell in Holland.

A Duingalow at Duinrell in Holland.

Our newly-built lodge was modern and fully equipped. It had three bedrooms, a kitchen with dishwasher, open-plan lounge/dining area and a secluded terrace, from which to enjoy the leafy surroundings.

If you aren’t cooking then there are several restaurants and takeaway options on site and in the nearby town.

Our two were thrilled to use their scooters to explore but a lot of families were on bikes, which can be hired along with electric bikes and go-karts.

Theme park

First we headed to the amazing theme park.

One of the rides at Duinrell theme park in Holland.

The theme park at Duinrell in Holland

Adrenaline lovers and children aged eight to 18 would get the most out of all the roller coasters and other rides.

Our two are younger but found plenty to do too and as we stayed during the week at half-term, there were lots of English people but no long queues. It was noticeably busier on the Friday when we left.

Water park

Secondly, if you’re after more thrills and spills, the park has a fantastic indoor water park called Tikibad with enough slides and waves to keep everyone happy.

Some of the water slides at Tikibad water park at Duinrell in Holland.

With our accommodation, we had free entry to both the water park and the theme park.

Beach

And finally, the big, sandy Wassenaar beach is just two miles away.

Two children on Wassenaar beach near Duinrell in Holland/The Netherlands

Wassenaar beach.

There are fabulous cycle lanes everywhere so we hired bikes to enjoy the safe route through vast sand dunes to enjoy time together by the sea.

Ferry

Cycling may be the way to get around in the Netherlands but the cheapest way we found for us to get to Duinrell was by car and ferry.

We used the DFDS ferry from Dover to Dunkirk. It was a bank holiday and long delays at Dover passport control meant we boarded with just three minutes to spare.

The children loved exploring the spacious ship and restaurants and the one hour 50 minute crossing passed quickly.

From Dunkirk, it was three more hours in the car, on increasingly flat terrain dotted with wind turbines.

Surrounding area

With its woodland walks and sand dune scrambles around Duinrell, as well as the popular Luciano ice cream parlour in Wassenaar, you don’t need to leave the area.

But we took a trip to the university city of Leiden. It had charming canals, cobbled streets and waterside markets where we sampled Dutch pancakes called poffertjes.

In conclusion

Holland might not be the first place that springs to mind for a summer holiday but you needn’t think twice about trying a trip to Duinrell with its trio of family attractions.

Accommodation: We stayed as guests at Duinrell holiday and amusement park in Wassenaar, Holland for the purposes of this review. All opinions are our own.

Travel: We travelled by car and via ferry from Dover to Dunkirk, courtesy of DFDS.

RELATED CONTENT: Five reasons to take a family holiday to South Holland

We review a top secret family break in London and share our tips for seeing all the best attractions with children

We review a top secret family break in London and share our tips for seeing all the best attractions with children

We plan a three-day itinerary for children in London and become secret agents at St Ermin’s Hotel

“Sir. We’ve been expecting you.” The receptionist slips an envelope marked Top Secret into my son’s hands. He becomes the latest ‘spy’ to take up residence in St Ermin’s Hotel, opposite Scotland Yard and next to St James’s Park, just a few hundred yards from the heart of Westminster.

Top Secret files

The hotel’s budding Bond’s package

This hotel was once home to MI6 and was where the famous Communist double agents Burgess and McClean met their Russian handlers. 

The spy theme is being continued by the budding Bond package for families which encourages little ones to scour the hotel for clues as part of their trip. 

And this elegant Victorian hotel is a joy to explore. 

The exterior of St Ermin's Hotel

St Ermin’s Hotel

It might have some of London’s top attractions on its doorstep, but as you walk down the tree-lined entrance, it’s easy to forget you’re in the heart of the city.

And following a £30 million refurbishment a few years ago, the interior is stunning.

The interior of St Ermin's Hotel

The hotel interior

We enjoyed a delicious breakfast here every day and one fabulous afternoon tea with sandwiches and cakes, beautifully presented, but soon demolished by us. 

Our lovely family suite boasted two big beds and the added luxury of two bathrooms.  

But we were not there much as there was so much to fit in. 

So, what is the secret to a successful trip family break to London?

With our two young children in tow, we decided the answer was to keep it short and simple. We broke it up into three manageable days. Each one in a specific part of the capital:

Day one

London Eye – this big wheel and a half is a great way to see the capital from above. An iconic way to start a visit to London and get your bearings. 

The London Eye

The London Eye

Sea Life Centre – the aquarium is a good rainy day option or in our case, a welcome escape from the heat outside. The penguins and sharks were particular favourites.  

Big Ben – children won’t want to miss seeing and hearing this famous landmark.

St James’s Park –a lovely oasis near to our hotel. We ambled through this Royal park to Buckingham Palace to watch Changing of the Guard. 

Day two 

Natural History Museum (or the Dinosaur Museum to our children) and the neighbouring Science Museum followed by fun in Hyde Park, paddling in the man-made stream.

Three fabulous and free activities in one corner of the capital.

Day three

A great history lesson at the Tower of London, touring the cobbled streets and towers and viewing the Crown Jewels.  

From here we had a great view of Tower Bridge which my son and I were hurtling under a couple of hours later on a river tour with a difference. 

The Thames RIB Experience took in all the sites with great commentary but became less ordinary once the James Bond music kicked in and our boat sped  and bounced along the Thames in an adrenaline-filled trip. 

A boat full of people enjoy the Thames RIB Experience

An adrenaline-filled trip with the Thames RIB Experience

In conclusion

Back at the hotel and our own 007 son had completed his mission and collected his prize. 

He’d uncovered the secrets of St Ermin’s and we’d all discovered the secret to a fabulous family break in London. 

*For more ideas see the official visitor guide www.visitlondon.com. 

RELATED CONTENT: Child-friendly London – how to keep little ones happy in England’s capital city with our guide to the best activities

RELATED CONTENT: How to do London on a budget with children & our top tips for a cheaper break

Accommodation: We stayed as guests at St Ermin’s Hotel in London for the purpose of this review. All views are our own.

Is peaceful Ullswater a hit for a family holiday – we visit this beautiful Lake District spot to find out.

Is peaceful Ullswater a hit for a family holiday – we visit this beautiful Lake District spot to find out.

We review The Quiet Site at Ullswater in Cumbria.

I have a real soft spot for the Lake District. We lived here for two blissful years and it was on the shores of one of its more remote and beautiful lakes where my husband proposed.

It is the quieter spots which fill me most with joy. Like Ullswater, which despite being the area’s second biggest lake, attracts nowhere near the hordes which flock to its largest, Windermere.

As well as being more peaceful, it’s arguably more breathtaking – framed by peaks which include Helvellyn.

A view through the trees of the lake, Ullswater

Ullswater

And at only 10 minutes from the M6, it couldn’t be easier to reach.

The Quiet Site

Our accommodation in this part of Cumbria reflects our tranquil surroundings – The Quiet Site is a campsite half way up the western side of Ullswater.

Various levels of luxury are catered for from bring-your-own tent to a luxury cottage.

Their latest option are intriguing hobbit holes – underground spaces four times bigger than their insulated wooden camping pods – built into the side of a hill.

The entrance to a hobbit hole at The Quiet Site

A hobbit hole

Camping pods at The Quiet Site

Camping pods at The Quiet Site

But we are firmly above ground – our home for three nights is a spacious three-bedroom cottage.

This former smithy is full of character, with high ceilings, exposed beams and equipped with everything we could need. Plus extras like a playhouse, toys, books and shelves groaning with children’s DVDs.

And I don’t know who was happiest about the giant trampoline in the garden – but it started the holiday on a high for us all.

Two children play on the trampoline in the garden of the cottage at The Quiet Site at Ullswater

Enjoying the trampoline in the garden of our cottage

The site also has a playground and an indoor soft play area, conveniently adjoined to the bar in a cosy barn.

I can see why The Quiet Site was recently the top-rated holiday and glamping park on Tripadviser out of 190 listed in the Lake District.

We crammed lots into this summer break – around the lake and on it.

Surrounding area

Ullswater Steamers, which sail between Glenridding in the south and Pooley Bridge in the north, are the popular mode of transport in these parts.

We caught one to Howtown, in the middle, where we climbed part of Hallin Fell and enjoyed a memorable picnic with the lake glistening in the sunshine below.

A steamer on the lake at Ullswater

Ullswater Steamers are a familiar site on the lake

You don’t need to be an expert map reader to find a rewarding spot by the lake but tackling the directions on the nature trail at Askham Hall Gardens, east of Pooley Bridge, tested and thrilled our son and daughter.

Askham Hall and part of the garden

Askham Hall

The trail winds through gorgeous gardens, with farm animals at the end. Completion brings you to a play area, plus a cafe with a pizza oven and delicious cakes. All the ingredients for a perfect few hours for us.

Other family-friendly trips include the wonderful waterfall Aira Force.

I kept a firm hold of our children by some steep drops on the woodland walk up but they were both suitably impressed by the spectacular sights and sounds.

We were lucky with the weather but if you need undercover fun, head to Rheged. Sadly, the fabulous Lego exhibition we enjoyed was only temporary but there is plenty of permanent entertainment here for little ones. Choose from pottery painting, soft play and an outdoor playground.

In conclusion

Throughout our stay at Ullswater, we found plenty of quiet coves with flat water ready to be disturbed by children’s stones. They were also the perfect settings for picnics, making up adventures and taking in the glorious views.

William Wordsworth was inspired to write the poem Daffodils after seeing the flowers growing on the shores of Ullswater.

“It is the happiest combination of beauty and grandeur, which any of the lakes affords,” he said.

And I may just agree.

For a more detailed review on The Quiet Site, see here.

*For more ideas, see Cumbria’s official tourist board website.

Accommodation: We stayed as guests of The Quiet Site, Ullswater, for the purposes of this review. All opinions are our own.

Will the home of LEGO live up to children’s expectations on a trip to LEGOLAND Billund in Denmark?

Will the home of LEGO live up to children’s expectations on a trip to LEGOLAND Billund in Denmark?

We took our two LEGO fans to Billund in Denmark where it all began – read our review here.

How to do LEGOLAND in style.

Step 1. Don’t settle for LEGOLAND in Manchester. Or even Windsor. Go one better and head for the original LEGOLAND park itself in Denmark. 

Step 2. Arrive in style in your own personal jet.  

Step 3. LEGOLAND not enough entertainment for you? Stay at a neighbouring water park, to really keep little thrill seekers happy. 

Check. Check. And check!

Billund in Denmark is a small town with a lot going for it. 

It is THE home of Lego. 

It was here where the company made its very first toy brick in 1932 and then built the first LEGOLAND park in 1968. 

The entrance to Legoland in Billund, Denmark, when it opened in 1968/1969.

The entrance to LEGOLAND when it opened in 1968.

Flying in style

We flew direct from Manchester with Sun-Air (which works in partnership with British Airways) on a tiny plane. 

Its motto “Not bigger – but better” was true of our flight – the 32-seater was carrying only eight other passengers so felt like a private plane. 

The 90-minute journey was short enough for our excited children to pass as quiet and well-behaved. 

Fares are on the higher side but you can use Avios air miles to make tickets more affordable and this is really travelling in style. 

There was no waiting around in our seats at either end and ours were the only bags on the carousel at the sleek and modern Billund Airport.  

A five-minute taxi journey later and we’re ready to get wet in northern Europe’s biggest water park. 

Lalandia

Lalandia tropical holiday resort – just across the road from LEGOLAND – is our home for three nights. It is bursting with entertainment, all under one roof (for our full review of Lalandia click here).

But the Aquadome is the number one reason to stay here. A huge indoor water park which really puts Center Parcs in the shade. 

The slides and pools at Lalandia aquadome water park opposite Legoland in Billund, Denmark

Lalandia Aquadome

There are slides for all ages and bravery levels, warm toddler pools, a wave machine, gentle rapid ride and a giant splash zone where a 1,000 litre bucket of water loudly deposits its contents every few minutes. 

The other main sound we heard was our children shouting “again, again, again” as they raced from the bottom of one slide to the top of the next. 

You could easily spend all day in the Aquadome. But that would mean missing out on the impressive soft play area, small winter wonderland ice skating rink, tenpin bowling and mini golf. 

And there’s a “town square” of shops and restaurants, all underneath a beautiful indoor sky, reminiscent of Las Vegas hotels. 

The town square at Lalandia

The town square at Lalandia

We stayed in a fantastic two-bedroomed lodge in the grounds, kitted out like an IKEA showroom and with everything we needed. 

Two children in front of their holiday home at Lalandia

Our holiday home at Lalandia

LEGOLAND

Lalandia is a holiday in itself but we still had LEGOLAND Billund to enjoy, a theme park created using 65 million of those toy bricks, which still rate among the world’s most popular toys. 

It is divided into themed areas with Miniland at its heart. Recreations of old Amsterdam and Danish ferry terminals may have passed our son by – but the Star Wars section, depicting scenes from all the films, did not. 

Buildings made of Lego at Miniland at LEGOLAND in Billund, Denmark

Miniland

His highlight was a ride where you race your own fire engine, pump out water and then hose down a (pretend) blazing building. We did that four times. 

They both also loved the NINJAGO World where visitors can test out their Ninja skills.

The park isn’t huge so if the queues are short – as they were for us – you can pack it all into two days with ease. 

Rides are mainly aimed at pre-teens and families so suited us perfectly. There wasn’t much we couldn’t go on.

A boy with a LEGO Jay from Ninjago at Legoland in Billund

NINJAGO fun

In conclusion

In fact, that’s the beauty of Billund. From airport, to accommodation, to attractions, everything is geared for families to enjoy. 

The town has built its success on the back of those little bricks. And it has built a near-perfect short break. 

Accommodation:  We stayed as guests at Lalandia tropical holiday resort for the purposes of this review. All views are our own.

Travel: Flew from Manchester to Billund with Sun-Air.

Main attraction: Legoland Billund Resort, Denmark.

RELATED CONTENT: We review a water park holiday resort opposite LEGOLAND in Denmark called Lalandia Billund

 

We take a family holiday to Tuscany in high summer. Can Italy be child-friendly in the August heat?

We take a family holiday to Tuscany in high summer. Can Italy be child-friendly in the August heat?

We take our children to Florence, Pisa, San Gimignano and Volterra in August and try out Airbnb for the first time, read our review of our Italian adventure here.

Famous landmarks around the world are a remarkably hot topic of conversation between our children.

This is thanks as much to the Cbeebies programme Go Jetters as educational efforts on our part.

So when the Leaning Tower of Pisa comes into view, even the sweltering August Italian heat doesn’t cool their excitement.

Children under eight aren’t allowed up the tower and the streets are heaving so we stop just long enough to take it all in.

A toddler girl in sunglasses smiles in front of the Leaning Tower of Pisa in Italy.

Posing in front of the Leaning Tower of Pisa.

Alongside thousands doing the same, we get the all-important pictures next to the extraordinarily slanting building, before we grab some pizza and hot-foot it back to our hire car.

We’ve already managed a day in Florence, taking our two on a whistle-stop tour of the city before their legs got tired.

The Duomo cathedral, Ponte Vecchio bridge and glorious Boboli Gardens were ticked off in a morning, before another rewarding pizza and gelato.

Two children stand in front of the Duomo cathedral in Florence

The Duomo cathedral in Florence

We’d bagged a cheap deal in an airport hotel for our first two nights to tackle the cities but now it was time to leave these bustling hotspots in search of the tranquillity of the countryside and the Dolce Vita.

Off to the country and the Dolce Vita

Our home for the next five nights is atop a hill, very much off the beaten track. Literally. A 10-minute dusty, bumpy, beaten track.

We wondered where our first foray into the world of Airbnb had taken us.

This global phenomenon lets people rent out their properties or spare rooms to guests, from small rooms, to shared houses, villas and even entire castles, across more than 65,000 cities. Don’t miss out full guide to Airbnb here.

There were hundreds of appealing options at decent prices, even at peak season and we narrowed down our search using the list of criteria, map view, photos and reviews.

La Farneta with Airbnb

We finally chose an intriguing property on a large private estate in the hidden hamlet of La Farneta in central Tuscany.

Here there are a dozen or so apartments in a classic Tuscan setting, surrounded by olive trees, scorched fields and forests as far as the eye could see.

A family explore the grounds of their Airbnb accommodation in La Farneta, Tuscany, Italy.

Exploring the grounds of our accommodation in La Farneta.

The only sound – apart from our children in the shared swimming pool – was that of crickets in the towering trees of this 230 hectare estate.

The pool was the big draw here. The weather can get so hot in summer I would say you have to have one if you have children in tow.

The outdoor swimming pool at the apartments on the private estate in La Farneta

The outdoor swimming pool at the apartments on the private estate in La Farneta

The owner Gianfausto gave us the authentic experience Airbnb has built its success on – welcoming us to his home, giving us a guided tour and even playing his piano to provide some pleasant poolside accompaniment.

The accommodation wasn’t luxurious but it was authentic and I can’t remember staying anywhere as peaceful.

It may have been 15 minutes from the nearest shop or restaurant but two Tuscan treasures aren’t far away.

Surrounding area

The walled towns of San Gimignano and Volterra provided entertaining excursions. Our children loved the narrow alleys and the nooks and crannies of these picturesque places while the adults could enjoy the sights and sounds of Tuscany.

An aerial view of San Gimignano, an Italian hill town in Tuscany, south-west of Florence

We visited San Gimignano, an Italian hill town in Tuscany, south-west of Florence

Pizza and pasta time!

With every second shop seemingly selling pasta, olive oil or wild boar, food is a big part of any Tuscan trip.

We found several places for a plate of pasta including Osteria Del Borgo in the pretty village of Mensano.

Staying in a remote location meant it was easier to have lunch out and dinner on our terrace with views over the rolling hills as the sun dipped below the trees.

The perfect evening temperature was ideal for a family walk around the estate, roaming the land and spotting the occasional wall lizard or deer.

In conclusion

We knew Tuscany in August was a gamble.

But we discovered it is possible to beat the heat and the crowds and enjoy complete tranquility.

And we ticked a landmark off that rather demanding wishlist.

For more details of how Airbnb works, read our guide here.

Accommodation: Via Airbnb. We received a discount from Airbnb for the purposes of this review. All opinions are our own.

Travel: Flew with British Airways to Florence Airport.

We take our children on a fairy tale family holiday staying at a castle in Anglesey, Wales

We take our children on a fairy tale family holiday staying at a castle in Anglesey, Wales

We review Chateau Rhianfa in Anglesey and explore the surrounding area, beaches and attractions with our young children

It is not every day you wake up in a castle.

And the spectacular sight from our ridiculously comfortable bed through a large picture window means getting up is not appealing.

We are in Anglesey and our view takes in the waters of the Menai Strait, framed by majestic Snowdonia.

Other families we know holiday in Anglesey yet we had never been so we had decided to visit the beautiful island off north Wales for a half-term break.

Chateau Rhianfa

Chateau Rhianfa is more decadent than your average venue with its grand decor and tiered gardens sweeping down to the water (click here for our full review of Chateau Rhianfa).

Fans of ITV’s Cold Feet will recognise it as it recently featured in an episode for the wedding of Spanish nanny Ramona.

It was built in the mid-1800s in the style of a French Renaissance chateau as an aristocratic country retreat.

This fairy tale venue is impressive from the outside and fascinating on the inside.

The lounge area at Chateau Rhianfa

Inside Chateau Rhianfa

Our children loved exploring the grand drawing and music rooms and were excited to discover cosy cubby holes in turrets.

And we were all happy to find an atmospheric wine cave among the rabbit warren of spaces.

The hotel rooms and suites are lavishly finished.

Inside a hotel room at Chateau Rhianfa

A hotel room

The Gate Lodge

Or you can stay in equally beautiful self-catering accommodation in the grounds.

We were in the Gate Lodge, a two-storey cottage with arched entrance and miniature turrets, where attendants of visitors to the chateau would once have stayed.

It has two bedrooms, two bathrooms, a kitchen/diner and lounge area.

The exterior of the Gate Lodge self-catering accommodation

The Gate Lodge self-catering accommodation

With the space and the large grounds to enjoy, I could have stayed there all day. But there was an island to explore and two children eager to get going.

Surrounding area

We were spoilt for choice for beaches and our favourite was Newborough, a wide sweeping bay backed by sand dunes and woodland walks.

We also liked Lligwys Beach near Moelfre – quiet and good for rockpooling – and the more rugged and windy Rhosneigr which was home to kitesurfers and kayakers.

Our daughter never tired of throwing stones into the water and our son loved hunting for crabs among the rock pools and paddling in the sea.

And we discovered exactly how crashing waves worked through clever replications at Anglesey Sea Zoo.

Everything in this aquarium is found around the British coast, and we found out plenty thanks to the friendly staff as they fed the fish and lobsters.

You can enjoy a feed too at the well-priced cafe and outside there’s a playground, bouncy slide, crazy golf and more.

Food

Back at our castle, trying the food is a must as it has previously won Hotel Restaurant of the Year (Welsh Food Awards).

We had a delicious breakfast on our last morning and also risked our young children in the quiet and refined dining room for an evening meal.

Thankfully they behaved. Or at least, nobody was looking when they didn’t.

It was a small, thoughtfully put together menu. There were no separate options for children. But the chefs were happy to adapt one of the dishes to suit them. And my steak was the best I have ever tasted.

The food lived up to expectations, as did the venue, as did Anglesey itself.

We are one more family won over by its charms.

Chateau Rhianfa on the Menai Strait

Chateau Rhianfa on the Menai Strait

Have you been to Anglesey? Where do you recommend for children?

RELATED CONTENT: We review Chateau Rhianfa castle accommodation in Anglesey, Wales

(We stayed as guests of Chateau Rhianfa. All views are our own).

The Costa del Sol in two halves – can a mix of Malaga and Estepona make for a fantastic family holiday?

The Costa del Sol in two halves – can a mix of Malaga and Estepona make for a fantastic family holiday?

We take our children on a whistlestop tour of Malaga before heading for relaxation in Estepona.

It’s one of family travel’s trickiest conundrums. 

How do you please mum and dad as well as the tiny travellers? 

How to balance a need for sandcastles with a desire to trek around real castles? 

The answer may well lie in two less familiar parts of that very familiar destination – the Costa del Sol. 

We mixed a city break in Malaga with child-friendly sun and swimming in Estepona – and everyone was happy. 

Flight

We flew with Norwegian Air, which is rapidly expanding its flights from Manchester Airport.

There was good legroom, discounts on child tickets and free WiFi on board with entertainment and children’s programmes to watch on your own tablets and phones. 

It’s clear why the company has won Europe’s best low-cost airline for four years running. 

Malaga

Our first stop – the city of Malaga – is often overlooked as just an airport. 

But this is a child-friendly city – ours loved walking around the 1,000-year-old fortress palace Alcazaba and tasting tapas in Plaza de la Merced. 

Panoramic view of Malaga and the sea

Malaga

There are gorgeous gardens, playgrounds a plenty plus a modern, renovated port area. 

There are beaches too. On Playa San Andres you can get a well-priced paella and a dip in the sea – 10 minutes’ walk from our hotel. 

The Barceló Málaga, next to the train station, is one of the most modern hotels around. Our suite was straight out of a designer’s dream and bath time will never be the same again for our children after enjoying the jacuzzi in the bathroom. 

The family’s hotel room at Barceló Málaga hotel

The room at Barceló Málaga hotel

They liked the slide almost as much. Not outside the hotel – this one is inside – taking guests from their tasty breakfast on the first floor down to reception to explore the city. 

A girl takes the slide at Barceló Málaga hotel to get to receptiona

Using the slide to get to reception

After two days, it was time to head 50 miles south for part two. 

A good tip if you need car seats – there’s a company called Tots Store which provides proper modern seats and meets you in arrivals at Malaga Airport to get you kitted out. 

Safely strapped in we head down the motorway.

Estepona

Next stop, relaxation, as we check into the Kempinski Hotel Bahía on the outskirts of Estepona. 

The town itself is more traditionally Spanish than the likes of Marbella and Torremolinos. Think packed plazas and tasty tapas at every turn. 

The Kempinski is the area’s premier hotel – and you can see why. 

A swimming pool at Kempinski Hotel Bahía in Estepona

A swimming pool at Kempinski Hotel Bahía in Estepona

It’s worth a stay here for the pool alone. Or should I say pools, there are four after all. 

The main children’s one is perfect for small swimmers, winding its way under bridges and past trees so you can create your own adventures. 

The beach in front of the hotel is not the most beautiful but has enough sand to bury a dad up to his knees, enough stones to keep a two-year-old happy and the gentle waves of the Mediterranean inviting everyone in for a swim with views of Gibraltar on a clear day. 

Palm trees on the beach and a family playing by the sea

The beach in front of the hotel

The hotel has four restaurants, a spa, gym and indoor pool. Rooms are spacious and luxurious with beautiful views. 

A table set for dinner at Kempinski Hotel Bahía, with the sea beyond

Dining at Kempinski Hotel Bahía

It’s an upmarket hotel but caters for children well with a kids’ corner at the breakfast buffet, mini dressing gowns and an ice cream bar along with a children’s club at peak times. 

The last night

After five days, two hotels, one city and one town, our last night was the same as our first. 

The four of us sharing a paella at a beachfront restaurant. 

Even on a twin-stop balanced break there are some things equally popular with all of us. 

*For our more detailed review of the Kempinski Hotel Bahía, click here.

*For a more detailed review on the Barcelo Malago hotel, click here.

*You may also like this article about why Malaga makes a great city for a family beach holiday.

Accommodation: We stayed as guests at Barceló Málaga hotel and Kempinski Hotel Bahía in Estepona for the purpose of this review. All opinions are our own.

Travel: Norwegian Air – fares from £29.90 – we received a discount for the purpose of this review.

Submarines and volcanoes – the highs and lows of a family holiday in Lanzarote

Submarines and volcanoes – the highs and lows of a family holiday in Lanzarote

We review an all-inclusive week full of adventure in the Canary Islands with children

“That was brilliant Mummy, I loved it. Can we get off now?”

Erm, no. We are 100 feet beneath the sea in a (yellow) submarine.

A box looks through the viewport of the submarine to see the fish in the sea

Enjoying the view from the submarine

We’ve passed shipwrecks and divers  and hundreds of fish. And my young son loved every minute. But now he thinks we can just climb out and carry on exploring the pretty port where our hosts Submarine Safaris are based. 

Thankfully, the appearance of a stingray draws our little Octonauts-fan back in to the view outside our viewport. 

We are in Lanzarote – an island of highs and lows.  The day after exploring deep beneath the ocean, we are up among its staggering volcanoes. 

Flight

And it’s on a high that the holiday starts with a remarkably relaxing flight with Jet2. 

Thanks to the airline’s generous hand-luggage allowance (10kg per person, double that of our last flight with a different company) we were well-equipped with entertainment for our son and daughter.

Fortunately, the four-hour journey passed without a hitch – we even arrived early. 

Basking in the glow of compliments from other passengers on the children’s behaviour, we left the plane, expecting to further bask in the ‘guaranteed’ winter sun of the Canary Islands.  Unfortunately it stayed firmly hidden behind clouds for the duration of our stay. 

Hotel

Still, we had a bright welcome from the wonderful hotel staff at the ClubHotel Riu Paraiso Lanzarote Resort. 

Family pool at the ClubHotel Riu Paraiso Lanzarote Resort

Family pool at the ClubHotel Riu Paraiso Lanzarote Resort

It’s in a great location on the outskirts of Puerto del Carmen, sandwiched between the sea and a glorious volcanic vista.

The huge, 600-room, spotless complex, is set in beautiful grounds and we had a fabulous suite away from the reception and restaurants.

We were glad of the longer walk back to the room (and my daughter’s pushchair) after thoroughly tucking in to the sumptuous food on offer.

The hotel is all inclusive with a large, main restaurant and two other options for dinner – an Asian and a world food restaurant which was our favourite. 

Thankfully, most of the hotel’s six swimming pools are heated and our children particularly enjoyed ordering drinks at the swim-up bar. 

Family pool at the ClubHotel Riu Paraiso Lanzarote Resort

Another pool

Children

Children are well catered for with a playground and the RiuLand club.

The entertainers work hard to ensure they have fun during the day and at the evening’s ‘Mini Disco’ where a particularly hilarious entertainer kept the adults as amused as the children. 

Beach and nearby attractions

We wrapped up well to enjoy the expansive Playa de los Pocillos beach, which is just across the road.

It was too cold to swim in the sea, but Josh and I went one better with our trip in the tourist submarine, where tour guides talk you through a memorable hour-long view of sea life.

The submarine in the sea at Puerto Calero in Lanzarote

Submarine Safaris at Puerto Calero in Lanzarote

The interior of the submarine

Inside the submarine

There were more creatures to see back on dry land at Rancho Texas Lanzarote Park.

They have sea lion, eagle and parrot shows plus ponies, canoe rides and a water park with slides.

We couldn’t leave Lanzarote without exploring its volcanic history so we hired a car and drove to Timanfaya National Park.  The black, rocky landscape makes it hard to believe the last eruptions here were in 1824. 

Timanfaya National Park

Timanfaya National Park

Staff demonstrate the hot earth by setting dry bush alight, cooking food and creating great gushes of steam out of the ground.

Visitors also take a coach trip around the volcanoes – ours ended with a round of applause.

Whether our fellow passengers were moved by the sights or just grateful to be back in one piece after navigating the narrow, winding mountain roads and sheer drops, I wasn’t sure. 

In conclusion

Thank you Lanzarote – for the volcanic highs, the oceanic lows and everything in between. 

Accommodation: We stayed as guests at ClubHotel Riu Paraiso Lanzarote Resort, Puerto del Carmen, Lanzarote for the purpose of this review. All opinions are our own.

Travel: Jet2 – we received a discount for the purpose of this review.