Where to go for a fantastic family vacation
The Beach Holiday
Good baby-friendly hotels are rarer than hen’s teeth. While many now cater to some degree for children aged four and upwards, nowhere is more geared up for babies and toddlers than Cyprus’s trendy Almyra hotel. It’s Europe’s most sticky-finger-friendly, all-crawling-all-dancing, little-miss-molly-coddle designer hotel.
The irony of traveling with tiny tots is the huge amount of paraphernalia that accompanies you. By the time you’ve squeezed in all the necessary tot equipment, your baggage allowance is reduced to a crumpled bikini. Almyra’s Baby Go Lightly has come to the rescue.
The idea behind the concept is to order your essential baby clobber on line and have it delivered to the hotel free of charge in time for your arrival. That way you might even enjoy the journey as you will travel leaner, lighter and happier.
A tick list of literally everything you could need has been compiled – from car seats for taxis or rentals, to potties, story books, buggies, swimming nappies, bottles and teats. You really can leave it all at home for once.
Set in eight acres of landscaped gardens on Cyprus’s south-west costs, the hotel – which has 190 rooms - enjoys uninterrupted views across the baby towards the medieval castle and Paphos harbour. Its success lies in its contemporary style and comfort, catering for family needs.
On the food front, the kitchen will happily prepare vegetable compotes and fresh fruit purees, promising quality ingredients and absolutely no additives. Fussy eaters pose a challenge rather than a problem.
Children are also welcome to join the morning and afternoon activity programmes at the Smiling Dolphins Kiddies Club, open from April to October, and during the Christmas holidays. It offers a well thought out programme of activities including nature walks, shows put on by the children with their own hand-made puppets, kite design and flying and team games.
Almyra has two freshwater swimming pools, one designed specifically for children, a qualified swimming instructor for all ages and English speaking nannies. It’s also pushchair distance from all the action in Paphos – Cyprus’s answer to St Tropez.
Chill and Thrill
Before we had even stepped over the hearth of this wisteria-clad Georgian manor, the children had spied the swimming pool, tennis court, bicycles, sandpit, swings, slide, golf course, peacocks and coops of turkeys and chickens. What could be better?
But it’s not just its setting that doesn’t disappoint. Ballymaloe House is internationally renowned for its good food. Organic herbs and vegetables from the kitchen garden, cheese and meat from local dairy herds and fish from the boats at Ballycotton harbour are all brought together in its delicious menus. A new dinner menu is written every afternoon based on what has been brought into the kitchen from the garden, while children can opt for high tea in the conservatory. Breakfast is also fit for an emperor, including freshly baked breads, sweet berries, apricots and prunes, Irish kippers and fresh gooseberry preserve.
An overriding sense of calm oozes from every nook and cranny of the house at Ballymaloe, and it’s hard to capture the sheer joy of dreamily wandering around the grounds. There are also wonderful surrounding fields, rocky inlets, cliff walks and lonely headlands. It epitomizes a yesteryear escapism for children, who have the space and freedom to roam as they wish.
The Feather Down concept is a simple one. Guests get back to nature on a small, working farm, in a “tented cottage.” We’re talking canvas, but with wooden floors, real beds and duets and even a flushing loo – although there’s no electricity or hot water. It can take an hour to make a cup of coffee! The farmer goes about his or her daily work, and guests can get involved, or enjoy the great outdoors in their own way.
It can take time it get into this – especially not being able to flick on a radiator or have a hot bath - but the kids loved it. They climbed onto enormous combine harvesters, were chased across a field by a llama and churned up fields on hired bikes. Little girls in neighbouring tents also made friends with the chickens and sheep housed in a pen in front of the tents and swung on rope swings. It was good old-fashioned fun.
Arosa’s gentle slopes, predominantly blues and reds, are perfect for beginners and popular with families. Plus its high altitude (1,800 metres) and location, surrounded by a ring of peaks, means it’s guaranteed snow from November to April.
The actual snowboarding was no as easy as we had hoped – although we all improved as time went on - but the location was fantastic.
From the summit of the Weisshorn you could clearly see whispers of smoky clouds snaking through the valley. Icicles the length of organ pipes hung from wooden huts and animal tracks crisscrossed the peaks. The days zoomed by in quick succession and we made steady progress. By day five, some quite accomplished boarding, and skiing, was appearing.
The hotel, with its accompanying spa, is prominently located at the base of the south-eastern slopes. For those who like to ski from dawn to dusk, the main thing to shout about is the Tsuchuggedn Coaster, a futuristic transport system that connects the hotel to the heart of Arosa’s ski slopes.
The Spa was also glorious, as were the people and the food. The hotel offers a kindergarten from children from three years old and a young generation club for children from twelve years upwards.