Holiday memories are amongst the most important and valuable things I can give my children. While travel with kids can be demanding (there’s nothing like an 8 hr flight with toddlers when a sick bug hits) and there’s a whole new level of planning to consider, I love traveling with my 3 because of their amazing curiosity, their ability to make friends with everyone from hotel staff to fellow travelers, to overcome any language barriers through a love of learning and an untainted acceptance of everything and everyone.
These are some of my favorite travel experiences with the kids to date – next stops include the rice fields and black beaches of Bali, campervan-ing around South-East Australia, and skiing the Swiss Alps. The big wide world and all that it has to offer to await!
United Kingdom: Fish & Chips, rock pools, and ice creams on the Cornish Coast
Call me biased but there’s something very special about a holiday by the sea in the UK for getting back to basics, allowing the kids to be kids, and enjoying some good old-fashioned fun together as a family. We combine a visit to the coast with a trip back to London as part of our summer plans each year, taking the train from Paddington to the South West and exploring Cornwall, staying at working farms, glamping in yurts, or booking up a beautiful family friendly home through Kid & Coe (their range of properties around the world are simply stunning). The Cornish coast is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been. There are tiny fishing villages and harbors for casting crabbing lines, rock pools to investigate, and amazing beaches to run, swim, build, and breathe in all that delicious sea air.
One of our very favorites is Daymer Bay on the east side of the River Camel Estuary, with stretches of dune-backed golden sand. At low tide, you can walk right round to Rock and eat crab sandwiches at the Blue Tomato Café or take the ferry to Padstow where Rick Stein’s fish & chips await, or walk along the clifftops to Polzeath for Mr. Whippy ice-creams and play in the foamy surf.
The St. Moritz Hotel & Spa is a really stylish option for a family-friendly stay near Daymer Bay (the Cowshed Spa is divine!) and we love the Watergate Bay Hotel too, a skip and hop from the vast expanse of Watergate Bay where you can learn to surf, eat at Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen or even watch polo on the sand when the spring tides are right.
Maldives: Fruit Bats, Hermit Crabs, and Snorkeling in The Maldives
I don’t think my kids will ever grow tired of talking about our holiday to the Maldives. The colors, the seaplane, adopting sea coral – even the outdoor bathroom where they bathed under huge banana leaves as fruit bats flew overhead. We’d dreamt of this holiday for years and it was worth every minute of planning and every dirham spent – an absolute ‘once in a lifetime (although I’m hoping it’ll be more than that!). We first stayed at Per Aquum Niyama, on a pair of islands in Dhaalu Atoll, a seaplane away from Male. Everything about this trip was magical – from flying across the turquoise and indigo patterns in the ocean (the kids had their little faces pressed tight to the windows) to cycling to breakfast across powdery white sand and over the little bridge that connects the 2 islands as reef sharks swam underneath.
Niyama has the most amazing Scott Dunn-run kids club that encourages children to discover the environment around them through nature walks, snorkeling trips, and arts & crafts using natural materials so there’s an opportunity for parents to grab some time to chill and the kids to have a ball in between family fun. Niyama beautifully combines that magical laid-back, no-shoes vibe with the ultimate in understated luxury – the rooms either sit on the beach or over the water and are perfectly designed, there’s a world-class spa, dive center, and a fabulous selection of restaurants including Nest, a treehouse restaurant that was a huge hit with our little nature-loving gang. We’ve also stayed at Soneva Fushi in the Baa Atoll – again a seaplane away from Male or a domestic flight and boat transfer from one of the inhabited neighboring islands. Staying here is as close to the ‘Robinson Crusoe type of feeling as I’ve ever had.
Luxurious yet unspoiled, a perfect balance of nature and comfort. From the attention to detail in our treehouse-style room on the beach to the stunning jungle covering the island, where bunnies hopped (yes there are bunnies! The owners brought over a pair years ago and the inevitable happened!) – simply heavenly. We loved the ‘no-shoes’ policy and that feeling of handing over any distractions (bye-bye mobile phone!) and giving up on total relaxation! The ethos of the resort is great, and the eco-friendly vibe, a laid-back approach, and a feeling of being away from it all in pure paradise surrounded by an impossibly blue ocean. It’s here that our kids first snorkeled with parrot fish and found ‘Nemo’, that they discovered the magic of a world under the waves in a great snorkeling area off Bara Bara, the coolest little bar complete with overwater hammocks from which to watch the sunset.
France: Lake swimming and markets in Bordeaux
If you’re craving a French experience with the family then I can’t recommend Bordeaux and the Aquitaine Region in Southwest France enough. With lakes, beaches, vineyards, and a city experience that includes splashing in the beautifully modern water mirror (basically a very smart architect-designed paddling pool!) at Place de La Bourse as well as trams and a UNESCO world heritage city center that not only includes historic streets but parks and fairground carousels plus markets teeming with fresh fruit, cheeses, and seafood. If you’re looking for a mix of city and beach then this is perfect. We stayed at the very cool ‘Mama Shelter’, a slick modern hotel designed by Philippe Starck with a gorgeous rooftop bar and fabulous city views. The Grand Hotel de Bordeaux is a luxurious 18th Century Chateaux with a kid's concierge and cute little touches like kiddie-sized bathrobes and children’s gifts in each room.
This is the place to introduce your little ones to the delights of collecting freshly baked croissants and baguettes for breakfast and dipping them into bowls of hot chocolate, of buying huge punnets of cherries and strawberries to snack on throughout the day, to ripe runny cheeses, oysters and ‘kids’ menus that include steak fries and Tarte Tatin! This part of France is a gastronomic paradise! We combined a stay in the city with a few days in a little wooden cabana – nothing luxurious but very perfect, surrounded by pine forests and just a little walk from the shores of Lac Parentis, a beautiful freshwater wild-swimming spot and close to the beaches of Côte d’Argent and Côte Basque or Cap Ferret, with its oyster-farming villages, sand dunes, and pines landscape.
Thailand: Island hopping, rain showers, and tuk-tuks in Phuket
If I ask my kids what they most loved about Phuket they’ll say running through the rain on the beach (we visited in September, one of the wettest months but completely magical for desert-dwelling children!) or riding in a bright pink tuk-tuk! Our first experience of Asia as a family was about adventure and packing as much into 4 days as possible – quite different from the chill-out-and-do-nothing Phuket vacation my husband and I took years ago! With beautiful beaches, delicious food, and a lush, tropical landscape, Phuket was the perfect antidote to a sticky Dubai summer. The highlight for us? A boat tour of the surrounding islands and dramatic rock formations, swimming in crystal clear coves teeming with fish and stopping at quieter beaches to run about. With 2 little boys in my gang, the opportunity to climb anything possible is always exciting, especially when there are monitor lizards to discover and swim with – yes, really! We also loved Phuket Old Town and its gorgeous faded ice-cream-colored architecture, art galleries, and cafes.
Just as in Dubai, Thai people are hugely welcoming to children, and the kids were embraced (sometimes quite literally) at every stop – from noodle houses to market stalls. They loved learning about everything that makes this part of the world so different from the Middle East – from the crazy-shaped and foul-smelling Dorian fruit to eating with chopsticks and even getting mini massages (which by the way helped with a great night’s sleep – must repeat!).
Oman & UAE: The desert and the mountains of Oman and the UAE
Living in Dubai puts us in the very lucky position of being able to explore the immensely varied landscape of Oman and the UAE. Camping among the dunes, sleeping under the stars, escaping to the cooler climes of the Al Hajar mountain range, and helping baby turtles start their life in the Arabian Gulf.
There’s so much on our doorstep here that actually sometimes when we have a few days off, we prefer not to fly off but to appreciate and explore what’s all around us. One of the most beautiful places is just across the border in Oman where we’ve combined camping with a stay at the Alila Jabal Akhdar perched high atop the Hajar Mountains with the most incredible views across a craggy landscape, surrounded by wild mountain roses, pomegranates, and peaches. This gorgeous property is mega romantic but also incredibly exciting to visit as a family – with walking trails to discover, donkeys roaming wild, and a stunning infinity pool that blends with the mountainscape to swim in. There aren’t any special kids' facilities but if your little ones are old and capable enough to pick their way through wadis and mountain trails and enjoy nature and the outdoors then this place is fab.
Being so high above sea level, the air here is fresh and cold and it’s fun to wrap up warm, explore the area and then snuggle down under white fluffy duvets with room service in the beautiful rooms. The Alila feels like another world, one high above the clouds.