I know I know, you’re supposed to release your ‘hot lists’ for the year ahead in January. It’s now mid-February. I apologise. It’s all been rattling around in my head for months; what with the January return to work and a sleepless baby, I just haven’t quite achieved the necessary momentum to commit it all to writing. But… better late than never, here they are. My top 5 picks for 2015. I haven’t been to any of them yet, so you may well get to them before me. If you do, please let me know how you get on. And fingers-crossed you like them.
1. Durrell Wildlife Camp, Jersey
I heard about this place from my boss, who went there in August with his family. What a find! It successfully combines my new found love of glamping with my old love of Jersey. What’s more, tell the kids you are going to stay in what is basically a safari park for a week and you have a pretty awesome holiday in the bag.
I’ve visited Jersey twice before, once with my mum and nan and once with my wife, and I’m smitten by the glorious beaches, charming countryside and feeling of stepping back in time (it’s the sort of place where salad in your sandwich cost 20p extra). I’ve been waiting for the opportunity to take my kids there but haven’t quite found the right moment, or the perfect accommodation. With a new fast-ferry service from Poole launching this summer, perhaps this is the year to do it.
The ‘glampsite’ at the wildlife park has instant kid-appeal, not least because it’s something totally different. Accommodation comprises a cluster of units each containing a fully WIFI-d up tent for sleeping and a separate ‘pod’ housing your own toilet and hot shower (bliss!). On your private deck there’s a fully equipped kitchen; a dining table; and sun loungers to soak up that glorious Jersey summer sun (come on, it’s about as far south as the UK gets!). What’s more, you can request an extra ‘tipi’ for your children to sleep in, so you don’t have to cram them in your tent – and they get that little bit of independence from Mum and Dad.
Should you not want to cook, there are two restaurants to eat at on-site. And if the weather does turn bad, or you get a bit cabin-feverish in your tent, there’s a communal lounge (‘Lemur Lodge’) to retreat to.
The wildlife park itself is 32 acres of animal fun, with 120 species to encounter – many of them critically endangered. Amongst the fauna are bears, gorillas and orang-utans; reptiles; and a huge collection of exotic birds. It’s the aim of the foundation to save these incredible creatures from extinction, breeding them in captivity with the aim of releasing them back into the wild one day. Profits from your stay at the Camp all go to support this endeavour – so you can feel good about your holiday too.
2. Sun Gardens, Dubrovnik
Croatia is so now. Clear, waters; stunning mountain scenery; thousands of uninhabited islands; unspoilt coastal towns and villages. What’s not to like? The stoney beaches, perhaps. They’ve certainly put us off before. But I’ll let you into a secret: at the Trunki Files, we are a bit over sand! Since our eldest two learnt to swim, they have been much more enamoured with the pool than the beach. On a holiday to the Algarve last August, we practically had to drag them there (it didn’t help that the seawater was freezing). They much preferred diving into and splashing around in one of the 7 pools. Plus, with our baby now at the sand-eating stage, the prospect of pebbles and concrete jetties is immensely appealing.
So this summer, I’ve opted to take the family to Sun Gardens resort, located near to the stunning town of Dubrovnik on Croatia’s Dalmatian coast. Managed by the Radisson Group, Sun Gardens has been getting rave reviews from families – with good reason. It has incredible facilities for an active holiday, including 3 pools, tennis courts, jogging tracks and watersports from the private (pebble) beach. There’s a superlative kids club, complete with climbing wall. Plus there’s loads for Mum and Dad to do whilst the kids are in it: a boat will take you directly into Dubrovnik from the hotel’s quay; the coastal scenery is beautiful for drives and walks; you can day-trip to stunning fjord-like Kotor in Montenegro; or head out on day trips to the Elaphiti Islands (where, incidentally, you will find a sandy beach on Lopud if you’re desperate). There’s also an expansive spa that has won awards on an international scale. The accommodation in the residences works perfectly for families: one-, two- and three-bedroom suites all come with kitchens, living areas and big balconies with incredible views out to sea. So after busy days in the sun, there’s no need to drag everyone out again for tea. Perfect.
3. Villas Fawakay, Morocco
Morocco: not a destination that is high up the lists of many families with young children. Too hot. Too dusty. Too much hassle. Funny tummies… Yes , yes – but stay in the right place at the right time of year and you actually have the perfect destination for an exotic week away. A friendly 3.5 hour flight. No jet lag. Very appealing weather outside of the peak summer heatwave. And a good dose of adventure to give the whole family a different and memorable experience.
The place I’ve had my eye on for a while is Villas Fawakay. Previously reviewed on the Trunki Files by Lynsey, this place has quietly been adding to its family-friendly credentials and really does seem to offer the perfect way for those of us with young kids to get a taste of this incredible country. The set-up is great: you stay in villas with plenty of space for everyone (no-one is on the sofa!). Each has its own plunge pool, but there’s also main heated pool (with kiddie pool) to share and make friends. You don’t have to cook – they will do meals and there’s a kids menu with the opportunity to cook their own pizzas in a proper pizza oven. There’s no restaurant – you eat where you want, dispensing with the formality that gets so tedious with kids. For kids over 6 they will organise cooking lessons with their resident cook. The whole site is spacious and safe for kids to roam about and has a playground, plus animals a-plenty for petting (although maybe not the peacock).
For the adventurous (i.e. those with slightly older kids), there’s plenty to drag you offsite. Within 15 minutes of the Fawakay there is camel trekking, dune buggying and quad biking. There’s hiking and horse riding in the Atlas mountains. And you can be in the madness of the medina in Marrakech in 20 minutes. Do as much or as little as you please; I like that sort of holiday.
4. Villa Suite Maria, Tenerife
If you want a bit of warmth between October and April but you can’t face a long flight, your world becomes surprisingly small. The Med is too cool and too unreliable at this time of year (don’t be fooled into thinking Cyprus is ok; it isn’t). Egypt is there but not, I think, the best destination for little ones (wait till they can snorkel and really enjoy the incredible aquatic life; otherwise you’re somewhat condemned to an all-inclusive hotel complex). That leaves you with the Canary Islands. Four hours flights away, reliably warm and with no time difference, these outposts of Spain have been attracting sun-starved northern European for years and have developed a mass of attractions to keep most families busy.
The Trunki Files is a big fan of Lanzarote; but I’ve personally never been to Tenerife. I think it could make a great winter week away: suitably sandy beaches (in the South); Loro Parque – a birdworld-cum–zoo-cum-theme park – for a fun day out; a ride up Mount Teide on the cable car; a boat trip across to La Gomera to see the dolphins…. However, I’ve struggled to find the right accommodation. The hotels are either too big, too tacky or too expensive (for what they are); apartment complexes too basic and depressingly identikit; and villas just not of the same quality or level of supply as Lanzarote. Which is why I was pleased to discover the Villa Suite Maria Hotel.
Heavily marketed by toddler travel specialists, Totstotravel, this place ticks a lot of boxes. It gives you the best of both worlds: the services and facilities of a hotel, with the accommodation of a villa. Each of the one-, two- and three-bed suites comes with a lounge, dining area and kitchen, great for whipping up snacks and pasta for the kids (and for saving money on eating out all the time). They also have private gardens, some with Jacuzzis and pools if you pay a bit extra. The complex itself has 2 large heated pools, a playground, mini-golf, a playroom and, in season, a kid’s club; plus there’s a restaurant on-site and breakfast is included.
The major downside is that the complex is not on the beach; in fact, it’s somewhat stuck out of limb, surrounded by not much other than a golf course and a sports training centre (useful if you want to use the Olympic pool!). However, the hotel puts on a shuttle bus to the nearby Playa del Duque; and it is a short walk downhill (and a taxi ride back up) to the villa of La Caleta with nice restaurants and mini-markets. From TripAdvisor reviews, it looks like the whole setup is working. I’m keen to give it a go.
Ok, so I know it’s a long way away. Let’s call it 13 hours on a plane. So immediately we have an appeal problem with parents of twitchy kids. But if you can just get past the flight, and the pretty serious jet lag, then Singapore could be one of the best destinations in the world for young families. Foolishly or not, we are heading there this year to visit friends and the more I read up on the place, the more excited I am. The kids are going to have a blast.
Singapore has done a lot in the last 20 years to transform itself from ‘stopover’ on the way to other more enticing places in Asia and Australia to holiday destination in its own right. In the one week we are going to be there, we are not even going to scratch the sides of things to do. Yes, it can be criticised for sanitising and controlling everything; but when you are travelling with young kids that becomes a huge plus.
Top of the list for us will be the zoo. Not your ordinary motley collection of animals, this is the zoo to which all others aspire. It’s big and consequently animals aren’t caged – they are free to roam. You can tour round in a tram which helps with tired (and hot) feet. Most exciting are the various experiences: breakfast with the animals is on offer, as is a ‘night safari’. Can there be anything cooler than staying up late and watching animals in the dark?
Over on Singapore’s pleasure island, Sentosa, there’s a medley of kiddie attractions. Just getting there is a blast – you arrive (if you choose) by cable car, or monorail! There’s Universal Studios; Underwater World; the Skyline Luge; plus beaches if you long for some sand between your toes.
The city itself has lots of interesting quarters: you can introduce kids to the cultures of various parts of the world in Chinatown and Little India. I’ll be taking mine round the markets to gawp at the weird foods! Just travelling around observing this incredible city from a bus window will make for a cheap and happy day out. And with so much to absorb, I’m banking on jet lag being forgotten quickly. I’ll let you know how it goes.
The Trunki Files 2014 Hot List Part 1: The Med