There are two certainties this time of year: no one loves turkey enough to eat it three days running and holiday adverts are ready to roll the minute midnight strikes on December 26th. And why not? If you weren’t one of the lucky ones who found their stocking filled with ‘get out of winter free’ cash on Christmas morning, planning a holiday could just be compensation enough to make up for the disappointment.
But if you’re as cynical as I am about the endless ads where sweet, cherubic toddlers daintily sip organic juice on remarkably deserted beaches while their equally gorgeous parents lounge nearby looking so relaxed they could quite possibly be dead, you’ve probably already been on a family holiday or two. You’ll know that for every romantic dinner and charming child photo-op there’s a sun, sea and surveillance flipside. And experience will tell you, the secret of harmony, peace and relative calm, is good forward planning and choosing the best spots early.
credit: Jess Pac
So – with still a few shopping days till Christmas – here are my 5 top family holiday destinations for 2014. I’ve mixed it up with beaches and cities, picked with an eye on a wide choice of family-friendly holiday rental accommodation and tried to cover most of the bases.
NEW YORK CITY – FOR TEENS AND TODDLERS
New York basically looks as if it was built for the sole purpose of training superheroes and does attitude as standard so it couldn’t be more perfect for the average world-weary teen. Think they’ve seen it all? Take them up a few of the taller buildings, into Lady Liberty’s hat or for a compulsory sail on the Staten Island Ferry (it’s free) and your teen can think again. And that’s before you even get started on the stores, streets, snacks and the utterly self-assured New Yorkers themselves. What might be a little less obvious is how good New York can be for tinier travellers and teens-in-training. The city’s approach to parenting is as determinedly competitive as just about everything else it does. So you can’t swing a buggy without hitting puppet shows, ferry rides, zoos, funfairs, circuses, bike rides in Central Park, gargantuan toy shops and an almost endless supply of interactivity.
DUBROVNIK – FOR ALL ROUNDERS
Between the beautifully quaint prettiness of its Medieval Old Town (a UNESCO World Heritage Site), ideal Mediterranean climate and Adriatic beaches, Dubrovnik’s a grown-up city where children fit perfectly too. Don’t let the relaxed, shorts and sandals dress code deceive you, Dubrovnik is ancient and cultured and has a 45 day Summer Festival of art, music, drama and spectacle to prove it. When it’s not actively entertaining, the city is still walkable and wonderful to explore. Beaches, islands, forests, gardens and parks tick all the child-friendly boxes. And a few days in the company of the unfailingly polite and charming people of Dubrovnik and you’ll soon see why one of the city’s most historically renowned exports is Diplomacy.
CRETE – FOR ESCAPISTS
Crete might be the largest of the Greek Islands, it’s certainly one of the best known, but if you avoid the big beach crowds there’s still plenty of unspoiled adventure to be had. Mountains of all shapes and sizes make the perfect escape routes for hiking, walking and climbing. The main beaches come complete with cafes and bars but, pack a picnic (local food markets are part and parcel of a Cretan holiday), and you’ll find coves and bays to call your own. There are safe waters for swimming, caves to explore, gorges and valleys to conquer, cycle routes for all types of cyclists and countless places to just stop and stare. The Greek Islanders are famous for their child-centred lifestyle and that easy, relaxed attitude is effortlessly extended to visitors.
VALENCIA – FOR CITY TYPES
Spain’s third largest city used to languish in the shadow of Madrid and Barcelona but that’s all changed. Valencia is as fresh and smart as Barcelona, with just as much going on as Madrid and – because third always comes with a complex – the city tries harder every which way. Sure you’ll find all the galleries, museums and monuments you could possibly wish for, but if you’re with tech-savvy small travellers Valencia goes all out to interactively entertain. I can guarantee you’ll be roped into more than one visit to the city’s innovative Biopark, you might as well get a season ticket for the aquarium and if you’re not renting next to the Science Museum make sure you’re on a direct transport route. And – like all Spain’s major cities – Valencia loves to shop, eat out, party and stay up late, so grown-ups get a big chunk of a holiday here too.
CORSICA – FOR THRILL SEEKERS
credit: cremona daniel
Cliffs, coves and corniches are the three ‘C’s’ that define Corsica. It’s one of Europe’s most exciting destinations for travellers who like their cycling with hard climbs and hairpin bends, don’t want crowded beaches and won’t give a village a second look unless it’s precariously balanced on a crag. A small enough island to enjoy every aspect, Corsica does resort style beaches as easily as secluded coves. Sea caves and sailing are almost compulsory. Towns, characterised by elegant plazas and pristine architecture , are very French but with plenty Italian in there too. Small villages range from remote and mysterious in the heart of the mountains to hanging over the sea round the island’s rugged coastline. And because eating is second only to climbing and cycling here, the food is wonderful, fresh, local and you’re expected to make a meal of every meal.
So here ends my top five family holiday recommendations for 2014. But since it’s not even Christmas 2013 yet, I’m bound to think of a few more to add to the list before the year’s out.
Featured image by jonmartin ()
As the nights close in and Autumn creeps up on most of us it’s easy to forget that there are many places still in Europe where you can still enjoy a warm sun and 4seohunt.com/www/blog.housetrip.com beach friendly temperatures and be almost guaranteed rain-free weekends. One of those places is Dubrovnik in Croatia and in addition to the late summer sunshine, here are seven more reasons why you should visit this beautiful, ancient city.
Dubrovnik Old City – Image © Alex Proimos
Resting in the sun - Image © Ktoine
1. Watch outdoor theatre in a fort
Fort Lovrijenac sits on the western tip of the old city walls of Dubrovnik, looking out over the sea from its clifftop position. There has been a fort there since the 11th century and the current structure dates back to the 15th and 16th centuries. While it was once important in defending against invaders, now it’s a key venue for many of the cities festivals and events and is a popular and indeed beautiful place to watch outdoor theatre.
Fort Lovrijenac – Image © Gabrielle Ludlow
View from the city walls - Image © Jennifer Boyer
The main street of the Old City – Image © Tambako The Jaguar
2. Islands in the sea
If the smooth sailing across the deep blue Adriatic doesn’t confirm Dubrovnik as an idyllic city break destination, then the islands that surround the archipelago should seal the deal, from the wonderfully wild and richly green botanical gardens on Lokrum to the stunning Elaphiti Islands. The latter get their collective name from the Greek word for deer (elafos), as they used to be home to a large deer population.
Dubrovnik Old Town and Lokrum from the top of Mount Srđ - Image © Gabrielle Ludlow
Lokrum island (20 mins by boat from Dubrovnik) - Image © Jenni Douglas
Image © Elena
3. The beaches
Life’s a beach for the locals of Dubrovnik with an inviting sea lapping gently against nearby pebbly and sandy beaches. Thanks to the sun warming up the water all summer long, by the time September rolls around it’s still just about warm enough to swim in or at least dip your toes in. The easy choice is the city beach of Banje, but if a full day of sun and sea bathing is what you came for then check out Sulici beach near Pile Gate or set sail for Sunj the nudist beach on Lupud island.
Banje beach – Image © Christian Paul
Image © juan pablo santos rodríguez
4. Live music in the Old Town
As long as its warm enough, the streets of Dubrovnik Old Town regularly stay awake to the sound of live music. Head to Stradun to join a reliable throng of reveling locals. And for arguably the best jazz in the city, seek out Troubadour, a relaxed lounge bar very popular with those in the know.
Image © Stuart Hamilton
Image © Claudio Riccio
Dubrovnik’s Heart – Image © Lawrence OP
5. Go to the pharmacy…
With its medieval roots comes a lot of historic sights and buildings, the perhaps most bizarre and intriguing of which is the Old Pharmacy at Franciscan Monastery of Little Brothers, a Romanesque-Gothic cloister surrounding orange trees. Inside is a museum dedicated to the concoctions and potions that were believed to cure all manner of ailments, and after more than 700 years of alchemy, the pharmacy is still open for business.
Franciscan Monastery of the Friars Minor – Image © Jennifer Boyer
Dominican Priory in Dubrovnik – Image © Lawrence OP
Fading light over the Old City – Image © David
6. Go kayaking
With all the best cities like New York now offering urban kayaking as a novel way to see the city, why not do the same in Dubrovnik? This is one of the best ways to appreciate how clean and clear the water on the Dalmatian coast really is. Delivering one of the best views of the city’s medieval walls, this is the perfect way to appreciate Dubrovnik’s beauty while burning calories – which you can then replace by making sure you…
Kayaks to Lokrum Island – Image © Yusuke Kawasaki
The port of Dubrovnik – Image © Tambako The Jaguar
7. Eat freshly caught seafood
The Dalmatian coast has a proud history of some of the best tasting fresh fish and seafood – and Dubrovnik is no exception. It’s difficult to find a bad restaurant in the winding medieval streets of the Old Town but locals’ favourite Proto is worth spending a bit of money on if you have the budget.
Another just as tasty, cheaper and more intimate option however, is to make sure you pop down to the market at Gruz to collect the catch of the day and cook it in the comfort of your very own HouseTrip home.
The City Harbour © Jennifer Boyer
Image © Jennifer Boyer
A mishmash of eclectic tastes, sights, sounds and smells – all uniquely steeped in a medieval atmosphere which permeates everything. Truly a fairy-tale city with something for everybody, Dubrovnik is, in one word, enchanting.