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 ()