A family holiday is a precious thing. Sure, it might not feel like that when you’re mid-flight, struggling to hush a screeching baby, or by the hotel pool, trying to quietly reason with your teenager about the merits of exploring ancient cultural sites versus staying put with Snapchat. But childhood passes quickly and, before you know it, the kids will have flown the nest. In the meantime, a family holiday gives you an ideal opportunity to share whole days with your children, without the interruptions of daily life, to enjoy novel experiences together, and to lay down memories that will last a lifetime.
1. Forte Village, Sardinia, Italy
It’s difficult enough to keep one child happy while on holiday, but it becomes even more tricky when there are several who vary in age. Forte Village, however, offers a solution. The resort provides something for everyone, from ages 1 to 91, and is based in a single, safe environment. Set among pine trees that line a long white-sand beach, Forte Village has expanded steadily since opening in the 1970s. For babies, toddlers and under-12s, attractions range from a fully equipped village-like children’s club run by well-trained local staff, with a miniature train to take the children there, to an outdoor stage where parents can watch their progeny perform, and a loud pink Barbie centre. For teenagers, the U-Club, go-kart course, DJing and make-up classes, and properly supervised club nights are sure to impress, while the sports academies dedicated to teaching basketball, boxing, cricket, football, rugby, swimming and table tennis all offer an educational edge. Parents can relax in a partly open-air thalassotherapy spa, and the several pools really are spectacular, particularly the one with the water chute. And when everyone gathers together for lunch and dinner there are a dozen restaurants to choose from, with cuisines including Sardinian, Spanish, Brazilian, Japanese and Mediterranean. There’s even one restaurant just for children, which is useful for parents who find themselves detained in the spa or on the golf course. Some of the bungalows have children’s gardens, stocked with Fisher-Price toys.
• Family bungalows, which sleep four, start from Dh3,537 per night, including half board and taxes. For more information, visit fortevillageresort.com
2. The Ranch at Rock Creek, Montana, United States
Staying on a ranch, basking in one of the great open landscapes of America, provides the kind of momentous experience well-suited for a final family holiday before the kids head off to college. Though dude ranches are often basic, The Ranch at Rock Creek is five-star all the way. Located in south-west Montana, a mountainous, rolling area where deer, elk, moose, wolves, coyotes and bears roam, it sits outside the old mining town of Philipsburg – population just 930 – and is 90 minutes by car from Missoula International Airport. During the day you can horse-ride, fly-fish, take a mountain bike out, practise target sports on the pistol and rifle range, practise 3-D archery, take to the zip lines, join a yoga class, or sink into the spa. In the cooler months, guests can take horse-drawn sleigh rides, go sledding or ice-skating, or head off-ranch for snowmobiling, ice-fishing or skiing (downhill or cross-country). Evenings, although devoted primarily to dinner, are enlivened with a four-lane bowling alley, billiards table, poker and karaoke in the Silver Dollar Saloon. Accommodation includes luxury tents, which almost make you feel like you’re sleeping out under the stars, 12 very comfortable cabins, and rooms in the main Granite Lodge.
• Prices for a four-person cabin start from Dh5,875, including taxes. For more information, visit theranchatrockcreek.com
3. One&Only The Palm, Dubai
When you’re a new parent holidaying with your first baby, the key rule is to keep things simple. While that “under-2s fly free” option can be tempting, you really don’t want to subject yourself, let alone the unfortunates around you, to the tedium of a long flight. This is the time to check out what’s on the doorstep in the UAE, and to use what’s saved on airfares for somewhere super-luxe, such as the One&Only The Palm in Dubai. Despite its white-on-white glamour, this is a surprisingly practical choice with a baby. All 94 rooms are generously sized, particularly the 3,500-square-foot beach villas, which feature a 46-inch plasma-screen TV, a 320-square-foot pool and inspiring views across the water to the sparkling Dubai skyline at night. Service is swift and accommodating, so requests such as bottle-warming at the all-day dining restaurant, Zest, is not a problem. As the elegant Espa spa lies between the rooms, pool and main building, nervy new parents can relax knowing that they can reach their precious one’s side in seconds, while they are looked after by one of the resident nannies. Rates for nannies during the day are a reasonable Dh35 per hour, though increase to Dh70 if you head out in the evening. Spa treatments can also be performed in-room. If you are planning on some alone time in the evening, visit the overwater Yannick Alléno-supervised 101 Dining Lounge & Bar.
• Prices start from Dh3,875 per night, including taxes. For more information, visit oneandonlyresorts.com
4. La Truffe Blanche, Verbier, Switzerland
Though skiing as a family makes for a memorable experience, the great thing about checking into one of Switzerland’s top ski resorts is having the option not to. Staying in an opulent chalet such as the Truffle Blanche – a traditional wood building with open fires and terraces overlooking Mont Blanc – makes it tempting to simply stay put. Why budge when you can watch the logs crackle from a comfy sofa, only moving to enjoy the onyx pool, gym, library, sauna, hamman, eight-room spa, or in-house sushi bar, before cosying up together under plush furs for a family-favourite in the cinema room? But if you want to take to the slopes to learn to ski as a family – or enrol the little ones in kindergarten ski school while you have a private class – it’s something that can be arranged at the last minute. Cross-country skiing is another alternative and something that doesn’t require you to be in the best shape. Sleigh rides, ice skating and snowmobile trips are available during the winter season. Once the snow has melted, usually around April or early May, walks or bike rides in the mountains are also on offer. Spending time in the shops, chatting over hot chocolate and cake, is, of course, a year-round pleasure.
• Five nights at the nine-bedroom, 10-bathroom Truffle Blanche, which sleeps 18, from Dh362,765, including taxes, a private chef, housekeeper and two drivers. For more information, visit hautemontagne.com
5. The Westin Resort, Costa Navarino, Peloponnese, Greece
Toddlers can be the toughest challenge on holiday. Active, curious and noisy, they need plenty of diversions on a flight – snacks, toys or anything that can be easily be conjured from the depths of your hand luggage. When it comes to where you stay, a children’s club is a must. On a ruggedly majestic and secluded stretch of the south-west Peloponnese coast, where the Ionian Sea laps at a series of sandy bays, the Westin Costa Navarino has turned itself into an exemplary family resort. Both the Cocoon crèche – for babies of 4 months to toddlers of 3 years – and the Sandcastle Club – for 4 to 12 year olds – are impeccably staffed, equipped and managed. Even the Aqua Park, with its swooping chute, is sure to be a love-at-first-sight affair for older children. These kid-friendly clubs allow parents free time to themselves, perfect for a round or two of golf – there are two course options, both on the PGA circuit – or for a treatment at the Anazoe Spa. There are also tennis courts, a dive centre, a yachting centre and – best of all – the Speed Experience course, where you can zoom around a racecourse in a state-of-the-art 4-stroke, 270cc CRG kart. Days end with a nice treat, too. Pull the bug screen down, and you can sleep with the windows open, air con off, and the sea breeze ruffling your hair.
• Rooms for four start from Dh1,345 per night, including breakfast and taxes. For more information, visit westincostanavarino.com
6. Mediterranean cruise with Seabourn
A cruise on a small ship, such as those operated by Seabourn Cruise Line, makes for an ideal holiday for families, particularly those with older children and teenagers. On board they can be safely independent, enjoying the pool or heading off to the games room, cinema or all-day restaurants as they please. While a cruise puts parents at peace of mind, it also allows for a number of sites to be taken in at once, avoiding the tedium of long drives and traffic jams. In the Greek Isles and Ephesus cruise, the family will stop off at Ephesus, Turkey, one of the best-preserved Roman cities, making for both a fun and educational experience for your kids. There’s even an open-air evening concert for guests of the cruise to enjoy. A word to the wise: Seabourn is arguably the best cruise line for well-behaved families because it doesn’t promote anything for younger children – under 10s are not even allowed.
•The seven-day Greek Isles and Ephesus cruise from Athens to Istanbul costs Dh42,060 for a family of four booking two cabins. For more information, visit seabourn.com
7. Four Seasons Safari Lodge Serengeti, Tanzania
Game drives are a great way to bond with older children. From the chilly predawn start for the early-morning drive to the late-night trips out to observe predators by moonlight, it’s an experience that is as entertaining as it is educational. For a first-time safari, it might be worth staying in somewhat familiar surroundings, and saving sleeping under the canvas for a later date. The 77-room, Four Seasons lodge also houses a presidential suite; a spa with facialists, manicurists and massage therapists; family yoga classes; and a large infinity pool. There’s a complimentary children’s activity centre, Kijana, with a Wii, Xbox 360, football table, cookery classes, movie nights and Discovery Centre sessions with local Masai warriors. Anyone who doesn’t want to go off on a game drive will find enough to keep them occupied around the lodge.
• An all-inclusive stay in a two-bedroom, two-bathroom family terrace suite with a plunge pool starts from Dh9,200 per night, including taxes. Visit fourseasons.com/serengeti
8. Harry Potter’s England
Britain, home to so many outstanding children’s authors, is an ideal destination for bibliophilic families. Many of these well-known authors, from Charles Dickens to Kenneth Grahame, author of The Wind in the Willows, have links to holiday spots around the country. One of the best-known of all children’s authors is, of course, J K Rowling. Her Harry Potter books have inspired Dubai-based operator Lightfoot Travel to compile a six-day itinerary that could thrill Potter-fan parents as much as their children. The tour takes a family of four on a chauffeur-driven exploration of sites including Platform 9 ¾ at King’s Cross station, Leadenhall Market, used as the location for the Leaky Cauldron, the site of the Great Hall at Christ Church College, Oxford, often used as a double for Hogwarts, and the film studios outside London where the Making of Harry Potter experience includes a chance to walk down Diagon Alley.
• The package includes a family suite at The Athenaeum Hotel in London, and return flights from the UAE. Prices start from Dh22,800 per person, including taxes. For more information, visit lightfoottravel.com
9. Phum Baitang, Siem Reap, Cambodia
A trip to Cambodia to explore the great temple complex of Angkor Wat could be hugely interesting for a family with older children. Ten minutes from the historical town of Siem Reap and about 20 minutes by taxi from Angkor, Phum Baitang opened in September last year. As a five-star resort dedicated to preserving and explaining the best of Cambodia’s traditional Khmer culture, it makes a convenient and deeply comfortable base for exploring the temples. Of the 45 villas, all on stilts – a pleasing novelty for any age – 25 have their own plunge pool, and are worth every dirham. The spa resembles a temple, the cigar lounge has a colonial feel, and one of the restaurants is located in a 100-year-old Cambodian farmhouse. Children can be looked after in an on-site kids’ club. Outside the hotel, diversions include shopping for silks and handicrafts in Siem Reap; a night at Phare, the Cambodian circus; cruising in a motor launch on Tonlé Sap, the largest freshwater lake in South East Asia; and, of course, exploring Angkor itself. Making a date there with Damian Evans, the world’s foremost Angkor historian, guarantees children and parents alike will be spellbound.
• Five nights in a pool villa for four, including breakfast, airport transfers, taxes and a spa treatment for the parents, cost from Dh9,910 with Cazenove + Loyd. Visit cazloyd.com
10. Pine Cliffs, Algarve, Portugal
For children ages 9 and over, who want a little independence while remaining in your sights, Pine Cliffs works like a dream. A long-established family-friendly resort, it lies between Albufeira and Quarteira, making it a manageable 30-minute drive from the airport at Faro. Like Costa Navarino and Forte Village as well as those other family-favourites, Martinhal in Portugal, and Jumeirah’s Port Soller resort in Majorca, it’s a resort that stressed parents keep coming back to. Most of the staff have been with the resort for years and are eager to please. If, for example, your pre-teens arrive fractious and resentful of being dragged away from their friends, you can rely on their being met with understanding smiles rather than grimly forced politeness. Babysitters are available for parents who want to make use of the golf course and spa, though it is advised to book in when first making a reservation, and the centrepiece of the Porto Pirata Children’s Village is a life-size galleon so enticing even the coolest kids will be impressed. The beach, however, is the big draw – a great swath of firm, dark gold sand approached via a zigzagging walkway down the hillside from the hotel.
• Villas and apartments for four start from Dh575 per night, including taxes. For more information, visit pinecliffs.com