Families: `We want to take our two small children on a beach holiday with culture next month to mark my 40th'

Q I am turning 40 in March and want to mark the occasion with a week's holiday with my husband and children (aged two and three) somewhere warm. We don't want to fly too far (time zone issues with the children), but would like a beach, some sights and a bit of culture. We haven't considered a budget yet but are not looking for anything too luxurious.

K Macintosh, via e-mail

AMarch is a tricky time of the year as far as short-haul sun-seeking goes. Most of the Mediterranean is still rather chilly - even destinations such as Tunisia, Cyprus or Crete will only be around 15C - and, consequently, not quite warm enough for your purposes.

You could consider the permanently spring-like Madeira or the perennially popular Canary Islands, both of which are relatively close the UK. The former was recently covered in The Independent Traveller (11 December); you can read about it online at travel. independent.co.uk.

Morocco is another option. It is a three- or four-hour flight from Britain yet is in the same time zone, so you won't have jet-lagged toddlers to worry about. From March to May the weather in the lowlands and on the coast is perfect for young families - around 22C in the day, cool at night, and with only the tail end of the winter rains to deal with in coastal areas.

You haven't said you want a specific date in March; to increase availability, and decrease prices, try to return before 18 March, when the Easter holidays begin.

Working on this basis, I have two suggestions that you might be interested in. The first involves a week at the Club Med 0700 2582 932; www.clubmed.co.uk) resort at Agadir on Morocco's Atlantic coast.

The city of Agadir was almost completely destroyed in an earthquake in 1960. The 16th-century kasbah remains, but much of the rest of this busy port and resort was rebuilt by the architect Le Corbusier.

Once past the central tourist area, the seven-mile long sandy beach is backed by eucalyptus forests and the Atlas mountains and is rarely crowded. Local shopping is good - you can haggle for bargains in the souks - and there are several attractions that your children will enjoy such as the "Valley of the Birds" a small zoo filled with avians from around the world, set in a ravine in the centre of the city.

The Club Med site has plenty to keep you busy, including an adult and a children's pool, golf, beach sports, a spa and children's clubs.

If you need a break, your children could go into the Petit Club Med, which operates from 9am-5pm and 7.30-9pm. Nannies entertain them, give them lunch, oversee naps, and take them on walks. This costs an additional pounds 147 per child for six days. A seven-night holiday will cost a total of pounds 2,047 for the four of you, including charter flights from London Gatwick to Agadir on 5 March, transfers and full-board accommodation sharing two inter-connecting double rooms.

If you'd rather travel independently, and prefer somewhere more off the beaten track, try Essaouira, further north along the coast. This pretty, laid-back fishing port is an easy two-hour drive from Marrakech. It is popular with windsurfers, but is still relatively untouched by package tourism. Essaouira's old town is filled with narrow streets and shady squares, artisan markets, cafes and ancient forts built in a fascinating mix of styles, from Portuguese to Berber. Seafood is a speciality in the local restaurants.

Huge, sandy beaches curve away from the town in both directions, though the wind tends to get up in the afternoons.

There are quite a few riads (traditional townhouses) to choose from. Try the eccentric but stylish Teahouse (00 212 4478 3543), a converted merchant's home on the edge of the city's Jewish quarter. It was restored by its British owner, Alison McDonald, who is happy to help you with shopping and sightseeing trips. Accommodation is offered in two two-bedroom apartments (both sleeping four), on separate levels around a central courtyard, each with its own bathroom, kitchen and living/dining room.

One apartment is available for the first week in March at a rate of pounds 92 per night for two with breakfast, with no extra charge for children.

To reach Essaouira, fly to Marrakech and either hire a car or take a taxi - the latter will cost around pounds 30 one-way. British Airways (0870 850 9850; www.ba.com) flies from London Gatwick and Heathrow to Marrakech's Menara airport. Royal Air Maroc (020-7439 4361, www.royalairmaroc.com) also flies from Gatwick from pounds 290 per adult and pounds 210 for each of your children. BA flights are a bit cheaper, but are not discounted for children. For more information, call the Moroccan Tourist Office (020-7437 0073; www.visitmorocco.com).

Send your family travel questions to The Independent Parent, Travel Desk, The Independent, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS or e-mail crusoe@ independent.co.uk

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