Family Travel Q & A: Some awfully big adventures

The Independent Parent: Your Questions Answered

Q.We are not beach people. What modestly-priced family holiday abroad in August would suit my husband and myself, as well as our two pretty energetic sons, who are aged 11 and seven?

W Sumner


A."We're bored - what can we do next?" is a familiar refrain, alas, on family holidays. But I have found a few ideas that might leave your offspring entertained and breathless - there are still places left in August on the holidays I mention below, though they are booking up fast.

"For the 5-14 age group, Pyrenees Adventures (01433 621498) has room on its Family Adventure week starting 7 August in France's Pays Basque, which is near the village of Saint Martin.

There's plenty of action in store for the participants - swimming, guided walking and cycling are included in the overall cost of the holiday, with other sports available nearby at reasonable prices - a morning's riding, for example costs around pounds 8.50 per person; and a day's rafting on the River Gave d'Oloron with picnic pounds 22 per adult, pounds 17.50 for the children.

On one evening you can all try your hands at the fast and traditional Basque game of pelote in Saint Martin village.

The accommodation is a converted 18th-century farmhouse, and the cost is pounds 495 for each parent, with 25 per cent reductions for each of your sons, for seven nights' full-board with wine at meals. Fares from the UK are not included, but Eurostar-TGV rail travel can be organised for pounds 165 per person.

If you are prepared to pioneer a new holiday, Acorn Venture (0800 074 5149), which in the past has provided adventure camping trips for groups, has just launched a programme of activity holidays for families using the same campsites in the Ardeche and Narbonne in France, and at Tossa de Mar on Spain's Costa Brava, where you would stay in chalets.

You could also take a two-centre holiday with sailing and surfing on the Med, combined with canoeing, climbing and caving in the Ardeche.

Though the holidays are largely aimed at families with children aged eight and upwards (there are no creches, for example), the company says it would be happy to accept a fairly robust seven-year old.

All activities are included in the overall prices, and you would pay a total of pounds 999-pounds 1,349 in August for your family of four, to include Channel crossings for yourselves and the car, 10 nights full-board either in chalets or in two tents (one for you, another for your boys perhaps?) with wine at evening meals, and activities. Two-centre holidays are available, combining Ardeche and Narbonne, and Ardeche and the Costa Brava.

Family specialist par excellence, Sun Esprit (01252 616789), which also runs family skiing trips during the winter, probably offers the most comprehensive Alpine holiday programmes. These are based at two centres, Morzine and Chamonix in the Haute-Savoie, where the excellent apres-ski facilities can be enjoyed by summer visitors.

Here activity clubs, or "Alpies Clubs", keep children fit and occupied on three days a week, with picnics, treasure hunts, nature walks, mountain- biking, even rock climbing, allowing you enough freedom to try out a variety of mountain sports for yourselves. There's also free child-sitting for kids up to 12 on three nights a week - and a nursery for babies, run by qualified British nannies.

One of Sun Esprit's centres, the market town of Morzine is hosting the Paragliding World Cup from 10-15 August, with the international competitors all taking off from nearby Avoriaz.

The family accommodation is in the Pension Les Gourmets where both you and your husband will pay between pounds 348-pounds 379 (depending on dates) for a week's self-drive package. This includes cross-Channel fares and some meals with wine. Both your children would get reductions of 50 per cent each: however, the Alpies Club for under 12s costs an extra pounds 98 each.

VFB's (01242 240310) France Active programme, also in the French Alps, enrolls 6-12-year-olds free of charge in its Double A Team club where they'll be entertained with picnics, football, cable car rides and ice- skating trips - and, as soon as your older son reaches 13, he'll be able to leave you behind on an overnight mountain expedition.

VFB offers you the option of self-catering apartments, chalets or hotels in several resorts, including La Clusaz, Les Deux-Alpes, Samoens and Morzine, with holidays usually priced per family.

A self-drive week for your brood in an apartment in La Clusaz, for example, would cost pounds 604 (this includes Channel fares), while two weeks would cost pounds 912; these prices drop after 17 August.

Activity options for which you pay extra include summer tobogganing, roller-blading, watersports, canyoning en famille and mountain biking. Two hours roller-blading, for example, costs about pounds 7, a half-day mountain biking, around pounds 10.

I have two other suggestions, if you prefer a less structured type of holiday with more independence. Economical holidays on traditional working farms in the Lake Lucerne region of Switzerland have proved popular with families.

And, although participation isn't of course obligatory, helping with haymaking, climbing up to the high pastures to lend a hand milking the cows, or joining the family for a raclette dinner can give children an insight into the very rural life in the mountain villages and valleys, apart from being good fun.

Inntravel (01653 628811) organises self-drive, self-catering stays in Switzerland's Sorenberg where prices for a family of five (children under 14 years) for a week, including Dover-Calais Channel crossings for car and passengers, are between pounds 368 and pounds 460 in total.

In Scandinavia there are lots of opportunities for family holidays, and these reduce in price after early August when their children go back to school. In the forests and around the lakes of Sweden for example, log cabins and holiday villages that are simply, but well-equipped, and often provided with boats, are good bases for holidays where you can track elk and beaver, gather mushrooms, take picnics in the woods and go camping.

In Sweden the law of allmansratt allows everyone the right to camp anywhere - providing they observe environmental regulations.

Scandinavian Seaways (0990 333111) has a selection of self-drive holidays in individual cabins and holiday villages.

At Isaberg holiday village, for example, you pay pounds 234 per adult and only pounds 16 each for the children on a nine-night holiday - these prices include the overnight crossing from Newcastle to Gothenburg sharing a four-berth cabin.

It would also be worthwhile sending for a free copy of the Holiday Directory from AITO (the Association of Independent Tour Operators) which lists specialist holiday companies, featuring children's clubs, theme parks, sailing, football and cycling, to name but a few activities.

To obtain a copy phone AITO on 0208 607 9080.

Q.Our twins are now three and we've not yet tackled theme parks. Are they too young for Florida's Disney World?

Jane Irwin


A.You've got it all ahead of you - and I don't know whether to sympathise with you or be envious. My advice is to break yourselves in gently. So no, I wouldn't start with the Big One. Orlando's Walt Disney World is the size of greater Manchester, well over half its attractions are not suitable for younger children, and there are height restrictions on the white-knuckle rides. We dragged our two sons around Orlando aged five and two, but had much more satisfying visits when they were older.

Probably the easiest theme park for beginners - parents and children - is Legoland in Windsor, Berks (01753 626111), costing pounds 17 a day for adults, pounds 14 for 3-15s, under three's go free. Your children may already be familiar with the toy bricks; 20 million of them make up the Miniland centrepiece of European landmarks, and the trains puffing through the tunnels and boats chugging into harbours will entertain them for hours. Bins of Lego bricks and workshops also give kids the chance for a bit of do-it-themselves.

A bonus of Legoland, in my experience, is the amount of opportunity for hands-on experience, as opposed to the passive rides, videos and shows that proliferate in many parks. An excellent adventure playground with slides, nets and walkways allows children to run off steam. They can get in on the action on a driving school for three to five-year-olds (the advanced driving school for 6-13s is one of the most popular attractions in this country), and pan for gold at a Pirate's Goldwash. Take spare dry clothes for the Waterworks area.

From Legoland, you might progress to the larger Disneyland Paris (0990 03 03 03): adults pounds 23; children 3-11 inclusive pounds 18; under threes free. Living in Dover you are well placed for day visits, though many short- break operators offer one, two and three-night packages.

Here most of the action is centred around the Magic Kingdom. Fantasyland - based on fairy tales by Grimm, Lewis Caroll and France's Perrault - is the area to head for with young children.

Shows this summer that young children would enjoy include "Winnie the Pooh and Friends", "Mickey's Toon Time", a mini-parade each day and the "Wonderful World of Disney" parade. This may sound yucky, but it invites children to join the action and star in film scenes where they can clown around with Dumbo, fight with Peter Pan or try to lift Hercules' dumbells. They can also take part in a Tea Party with Balloo and Jungle Book pals, for pounds 6.

Other European theme parks that your twins would enjoy include Efteling in Holland and Port Aventura on Spain's Costa Dorada.

If you still decide to go to Walt Disney World in Florida, keep away from the steamy, sometimes stormy and crowded summer months.

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