Family travel: Q&A - My kids want to go cycling. Help!

The Independent Parent: Your Questions Answered
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Q.Our son, aged nine, is a keen cyclist and is trying to persuade us to take him on a cycling holiday abroad. My husband and I can ride bikes but don't own any. We also have a three-year-old daughter, who of course can't ride bikes - could we take her as well?

MARION HARDY (Mrs) Muswell Hill, London.

A.Several tour operators take the problems out of cycling holidays abroad by providing bikes suitable for the terrain with child-seats or trailers and helmets, booking meals and accommodation on suggested graded routes, and providing detailed maps. Some "package" the holidays by pre-booking ferries or flights as well. Their itineraries and general arrangements do however vary.

Long-established Belle-France (01797 223777) for example, recommends a minimum age of eight for riders (unless the young child is very tall) on most of their routes, with child seats for infants. The bikes provided are lightweight tourers with gears suitable for the terrain. They find that boys of more than 5ft 4in (and girls of 5ft) can use the smallest adult bikes, though they may of course bring their own favourite machine if they wish.

With a young daughter, Belle France recommends a cycling holiday in the Dordogne where the hotels en route have swimming pools, and there are other attractions for children.

Luggage is transported for you from hotel to hotel, and distances between overnight stops range from nine to 24 miles. On some days there is the option of taking a shorter route, and there are rest days between each cycling day.

An eight-night self-drive holiday in the Dordogne on a half-board basis, with your two children in peak season costs pounds 591 per adult, pounds 532 per child under 11.

Also specialising in France, Cycling for Softies (0161 248 8282) offers holidays in nine different regions, with routes graded from "gentle tourers" to "The Whizz".

For child cyclists, the company asks for details of leg measurements - if your son has a measurement of over 26 inches he should be able to tackle a bike with the full complement of gears, if not, a machine with fewer gears can be provided - or, of course, he can take his own. Baby seats are available for the under-fives.

Suggestions for a family of beginners include Mayenne and Sarthe, and particularly the Venise Verte in the Marais Poitevin, a fascinating, tranquil, and little explored region of meadows, Romanesque churches and backwaters where the countryside and villages are crisscrossed by 12th-century canals, and well-marked cycle trails.

On a seven-night Gentle Tourer holiday, you would spend two nights in each of three hotels, and you have a rest day after each cycling day of 13-20 miles. Luggage is carried with you in specially-designed roomy panniers.

The prices (without ferry or air fares which can be arranged) are from pounds 555 - pounds 624 half-board per adult, with a reduction of pounds 70 for your son. For your daughter you would pay just pounds 7 per night.

Headwater Holidays (01606 813399) also provide bikes for all ages (and children's seats), grading routes from one to three, though children are not accepted on the toughest Grade 3 itineraries.

From this Headwater programme, I'd suggest a self-drive seven-night holiday in the Creuse Valley and Brenne National Park, with 13-20 miles or so to cover every other day, and half-board overnight accommodation in manor houses or small hotels. Luggage is transported for you.

The inclusive cost of the holiday is from pounds 357-pounds 587 per adult and pounds 237 - pounds 337 per child depending on whether you prefer to drive yourself or go by air.

For something quite different, look at Bike Tours (01225 310859) weekly "Bike and Boat" trips in Holland, the home of cycling.

You stay on a barge which moors at night and moves on each day, or you can cycle 25 miles or so on mainly designated cycle paths to catch up, or stay on board if you want a day off. 21-speed Dutch bikes are provided, with seats or trailers for infants.

The cost of a week's half-board with accommodation in a four-berth cabin is pounds 379 each for you and your husband, and pounds 275 for each of the children. Travel arrangements by rail, car or air are not included but these can be arranged.

Q.Although fairly well-travelled ourselves, we have not yet ventured abroad with our one-year-old daughter. My husband's parents would like to come with us, but my father-in-law cannot walk far. Friends recommend the Algarve in Portugal or the Balearic Islands - we haven't been to either - but which resort would be most suitable?

KATE ALDRICH

Bromley

Kent

A.Get your skates on and get away as soon as possible. Until your daughter is two, she'll travel more or less for free - after that you'll have to face the complexities of child discounts.

Common sense dictates that you check coach transfer times from the arrival airport to your accommodation, keeping clear of the mid-July to mid-August peak season to avoid crowds, heat and high prices.

In my own experience, self-catering holidays in villas or apartments are much easier with babies who never eat and sleep at regular times, and always turn into little monsters, but behave angelically in local restaurants.

Though the Algarve has some stupendous beaches (and excellent self-catering possibilities), I'd probably save most of them until your daughter is two or three.

Many of the beaches are long and straight, and washed by potentially frightening Atlantic waves. Exceptions include the very sheltered bay at Carvoeiro, although as a minus point, most of the accommodation involves a steepish climb up cliffs on either side of the resort, and car parking in the resort can be a nightmare.

Praia da Luz has a range of excellent family accommodation almost on the gently-shelving beach itself. And if you can persuade your in-laws to baby-sit, you can give yourselves a treat and sneak off to the port of Lagos nearby.

Both The Travel Club of Upminster (01708 225000) and Meon Villas (01730 268411) offer apartments and villas in and around Praia da Luz. I would also recommend car hire which will cost you from pounds 112-pounds 125 a week - it is essential that you pre-book child seats, and it may be simpler to arrange the car through the tour operator. You should similarly pre-book cots and high chairs.

The same pre-booking advice also applies to holidays in the Balearic Islands, all of which are well supplied with supermarkets stocked with baby nappies, baby jars and other child essentials, often cheaper than in the UK - so don't overload your suitcase.

In Mallorca, my choice of resort would be the chic Cala D'Or on the east coast, of mostly high-quality, villas and flats, with seven small, safe and sandy coves, a marina and variety of restaurants. Other Mallorca resorts to consider: Camp de Mar and Puerto Pollensa.

Menorca is probably the most family-friendly island in the Mediterranean - quieter, cooler and with a shorter season that its more lively sisters. Sightseeing is low-key but interesting, and it's also an advantage that if your infant gets obstreperous while you're walking around, you can easily find one of the numerous sandy beaches within a quarter of an hour or so. You don't need to stay in the resort - many of the better villas are slightly inland with pools, but avoid Fornells and S'Algar (no beaches) and Cala 'n Porter which involves climbs from the beach to most accommodation.

Car hire in both Balearic islands costs approximately pounds 110-pounds 130 a week - and remember that some tour operators will include it in the price of the holiday package.

Tour operators with a variety of self-catering accommodation in Mallorca and Menorca include Meon Villas (01730 268411); Thomson Holidays (0990 502 555); CV Travel (0171 591 2810) and Magic of Spain & Portugal (0990 462442).

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