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Traveller's guide: Active family holidays


The landscape for active family holidays is a truly adventurous and wild place, a far cry from the fly-and-flop options that once characterised the average family fortnight abroad. Exploring the countryside, learning a new skill, bonding over an exciting new activity: whatever your goal, today's family trips are all about engaging your tribe.

The UK is particularly suitable for active family adventures: destinations such as the Lakes, South-west England and Scotland have long been strongholds. Center Parcs (08448 267 723; centerparcs.co.uk) redefined the concept in 1987, offering families everything from paintballing to windsurfing. This year it celebrates its 25th anniversary and has begun constructing a new site at Woburn to go along the existing four at Whinfell Forest, Sherwood Forest, Elveden Forest and Longleat. Short breaks cost from £799 for a four-night midweek escape in a two-bedroom Woodland Lodge (sleeping up to four people).

For an active taster session, try the Extreme Academy at Watergate Bay (01637 860543; watergatebay.co.uk) in Cornwall. Its Extreme Day offers you and your family the chance to sample sports such as surfing and kitesurfing. Prices start at £85 per person for groups of four or more, and include all equipment. Adventure Okehampton (01837 53916; adventureokehampton.com), in Devon, fills a similar niche with an exhaustive list of activities that includes raft building, pony trekking, gorge scrambling, abseiling and archery.

Then there are individual activities. How about trying via ferrata, where you climb in safety using iron ladders and harnesses? Honister Slate Mine (01768 777230; honister-slate-mine.co.uk) in Cumbria (above) opened the UK's first course, offering three routes with adult prices from £20 and family tickets for £65. Still too staid? How about a family powerboating adventure? The Sandbanks Hotel in Dorset (0845 337 1550; www.fjbhotels.co.uk), has weekend powerboat courses starting at £300 per person (£215 per child up to 14) including two nights of B&B accommodation and tuition at the Watersports Academy.

Europe also has some fantastic options, such as Area 47 (www.area47.at) in the Ötztal Valley in Austria. Here you'll find waterslides, a 27m diving tower, a 27m climbing wall, a 30m Mega Swing and a 350m Flying Fox. Visitors can stay in log cabins or wooden tepees, with prices starting at €22 per person per night, including breakfast.

For some glamour and glitz, Forte Village in Sardinia has a Chelsea Soccer School for children – and golf, squash and tennis for parents. Bailey Robinson (01488 689700; baileyrobinson.com) has a week-long family stay (two adults and two children) in superior bungalows at Le Palme Hotel within Forte Village on half-board, with easyJet flights and transfers for £5,195. The price includes a week at the Chelsea Soccer School for two children and complimentary activities such as tennis, squash, bowling and go-karting during the stay.

Active and exotic

Hands-on travel is offered by Expert Africa (020-8232 9777; expertafrica.com) at Nhoma Camp in Namibia. Families can spend time with local Bushmen gathering wild food, tracking game and learning to make arrows and snares. A six-night trip is from £1,809 per adult and £1,365 per child under 12 (based on four sharing) including flights from Heathrow, all accommodation and car hire.

Alternatively, unleash your family's inner Brian Cox with an astronomy trip to Cappadocia in Turkey. Explorers Astronomy Tours (0845 609 1591; astronomytours.co.uk) offers an eight-day trip that combines daytime exploration of the region's surreal rock formations with night-time camping and stargazing expeditions with astronomer Dr John Mason. The price from £1,429 includes flights from Heathrow, meals, accommodation and guides.

Best for extreme sports

Between April and November, the sunny beaches of France's south west coast offer a great place to kickstart the family's new life as surf bums. Errant Surf Holidays (020-8133 6438; errantsurf.com) offer a seven-night family learn-to-surf holiday on Seignosse's gentle beach. The price of £399 per person is based on a family of four sharing a private apartment and includes tuition from an English coach, with flights from the UK.

Wakeboarding, a cross between snowboarding and waterskiing that sees you towed behind a speedboat, is another exciting new watersport. It's fairly easy to pick up and the waters around the UK are perfect for it. Jersey's Atlantic Hotel (01534 744101; theatlantichotel.com) at St Ouen's Bay, runs taster courses for teenagers and parents. Prices start at £130 per person (based on two people sharing) for a four-night stay. Wakeboarding lessons start at £25 per person.