Independent Families: 'Where can we snorkel with our young sons?'
Saturday 30 June 2007
Q. We are looking for a holiday destination where there is snorkelling for our seven- and nine-year-old sons. We were recommended the Maldives, but our budget won't stretch that far. Also, my husband travels for work and prefers not to spend his holidays in hotels. Fiona Imber, via email
A. The Maldives is indeed a first-class snorkelling destination, but there's absolutely no need to travel that far afield. Closer to home are the Red Sea resorts of Egypt's Sinai coast. These provide access to some of the finest snorkelling and sub-aqua in the world – though they are popular and built-up.
Your travel-sick husband will probably be delighted to hear that there's an abundance of colourful marine life – including octopi and anemones – no further away than Cornwall. The rockier coasts of the Mediterranean, meanwhile, are perfect for younger snorkellers.
The key word here is "rocky". Choosing a snorkelling destination means looking for a sea bed that can support plant life, and hence fish. Sterile, sandy bottoms do not fit the bill, although even the softest beach may well have rocky edges or a headland where sea life congregates.
If you're happy to stay in the UK, Porthcurno Bay – near Land's End and overlooked by the amphitheatre of the Minack Theatre – is ideal, a curve of sandy beaches interspersed with rocky coves. Porthcurno Beach is the main kicking-off point, patrolled by lifeguards in summer, and with a car park 200m away. Nearby Ardensawah Farm (01736 871520; www.porthcurnofarmholidays.com) offers B&B for £30 per night for adults (£18 for five- to 12-year-olds), and has a family bedroom with CD and DVD players. A good source of information on snorkelling in the UK is the British Sub Aqua Club (BSAC)'s snorkelling website: www.bsacsnorkelling.co.uk. It offers tips on safe snorkelling, equipment advice and recommendations of good snorkelling sites around the country.
Beyond the UK, I'd suggest looking at Corsica, Crete and southern Turkey. Crete can be very resort-y, but luckily the best snorkelling is on the island's quieter southern side – and the summer winds blow offshore here, which keeps the seas calm. Good snorkelling beaches include Sougia, Agios Georgias, Drimiskianos, Agia Marina and Keratokampos. Most peaceful of them all is Tertsa, a tiny, pebbly beach in the south-east corner of the island, with one taverna and a couple of village rooms to rent. Web-only owner's agency Holiday Rentals ( www.holiday-rentals.co.uk) offers a charming, stone-built cottage with two bedrooms, sitting room, large terrace and a traditional Greek unfitted kitchen, a short drive away in the peaceful mountain village of Krevatas, for £250 a week, self-catering (ask for property 56861).
My final suggestion is the furthest away, but I think it's worth it. An hour's taxi ride west of Antalya in southern Turkey you'll find Cirali, a beachside village in the astonishingly fruitful Olympos nature reserve. Groves of orange trees and pomegranate follow the course of a small valley stream down to a wide, shingle bay, with a ruined, creeper-entwined ancient city at one end and the eternal mountainside flames of the Chimaera – a unique geological phenomena – at the other. The beach drops off steeply into the sea, so is only suitable for confident swimmers, but the snorkelling is outstanding, with crystal-clear, richly fertile water. In case this palls, traditional wooden gulet boats leave Cirali most days, with stops for snorkellers at other quiet, fish-rich coves along the coast. Or you could join a dive boat: tour operator TravelShop Turkey (00 90 252 316 4685; www.travelshopturkey.com) arranges one-day diving trips from nearby Olympos for ¿60 (£43) per person, including lunch. If you're not divers, then snorkelling can be arranged on the day for a discounted price.
Because a rare breed of sea turtle nests here, development is strictly regulated, and accommodation is simple and discreet, in wooden chalets or small guesthouses. These range from the bijou terrace of small huts that make up Ugur Pansiyon (00 90 242 825 7025; www.ugurpansiyon.com) for TL45 (£17) per person, including breakfast, to the eight air-conditioned thatched wooden bungalows and gourmet Turkish cooking of Arcadia (00 90 242 825 7340; www.arcadia holiday.com) at ¿42 (£30) per person, with breakfast.
Antalya is served by Cyprus Turkish Airlines (020-7930 4851; www.kthy.net) from Heathrow, Stansted and Manchester, and by SunExpress (0845 600 1521; www.sunexpress.com.tr) from Stansted. Charters such as Thomsonfly (0870 190 0737; www.thomsonfly. com), First Choice Airways (0870 850 3999; www.first choice.co.uk) and Thomas Cook (08707 520 918; www.flythomascook.com) fly to Antalya during the summer months.
A word on safety. The British Sub Aqua Club (BSAC) says that children as young as six can enjoy snorkelling, but it recommends that all ages take an accredited course. This will teach them how to dive, clear their masks and snorkels, and equalise their ears, as well as explaining the vital buddy system. Children should also have properly fitting, purpose-made masks and snorkels. A wetsuit is also a good idea even in warm waters: it provides extra buoyancy, as well as protection from jellyfish stings and sharp rocks.
Send your family travel queries to The Independent Parent, Travel Desk, The Independent, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS or email email@example.com
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