Summer escapes: Holidays on the edge
Europe's varied coastline means there's always somewhere that will appeal to you and your family. From brilliant beaches to activity breaks and villa rentals, Sarah Baxter reveals some shore things
Sarah Baxter is part-time Associate Editor of Wanderlust travel magazine and a part-time freelance travel journalist and editor. She has written many features for The Independent, as well as for other newspapers, magazines, blogs and books. She loves exploring the great outdoors, and when she's not thinking travel, she's likely lacing up for a run instead.
Friday 06 June 2014
On the beach
Nothing sums up summer quite like sun, sea and sand. But not all beaches are equal – look for Blue Flag ratings (blueflag.org), which extend across Europe, as well as resorts that can offer more than just sand.
Cyprus in style
Limassol will be abuzz this summer: the historic south Cyprus port has a new marina, and its commercial area – 40 shops, 12 bars and restaurants and a culture centre – opens this month. Can't afford to park your super-yacht here? Then stay at nearby Le Méridien Limassol instead (01204 821236; destinology.co.uk; seven nights half board from £1,125/£420 per adult/child, including flights). Located on a Blue Flag beach with warm, calm waters, it combines first-class facilities for children – including multiple pools, watersports and Penguin Club – with plenty of separate adult space, not least a spa offering 130 treatments.
Ancient and active Greece
Inject some history into your summer holidays. Sunvil Holidays' Lido Apartments, at Tolon in the Peloponnese (020 8568 4499; sunvil.co.uk; seven nights from £688pp, including flights), are close to the ancient sites of Olympia, Mycenae and Epidaurus. They're also handy for a super sandy beach that shelves gently into the sea. Better still, all Sunvil's Tolon travellers get free windsurfing, dinghy sailing or two-hour motorboat hire, plus free bicycles and canoes.
Spanish sun and soccer
If your brood is inspired by events in Brazil this summer, why not stay at a First Choice Holiday Village, which, along with kids' clubs, swimming schools and movie nights, offers expert-run football academies? Overlooking the Benalmádena coast, the Holiday Village Costa del Sol (0871 200 7799; firstchoice.co.uk; seven nights all-inclusive from £765/£419 per adult/child, including flights) runs sessions with Uefa-qualified coaches for children aged five to 16. There's also mini-golf, tennis, archery, basketball and a massive pool, complete with a pirate ship.
Turkey's Demre region, backed by the Taurus Mountains and fronted by the Lycian Coast, draws a modest number of visitors to the tomb of locally born St Nicholas (Father Christmas) and the sunken city of Kekova. But, relatively speaking, this is low-level tourism – a quieter take on beach Turkey. Things are quietly changing, though: the Andriake Beachclub (0844 879 8155; neilson.co.uk; seven nights from £1,305pp, including flights) opened last month. It sits on a wide sandy beach, snuggled into dunes. Spanking-new facilities include an Olympic-size infinity pool and six tennis courts. There are also free mountain bikes, watersports aplenty and a traditional soothing hammam.
Boat to beach
To find the best beaches, sometimes you need to take to the water. Explore's Caique Cruise (0844 639 8013; explore.co.uk; eight days from £797/£699 per adult/child, including flights; departures 19 & 26 July, 9 & 26 August) uses a traditional fishing boat to gain access to the isolated coves of the Greek island of Euboea – popular with local tourists – that retains an authentic feel. Captain Thanos will navigate to cliff-top forts and millennia-old ruins, find the best swimming and snorkelling spots, and drop anchor at fishing villages to pick up the freshest of suppers.
From canoeing and kayaking to cycling and soaking up island life, there are plenty of adventures on offer this summer – so there's no need to just flop on the beach.
Get, set, Gozo
The small but perfectly formed Maltese islands are ideal for a mini-person's mini adventure: distances are short, the terrain is rugged but not too extreme, and the water is super for snorkelling. New for this summer, Exodus's eight-day Malta & Gozo Adventure (0845 287 3647; exodus.co.uk; from £799/759 per adult/child, including flights; departures 19 July, 2 and 16 August) takes advantage of these factors. It offers a leisurely menu of 4x4 safaris, bike rides, swimming, snorkelling around quiet Comino island and a day living like a shepherd, learning to make local cheese.
The Tour de France must battle British weather this summer – the Grand Départ leaves Leeds on 5 July. A more clement option is to take your budding Sir Bradleys to Spain's Empordà Plain, to cycle between medieval villages, castles and the more secretive side of the Costa Brava. Inntravel's six-night self-guided Bikes, Back Roads & Beaches trip (01653 617001; inntravel.co.uk; from £1,105/815 per adult/child, including trains) provides a gentle roll through the undulating Catalan countryside, stopping off at quiet beaches, ostrich farms and agriturismos.
Make for Montenegro
Montenegro has yet to catch up with its tourist-favoured neighbour Croatia. However, the country has a fabulous fjord-incised coastline and a mountainous interior, both of which are ideal for active families. Activities Abroad's seven-night Montenegro to The Fjord of Kotor trip (01670 789 991; www.activitiesabroad.com; from £1,225/1,200 per adult/child, including flights; departures 12 & 26 July, 2, 9 & 16 August) combines both. You can kayak to beaches that are only accessible by paddle, then head inland to hike, high-rope and orienteer in the Durmitor National Park and you can also go rafting through Europe's deepest canyon.
Croatia has the most indented coastline on the Mediterranean, which makes it brilliant for kayaking – there are innumerable nooks and crannies to nose a boat into, as well as lots of sheltered water to glide through. Families Worldwide's eight-day centre-based Active Dalmatia trip (0845 051 4567; familiesworldwide.co.uk; £1,199/1,109 per adult/child, including flights; departures in June and August) includes sea-kayaking trips along the cave-carved Dalmatian Coast, as well as snorkelling and swimming over vivid reefs, dolphin-watching off Sveti Andrija and mountain-biking across Sipan Island.
On Swedish shores
Not all European beach breaks are about the Mediterranean. There is an increasing demand for summer trips to Scandinavia and Discover the World has introduced new options in Sweden for this summer. Its five-night Island Escapade to Koster (01737 214 250; discover-the-world.co.uk; from £569pp, including flights) spends three nights on South Koster, an islet of sandy beaches and with virtually no vehicles. Cycling is safe and easy, and walking, kayaking and seal-spotting boat trips are available, too. A 200-metre signposted Snorkel Trail has also been designed to reveal all that the island's shallow, creature-infested waters have to offer.
Don't be swayed by pretty pictures – check that lovely-looking villa suits the whole clan: consider everything from pool access and stairs to whether there are free bikes, or shops and restaurants nearby.
Private pool, expansive garden, mini zoo ... Spain Holiday (020 3384 7066; spain-holiday.com) has a property on Mallorca that goes above and beyond the usual requirements. Its four-bed villa in Muro (ref: 17941; from £2,448pw, excluding flights), close to Alcúdia bay, has an animal enclosure where kids can feed the (goat) kids, before tumbling off to the playground or having a game of table tennis. The place sleeps nine and has a separate barbecue house, roof terrace and mountain views.
Interest in the hills and shallow beaches of Puglia has grown since low-cost airlines started flying to Bari and Brindisi a decade ago. But, still, Italy's heel remains relatively little visited. The quirkiest accommodation options here are converted trulli, traditional cone-roofed dwellings. Kid & Coe's Morella Residence (001 212 905 6065; kidandcoe.com; sleeps nine; from £271pn, excluding flights) is an ultra-family friendly option. A short drive from the sea, and 40 minutes from Brindisi airport, this contemporary-chic trullo sits amid wildflower meadows and fruit trees (from which you can pick your own), with a pool, Jacuzzi and plenty of games and toys. Babysitting can be booked too.
Turkish hill hideaway
Turkey's lovely Lycian Coast gets hot in July and August – maximum averages exceed 30C. So, for high-summer respite, head for the hills. Exclusive Escapes' Greek-style Rana Evi villa teeters in the mountain village of Islamlar, 20 minutes from the bars and beaches of Kalkan (020 8605 3500; exclusiveescapes.co.uk; sleeps five; seven nights from £1,050pp, including flights and car hire). Views are spectacular, the vibe secluded: there's a walled garden, lap pool, terrace area and built-in barbecue; plus an outdoor cinema where films are projected on to whitewashed walls.
While there's been a recent surge of interest in British farm breaks, agriturismos have long been popular across Europe. For luxurious farm fun, try Levendi's organic olive estate on Ithaca in Greece (01273 823700; responsibletravel.com; sleeps six; from £2,033pw, excluding flights). Backed by mountains and sliding down to the sea, it's an idyllic base. Eat the farm's organic produce, help out in the vegetable garden, hike and cycle the forest paths or splash in the pool. A Poet's Walk, with a local storyteller, brings ancient archeological sites to life, while expert-led marine biology trips reveal what lies beneath the water.
Rugged, Francophone Corsica is not the Med's cheapest spot, but Coastline's Pinarello Beach House is a good-value option (0844 557 1020; coastline.co.uk; sleeps six; seven nights from £595pp, including flights and car hire). Its location is dreamy: a wooden gate at the bottom of the lush garden leads right on to white-sand Pinarello Beach. Porto Vecchio, the island's St Tropez, is 25 minutes away. The villa itself, a pretty terracotta pile, has a private pool and terrace. There's an open-plan living area and fully equipped kitchen (where you'll find a welcome hamper on arrival); and there are plenty of restaurants within a short stroll.
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