Forget throwing a kid's party. Give your child a real treat - take them on holiday to mark the big occasion. Isabel Lloyd packs the candles

TS Eliot got it wrong. It isn't April that's the cruellest month, it's August - if you're born in it, that is. The poet's birthday was 26 September, which explains his mistake. As any parent of an August baby will know, a child born in the dog days of summer is condemned by the British education system to being for ever a couple of inches shorter, a couple of assessment tests lower than their almost-a-year-older (probably poetry-composing) September-born classmates.

If that wasn't bad enough, when it's finally an August baby's birthday, everybody they know will, inevitably, have slipped off to Languedoc or Llanelli for the holidays. We have an August child - Jack, now 11 - and after throwing a couple of early-years parties so empty that blown tumbleweed wouldn't have been out of place, we decided that, rather than sit at home smiling bravely as we crossed off yet another name on the guest list, we would take his birthday on the road.

Jack will tell you holiday birthdays are cool. And he should know, having celebrated another turn of the wheel of life everywhere from a four-berth tent in the Isle of Wight to a five-table restaurant in an Italian hill town. Sometimes we have been alone, sometimes with friends - but being on foreign soil means there is always something interesting to do.

In the Isle of Wight (seventh birthday), we joined a guided fossil hunt run by the Dinosaur Farm at Brighstone. At low tide, a surprisingly glamorous, red-headed palaeontologist walked us along the beach, running her fingers over the most unpromising rocks, reading them like Braille. She showed us how each pebble told a different history. By the outfall of a stream, at the base of a low cliff, Jack found a small shred of black. Ah yes, said the palaeontologist, that is almost certainly a bit of dinosaur bone. Jurassic. Around 150 million years old. Jack's eyes glowed - not many birthday presents come with that kind of pedigree.

In Tenerife (10th birthday), we watched pilot whales plunge through the ocean as we clung, lifejacket-less, to the lurching bowrails of SeaQuest, a 40ft charter yacht. In Italy (ninth birthday), we threaded up through the vertiginous medieval alleys of Pitigliano, on the border of Tuscany and Lazio, towards a rendezvous with Jack's first plate of spaghetti with black truffles. This local speciality tastes best, apparently, when you give up on cutlery and suck the earthy strands directly off the plate.

For his most recent birthday (11th), we flew to the south of France and stayed in a converted farmhouse across the valley from Bargemon, in the mountains of the Haut Var. Bargemon is a honey-coloured, medieval hilltop village surrounded by thick, boar-infested woods. It benefits from a semi-Alpine, semi-Mediterranean climate that is as irresistible to English holidaymakers as it is to the boars.

The celebrity count is high, too, which is as much to do with the village's proximity to the boutiques of Cannes and St-Tropez as its undoubted beauty. Elton John has a place nearby, and the Beckhams are said to be regular visitors. If you are 10 rising on 11 it is extremely good news, and can lead to hours spent scanning the hills with binoculars to see if David is, perhaps, out wild-boar hunting.

If he was, it would be because even he couldn't afford the prices in Bargemon's shops. A festive leg of lamb for eight people cost us an astonishing £70 at the local butchers - though it tasted delicious barbecued, over cuttings from the farmhouse vineyard, for the birthday dinner.

This was on a Friday, and coincided with the start of the annual summer fête. Like many French provincial villages, the fête is a vital part of rural life, beefing up business in the local cafés, and giving the village jeunesse something legal to do on the warm southern evenings. After lamb and homemade pistachio cake on the veranda, the birthday party packed into an ageing Renault for a bumpy backroad drive into town. There we ate crêpes and saucisson hot from the grill, shot at paper ducks with air rifles, and watched a troupe of Russian dancers rehearsing on a stage in the market square. Finally, we joined the youth of Bargemon for a spin on the fête's scary set of dodgems.

It will be a hard birthday to beat. But we'll keep trying. Next year, the plan is that Jack will turn 12 while climbing Frog Buttress, a 40-metre high rhyolite crag 80 miles outside Brisbane. Birthday tea is likely to be Queensland mud crabs. And all I'll have to remember to do is pack 12 candles for the cake.

Dinosaur Farm, Brighstone (01983 740844; dinosaur-farm-holidays.co.uk); SeaQuest (00 34 922 71 41 72; sea-quest.com); Bargemon tourist office (00 33 4 94 47 81 73; ot-bargemon.fr)

Our favourite birthday treat

Now here's a real birthday treat. The Adventure Company (0845 450 5311; adventurecompany.co.uk) will amaze your little treasures with unique surprises in unusual places. We're not just talking birthday cakes appearing in the middle of the bush, but free activities such as white-water rafting or an elephant-back ride to make their day complete. Past celebrations have also included a gift of a fez from a local guide in Morocco and a special rendition of the local "happy birthday" song by Masai women in Kenya. Sounds better than serving up the jam sandwiches again.

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