Which is the best type of holiday for families with teenagers ... the bustle of a campsite or the chilling effect of a luxury villa? David Ryan heads to Spain for a pick'n'mix break

We've come full circle. When our kids were small we took holidays with friends who had offspring of similar ages. Children would play on the beach freeing parents for the serious business of doing precisely nothing. As those tots grew, it became harder to find times and destinations to suit all so we did our own thing. Now, our eldest is 19 and has her own summer plans. That leaves us with 15-year-old Tim, who goes pale at the prospect of two weeks away with his parents and the Scrabble board.

"Can I bring a mate," he pleads. "No," we cry in unison. "Why," asks he. "Because the pressure of being responsible for someone else's teenager fills us with trepidation and would not make for a relaxing fortnight," says we, still roughly in chorus. "So, what about the Swanboroughs?" says he.

And so, for the first time in a dozen years, the Ryans and the Swanboroughs were back on tour. Yet how do you please everyone without doing a Northern Rock? Two weeks on a Spanish campsite would suit the kids and should not break the bank. But what about the workers? Surely we deserve a bit of pampering without endless dish-washing, Biblical queues for dryers and 1970s tribute bands?

And so, another cunning compromise was reached. Week One with Thomson Al Fresco at the Sanguli site on the Costa Dorada, then a drive south for Week Two with Meon Villas in Javea on the Costa Blanca in one of their large and luxuriously appointed homes, complete with swimming pool and more mod cons than you can shake a stick at. This pick'*'mix approach was affordable and gave everyone the chance to chill. It would also be interesting to see which our teens prefer.

Salou is not for the squeamish but it's perfect for teenagers. Its long sandy beach is fringed with palm trees and intense tourism while just down the road at Port Aventura is Spain's biggest theme park. But the Sanguli campsite, with its 1,500 emplacements, is a haven of relative peace within this bustling resort. With its three pools, takeaway and sit-down restaurants and supermarkets it leaves you no practical imperative to break its boisterous embrace, apart from the 200-yard walk to the beach.

At night there's live entertainment in a splendid amphitheatre. There is something seductive in these campsites' animations which draws you in. I can say, without a hint of "Stepford Camper", that I was mesmerised by both the Village People and Boney M tribute bands and found myself humming "YMCA" for several weeks after.

By day, the three swimming pools aside, the teens Tom (18), Tim and Florence (15) and Sam (13) had table tennis, football, mini golf, basketball, tennis or cycle hire on tap. But they usually opted for lazing on the beach. They weren't even struck by Salou's other temptations: karting, quad-biking, horse-riding, wind surfing, sea fishing ... no rush, not even for adrenalin. It dawned on me that teenagers like doing very little, so long as they have other teens to do it with not so different from us then.

There were day trips, naturally. Barcelona is just over an hour away on Spain's efficient, cheap rail network: an off-peak return from Salou was just €11 (less than 8) each. The Roman town of Tarragona is less than 20 minutes by train and you can drive into the mountains to see some of Catalonia's most outstanding nature reserves.

And this wasn't even rough camping. Thomsons' mobile homes (a Rossini for us and the larger Vivaldi for the Swanboroughs) are bright, spacious and air conditioned. There may be privacy issues but there's nothing like sitting outside one on a sultry evening with a good book and a cold drink, watching the world, and his wife, go by.

That said, a bit of unashamed luxury never hurts and, as we tapped a code into the metal security gate barring the driveway up to Casa Delfino, I felt like a million euros which is about what this place must be worth. The five-star Delfino was perfect for our party with two en-suite double bedrooms and two more large bedrooms for the kids to share. It has a large winding staircase, which feels palatial, a spacious lounge and dining area with open-plan kitchen. All the techno-delights are there: touch-pad oven, microwave, dishwasher, satellite TV (Hollyoaks or The Simpsons?), DVD player, music centre, internet, laundry room.

Yet it was the 10-metre pool, flower-scented garden and shaded patios where most time was spent. And what a joy to go for an early-morning dip and find that no one (Teuton or otherwise) had draped large towels over all the loungers. It was hard to avoid a sense of profound wellbeing as I sipped cold beer, watched a staggering sunset, and listened to the sizzle of a state-of-the-art barbecue as cookery student, Tom, turned produce from the local market into a delicious paella big enough to feed an army. I'm a simple soul but "luxury" isn't a big enough word; "hard-core," to quote a passing adolescent, is much nearer the money.

Outside Delfino's ochre and lemon walls, there are bracing cliff-top walks along this beautiful, rugged length of coast, a bit like Cornwall but with a bit more yellow and a lot more blue. By night, Javea offers cosy beach-side restaurants and bustling traditional bars. The great irony is that the cost of a week at such a villa, split between two families, is not much more than a week's mobile home rental. Divided by eight, Sanguli worked out at about 300 per person, Casa Delfino came to about 330 per head for the week.

"The privacy here is great. But I sort of miss all the coming and going at the campsite. The people-watching was great," said Florence. I hadn't expected that, and was mulling it over as I splashed about one night in the pool. As I listened to the singing cicadas, a tune entered my head and escaped via a hum "By the Rivers of Babylon ..."

Further information

David Ryan was a guest of Thomson Al Fresco holidays (0871 231 3292; thomsonalfresco.co.uk). Seven nights in mid-August in a Rossini at Sanguli costs 1,159 in total, based on two adults and two children sharing. The Vivaldi costs 1,266, based on two adults and four children sharing.

Casa Delfino sleeps eight and costs from 2,649 per week in mid-August with Meon Villas (08709 014011; meonvillas.co.uk).