Give the kids a break

Twenty great ways to get out and enjoy the Easter holidays
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The Independent Travel

While sensible families may have known exactly where they will be this Easter since oh, last October, many of us will have done no more than buy a couple of Cadbury's Creme Eggs. Still, while it is true that this late in the day a lot of the more obvious destinations are booked up, you don't have to resign yourselves to two weeks at home in front of the X-Box: a little creative thinking can take you a long way. To that end, here are 10 suggestions for foreign breaks that should keep the children amused and you in possession of your sanity.

While sensible families may have known exactly where they will be this Easter since oh, last October, many of us will have done no more than buy a couple of Cadbury's Creme Eggs. Still, while it is true that this late in the day a lot of the more obvious destinations are booked up, you don't have to resign yourselves to two weeks at home in front of the X-Box: a little creative thinking can take you a long way. To that end, here are 10 suggestions for foreign breaks that should keep the children amused and you in possession of your sanity.

ANIMAL MAGIC IN AUSTRIA

Girls (and boys) with pony crushes will swoon over the graceful, all-white Lipizzaner horses of Vienna's Spanish Riding School (00 431 533 90 31; www.spanische-reitschule.com).Tickets (from £31) are still available for its famous dressage shows on 10, 11 and 18 April. Fly with SkyEurope (020-7365 0365; ww.skyeurope.com) from London Stansted to Bratislava (only 50km from Vienna) on 9 April, returning 12 April for £218 for adults and over-twos.

This includes the cost of a shuttle bus to the Austrian capital and compares well with BA from Heathrow to Vienna, which currently charges £261 return per adult on the same dates from London Heathrow. Stay at the four-star Superior Maria Theresia hotel in Vienna's Spittelberg quarter; three nights' B&B over the Easter weekend costs £239 per person (based on two adults and two children) via Kirker Holidays (020-7231 3333; www.kirkerholidays.com).

CHOCOHOLIC COLOGNE

While most under-10s would be content with a Mars Bar Easter egg from the local supermarket, they'll be far more excited by the cocoa-tree arboretum and help-yourself, Willy Wonka-style chocolate fountain at Cologne's Imhoff-Stollwerck chocolate museum (00 49 221 931 8880, www.schokoladenmuseum.de).

Two adults and one child can flying return from Heathrow on BA with Cresta Holidays (0870 333 3303; www.crestaholidays.co.uk), staying three nights' B&B at the three-star Flandrischer Hof for a total of £631 (plus a £20pp supplement between 8-11 April). Independent travellers will find a wealth of low-cost airlines flying into Cologne; try Duo (0871 700 0700, www.duo.com), which is currently offering return fares of £98 for adults and children over two, leaving Birmingham on 9 April and returning on 12 April.

SPIRITUAL REPLENISHMENT

Where better to make an Easter pilgrimage than Notre Dame de Chartres (00 33 2 37 21 75 02; www.diocese-chartres.com), France's 1,000-year-old, prototypic Gothic cathedral? Tinies love running around its pavement labyrinth: it is meant to remind pilgrims that there is only one path to God, but is more likely to remind children that it's time to eat. Take the Eurostar from Waterloo to Paris (08705 186186; www.eurostar.com) return on Monday 5 April for £99 per adult and £50 per child (aged two-11). Then take the train to Chartres from Gare Montparnasse for around £12 one-way per adult and £5 per child. (The super-keen can book tickets in advance from Rail Europe on 08705 848848; www.raileurope.com). Stay at the five-star Hotel Chateau d'Esclimont, outside town at Saint Symphorien Le Chateau. LateRooms offers superior rooms (sleeping two adults plus two children) for £175 per night with breakfast (0161-831 3828; www.fr.laterooms.com).

A RIDE ON THE WILD SIDE

Take an easy-going family bike ride around the Burren on the west coast of Ireland. Irish Cycling Safaris (00 353 1 260 0749; www.cyclingsafaris.com) can arrange self-led tours. Prices start from £177 per adult for a weekend, including B&B accommodation in small hotels and guesthouses, bikes, child seats and a daily luggage transfer. Shannon airport is closest to the tour kick-off at Ennis: Aer Lingus (0845 084 4444; www.flyaerlingus.com) has some seats on flights from Heathrow to Shannon from around £69 return, or from Manchester to Shannon via Dublin for £362 (for adults and children over two).

ROMANS AND CITIZENS

Explore the history of the Eternal City - perfect for Key Stage 1-ers who will be "doing" the Romans.

Book a tour of the Foro Romano with Olivia Ercoli, a guide specialising in bringing ancient Rome to life for children, which can be booked through Bellini Travel (020-7437 8918, www.bellinitravel.com) - prices start at around £100 for a two to three-hour tour. Alternatively take a copy of A Visitor's Guide to Ancient Rome by Lesley Sims (Usborne, £9.99), a fantasy guidebook that imagines a modern child has just arrived in Rome during the age of the Caesars.

City Vacations (020-8518 1010; www.cityvacations.net) has departures on 13 April from Heathrow to Rome Fiumicino, with two nights' B&B at the central Cambridge Hotel, for £299 per person (based on two adults and one child under 12).

SAND, SEA, MAYBE SOME SUN

If your children are still at the bucket-and-spade stage, Valencia, on Spain's south-east coast, should appeal. It is surrounded by huge, public-transport-serviced sandy beaches, and if it rains there is the planetarium, Imax cinema and science museum in the spanking new "city of arts and sciences". Fly with British Airways (0870 850 9 850, www.ba.com) from Gatwick to Valencia for £164 per person, departing on 5 April and returning 9 April. Stay at the Ad Hoc hotel (00 34 96 391 91 40; www.adhochoteles.com), a small, chic, three-star establishment in a 19th-century building next to the cathedral; doubles from £83 per night without breakfast.

LAST SNOWS OF SPRING

There's still time to catch some of the white stuff, as long as you aim high or across the Atlantic. Travelbag (0870 890 1458; www.travelbag.co.uk) has a week's skiing in Whistler, Canada, departing in the second week of the holidays. If you book by 31 March, room-only accommodation at the Delta Villages Whistler Suites, return flights from Heathrow with United Airlines to Vancouver via Chicago, and airport transfers to Whistler will cost £685 per person.

EASY STREETS

Brussels is one of the most family-friendly cities in Europe. Keep children busy with visits to the funky, colourful cartoon museum, take them to watch (occasionally) English-speaking puppets at the 17th-century Theatre de Toone, and let them explore the limits of their imagination at the Children's Museum in Rue de Bourgmestre.

Eurotunnel Motoring Holidays (0870 333 2001) has three-nights' self-drive breaks departing on 5 or 6 April for £212 per adult (up to two 11 year- olds go free). This includes a Eurotunnel return crossing for one car, and B&B at the three-star Ustel Hotel near the Grand Place.

For tourist information call the Brussels Tourist Information line on 00 32 2 513 89 40 or go to www.visitbelgium.com

SOCCER COUNTDOWN

Mini-Beckhams should go to Portugal to soak up the pre-Euro 2004 atmosphere. The Villa Agency (01273 747 811, www.thevillaagency.co.uk), a Portuguese self-catering specialist, has accommodation across the Algarve and the Lisbon coast.

Its property list includes Velha Terra, a three-bedroomed villa with private heated pool that is near the resort of Praia do Carvoeiro on the Algarve. A week's stay from 8 April, plus five days' maid service, costs £994 (based on four sharing). The agency can also arrange flights and car hire; all you need to supply is the footballs.

DESERT STARS

For a different kind of sun and sand, Walks Worldwide (01524 242000; www.walksworldwide.com) still has availability on its family-oriented Oman programme departing on 10 April. The eight-day package includes three-hour treks exploring the abandoned villages, caves and wadis of the Jebel mountain range, plus more than enough time for swimming, dolphin watching, and shopping in the souks of Muscat.

Most excitingly, four nights are spent camping under the stars.

Prices, including flights from Heathrow, B&B accommodation, guides, and all meals and water on the trek, are £1,295 for adults, £750 for 12-16 year olds, and £595 for two to 11 year-olds.

EASTER BREAKS IN THE UK

WINNIE THE POOH AND TIGGER, TOO

Two nights at Ashdown Park Hotel, East Sussex (01342 824988; www.ashdownpark.co.uk), near the original Pooh Sticks bridge, £117.50 per adult, per night. Children can share their parents' room for an extra £30 per night.

ARISTOCRATIC DELIGHTS

Three nights' B&B at stately-home hotel Stapleford Park (01572 787 522; www.stapleford.com), including Easter egg hunts, croquet and a mini-train, costs from £349 per person.

GOLD RUSH

Pan for gold at the Dumfries Museum of Lead Mining (01659 74387; www.leadminingmuseum.co.uk), then buy an original artwork from the Greenhouse Gallery (01556 650122; www.greenhousegallery.co.uk), a combination of B&B and art showroom. Rooms start at £25 per person per night, while an extra room for children costs from £20 per night.

GO IT ALONE

Give yourself a break and send the children for a week' s residential activity holiday, from 3 or 10 April, at Norfolk's Camp Beaumont (01603 284280; www.campbeaumont.com), starting at £378 per child (from six to 15).

EDINBURGH EASTER PARADE

Join the lively, family-oriented Festival Cavalcade on Easter Sunday in Princes Street Gardens. Three nights over the Easter weekend at the small but luxurious Howard Hotel (0131-557 3500; www.thehoward.com) in Great King Street costs from £270 per person per night.

SAIL AWAY

Watch the start of the Isle of Wight's regatta season from the Spring Vale Hotel on the shores of the Solent. Three nights' B&B from 9 April, including return vehicle crossings from Southampton, cost £224 per night for adults (£112 for children) with Red Funnel holidays (0870 444 8890; www.redfunnelholidays.co.uk).

REBEL REBELS

Cheer on Civil War battle re-enactments at Kent's Hop Farm (01622 872068; www.thehopfarm.co.uk), then unwind at Chilston Park (01622 859803; www.handpickedhotels.co.uk). Rooms start at £52.50 per person on a B&B basis, while extra beds for children sharing costs from £15 per bed per night.

HEAVENLY DEVON

A week's self-catering for six, from 10 April, at the converted St Michael and All Angels Church in Hollocombe, Devon starts at £561 with Classic Cottages (01326 565555; www.classic.co.uk).

ZOO LIFE

Look for Easter bunnies and more at the excellent Paignton Zoo environmental park (01803 697500; www.paigntonzoo.org.uk). Four nights' self-catering at the nearby Riviera Bay Holiday Centre (0870 442 9750; www.southdevonholidays.biz) costs from £99 for a family of four.

SKIING IN STAFFS

Hit the (indoor) slopes at the real-snow SnowDome in Tamworth (08705 000011; www.snowdome.co.uk). A week's self-catering for six in the nearby Castle-Green bungalows (01675 481518; www.castlegreen.btinternet.co.uk) starts at £500 from 7 April onwards.

All prices and availability correct at time of going to press

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