How to improve holidays with children

Hey mum, let's get fresh

All this hot weather and pollution has triggered some nasty breathing problems for my son Patrick, who at the grand old age of 10 has announced he's had enough of city life and wants to retire to the countryside. He says he has an urge to "see what nature feels like and breathe some proper air", bless him. And I know what he means. I haven't the heart to tell him that his retirement is a little way off yet, but I've decided that, while he's waiting, he can at least get out of the Big Smoke and give his lungs a little holiday now and again.

And where better to do this than in the crystal-clear breezes of the Scandinavian wilderness? As far as I can recall, Pippi Longstocking never complained of asthma, nor did she yearn for early retirement. In fact, the Nordic highlands and Finnish flats provide a kids' paradise-cum-health spa according to a Swedish friend of mine, who spent an idyllic childhood running naked through the woods with the fairies, picking blueberries, supping from streams and, yes, breathing proper air. I'm amazed she ever left the place.

It's time my children got a taste of this Utopia. My pal reckons one of the best ways of really getting to know the region with youngsters is by touring at your own pace - on foot, bike or in a car - and hiring cottages en route. You can find little hideaways to rent wherever you go, many on their own tiny islands in the coastal regions. For inspiration, check out Finnish Country Holidays (00 358 9 5766 3350 lomarengas.fi) or Visit Sweden (020-7108 6168; visitsweden.com).

If you're searching for a bit of action, family-friendly holidays worth checking out include the Wilderness Activity week with the Adventure Company (0845 450 5311; adventurecompany. co.uk), high in the hills above Finland's Koli National Park. There's plenty to occupy your little free spirits once they have tired of roaming naked in the forest, including canoeing, fishing and pony-trekking. They can also spend the week hunting for the wood elves' secret treasure cache by collecting "clues" throughout the holiday.

In fact, wherever you go in Scandinavia, there's fun to be had. If you have always wanted to go on a "coastal camping seal safari and assault course", now is your chance. Check out the campsite at Dafto, near the Norwegian border, where there's also a kids' circus school to exhaust your little treasures (00 46 526 26040; dafto.com).

But for something more luxurious, why not stay in a Norwegian highland cabin in Gudbrandsdalen with its own sauna (01653 617906; inntravel.co.uk), or even take a cruise? They're not just for OAPs (although I get the feeling Patrick wouldn't mind even if they were). Thomson (0870 060 2277; thomson-cruises. co.uk) offers some great family options, including the "Legends of the Fjords" trip, a highly entertaining adventure for your little Vikings, and they'll get whole lungfuls of proper air while they're at it.

Katy's top tip

Animal lovers should head for Skane's zoological park in Sweden. Stay on a nature reserve in a cave-style "Hobbit's house" and make friends with 1,000 creatures (00 46 413 553270; grottbyn.se).

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