How to improve holidays with children

Hey mum, let's head for the hills

Back in the dark ages, before I had children, summer holidays didn't take much planning - a fortnight jostling for a spot on a Mediterranean beach, along with millions of other holidaymakers, was all it took to keep me happy. But things have changed a bit since then; I've learnt from bitter experience that taking small children to a packed and poker-hot beach in the middle of August is no fun; it just gives them frazzled tempers and skin to match.

Of course, peak season is hardly the most sensible time to go on holiday, but when you have kids, you have little choice. My elder son says school holidays should be swapped for term time, so that children have all their lessons in August but get pretty much the rest of the year off. Nice idea, but until he manages to persuade his headmistress, we'll just have to make do.

However, there are ways to avoid the blistering heat and crowds and still have a lovely summer. I reckon all you need to do is forget about hot-footing it to the costa del sunburn the minute school's out and head for the hills instead.

Mountain retreats aren't just for skiers - in the summer, they can be for sun-worshippers, fun-seekers and lovers of peace and quiet too. So if you're off to France, for example, why not give up trying to squeeze yourself on to a beach on the Côte d'Azur and head to the Alps for some space? As far as accommodation goes, you'll be spoilt for choice, and, joy of joys, it doesn't all get booked up three years in advance.

For a touch of luxury, stay in the Evian Royal Resort on the edge of Lake Geneva. It caters very well for families - this year sees the opening of a brand new crèche - and the children's club has its very own restaurant, swimming pool and playground. And if you tire of lolling by the lake, there's a host of things for all the family to do, including water sports, tennis and even inline skating (0845 0700610; abercrombiekent.co.uk).

If you're planning a family holiday Italian-style, go to the mountains to find all you need. This summer sees the opening of the brand new Pragelato Village Resort and Spa, for example, which is set high in the Piedmont region. Kids are allocated their very own chalet, Casa Pinocchio, dedicated to their entertainment. During the summer, the hotel offers a seven-night "family treat" which even includes a romantic dinner à deux for parents while a babysitter cares for your little one (00 39 012 274 0011; pragelatoresort.com).

Then there's Switzerland: the fact that it isn't known as a summer holiday destination makes it even better. The Swiss run a range of hotels especially geared to little treasures, including the five-star Parkhotel Delta on Lake Maggiore, where there are lots of sports as well as a supervised "children's paradise" (00800 1002 0030; myswitzerland.com).

But if you really can't resist heading for a beach, beat the crowds by going somewhere completely different - like Lithuania. Stay at the Hotel Palanga on the Curonian Spit, set between a blue lagoon and the Baltic Sea, and you'll be laughing into your Baltic cocktail at all the people who haven't yet discovered it (020-7610 9008; blacktomato.co.uk).

Katy's top tip ,/p>

For affordable family summer holidays in a host of mountain getaways, check out Esprit Alpine Sun (01252 618300; esprit-holidays.co.uk) which offers some great family packages and children's clubs.

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