How to improve holidays with childrens

Hey mum, let's keep it cheap and cheerful

Ihave just been at the school gates comparing holidays - a subject nearly as sensitive as property prices or secondary school choices - and as usual I've come back a tad green. One mother's detailed description made me realise that I had missed a trick. She and her children spent three weeks on an empty pristine beach in Croatia, while we were parked cheek-by-jowl on a French Mediterranean strip of sand. While her children were having daily jet-skiing lessons, we were queuing impatiently for a turn on a pedalo (the jet-skiing had been booked months before, and was too expensive). And while they dined out every night on food which even the children said was delicious, we spent most of our evenings boiling up pasta to keep the costs down. Their dream holiday cost half the price of ours.

Not that I'm bitter or anything, but I thought I was meant to be the expert around here. It is hard to keep up when all those about you are discovering paradise in unexpected places, but at least I'm in on the secret now, and I can take a serious stab at the next "who had the best holiday?" competition.

If I'm going to be the winner, I'd better get cracking, because people are catching on fast. An increasing number of family-oriented package operators now feature Eastern European destinations, including First Choice (0870-850 3999; firstchoice.co.uk) and Thomson (0870-606 1470; thomson-holidays.com) but for something a bit different, the smaller companies are well worth checking out.

Upland Escapes (01367 851111; uplandescapes .com) offers a range of family holidays in the Slovenian Julian Alps (for all those who didn't pay attention in geography, that is the bit at the top where Italy and Austria meet). This company specialises in walking breaks for all ages - they take in caves, waterfalls, canyons and wildlife galore - and you get to stay in houses and farms (no high-rise hotels allowed).

For those bursting with energy, meanwhile, Activities Abroad (01670-789 991; activitiesabroad .com) has just the thing. Take one of its family holidays on Croatia's Dalmatian coast and you will find yourself kayaking and scuba-diving to your heart's content. But to really experience the great outdoors, you need to camp - try the Istrian Peninsula, dotted with islands for your mini-explorers to conquer. Stay with Vacansoleil (08700 778779; vacansoleil.co.uk) and you will get all the basics: Jacuzzis, a terrace bar and scuba diving, all at very reasonable prices.

At the other end of the market, Black Tomato (0207-610 9008; blacktomato.co.uk) features something a bit different: a luxurious family-friendly break on the shores of Slovenia's Lake Bled. You and your family will stay in the former residence of President Tito - now the Relais & Chateaux Vila Bled Hotel, which is set in its own national park. Splash around in the private lido, take a rowing boat out into peace and tranquillity or dine at the restaurant with panoramic views. If anyone can beat that, let me know. I've got a competition to win.

Katy's top tip

If your little adventurers are into medieval stuff such as castles, Latvia is the place to head for an autumn mini-break. Check out the Baltic Travel Company (0870-753 7747; baltictravelcompany.com) for interesting offerings.

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