How to play the generation game (and please all of your family, some of the time)

Kate Simon was itching to explore a beautiful corner of Corfu - but her villa party was just too comfortable to bother

The holiday didn't get off to a good start. First, there was the 45-minute traffic jam on the way to Gatwick. Then, the flight was delayed by three hours. At Corfu, the baggage took ages to make it across 100 metres of tarmac, and the taxi driver drove at break-neck speed to the villa. As for the final ascent to the house, acutely aware that at least two of my fellow travellers suffered from vertigo, well, I thought it would never end, my heart sinking at each hairpin turn up the hillside.

The holiday didn't get off to a good start. First, there was the 45-minute traffic jam on the way to Gatwick. Then, the flight was delayed by three hours. At Corfu, the baggage took ages to make it across 100 metres of tarmac, and the taxi driver drove at break-neck speed to the villa. As for the final ascent to the house, acutely aware that at least two of my fellow travellers suffered from vertigo, well, I thought it would never end, my heart sinking at each hairpin turn up the hillside.

Such a disastrous start to our holiday wasn't in the script. But expecting a trip for a party of seven, aged from three to 75, to pass without a hitch would be a asking a bit much. At least I'd tried. I'd chosen afternoon flights for comfort and a villa that was an easy drive from the airport. And in one short day, my masterplan had failed.

Our requirements weren't exactly unrealistic. "I don't mind where we go, dear," said my mum (75), who is happy anywhere so long as she is in the company of her family. "Can I take my trains?" asked my son, Quincy (three), who will follow me wherever I go so long as Thomas and Gordon can come, too. "I want to stay somewhere hot, near the beach," declared my brother, Peter (46). "As long as I can just relax by a pool, I'll be happy," said my friend, Karen (er hum). And as for the 14-year-old girls, Karen's daughter Phoebe and her schoolfriend Bella, it seemed all they required was a private pool and the odd jaunt to the shops to keep them smiling. Me (39, honestly), I just wanted them all to be happy - all right then, preferably in a top-notch villa.

And at first sight, albeit in the dark due to our late arrival, the villa seemed to fit the bill. It was huge, suggesting that there would be plenty of space for spending time together - and apart. There was a splendid pool, which the girls hopped over the fence to try before we had even opened the front door. And the twinkling lights of Corfu Town, across the bay, promised glorious views - which were delivered in the light of day.

But the first real test of our holiday was whether the welcome food pack could satisfy seven hungry and weary travellers. Something went right at last. Supplies were more than adequate and we soon rustled up a midnight feast from a bountiful selection of bread, cheese, meat and eggs, fresh fruit and salad, milk, juice, wine, coffee and tea - although my mum had brought a mere 150 teabags with her "just in case".

Now you know why I wanted a posh gaff. Such luxuries should come as standard when you book with a quality tour operator and we were travelling with one of that élite band, Meon Villas. Our home for the week, the Villa Helena in Nissaki, was graded five star, its assets including elegant furnishings, all mod cons, well-dressed beds, maid service three times a week, air-con, a private pool with pretensions to infinity status - and that welcome food pack.

On the first morning, Ann, our rep, called by. After reassuring us that we really would have the courage to drive down the hill in our hire car, she told us how to get to Corfu Town avoiding the rush-hour traffic, explained why we should venture up the mountain to the monastery and invited us to take a day trip to the classical and Byzantine ruins at Butrint on the Albanian coast.

But, to be honest, we didn't go very far afield. Peter talked of going for a run, but, like a good uncle, he hung around the pool to entertain young and old alike. The girls drifted in and out of our lives, like a mobile fashion show, sometimes joining us in the pool, sometimes retreating to the vantage point of their bedroom balcony for a bit of discreet sunbathing. Karen set up camp at the poolside with a good book. Mum played the role of perfect Grandma, following hot on the heels of Quincy, who found the grouting in the floor tiles made a perfect train track.

And me? Well, I just hassled everyone about going out. You see, Nissaki is the gateway to the most attractive part of Corfu. Cypress trees like dark-green candles soar out of the tangle of olive groves that hug Mount Pantokrator, while pebble-fringed coves lace the shoreline, giving the impression that some ravenous predator has munched its way along the coast. The road north to Kassiopi carves a route around the foothills, at every twist and turn offering gasp-eliciting views back across Corfu and east to the Albanian coast. Along the way, signs point down to secluded coves and former fishing villages that now read like a roll-call from Britain's smartest villa companies' brochures: Agni, Kalami, Kouloura, Kerasia and Agios Stefanos. It comes as no surprise that this area has long been dubbed Kensington-on-Sea.

We managed the odd excursion, but we never quite shook off the holiday's rather lazy air. And the atmosphere remained remarkably amiable. The variety of ages worked together well and by balancing family members with compatible friends any tensions were quickly dispelled. It seems sometimes you can please all of the people, well, nearly all of the time.

Kate Simon was a guest of Meon Villas (0870-850 0585; www.meonvillas.co.uk), which offers deals starting at £409 per person for one week. A week at the Villa Helena in Nissaki costs £594 per person in July, based on eight sharing, including return flights from Gatwick, airport taxes, welcome food pack, maid service three times a week and car hire with unlimited mileage.

Top Ten Family breaks

1 Camping in France

Good value and easy to get to - a perennial favourite. Try Eurocamp (0870 366 7552; www.eurocamp.co.uk).

2 A weekend in the country

The Celtic Haven Cottage Colony near Tenby has a spa, indoor pool, go-karts, laser clay-pigeon shooting and tennis courts. Call Coastal Cottages of Pembrokeshire (01437 765765; www.coastalcottages.co.uk).

3 Walking around the world

Walks Worldwide (01524 242000; www.walksworldwide.com) offers walking tours specially devised for families.

4 Family skiing

Esprit Ski (01252 618 300; www.esprit-holidays.co.uk) organises family skiing in France, Italy and Austria.

5 African safaris

Watch the wildlife with Aardvark Safaris (01980 849160; www.aardvarksafaris.com).

6 Alpine Summer

Thomson Lakes and Mountains (0870 606 1470; www.thomsonlakesandmountains.co.uk) offers action-packed fun for all in the Austrian mountains.

7 Natural adventures

Reef and Rainforest Tours (01803; www.reefandrainforest.co.uk) can tailor-make far-flung adventures.

8 Historic breaks

Explore Egypt with Explore Worldwide's (01252 760177; www.expore.co.uk) escorted tour, Land of the Pharaohs.

9 Disney fun

Have fun at Disneyland Paris. Call Cresta (0870 33 33 303; www.crestaholidays.co.uk).

10 Lap of luxury

Try child-friendly The Residence on Mauritius. Contact Scott Dunn (020-8682 5020; www.scottdunn.com).

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