Q. We are a family of two adults and four children, who range from three to 12 years old. We would like a self-catering summer holiday in Europe with access to a pool and a beach. Sounds simple? Well, not really, because my older boys would like some activities - preferably sailing or windsurfing. I have found some firms offering sailing holidays, but the prices are high and the accommodation is in hotel rooms, which aren't suitable for a family of our size. Also, my husband loves to cook and would be very upset if he couldn't poke about in local shops and create wonderful dishes. Surely we can't be the only people in this situation?
Jo Wright, via e-mail
A. Many larger active holiday operators offer hotel accommodation rather than self-catering, which can be costly and problematic for larger families, particularly if you don't want your children to sleep in an unchaperoned room. However, there are smaller companies offering villa accommodation in Mediterranean resorts where waterborne activities are available.
One example is Minorca Sailing (020-8948 2106; www.minorcasailing.co.uk), a well-established company based on the Balearic island of Menorca. Accommodation and activities are based in Fornells Bay on the north-east coast. Punctured with craggy coves and beaches, the bay is protected by two headlands, so the water is calm and safe for swimming. However, the Tramuntana wind provides excellent conditions for water sports and has kept developers at bay, so the area is largely unspoilt.
Minorca Sailing offers varying levels of accommodation, from spacious villas with private pools to apartments with a shared pool, all a few minutes' walk from the sailing school. The company is based in Ses Salinas, a 20-minute walk from the pretty fishing town of Fornells. The village has a small sandy beach, ideal if you don't fancy taking part in lessons. Ses Salinas is fairly low-key with a few bars and restaurants, but Fornells has some of the island's best restaurants as well as plenty of shops for picking up local produce.
Sailing and windsurfing tuition is flexible and you can opt out of lessons if you prefer not to take part. There are graded lessons in both disciplines - from beginners to old hands - and tuition for younger guests is divided into age groups. There's also a crèche for children up to the age of four, with a team of qualified British nannies. Children above the age of four qualify for the "pirates and mermaids" group, who are taken out on the water by qualified instructors, whether for a paddle or a group sailing trip. Lessons run from 10am-12.30pm, then 2.15pm-4.30pm with an optional hour of private tuition at 4.30pm.
This isn't the cheapest option, with prices of £1,530 per person for July departures at the Villas Linda, Verde or Amarres. Each villa has three bedrooms, a kitchen and sitting room and Amarres has a private pool (the others share a pool with the nearby apartments). However, the price includes return flights from Gatwick to Mahon, transfers, seven nights' self-catering accommodation and a full week's sailing and windsurfing tuition. There is a discount of 25 per cent for children aged two to five years, and 10 per cent for those aged six to 11 years.
If that seems a little pricey, there are a handful of watersports firms, such as Windsurf Fornells Sailing School (00 34 971 18 81 50; www.windfornells.com), based in Fornells. It offers flexible courses for all abilities, for either four or six days, with around two-and-a-half hours' sailing each day at timed sessions, leaving the rest of your time free.
A four-day course costs €178 (£127) each. There is plenty of rental accommodation in the area; www.ownersdirect.co.uk for example, lists a traditional hillside apartment overlooking Fornells for £550 per week during July and August. The property sleeps six in three bedrooms and is a short walk from the beach. Alternatively, the school can recommend local hotels and apartments - as can the Menorca Tourist Board: 00 34 971 363790; www.visitbalears.com.
Another option is in the south of France. The French company Pierre et Vacances (08700 267144; www.pierreetvacances.com) offers a similar set-up in Provence. The small development at Pramousquier is sandwiched between St Tropez to the east (38km) and Hyères to the west (23km), on a stretch of sandy beach lapped by turquoise water.
Slung in front are the islands of Levant, Porquerolles and Port-Cros, the latter two forming part of the Port-Cros National Park ( www.portcrosparcnational.fr). Accommodation is in traditional low-rise apartments with landscaped gardens, which open on to the Mediterranean. There's an unsupervised children's pool and playground, table tennis and a volleyball court and a nearby watersports centre. The larger apartments sleep up to seven in two bedrooms with sofa beds in the living area and cost €1,295 (£925) per week. Kayaking and sailing can be organised independently at the Club Nautique de la Baie de Cavalière (00 33 4 94 05 86 78) at nearby Cavalière-sur-Mer and diving is available in Lavandou with Lavandou Plongée (00 33 4 94 71 83 65).
The nearest airport is Nice, which is just under a two-hour drive away. A more scenic and less stressful option is the train from London via Paris, bookable through Rail Europe (08708 371371; www.raileurope.co.uk) or driving via the Eurotunnel (08705 353535; www.eurotunnel.co.uk).
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