Juliet Kinsman: From Butlin's to boutique, hotels get in on the family act

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The Independent Travel

What? You've been learning how to make pizza? I was a little envious when I heard what my five-year-old daughter had been up to on the first day of our Sicilian holiday. Still, I wasn't complaining: while she was having the time of her life with new friends in the kids' club at Verdura Golf & Spa Resort, I was getting steamy in the biggest hammam I'd ever set foot in, and I had read a few chapters of an actual book. In peace.

When I was a child, gallivanting was a big part of my family's modus operandi, but not like this. Happily, there were no Dr Evil-style summers in Rangoon, or National Lampoon's European Vacation antics, but ask me what the hotels we went to were like, and I'm at a loss for happy memories.

There was the all-inclusive package to Tunisia. (I still wake up in a cold sweat recalling the girth of those cockroaches.) Then there were the corporate chains that Dad stayed in for business. (French onion soup for dinner? Wah! I want fish fingers!)

And I recall a B&B in Portmeirion actually serving room-temperature orange juice on a doily as a starter for dinner. (The reason we went home early, though, was because the itchy wool blankets gave us hives.)

How I remember dreaming of a sun-drenched Club Med or even a fun-filled fling at Butlins, but there was as much chance of my parents signing up for that as there was of my grandparents buying us all tickets to an Ibiza foam party.

But it's a different story for today's boutique-travel-loving tribes. Luxury resorts now have the kind of amenities that make Disneyland look neglectful. Take, for example, Coworth Park in Berkshire, which lays on T-shirt decorating or riding lessons while Mum and Dad have a dip in the pool; or face-painting and arts and crafts at Polurrian Bay, Cornwall.

Even grown-up hideaways, traditionally the preserve of honeymooners, fling their arms open to little ones now. Paradise Island Villas in Crete, which has a children's playground; La Signoria, Corsica, has stylish family suites and villa; Finca Cortesin in Andalucia and Borgo Egnazia in Puglia, where juniors are nudged into their own pools to reserve a corner of these couples' resorts for grown-ups.

It's not just sun-drenched escapes that cater to all now. Country houses and rural inns in Britain frequently punch above their weight when it comes to service and supplies. Freshly steamed vegetables blended into baby food? Not a problem at Babington House in Somerset and Calcot Manor in Gloucestershire, which even has a purée menu.

Meanwhile, some parents might wonder what all this fuss is about: who cares about where you go, as long as you all enjoy family time, right? The truth is, a nine-year-old me would have begged to be taken to Hi-de-Hi's Maplins.

Juliet Kinsman is editor-in-chief of Mr & Mrs Smith and Smith & Family (smithandfamily.co.uk)

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