Q&A: The Independent Parent responds to your questions

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The Independent Travel

Q. We have three children aged eight (with learning difficulties), six and 15 months. We are looking for holidays with children's clubs and nursery and have only heard of Club Med and Mark Warner who tend to get booked up very quickly. Are there any others to try?

Q. We have three children aged eight (with learning difficulties), six and 15 months. We are looking for holidays with children's clubs and nursery and have only heard of Club Med and Mark Warner who tend to get booked up very quickly. Are there any others to try?

Claire Dangan via e-mail

A. You are probably aware that a central feature of Club Med and Mark Warner is being "all-inclusive". You pay your money and pretty much everything is covered, including the clubs, activities and crÿches they provide for children, for which both companies have built up strong reputations. As you have discovered, they are indeed very popular, despite the high prices.

If you are thinking of the Mediterranean, this glamorous pair pretty much have a monopoly on classy inclusives. However, one alternative is the Forte Village resort in Sardinia. A seriously swish place full of international glitterati, if you are a celebrity, nobody bothers you here. If you are not, you still get treated like somebody special, especially if you are a child. I was lucky enough to go there with my own children and they thought the kids' club was one of the best they have been to, with fun-loving minders organising everything from banana rides on the sea, to disco dancing on the piazza. Needless to say, it doesn't come cheap; prices start at £2,655 for two adults and two children sharing a two-bedroom bungalow, including flights and half-board, with Citalia (020-86860677, www.citalia.co.uk).

You could also try Powder Byrne (020-8246 5300, www.powderbyrne.com), which runs its own crÿches, "Scallywags", for four- to 10-year-olds and "The Zone" activity clubs for pre-teens. Choose a five-star hotel in Crete, Cyprus, Sardinia, Elba, Mallorca, Provence and the Algarve and expect to pay around £1,100 per adult and £800 per child sharing a family suite.

At the other end of the price scale, most of the leading companies offering "luxury" camping in ready-erected tents of mobile homes on sites in France and elsewhere, offer excellent children's clubs. Eurocamp (01606 787000, www.eurocamp.co.uk), for example, offers two-week holidays in the region of £600-700 for all of you, including channel crossings.

If you can look beyond the shores of Europe, however, your options for quality resorts with good childcare facilities are much broader. One resort I can strongly recommend is Almond Beach Village on the west coast of Barbados. Although an all-inclusive, this place scores in the flexible way it applies the concept. The children's clubs include outings and picnics to other parts of the island. Windjammer Landing in St Lucia is very keen on teaching a bit of local culture in its children's clubs; for those who are interested, there are lessons in the local patois, and opportunities for playing with local children. The Jalousie Hilton, in the remote and spectacular south of St Lucia, runs a highly original club which teaches youngsters about the wonders of vulcanology, marine biology and rainforests through a combination of presentations by island experts, videos and field trips around the island.

At all these resorts, which are bookable through most of the major long-haul operators, prices vary according to season. This has less to do with the climate than with convenience. Avoid peak periods such as Christmas and New Year or the February half-term, and prices tumble. For example, a week at the Jalousie Hilton with Tropical Places (0870 7277077, www.tropical.co.uk) costs £1,049 per adult, £449 per child, in November and early December, including flights and accommodation.

Q. We have one son, aged 11 and are interested in finding a short Christmas break of up to a week. In the past we have skied in France, and have enjoyed a YHA break in the Peak District. We like walking and activities such as cycling and would want to be part of a group with other families. One possibility is Spain, since Nathan is starting to learn Spanish this year. Do you have any suggestions?

Phil, Jean & Nathan Morgan Fordingbridge, Hants

A. Finding a holiday that combines the sort of outdoor activities you have mentioned, with the conviviality of other families over Christmas, is trickier (and pricier) than it should be. Many families with this predicament do as you have done in the past, and head for the ski slopes where the atmosphere is as festive as the scenery is Christmassy. However, what about heading for the Canary Islands? The climate can be lovely in December and the warm, sunny days are never too hot for mountain walking.

Nowhere is better for this than Tenerife, the largest island. The scenery is dominated by soaring Mount Teide, which is snow-capped in winter and, at over 12,000ft, higher than anywhere in Spain. Roads lead up from the banana plantations and palms of the sub-tropical lowlands, twisting through dense pine forests to emerge, often above the clouds, in the raw, volcanic beauty of the Teide National Park. Hike to the summit, along any of myriad trails in the park, or elsewhere on the island. There are plenty of opportunities for mountain biking, as well.

Quite a lot of families spend Christmas in the Canaries. So, apart from the opportunities for outdoor activities, if you choose a specifically family-orientated hotel, there should be plenty of like-minded company for Nathan.

Sovereign Winter Sunshine (08705 768373, www.sovereign.com) offers a week's stay at the Grand Hotel Anthelia Park on Tenerife's Costa Adeje, for £1,401 per adult (£693.50 per child), including flights and half-board accommodation, departing on 22 December. There is also a variety of activities for the many children and teenagers who stay over this period.

The Canaries, of course, are Spanish-speaking so Nathan will have the chance to wish navidad feliz to all he comes into contact with. Take my next suggestion, however, a break in Madeira, and he might want a learn a few words of Portuguese.

Like the Canaries, Madeira has a warm winter climate, although it can be wet. It also has superb walking along the network of irrigation channels or levadas which contour the mountains. High above the levadas, there is more wild hiking between the island's highest peaks, Pico do Ariero and Pico Ruivo.

Even more than the Canaries, there is a lively Christmas scene in Madeira's hotels. Yes, there are elderly folk sipping glasses of madeira, but five-star hotels such as Cliff Bay, for example, provide a lively entertainment programme for children who stay over Christmas and New Year.

Classic Collection Holidays (01903 823088) offers a week's stay over Christmas at the Cliff Bay for £1,038 per adult, £686 per child sharing, including flights, B&B and a Christmas Eve dinner.

One final thought. If you decide not to go abroad, think about spending Christmas in a UK resort such as Oasis Lakeland Forest Village (08705 086 000, www.oasishols.co.uk). A 400-acre haven of sports and activities, set among pine forests near Penrith in the Lake District, a five-night stay in a self-catering apartment over Christmas here would cost a total of £357 for the three of you.