The Independent Parent: Your questions answered

We want to rent a big family villa for my golf-mad husband's 40th-birthday weekend break. Any suggestions?


Q I would like to arrange a surprise weekend away for my husband's 40th birthday in the last weekend of June. Ideally I was thinking of renting a large house somewhere near a golf course in England on the south coast, or across the channel somewhere like Le Touquet, or even staying at a family-friendly hotel. There are six couples, one single man and 12 children (seven are under four and five are aged five to 13). Can you help?

Q I would like to arrange a surprise weekend away for my husband's 40th birthday in the last weekend of June. Ideally I was thinking of renting a large house somewhere near a golf course in England on the south coast, or across the channel somewhere like Le Touquet, or even staying at a family-friendly hotel. There are six couples, one single man and 12 children (seven are under four and five are aged five to 13). Can you help?

M Randall, Chiswick

A Organising get-togethers for large groups can be tricky at the best of times, and you probably don't need me to remind you that you have left things a little late. Not surprisingly, a lot of large houses tend to get booked up months, if not a year, ahead. The one upside about going in June is that as it's before the summer holidays most places are still willing to rent for weekends instead of weekly rentals. There is also more availability, even at this late stage.

With hotels it's a similar story. My queries about accommodating 25 for a weekend elicited varying levels of surprise, but even with a few weeks to go, I have found one or two. Having said that, most of the success I had was in the UK and my advice would be to find the house first, then the golf course.

If you are looking for a large house in the UK, a good website to start off with is www.noblesvenues.com. This covers everything from weddings to conference venues, but it has a section on big homes to rent. Most of these were admittedly booked up, but it might prove useful in the future should this celebration prove a success. One property that I did find is The Old Rectory (01473 327 200; www.holiday-rentals.co.uk), a grade II listed building in a small village called Tattingstone just outside Ipswich in Suffolk. The house has 10 bedrooms and 10 bathrooms and will cost a total of £1,350 for three nights.

There are numerous golf courses nearby, including the Brett Vale Golf Club (01473 310 718) in Raydon, five miles away. Green fees are £35 per adult per day. The house is also by a reservoir where you can hire bikes and go fishing, so there's plenty to keep the younger members of your group entertained.

Obviously you want to celebrate your husband's birthday on the actual weekend, but if you can opt for the weekend commencing 20 June, you could have your party in the grand surroundings of Gunthorpe Hall in North Norfolk (01263 861 373; www.gunthorpe.co.uk). The Hall is set in 23 acres of parkland and has 12 bedrooms. Prices range from £2,700 for three nights. There are plenty of golf courses to choose from, including Sheringham Golf Club (01263 823 488). It allows non-members to play, but you will need to book in advance and provide your handicap certificate. Green fees are £45 per person, except Saturday, when it costs £60. Alternatively, you could also try The Links (01263 838 383) near West Runton, costing £30 during weekdays and £35 at weekends.

In the South-west, Helpful Holidays (01647 433 593; www.helpfulholidays.com) offers large properties in Devon, Cornwall, Dorset and Somerset. It has two large houses available on your stipulated weekend, one on Exmoor and one on Dartmoor. Colehayes is a Grade II-listed country house set in 20 acres of Parkland, near Bovey Tracey on Dartmoor in Devon. It sleeps up to 30 people and is available for three days commencing 27 June for a total price of £1,937. Alternatively, Heddon's Gate on the Exmoor Coast, which sleeps 23, will cost £1,590 for three days. To find golf courses nearby, you can contact Golf in Devon/Cornwall/Dorset on 01566 785 628 or visit www.golfindevon.co.uk.

If you want to go for the family-friendly hotel option, the West Country again seems to be a good bet. Bear in mind, though, that the policy in most hotels is that unless you want to pay full adult rates, children have to sleep in their parents' rooms. The child-friendly Woolacombe Bay Hotel (01271 870 388) in North Devon could squeeze you all in, but only if the children stay in rooms with their parents. It has a pool and loads of things to keep the children happy, and charges £206 per person for weekend breaks and £62 for children under 14.

In France, large properties tend to be cheaper, but mosthave already been snapped up. Chez Nous (08700 781 400; www.cheznous.com) is a directory of accommodation in France. It offers just one property big enough that is available for that weekend, La Ferme du Château. This is a renovated 18th-century farmhouse with its own outdoor heated pool at Verchocq near Agincourt, about an hour's drive from Calais. It has vast living and dining rooms and 10 bedrooms. It will cost £880 for three nights commencing 27 June. There are numerous golf courses in the area, including Golf du Touquet (00 33 321 062 800) in Le Touquet. Green fees start from €31 (£22) per adult. A return ferry crossing from Dover to Calais for a car and up to five passengers with P&O Ferries (0870 600 0600; www.poferries.com) will cost just £60 return departing on 27 June and returning on 30 June.

Q We want to go to Barcelona on a three-night city break with our six-month-old daughter. We would like to book a package with a hotel somewhere central that might offer a baby listening/sitting service, so that we could have a night out on our own. Can you help?

J Barker, London SW19

A Barcelona is a wonderful city for a short break, with its bustling streets, beach and promenade. The centre is small enough to navigate on foot, although you might consider taking a backpack for your daughter as many of the pedestrianised areas, such as The Ramblas, get busy and it might be easier to carry rather than push; see the story below for more tips.

Generally speaking, Spanish culture is far more child-friendly than the UK, so no one would mind if you turn up to a restaurant or bar with a baby in tow. My investigations into baby listening drew a blank: however, it is possible to arrange babysitting. Such services tend to be the preserve of the more upmarket hotels, but these are also more likely to have cots and high chairs at the ready. Check beforehand whether you'll be charged extra, and make sure you request them at time of booking.

Magic of Spain (0208-241 5019; www.magictravelgroup.co.uk) has several hotels that arrange babysitting, although this can cost as much as €15 (£10) per hour and you'll be expected to pay for a taxi home for the babysitter. It recommends the four-star, centrally located Hotel Duques de Bergara, which charges €8.40 (£5.35) per hour (plus taxi home) and provides cots and high chairs free of charge. It also has a pool. Three nights would cost from £454 per person including breakfast, private taxi transfers and return scheduled flights to Barcelona with British Airways from London Gatwick or Heathrow (and regional airports for a supplement). The cost for your daughter will be £40.

If you would like to organise your own trip, several airlines fly from the UK to Barcelona. British Airways (0845 77 333 77; www.ba.com) is quoting a fare of £88 return per adult and £16 for an infant from Heathrow to Barcelona. You might also try easyJet (0870 600 0000; www.easyjet.com) from Gatwick, Luton or Stansted, and Iberia (0845 601 2854; www.iberia.co.uk) from Heathrow.

The Hotel Regencia Colon (00 34 9 331 898 558; www.hotelregenciacolon.com) is located in the heart of the Gothic quarter. Double rooms start at €148 (£105) including breakfast, and your daughter can stay for free.

The hotel does offer babysitting, but you will need to give plenty of advance warning. This will cost about €20 (£14.20) per hour and you will need to pay for the sitter's taxi home.

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