The Independent Parent: Your Questions Answered

What's the best way to explore Ontario; and are there any UK rental cottages still available for the school holidays?
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The Independent Travel

Q We are going to Toronto in late August for a family wedding with our two children who are three and seven. We intend to make this family occasion our main holiday and want to explore Ontario, with perhaps some camping in one of the state's national parks. Could you advise us on a sensible route (as we plan to "fly-drive") with appropriate stop-offs? We are spending two and half weeks in Canada altogether, with about four days in Toronto.

Q We are going to Toronto in late August for a family wedding with our two children who are three and seven. We intend to make this family occasion our main holiday and want to explore Ontario, with perhaps some camping in one of the state's national parks. Could you advise us on a sensible route (as we plan to "fly-drive") with appropriate stop-offs? We are spending two and half weeks in Canada altogether, with about four days in Toronto.

J Metcalfe, Cheshire

A Your family trip to Toronto is the perfect opportunity to explore one of the most scenic areas of Canada. The city's tourism industry took a bit of a battering recently in the wake of the Sars outbreak, but as of 2 July is off the World Health Organisation's list of affected countries and firmly back on the travel map. Despite Canada's vast size you won't need to venture too far from Toronto to experience some spectacular scenery.

As you suspect, driving is one of the best ways to get around. I'm presuming at this relatively late stage that you have already booked your flights and car hire. However, as a guide, a small car will start at around £149 per week in August with National Car Rental (08704 004579; www.nationalcar.co.uk). If you're planning to do a lot of driving, I'd recommend you go for something a little roomier and consider renting a 4x4, which will cost around £239 per week.

After your few days in Toronto one option would be to head to the Deerhurst Resort (001 705 789 6411; www.deerhurstresort.com) in Muskoka near Huntsville, around a two-hour drive north of the city. Wilderness resorts such as this, which can be found all over the area, are popular with families as they offer a diverse range of activities. Deerhurst has a swimming pool, spa, and two 18-hole golf courses. Canoeing, mountain-biking, ice-skating, boat tours, fishing, hiking trails and horseriding are also offered within its 800 acres.

The resort has children's programmes every day for $35 (£15) per half day for children up to four years old and $25 (£11) per child aged four to 12. Full-day programmes are also available, but advance registration is recommended, so you will need to call the sports desk on 001 705 789 6411 before you arrive. In August, a room sleeping all four of you will cost around $310 (£140) per night. If you would like your own kitchenette, the price rises to $360 (£160) per room per night. There will be plenty to do here for a few days and that's even before you venture beyond the resort.

A short drive from the Deerhurst Resort you'll reach the west gate of the Algonquin Provincial Park (001 705 633 5572; www.algonquinpark.on.ca). This vast park, roughly the size of Wales, is scattered with lakes, streams and trails, not to mention a huge array of flora and fauna. If you would like a taste of the great outdoors, you could opt for a couple of nights camping. Pitching a tent will cost you about $25 (£11) a night per family, but be warned, the park's campsites are often full in August, particularly at weekends. You can book your pitch ahead by calling Ontario Parks on 001 519 826 5290. The park's informative website also provides extensive information about facilities, restaurants and sporting activities.

You will either need to bring your own camping equipment or rent it from one of the many outfitters around the periphery of the park. These include Algonquin Outfitters (001 705 635 2243; www.algonquinoutfitters.com) at the west gate, where you can rent a four-person tent for $9 (£4) a day for two to four days, and sleeping bags for $5 (£2) a night. You can also rent bicycles, canoes and kayaks to explore the park's trails and more than 1,250 miles of canoe routes.

From the park head east towards Ottawa on Highway 60, then on to Highway 41, stopping over at Pembroke. This small town is on the banks of River Ottawa and is a great place for river rafting. While there are rapids that your seven-year-old will be able to enjoy, children must weigh at least 50lb to participate. River Run (001 613 646 2501; www.riverrunners.com) offers rafting trips and water-front cabins within its 137-acre estate. A family cabin sleeping four starts at $72 (£32) per night.

I'd also recommend a visit to the Canadian capital, Ottawa, a 90-minute drive from Pembroke. One of its more child-friendly attractions is the Turtle Island Aboriginal Experience (001 613 564 9494; www.aboriginalexperiences. com). This is a replica Aboriginal village located just behind Parliament Hill near the city centre. The village is open daily from 11am-6pm and offers several different activities. Admission costs $6 (£3) for adults and $4 (£2) for children under 18. For $149 (£67) per adult or child, it offers overnight packages in an 18ft tipi. Children are given the chance to make their own dreamcatcher, hear traditional stories around the campfire, take part in a sunrise ceremony and canoe on the resort's lake.

No trip to Ontario would be complete however, without a visit to Niagara Falls. A two-hour drive from Toronto, this major attraction gets very busy so with small children in tow, I'd advise you to get there early. The Niagara Parks Commission operates a tourist information centre at the Table Rock centre (001 905 356 66061; www.niagaraparks.com). Passes for the whole park area including white water board walks and a entrance to a botanic garden cost $32 (£14) for adults and $18.95 (£8.50) for children under 12. Your three-year-old will go free. The park opens from Monday to Friday 8am-7pm and Saturdays and Sundays 10am-6pm.

For further information about visiting Ontario telephone Ontario Tourism on 020-7771 7048 or see www.ontariotravel.net.

Q I am a granny and would like to organise a holiday with my two sons' families, including three children aged eight, six and five, and a baby. The obvious solution would be to hire a cottage for eight plus a cot. However, looking on the internet, I can't find a single vacancy through the school summer holidays or the autumn half-term. Not wanting to travel too far, we are looking at Hampshire, Dorset or the Isle of Wight. We feel hotels would be too costly - have you any suggestions?

M Watts, Surrey

AThere is good news and bad news. Bad news first. Needless to say, as August is now upon us, every company that I spoke to reported that there were no large properties available for the remainder of the summer holidays. The good news is that if you are prepared to hold out until October half-term, I have found several houses that should fit the bill. You'll have to move fast though as now is the time when most parents' thoughts will be turning to half-term and larger properties are particularly prone to early booking. Remember to ask for a cot at the time of booking.

My first suggestion would be to contact family-friendly rental company Helpful Holidays (01647 433593; www.helpfulholidays.com) which specialises in self-catering accommodation in the West Country. For a week commencing 18 October it still has a detached family house called Tideswell, surrounded by its own large garden a quarter of a mile from the sea near Charmouth in Dorset. The house sleeps up to eight people and includes a small bunk room for young children. One week's rental costs £348.

If you are prepared to travel a little further afield, Whitehall Cottages located on a working farm near Honiton in East Devon is available from 18 October for one week. The property, which forms half of the owners' Grade II listed farmhouse, has four bedrooms, two bathrooms and a big garden. The price of a week's rental is £421, or for the following week, £561. If your grandchildren are animal lovers, they will also be welcome to help out on the surrounding 105-acre farm.

English Country Cottages (0870 787 4713; www.english-country-cottages. co.uk) also offers some potentially suitable houses. Bumble Bee Cottage is a Grade II listed building that sleeps up to 10 people and is located in the pretty village of Winkton near Christchurch in Dorset. Accommodation includes two living rooms, three bathrooms and a conservatory. It is still available for the week commencing 18 October for £664 and 25 October for £1,050.

For the October half term, English Country Cottages also has a number of properties still available on the Isle of Wight. These include the charming Millstone Cottage in Brighstone, which sleeps up to 10. Starting from 18 October, a week costs £727, rising to £1,171 for the week commencing 25 October.

If none of the properties that I have suggested appeals, the following recently published book might prove useful. The Good Cottage Guide 2003, priced £6.95 (ISBN: 0946238235), lists properties and companies offering self-catering accommodation all over the country. The author Bryn Frank (or one of his team) has thoroughly inspected all the houses featured, and there are informative descriptions. It is available from most bookshops or direct from Swallow Publishing on 01438 869 489 or see www.goodcottageguide.com.

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