Spain and its islands have everything you need for the perfect family holiday – beaches, sunshine, culture and locals who love children
Of all the great European cultures, that of Spain is one of the most accessible to families. Children will love the colours of the flamenco dance or experimenting with delicious tapas and colourful paella. The whitewashed villages and ruined castles perched precariously on cliff tops are full of swashbuckling history of bandits and highwaymen, while the contemporary art and architecture of Dali, Gaudi, Picasso and Miro may just capture a child’s imagination.
Best of all is the fact that Spaniards do everything as a family. Let yourself drift into the lifestyle of a Spanish summer. Breakfast on the terrace in the soft morning light, then swim or browse the local market, and then enjoy a long, lazy lunch. A siesta, then a stroll with a chilled fino in a waterfront bar, followed by dinner out, in a restaurant where children are welcome and can run around happily until late. As well as siestas, the Spanish love a fiesta and if you are around on one of the patron saints’ days – there are a lots of them – expect music, dancing and entertainment in the streets and the chance to meet and mingle with the locals.
There’s a huge range of holiday destinations in Spain, from the glitzy resort hotels of the Costa del Sol to the serenity of inland Andalucia, from hip cities like Valencia and Barcelona to the pretty beaches of the Costa Brava in the north east. Or head for the Balearics, to a gorgeous Mallorcan farmhouse, or a family-friendly resort in chilled-out Ibiza. Then there is the cluster of Canary Islands, including the volcanic Tenerife and Lanzarote, further south and off the coast of Africa, for all-year sunshine and mild temperatures.
The Costa del Sol is appealing as it’s pretty much a year-round destination. The coastline from Málaga to Gibraltar is quite built up – gone are the pockets of scrubland and empty beaches. Even the hills are peppered with villa developments, but the area still has a real charm. Málaga is a fantastic city, with a rambling old quarter, a castle and a Picasso museum. There are masses of family attractions along the coast, including waterparks and crazy golf, and some great markets, particularly the big Nueva Andalucia.
You’ll definitely need a car so you can make forays inland to the famous pueblos blancos (the white towns) such as Mijas and Ronda, which is spliced in half by a deep gorge and has a suitably grisly history. Children will enjoy a day trip to Gibraltar, too, with a cable car ride up to the top of the rock to see the Barbary apes. These monkeys oblige visitors with their near-human qualities and various unseemly displays of behaviour sure to delight youngsters.
And the beaches? To be truthful, the public beaches on the Costa del Sol are not all that great, although west, towards Sotogrande, there are great swathes of sand and relatively few crowds. But the whole coast is lined with luxury hotels, which have immaculate grounds with spas and swimming pools as well as perfectly-groomed strips of sand. The five-star Kempinski Hotel Bahia, close to buzzing town of Estepona (though it prefers to reference its glitzier neighbour Marbella), embraces the spirit of Mediterranean cultural heritage and art, with paintings and artefacts in the lobby, and shades of the Moorish tradition with its burnt orange shades. The Kempinini Kid’s Club offers a host of activities for four- to 12-year-olds, including clay workshops, cookie baking and water activities. There’s also a choice of three swimming pools set amid subtropical gardens, as well as tennis courts, beach volleyball and over 40 golf courses in the area. You’re also close enough for day trips to Malaga or Gibraltar, or head inland to the pretty mountain villages of Jimena de la Frontera. Classic Collection Holidays (tel: 0800 008 7299; www.classic-collection.co.uk) offers seven nights’ B&B in June in interconnecting Deluxe Garden View rooms for two adults and two children from £4,123 (including flights and transfers).
If you’re considering a villa, a lot of the nicest properties are away from the coast, set back amongst the emerald golf courses in the hills. HomeAway Holiday-Rentals (www.homeaway.co.uk) has a vast range of accommodation, from villas and apartments to rustic cottages and castles, so there’s bound to be something
to suit. Casa La Cuerda, a gorgeous whitestone villa, situated above the picturesque village of Bedar in eastern Andalucia, is the perfect location for a get-away-from-it-all family holiday. With four bedrooms and five bathrooms, it has terraces, a barbecue and a pool. Priced from £1,000 a week in June.
If the Costa del Sol is just too developed, the stretch of coastline between Cadiz to the west and the Portuguese border, is much quieter. The amazing quality of the light there has led to the name, Costa de la Luz. There’s less to do here, although there are nature reserves and lagoons, and the old city of Cadiz has amazing architecture and great restaurants and tapas bars. Stay at the Vejer de la Frontera, with pretty terraced gardens and a vine-covered terrace. Close to the beach, bars and restaurants of El Palmar, as well as historic cities and whitewashed villages to explore, it’s best suited to older children due to its many terraces. From £425 a week in June with HomeAway Holiday-Rentals (www.homeaway.co.uk).
Also on the Costa de la Luz, the five-star Barcelo Sancti Petri Spa Resort is right on the seafront of La Barossa beach. It offers children’s entertainments and a play pool as well as a spa, wellness centre and eight restaurants or bars. Price for seven nights’ B&B in June for a family of four in a Presidential Suite, including private swimming pool and Jacuzzi from £7,800 (www.barcelo.co.uk).
In the opposite direction, towards the buzzing city of Valencia, the Costa Blanca has many pockets of beautiful, unspoilt countryside and resorts like Javea have plenty to do, as well as being within easy reach of the mountains and the city. There are some gorgeous parts of the Costa Brava, too, north of Barcelona. This is a great base from which to explore Girona and the wacky Salvador Dali museum in Figueras. The Alva Park Resort And Spa is a chic hideaway with the first Molton Brown Spa in continental Europe, and funky features like submerged sunbeds, an ice fountain, a children’s club with a cinema and courtesy Smart cars. Seven nights’ B&B costs from £4,545 for a family of four (including flights and transfers) in June with Abercrombie & Kent (tel: 0845 618 2200; www.abercrombiekent.co.uk).
Inland is where you’ll find the real Spain. Miles of rolling, sun-baked countryside and hill villages nestling in mountain ranges. The less crowded Andalucian hills are where the smart money is being invested. CV Travel (tel: 020 7401 1035; www.cvtravel.co.uk) has some lovely country houses for rental, including Casa Gandolfo, near Gaucin. The house, with gardens and a pool, sleeps ten and costs from £2,815 for a week, including a maid and cook.
If you’re a sports-mad family, head for La Manga, in the hills of Murcia. As well as three championship golf courses, there are 28 tennis courts (a lot of pros train here) and a superb spa. For children, there are football, tennis, golf, rugby and dance academies and a year-round activity centre that takes babies from three months – expect guest appearances and tuition from faded sports stars or “trainers to the stars”. The coast is easily accessible but most people remain in the resort as there’s so much to do. Stay at the classic five-star Hotel La Manga Club Principe Felipe, located in the heart of the resort to enjoy its many amenities. Benefits for families include interconnecting rooms, a children’s club, as well as crèche and babysitting, plus a children’s pool, playground, children’s menus and cots and high chairs. The price for seven nights’ B&B for a family of four in June from £3,085 (including transfers and flights) with Sovereign Luxury Travel (tel: 0844 415 1936; www.sovereign.com).
The Balearic Islands couldn’t be more different from each other if they tried. Menorca is sleepy, green and gently undulating; Mallorca oozes style and is peppered with gorgeous villas, farmhouses and boutique hotels; Ibiza is as hip as they come, while Formentera is so quiet it’s like stepping back in time. Mallorca has long been a popular family choice and, alongside the rather more anglicised areas of Magaluf, you can still seek out ultra-chic places, too. Few hotels can match the enviable heritage of the beautifully secluded Hotel Formentor. Opening in 1930, its old-style charms have enticed poets and artists over the years, and it was a honeymoon location for Grace Kelly and Prince Rainier. Perfect for families, its superb accommodation has gorgeous views over sandy beaches, while the hotel itself is set in manicured gardens and shady pine trees. There’s ample entertainment on offer for all the family from tennis and watersports, to adventure games and creative activities. Book with Powder Byrne and your children will enjoy the attention of the well-trained staff in the pb crèche and Scallywags clubs, while nine- to 12-year-olds can chill out in TheZone. Priced from £1,660 (including transfers) for a family of four for a week B&B in June with Powder Byrne (tel: 020 8246 5300; www.powderbyrne.com).
If you prefer the home-from-home comfort of a villa, you won’t get more glam than Villa Sarieta, an ultra-modern, three-bedroom abode that sleeps six and is a short distance from Pollenca. Stylish and chic, with all mod cons, the living areas are on the upper level and the bedrooms and the children’s playroom are on the lower level of the house. With an outdoor dining area and barbecue, plus an open-plan lounge and dining room, it’s perfect for convivial gatherings. There’s also free car hire in June and September. Prices are from £5,665 for a week in June with Scott Dunn (tel: 020 8682 5400; www.scottdunn.com), including your own chef, maid and nanny, and all food including soft drinks.
For one of the biggest collections of farmhouses and villas, try Mallorcan Farmhouses (tel: 0845 800 8080; www.mallorca.co.uk). Some are seriously stylish. Sleeping eight, La Rafal de Roser Vell sits just a short walk from Pollenca and has four bedrooms, six bathrooms, stunning views of pine-clad mountains, maid service and an infinity pool. Priced at £3,360 in June.
With children, you can’t miss the other face of Mallorca. Venture into Palma Nova and Magaluf (neither of which is nearly as bad as it’s made out to be) to the two fantastic water parks, which are easily enough for a whole day’s entertainment. Take a picnic, though, as the food is expensive and not great. Nearby is Pirates Adventure, an amazing dinner show with breathtaking stunts, sound and lighting creating the setting for a dramatic pirate battle while you dine. Many of the performers are European or world champion acrobats, and the best way to describe the spectacular is Cirque du Soleil meets Pirates Of The Caribbean. Children love it and there’s masses of audience participation (tel: 00 34 971 130 659; www.piratesadventure.com).
Ibiza is another surprisingly good family destination, if you stay away from the excesses of resorts like San Antonio and Playa d’en Bossa. You’re hardly likely to go near the legendary clubs with children in tow, but you can still soak up the vibe in Ibiza Town in the evenings, or watch the sun set with a cocktail and listen to the hippies banging their bongo drums on one of the west-coast beaches.
The north of the island is more family orientated than the bacchanalian south and, as well as being peaceful, it’s ravishingly beautiful. Book the Insotel Fenicia Prestige hotel through Great Hotels Of The World (tel: 020 7380 3658; www.ghotw.com). On the outskirts of the pretty town of Santa Eulalia, set amid lush gardens and spacious terraces, it has a children’s pool and mini club, and a large Thalasso Spa. Priced from £2,864 for seven nights’ B&B in June for a family of four in Deluxe Double Rooms. While you’re there, take a trip to Formentera, where the water is a Caribbean turquoise and the best way to travel is by bike.
Perhaps the gentlest of the Balearic islands is Menorca, where you can stay in the height of luxury and sophistication at the Insotel Punta Prima Prestige Suites And Spa. Located right on the seafront and only 150m from the beach, the hotel has a crèche for children up to two years and clubs for children from four to teens, as well as a playground, children’s pool and tennis court, plus babysitting and cots, high chairs, sterilisers and buggies. Meanwhile, parents, can enjoy a restaurant and spa plus an assortment of sporting activities. Seven nights’ B&B for a family of four sharing a Standard Suite in September costs from £3,130 (including flights and transfers) with W&O (tel: 0845 277 3300; www.wandotravel.com).
Finally, for ultimate luxury, there are two five-star jewels in the Canary Island’s crown: Abama in Tenerife, and Princesa Yaiza in Lanzarote. The Abama at Guia de Isora, part of The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company, is a luxury Moorish-style resort set in an oasis of palms and lush vegetation emerging from the foothills of
Mount Teide. A plethora of facilities are available, including seven swimming pools (including an adults-only), a tennis academy and paddle tennis courts, an 18-hole golf course, children’s club, an African-inspired spa and food from around the world in the hotel’s 11 restaurants, including cuisine from three Michelin-star chef Martín Berasategui at MB, and four bars. There’s also a comprehensive range of facilities to keep the younger members of the family entertained, including children’s yoga. Seven nights’ B&B for a family of four costs from £3,500 (excluding flights) from Scott Dunn (tel: 020 8682 5480; www.scottdunn.com).
The Princesa Yaiza Suite Hotel Resort in Playa Blanca resides in a pretty spot on Lanzarote, with sea views of Fuertaventura and the Isla de Lobos. There’s plenty of indulgence for parents at the spa or restaurants, but the highlight for children will be the Hooky (three to six years) and Kiko (from seven to 11 years) Children’s Clubs. There are also lots of sports and arts and crafts. If you have children over two, try the two-bedroom, two bathroom Kiko Royal Family Suites, which include two hours’ babysitting a day if you book in at the spa or à la carte restaurant. From £2,825 in June (including flights, transfers and one spa entry) for a family of four with Sovereign (tel: 0844 415 1936; www.sovereign.com).