Where to avoid school holiday crowds this summer
If you’re not thinking family summer holidays yet, you should be. Schools out soon so make it your mission to get ahead of the crowds with our guide to undiscovered summer holiday with kids in 2022.
Seaside summer holidays in Pembrokeshire, Wales
When the rest of the country descends upon Costa del Cornwall, our family makes a beeline for the wild sandy sweeps and thrift-tufted clifftops of Pembrokeshire.
Even in high summer, dodging crowds here is a doddle, especially at more remote beaches like Freshwater West. This vast, soul-stirring expanse of shimmering sand backed by steep dunes, is great for body-boarding. And although currents can be strong, there are always lifeguards on duty during summer holidays. It’s also one of the few beaches to allow dogs year round. Don’t miss a crab roll from funky Café Môr, a solar-powered gourmet food truck parked above the beach.
Up a notch on the adrenaline scale is a coasteering session. Kitted out with crash helmets and wetsuits, we followed our athletic guide for a wild morning leaping into the sea from dizzying
cliffs and scrambling through rockpools glistening with anemones.
There’s plenty of history in Pembrokeshire too. So look forward to moody castles galore, many with themed kids’ activities in summer. Pembroke Castle has the grandest turrets and towers. Manorbier is the one for wonderfully atmospheric, ivy-wrapped ruins, and a handy ice-cream shop.
Choose Brittany for this summer’s laid back holiday mood
The weather’s the thing in Brittany. And in late August, after French pupils started shuffling back to school after their summer holidays, the region was our oyster. We even got a proper ‘Bretagne bonjour’ only half-an-hour from Saint-Malo ferry port, when shuckers at Cancale harbour slung a dozen oysters our way, fresh from the net.
Then it only got better. Driving top to bottom, we ticked off historic towns with every meal. There were crepes outside the château in Fougères. Medieval Rennes saw us tuck into côte de bœuf. And the cheap roadside inn near Lac du Duc was as ‘foodie’ as our lush Côte Sauvage cottage.
But we stuck around the latter, braving the waves, dancing round the dunes and surfing for the first time. Somehow sunsets on the Quiberon Peninsula seemed that much brighter than on the UK’s south coast, just 250 miles away. I guess that’s holidays for you.
Spend summer holidays learning to sail in Lefkada, Greece
Want to encourage kids to learn to sail? Family sailing holidays in warm seas are a revelation, as we recently discovered at Nikiana Beach Club on Lefkada in western Greece.
I was unfamiliar with Lefkada island, but if you’re into anything, from dinghy sailing to windsurfing, it’s worth exploring. We booked with Nikiana Beach Club on the east side of the island. Operated by UK company Seafarer Holidays, these guys have more than 20 years’ experience running family sailing holidays across Greece and Croatia, so they know their port from their starboard.
Lefkada’s share of the Ionian Sea is the bluest of blue and unimaginably clear. We were amazed at how far out we could go on a paddleboard and still see the seabed. Then there’s the water temperature! In July it’s a balmy 25°C, perfect for falling into, which children are more than happy to do.
In terms of equipment, Nikiana has more than enough boats to go around, ranging from the starter Oppi to race-ready Lasers. My personal favorite was the Hobie Cat. Being slightly rusty with my skills I went out on the first day with Max, a fresh-faced new member of staff. Despite only being in his early 20s he was a master catamaran sailor and we were soon flying across the bay. It was a truly exhilarating experience and I felt in thoroughly safe hands. When it was my turn to helm, with relaxed but stern instructions, I soon found my groove again.
Cat sailing is very sociable and you develop a real bond with your fellow crew families. What I loved about Nikiana is that there’s no time pressure. You can keep sailing as long as you want, until 6pm. Plus, there’s always a staff boat out on the water keeping an eye on everyone. So you’re never more than a few seconds away from help if you need it. Occasionally they sail up with supportive tips too.
The Kids’ Club programme is brilliant for young sailors in training. And children can spend the morning with the team here while parents go sailing or laze by the pool or on the beach. The club’s mainly about kids having fun and learning new skills. However, the week-ending regatta is a firm favourite and brings out a competitive spirit in everyone.
It’s worth hiring a car for a day or two and taking some time to explore the rest of Lefkada. A round trip of the island takes a full day. Beaches on the western side are incredible, but bear in mind all are rocky so take water shoes. It’s worth going to Vasiliki in the south. One of the most famous windsurfing beaches in Greece, at any one time there can be 200 boards ripping across the water, a pretty spectacular sight, even from the shore.
Nikiana Beach Club’s accommodation isn’t luxurious, but the idea of family sailing holidays is to spend as little time indoors as possible. Try to book a room with balcony overlooking the water as the views are stunning.
Seafarer is a great little company. They really care about their guests and take pride in nurturing kids’ sailing skills. During our stay at Nikiana, nearly every guest we met was returning for a second, third or fourth time. And recommendations don’t come stronger than that.
Head to Vancouver in Canada for wondrous weather
Vancouver revels in all the wide-open spaces and wildlife thrills that families such as mine have come to love. During summer holidays here everyone dresses in shorts because the weather’s as dependably hot as Canada gets. On top of that, the majority of Vancouver is holidaying elsewhere in British Columbia, or in Europe.
Although Vancouver is a city that’s in the middle of evergreen-skirted mountains, beachy coves and exquisite inlets, so there’s seldom any squeezing in with the masses here. Just once-in-a-lifetime wilderness that’s constantly jostling for your attention.
Your days will be spent whale watching in the salmon-rich Georgia Strait or boating to secret beaches in Deep Cove. We even went hiking with a toddler in a backpack, into black bear country on Grouse Mountain.
For kids, downtown Stanley Park is real-life Disney with beavers, eagles and cartoonish totem poles. The cycle-able Seawall encircling it leads to bays for swimming, as well as Granville Market oyster and wine vendors for grown ups. So with all of this in mind, and direct UK flights taking under 10 hours, you might want to think about answering the call of Vancouver this summer.
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