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Woody (7) and Samson (5) were issued with an international travel ban back in 2013. My husband Rob and I called time on the blistering heat, stress and expense of European villa holidays with our two hyperactive, ecsema-covered, dawn-waking infants and relentless domestic chores. It just wasn’t worth the hassle.

We’d been persuaded to give a Neilson beachclub holiday a whirl by a friend with two older boys who convinced us we’d never look back. The apprehension (us) and excitement (the boys) was palpable. Could we overcome our snobbery for all-inclusive holidays? Would our first foreign foray as a foursome be another expensive flop?

Rob and I’d vowed to return to Croatia 12 years ago, footloose and child-free on a six month adventure around Europe in Bertha, a 1980’s Mercedes campervan. The prospect of returning was irresistible. And what a gem of a spot. Alana Beachclub is a 40-minute transfer from Zadar, nestled between the towering peaks of Paklenica National Park and the sparkling waters of the Adriatic.

What the hotel building lacks in aesthetic it ameliorates in history and stunning views across jewelled sea and rugged mountains. “Did you know Kate, that in the Sixties this place hosted a who’s who of Hollywood western stars filming in those mountains?” announced Rob, on discovering the hotel’s mini museum on day two. “Well did you know”, I retorted, smug from a jaunt to ancient city Zadar the previous evening, “that the wood from these mountains were used to build Venice”.

On your marks

“Relax as hard as you like” is the Neilson mantra. Relaxing in the Auld household takes a backseat in favour of the weekly rounds of rugby/ football/ swimming/ cycling/ tennis/ cricket. And that’s just Rob. No sporting stone is left unturned and in our offspring’s case, this relentless sense of competition extends equally to simple tasks as benign as pouring breakfast cereal or locating a misplaced toy.

When the affable Alana team handed out the ‘Daily Activity Planner’, chock-full of swim, beach, bike, climbing, tennis and fitness possibilities, our natural response kicked in. We bolted and threw ourselves in with wild abandon, dawn til dusk.

On day three we had to have word with ourselves, having robustly ignored the Neilson team’s gracious suggestion to pick one activity first and focus on it. We found our groove together, joining a leisurely morning family kayak safari. Another standout moment was learning to scale the new climbing wall together and taking a trip out to the stunning Paklenica National Park to watch daredevils ascend one of the top free climbing sites in Europe. Everything was at our finger tips, we just needed to pace ourselves.

As a fitness fan I loved the morning HiiT and yoga sessions on the fitness deck by the water, the catamaran joy rides and stand up paddle boarding (tanning whilst exercising and child friendly- tick). Rob’s standout moments were his victory at the tennis team’s “booze and balls” evening, managing not to fall off his windsurfer and being the only bloke doing Aqua Fit. Well maybe not the last one.

In da club

Neilson kids clubs came with top notch recommendations from two friends and Neilson fans and the team’s warmth, energy and stamina were astonishing. The boys spent the first two days in wall to wall activities on and off the water, and my guilt was swiftly allayed when Samson decided he was “too big for clubs” and preferred to be by my side by the pool or looking for shells. Woody however, enrolled himself as a ‘Surfbuster’ on day one and hung out with his new gang for most of the week. He couldn’t get enough.
Couples that play together…

On day three Rob and I decided we’d try something new, waterskiing. Neilson offers every guest two free tows a week and the welcoming ski team oozed enthusiasm. The unexpected joy of zipping out to sea in a speed boat en famille to discover that you ROCK at waterskiing yet your husband can’t hold on to a rope wasn’t quite the thrill this alpha male was expecting, but it made my week.

Days ended with drinks at the beach bar, watching Rob slog it out on the beach volleyball court to redeem his sporting prowess, while Woody and Samson played with new friends at crazy golf or table tennis amid the olive groves.

The stunning hydrotherapy spa is a peaceful haven, with a standalone couples room and I can vouch for the glow-giving effects of the “My Kinda Skin” Temple Spa facial. After all that relaxation the Alana’s stunning new rooftop Sky Bar is a masterstroke, with breath taking sunsets across the bay.

We flew home tanned, invigorated and jubilant. Woody clutched his “Future Andy Murray” award and Rob proudly nursed his beach volleyball scars and bruised waterskiing ego. A week ago we’d nervously and a touch cynically jetted off to Alana Beachclub. After our disastrous self-catering villa breaks, Alana Beachclub had been a revelation.

A few more pleasant surprises along the way:

1. Not a bland buffet in sight. Dining alfresco in the beachfront restaurant was bliss. As was the guilty pleasure of never being asked for food by the kids. Not once. For a whole week.

2. Leave whenever you like. Neilson makes a point of offering four evening meals to encourage you to explore and there are some great little local restaurants walking distance away in in Starigrad. If you don’t take the walk/ shuttle up to the Paklenica National Park you’ll regret it. Zadar is an elegant, cosmopolitan mix of history and contemporary architecture.

3. This is no toffs on tour. The staff are an effervescent mix of backgrounds and personalities. Nothing was too much trouble and we left feeling like part of an enormous family.

4. Titan Airways. Big leg room and a big contrast to our charter flight nightmares with the children. It’s a short 2 hour flight to boot, from either Stansted or Manchester.

5. Your mantelpiece will thank you. Neilson’s team of professional snappers roam the resort taking action shots you can take home with you or show off on social media.

The lowdown

Neilson offers seven nights at Neilson Alana Beachclub departing on 16th July 2017 from Manchester, costs £1,165 per adult and £820 per child including all flights, accommodation, activities, kids clubs, breakfast, lunch and 4 x dinners. Fly to Zadar for Alana Beachclub from Stansted, Manchester or East Midlands.

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