In Greece and its islands, children are expected to be seen and heard – and actively taking part at every social event. It’s perfect for families.
As the moon rose higher in the night sky the band increased in both tempo and volume. I was dancing, badly, around the centre of a village square with my toddler, but despite the late hour there were no disapproving glances from other partygoers, and nobody called Social Services.
We were at a festival on the Greek island of Symi. Local kids and teenagers were bopping away and singing loudly, with other youngsters asleep on laps among the happy crowd. It was a wonderful experience that proved to me that whether you want an island-hopping adventure with teenagers or just a gentle family break, Greece is surely one of the best countries on the planet to take your children on holiday.
Part of the reason is that children are welcome at almost everything. It’s the Med, of course, so toddlers and youngsters are still up after dark, and parents are always out late with them having a drink or a delicious meal.
But it’s not just the balmy evenings that makes Greece so welcoming to stressed parents sick of countries where the noise of children playing often draws muttering and complaints. The Greeks adore having children at the centre of parties and celebrations. They’re good with youngsters because they genuinely like them and get enormous pleasure from having them around.
On our way to Symi last year we took a ferry from Rhodes, and even then the tired and over-worked crew perked up visibly every time our 18-month-old Jake wandered into their view and wanted to play. It was like having extended childcare everywhere we went.
We had a week on Symi, savouring turquoise waters and one of the most evocative harbours in the world. When Jake’s older we’ll take him on cheap local ferries for a potter around the Cyclades or the Dodecanese, exploring more of Greece’s 1,400 islands and endless beaches. The mainland offers everything from river rafting to trekking across pine-covered mountains that look like the remote Canadian wilderness.
Brits tend to think of Greece as a summer destination, but it’s best before and after the main tourist season and the infernal heat of July and August. Easter is a stunning time to visit, when the country is ablaze with spring colour though, personally, I prefer to go during September or October, when the sea is at its warmest but the air temperature doesn’t melt metal.
Many of us travel halfway around the planet on our adventures. But Greece offers the climate of the Tropics – even as late as autumn half-term – just a few hours from the UK. Why go further?