Mark Woods: Playing the adventure game

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A tricky question was put to me the other day when I was asked ‘Where can we go holiday with a young family and still have an adventure?’

As I’ve learned to my cost, just as every child is different, so every parent and relationship is too, and when you throw all of these variables at a heaving S-MAX or an airline check-in queue long enough to have its own postcode, trying to judge what constitutes adventure for someone else’s family can be tricky to say the least.

We’ve all seen Facebook acquaintances who seem to spend every waking moment either cycling as a family, hiking as a family or often both, sometimes before the rest of us have even had breakfast. To these folks, adventure is everywhere. Hills are there to be conquered and views are there to be jolly well viewed.

Most of us though just need a holiday. But we also know that children need to be entertained and excited, and that’s what we need too. Within reason.

Throughout the litany of family- holiday misjudgements I’ve orchestrated in my decade as a dad, there are three main getaway genres that I’ve identified and then often gone for at completely the wrong stages of my children’s lives. In hindsight, here’s what I would have done:

If meal times are still at the stage where the floor looks like a Jackson Pollock from his ‘broccoli floret’ period, give a self-catering option serious thought. Once you’ve chosen your ideal destination, it’s never been easier to find your own little base camp, with the digital revolution putting owners and holiday renters just a click away from each other.

A cottage or villa with a kitchen might feel like a bit of a busman’s holiday on paper, but having taken a toddler to a restaurant for breakfast, lunch and dinner for a full week, I’m here to tell you that even the most laissez faire among

us eventually fails to see the funny side of wearing jam in public – and that’s before you even contemplate the reality of sitting silently in a darkened hotel room as you will your tot to sleep.

If like us you’ve got mixed ages to cater for, then a villa with a pool becomes an attractive option and although finding one with a whopping great fence round it reduces the aesthetic attraction somewhat, it does wonders for your peace of mind and avoidance of heart-in- mouth dread every time you can’t see your little one.

As both the ages and adventure appetite increase, the family resort becomes a fantastic option to consider. There’s every chance that pre-parenting you might have given the very notion of a resort holiday the swerve, preferring instead to land on far-flung shores with nothing but a compass you had no idea how to use and a backpack you couldn’t reach the bottom of.

However the Mark Warners, Martinhals and MarBella Corfus of this world really have all but perfected the balance between the holy trinity of ease, relaxation and adventure at their various resorts in continental Europe. Quality childcare, good food, excellent staff, sun and sand (plus snow in Mark Warner’s case) are complimented with activities from paddle boarding to pétanque, which your family may or may not fancy, depending on their energy levels.

Then, once you get braver or, more likely, your children have complete control of every device in the house and essentially choose your holidays for you, longer-haul adventures begin to become a serious option.

Sri Lanka is a destination to consider for a true family adventure, with beaches, rainforests, tea plantations, turtles and elephants all within reach on an island four times smaller than the UK. Wherever you roam, though, there’s more culture to soak up than you’ll know what to do with.

If all that feels a bit too much of a leap into the deep end, Goa – especially the quieter middle stretch around Colva and Varca – has some superb resorts on stunning beeches, and its Indian subcontinental location mixed with its Portuguese heritage means you and your family will feel like you’re experiencing something rich and new, while not necessarily needing to be all that intrepid.

Thrills come in all shapes and sizes, and however you decide your family adventure game is going to play out, the best advice is to go with what feels right for your particular little gang at the particular stage it’s at. No one knows it better than you.

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