When it comes to a family holiday, sometimes simple is best. Mariella proves you don't need a five-star luxury cruise to have fun.

It’s hard not to envy the super-rich, as illustrated in the pages of gossip magazines, hard at play, flitting from one five-star experience to the next in luxury yachts and private jets, with barely time between holidays to cram a few more notes in a suitcase to tip the armies of staff required to pander to their whims. Luckily, social democracy still reigns supreme on the family holiday. 

Level ground

In our world of haves and have-nots, it’s a relief to find such level ground. Amazing cuisine and sexy bathrooms, luxury robes and fine wine may be the sort of treats we adults lust after and only money can buy, but our kids are unimpressed by such luxuries. For the younger generation, a crowded beach with an ice-cream vendor, a swimming pool full of friends or a bike ride in a spooky forest is as exciting as life gets.

Italy bound

This summer, we visited my best friend, who rents a house in the nature reserve of Maremma, a surprisingly untrammelled vacation spot on the Tuscan coast north of Rome. Cowboys ride across the grasslands to tend their cattle, there are reed-rimmed lakes brim full of protected birdlife, wild boars create a rumpus in gardens at night, while body boards and ball games rule the day on the grey-green sea or the granite-flecked sand. It was a salutary reminder of how undemanding youngsters are when it comes to how to spend a holiday. 

Italy boasts spots such as Porto Ercole, Porto Cervo and Positano, where you’ll find oligarchs moored up, but for the rest of the country, the coastline is cash blind and multi-generational, with rich and poor, old and young communing when they hit the seaside. Maremma is no exception, as old aristocracy and working-class families cluster on the beaches, with sun loungers in stroking distance of their neighbours and restaurants defined not by menu price but the quality of children’s favourites such as spaghetti pomodoro and arancini. It’s one of the few parts of the Italian coastline where sardines don’t spring to mind when viewing the beach in July; when I’ve visited out of season here it’s virtually empty. 

Keeping busy

Our days flew by in a frenzy of activity: mornings in the sea, lunch at the house, afternoons in a ghastly holiday village boasting a great tennis coach and a Disney-blue, no doubt wee-filled pool with the latest pop tunes blaring from speakers at each end. The children, surrounded by youngsters of all ages united by their interest in football and pool volleyball, table tennis and cycling, iPod apps and loom bands, had barely a moment to spare. 

Priority check 

Returning home, we bumped into acquaintances at the airport. ‘How was your holiday?’ we asked their kids, fresh from their super-yacht voyage in Croatia. They screwed up their perfectly tanned noses and said in unison, ‘Boring,’ bemoaning being stuck on a boat all day while the adults lingered over long lunches and afternoon naps after too much fine wine. It offered a refreshing reminder that in a world that promotes envy as a catalyst for ambition, it’s good to occasionally conduct a priority check. A couple of weeks on a square metre of any beach, with the simplest of frills, and our kids are ecstatic. We adults could pick up a tip or two from them on how to be happy.

Are your kids bored of their buckets and spades? Discover the best beach toys for children.

But before you hit the beach, check out our top tips for child safety on the beach.

Mariella Frostrup is a contributing editor to Family Traveller and mother to two young children.

To read more of Mariella Frostrup’s columns, visit familytraveller.com/mariella