How do you find the perfect hotel for families? I’ve always loved staying in hotels and I’ve been lucky enough to stay in a great many, from luxury resorts in the Maldives to tiny little places in the Greek Islands.
I do love the big luxury resorts – provided they’re not too big or too bland. Hotel groups like The Four Seasons, Soneva and the Mandarin Oriental offer an indulgent experience second to none – and they’ve got some great facilities for children too.
But I do have a soft spot for the small and quirky, for those little boutique hotels that are stylish, friendly and that little bit different. Like riads in Morocco, paradors in Spain and havelis in India.
So when my oldest child was 18 months old, that was exactly what I was looking for – and I couldn’t believe how difficult it was. I wanted a small, chic boutique-style hotel like the ones we’d gone to before having children but that was welcoming to families. But everything I found seemed to be set up only for couples. If children were allowed in at all they were put up at the far side of the hotel, well away from the other guests.
It made me furious. Why should people be forced to compromise on their holidays when they have children? When you have a family, time as a couple becomes even more precious. When you do get some time alone together, do you really want it to be in the sort of place that you would never have gone to if you didn’t have children? Why should families feel that their only option is one of those vast, all-inclusive family resorts, with wall-to-wall entertainment and child care?
Other people told me that families with young children should go camping – or hire a villa somewhere. While I’d certainly agree that sometimes that little cottage beside the sea or apartment in a city is exactly what you’re looking for, whenever I go self-catering I end up doing all the jobs I came on holiday to avoid – the washing, the cooking and the cleaning. If there’s a washing machine I can’t resist the temptation to use it. If I’m in a hotel I’ll quite happily bundle all the dirty laundry into a bag and leave it in the suitcase until I get home.
For me, the ideal hotel is stylish and has a mix of both families and couples. You really don’t want to stay somewhere where you’re the only family. When we did that, we were constantly paranoid that our two boys were making too much noise in the swimming pool.
But I don’t want to stay in a hotel where everyone has children either. There is a fine line between staying at a hotel that welcomes children and staying at a hotel that is so welcoming to families that every room is full of them. There are children everywhere: in the pool, at the bar. The babies are crying, the teenagers are dive-bombing into the pool. You feel as if you’ve gatecrashed someone else’s house party and it’s not the kind of party you’d have wanted to go to anyway.
At these places there’s no need to worry about your own kids running around and shrieking. Yours seem positively quiet – but at a price.
We stayed at Villa Pia in Italy when our two were little. On the website it looked perfect: an 18th-century manor house in Umbria with the atmosphere of a country house party. There are great facilities for children – a pool, a tree house and garden – and in the evenings the adults all eat a four-course meal around a big table in the dining room.
But there were plastic toys all over the courtyard day and night and children absolutely everywhere. They were having a wonderful time of course but it wasn’t exactly relaxing.
Back when my son was 18 months old we got really lucky. I finally found a chic pousada in Brazil. It had a small pool and was a pleasant 10-minute walk to an idyllic beach with shallow water perfect for a toddler. Every afternoon they cooked a special meal for our son’s tea: rice, fish, mince and fresh fruit. There was no charge and they always asked us what he’d fancy.
Dinner was served every night in the restaurant which, because the hotel was so small, was so close to our room that we could put Edward to bed at the usual time, then tiptoe down to the bar and drink caipirinhas, baby monitor in hand, safe in the knowledge that he was fast asleep.
We had found exactly what we wanted: a hotel for grown-ups, where couples could enjoy some time together, but which was also perfect for children.
So how do you find that perfect hotel for your family? There are some great websites with lots of suggestions of places to stay. Take a look at:-
I’m always on the look out for perfect hotels for families so do get in touch with your own favourites.
COMING UP NEXT: My Four Favourite Boutique Hotels for Families