Top luxury resorts in the Maldives

Crystal waters, tropical sunshine, luxurious resorts and breathtaking beauty – the Maldives have to be the most perfect islands on earth.

Some of my most magical memories were made in the Maldives; a pod of dolphins leaping from the turquoise sea as we sailed away from the island, snorkelling with giant turtles and wading through shallow waters with blacktip reef sharks at my toes. There is nothing subtle about the beauty of the Maldives as it lavishes you with an abundance of dazzling colours and scents that stay with you forever.

From the second I stepped off the sea plane and kicked off my flip flops, I fell madly in love with the islands, and for me, the Maldives take some beating.

 

Best time of year to go

November to April is fairly dry; May to October occasionally brings brief rain showers followed by sunshine.

Temperatures range between 77 to 95°F all year.

Have you been thinking about a luxury trip to the Maldives and just can’t make up your mind which resort to choose?  Well, here are my top picks for ultimate indulgence.

Baros

Baros Aerial View.jpg
Beautiful Baros. Photograph: Baros Maldives

With its vibrant house reef, Baros is a picture-perfect resort and the ultimate tropical escape. A ten-minute wander around this stunning island takes you right back to where you started, but fantastic things come in small packages and at Baros it’s all about tranquillity, understated luxury and equisite service.

Classic cuisine with a tropical twist is the speciality of The Lighthouse, while grilled seafood, fine meats and Asian tapas are available at The Cayenne Grill. If eating out doesn’t take your fancy, guests can enjoy an in-villa meal at any time of day or for a more intimate affair, how does a romantic dinner for two on an isolated sandbank sound?

Sandbank Dinner.jpg
A romantic, candlelit dinner on an isolated sandbank? Yes please. Photo: Baros Maldives

The Spa at Baros Maldives is hidden at the centre of the resort amongst lush foliage. Here, therapists create bespoke treatments with a choice of wonderfully relaxing massages, cleansing scrubs, nourishing wraps, rejuvenating facials, manicures and pedicures.

Baros Spa Bath.jpg
Spa Bath. Photograph: Baros Maldives

Accommodation

Villas

Each Villa has a king-size bed, a daybed to chill out, an espresso machine and an individual wine chiller with sommelier-selected bottles, as well as a well-stocked mini bar, an entertainment centre and complimentary WiFi.

Some Villas have partially open-air bathrooms, while others feature contemporary bathrooms with rainfall showers. Water Villas have exquisite bathrooms with steps from the deck direct into the lagoon. All Villas benefit from the personal attention of a dedicated Villa Host on call 24 hours a day.

Baros Pool Villa Deck.jpg
Pool villa with deck. Photograph: Baros Maldives
Baros Water Pool Villa.jpg

Water pool villas with steps into the lagoon. Photograph: Baros Maldives

The Baros Residence

The most exclusive and luxurious Villa at this bijou boutique resort features a private swimming pool and personal butler on call 24 hours a day. The Baros Residence provides the quintessential harmonious and secluded romantic hideaway.

Baros Residence Pool.jpg
The Baros Residence Pool. Photograph: Baros Maldives

Getting there

Baros is just a 45minute luxury boat transfer from Malé International Airport.

One&Only Reethi Rah

One&Only_ReethiRah_HangingChair.jpg
What better place to reflect on life than on the swinging chair at the Beach Club? Photograph: One&Only

With twelve beaches and six kilometres of coastline, One&Only Reethi Rah is the largest, all-villa resort in the North Malé Atoll. Each villa has direct access to the lagoon and is discreetly placed along the shoreline offering stunning ocean views.

This sophisticated resort features three swimming pools including one children’s pool, a state-of-art fitness centre with outdoor training area, FIFA-approved size football field, tennis and outdoor wall climbing and watersports. There is also an artist studio where guests can unwind and take part in painting classes lead by the artist in residence.

After all that activity, guests can rejuvenate in the award-winning spa complete with vitality pools, outdoor steam and sauna, crystal steam rooms, saunas and stimulating ice fountains.

Seven restaurants offer a range of dining options, all prepared daily by international, creative chefs. Dishes range from organic, garden-to-fork cuisine, luxury French brasserie, Asian, Italian, modern Japanese cuisine, fresh seafood and a Middle Eastern influenced menu served beachside.

Not only is One&Only Reethi Rah perfect for both couples and honeymooners, it’s fantastic for families too and there’s plenty for children to do in the two kids’ clubs; KidsOnly for younger children and One Tribe for older children. Both clubs offer activities such as snorkelling, chocolate making classes, pirates’ cruise and many more for children aged four to eleven years old.

Accommodation

Beach Villas

Occupying their own stretch of sandy shore, these villas afford direct views of the ocean and access to a private beach. Décor is sleek with clean lines, a perfect balance for the tropical wood and thatch exteriors.

One&Only_ReethiRah_Grand Beach Villa.jpg
Stylish interior of the Grand Beach Villa. Photograph: One&Only

Water Villas

Sitting on the water with wraparound hammocks, these villas are just the spot for sunbathing and stargazing.

One&Only_ReethiRah_Accommodation_WaterVillaWithPool_Aerial-3.jpg
Dreamy Water Villa with Pool. Photograph: One&Only

Grand Sunset Residence

An extravagant space with exquisite touches of luxury that create the ambience of a private home, with three en-suite bedrooms, lavish living and dining areas, and a private, 50m² swimming pool surrounded by an elaborate terrace with inviting social spaces.

One&Only_ReethiRah_Accommodation_GrandSunsetResidence_Aerial-3.jpg
The aptly named, Grand Sunset Residence. Photograph: One&Only

 

One&Only_ReethiRah_Accommodation_GrandSunsetResidence_ViewFromMasterBedroom.jpg
A view to wake up to. Photograph: One&Only

 

Soneva Fushi

This award-winning resort offers the ultimate, barefoot desert island experience. Soneva’s philosophy is simple: No news, no shoes. No pretensions either.

Located in the Baa Atoll UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, Soneva Fushi pairs Robinson Crusoe fantasy with intelligent luxury.

Fifty-seven private villas with their own stretch of beach are hidden among dense foliage within touching distance of a pristine coral reef. Intuitive service is provided by Mr./Ms. Friday butlers.

Highlights include an open-air Cinema, counting Saturn’s rings in the high-tech Observatory, the home-made chocolate and ice cream rooms, five hundred wines to choose from, six different restaurants featuring gourmet menus using only quality organic ingredients. Guests who desire a bit of adventure can enjoy the castaway dining experiences around the island.

012-SF-Soneva_Fushi_Fresh_in_the_Garden_Aerial_2_by_Moritz_Krebs.jpg
Dine above the banana trees and the resort’s organic gardens at Fresh in the Garden. Photograph: Moritz Krebs
030-SF-Soneva_Fushi_By_The_Beach_aerial_by_Richard_Waite.jpg
Charming candlelit tables on the beach where guests can enjoy Japanese-inspired cuisine. Photograph: Richard Waite

In November 2015, Soneva launched a floating villa concept, Soneva in Aqua, a treasure trove children’s Den and a multi-purpose facility encompassing a glass gallery, boutique and studio where guests can learn the art of glass blowing

Accommodation

The resort features 57 private villas with their own stretch of pristine beach. Designed to provide ultimate privacy and a pure connection with nature, each retreat features open-air bathrooms that extend into a private garden.

Every villa features a living room, dining room, daybeds and sun loungers, air conditioning, television, Bose sound system, espresso machine, bicycles and WiFi.

007-SF-Villa_14_Exterior_by_Richard_Waite.jpg
Villa 14 Exterior. Photograph: Richard Waite
Soneva Fushi Villa11 Sunken Dinning by Bruno Aveillan.jpg
Sunken dining at Villa 11. Photograph: Bruno Aveillan

Getting there

The resort can be reached by a scenic 30 minute seaplane fight direct from Malé International Airport or a 12 minute speedboat ride for guests scheduled on domestic flights at the nearby Dharavandhoo Airport.

 

Have you been to the Maldives or any of these stunning resorts?  If so, I’d love to hear what you thought. Please leave a comment below.

Top things to do in Paris for Foodies

So, you’ve climbed the Eiffel Tower, can-canned your socks off at Moulin Rouge, pitter pattered your way around the Louvre and marvelled at the beauty of the Mona Lisa. If you’re anything like me, you were probably thinking about food most of that time.

Rich in culture, Paris is a gourmet party for the senses and home to some of the best restaurants in the world. But if you want to step away from the Michelin starred eateries for something a little bit different, these alternative experiences are a great place to start.

O Chateau Wine Tasting

Wine tasting.jpeg

In a country renowned for fine wines, of course there are plenty of places to choose from when it comes to wine tasting events, but O Chateau is up there amongst the best.

Located in the heart of Paris, on Rue Jean Jacques Roussea, O Chateau offers a variety of packages including wine tasting dinners, group tasting events or even a day trip to Champagne.

During a wine tasting event at O’Chateau, the Sommelier makes you feel at ease in the beautiful basement tasting room, while you indulge in fine wines and learn about grapes and growing regions.

The Tour De France of Wine package lasts two hours and costs around €55.

Check out their website to find out more and book:  http://o-chateau.com

Secret Montmartre Food Tour

macaroons.jpg

What better way to experience French culinary delights than as the Parisians do?  Guided by a local Parisian, you will be taken on a tour of some of the best food shops in Montmartre. Throughout the tour, you’ll have the chance to sample macaroons, French breads, the finest cured sausages and home-made crepes. Then, just when your taste buds can’t take any more and your belly is screaming feed me, you’re whisked away to a secret location to enjoy all the food you have collected along the way. Yum!

To find out more about other food tours or to book this one, visit The Secret Food Tours: https://www.secretfoodtours.com/paris/

Dinner at Le Wagon Bleu

If you dream about dinning on the Orient Express but are looking for something a little kinder on the wallet, Le Wagon Bleu is the next best thing.

Set inside a 1920s carriage from the Orient Express, Le Wagon Bleu can be found in the 17th arrondissement. With gleaming cherry-wood panelled walls, luxurious velvet seats and polished silver cutlery, this restaurant radiates sophisticated glamour.

The menu is varied and the meals hearty, with choices such as burgers and classic French dishes. While there’s nothing gastronomically unique about the menu, the sense of regal nostalgia makes every mouthful a delight and is sure to place this restaurant towards the top of any must-do list.

Sunset Picnic on the Bank of the Seine

seine river.jpg

There’s nothing quite like a stroll along the bank of the River Seine at sunset to bring out the Audrey Hepburn or Carey Grant in you, and I can’t think of a better way to round up the day than a picnic at Quai Montebello. Dappled in tangerine sunlight, with the beautiful backdrop of Notre Dame, it is a great place to find a quiet spot.

For a more Bohemian feel, head to Canal Saint Martin where musicians often gather –   it’s just the place to share a bottle of wine, read a book or simply close your eyes and relax.

For a rustic picnic thrown together yourself, you can pick up your goodies here:

BERTRAND’S Paris Notre Dame

10 Rue Lagrange

Bertrand’s sell croissants, pizza, quiche, baguettes and magnificent meringues plus much, much more.

Or, if your day has been too jam packed with sightseeing and champagne to prepare a picnic yourself, Paris Picnics have partnered with artisanal food and wine producers around France and offer a free delivery service: https://www.parispicnic.com.

 

If you’ve been to any of these places, please leave a comment below as I’d love to hear from you.

 

Italy’s hidden gems

If you’re looking for something a little bit different when you’re in Italy, why not escape the crowds and discover some of these well-hidden treasures?

1. Porto Venere – Northern Italy

Tourists flock to the five coastal villages of Cinque Terre, but the lesser-known neighbouring village of Porto Venere, oozes the same charm and beauty, making it an ideal escape from the crowds.

portovere.JPG

A stroll along the harbour takes you past vibrant, elongated houses believed to have been shaped in such a way to enhance the village’s defence system.

An afternoon here is best spent meandering the cobbled streets and when the air cools, a visit to the Gothic Church of St. Peter at the top of the hill offers spectacular views at sunset.

It’s easy to see how Porto Venere inspired English poet Byron, for it is here, in Byron’s Grotto, where he was known to meditate and draw inspiration for his literary works. Although Byron’s Grotto collapsed in the 1930s, it is still possible for visitors to access the area and soak up its silent beauty.

 

2. Grotta Palazzese, Polignano a Mare, Puglia – Southern Italy

Nestled in a vaulted, limestone cavern overlooking the Adriatic Sea, this romantic restaurant is certain to melt the coldest heart.

Naturally created centuries ago, the cave is an enchanting restaurant setting and has been the scene for many romantic moments.

Here, diners can take a table for two at the cliffs’ edge and enjoy world-class dishes, whilst listening to the waves crash beneath them.

A four course meal at Grotta Palazzese costs €100.

grotta palazzo.jpg

This is a very popular restaurant and booking is highly recommended.

 

3. Lake Orta – Northern Italy

Processed with MOLDIV

Located in Piedmont, enchanting Lake Orta, is the Italian Lakes’ best kept secret.

Lush mountains conceal this beautiful lake and the tiny island of Isola San Giulio that sits proudly in the middle of the water.

Processed with MOLDIV

Famous for its Benedictine monastery, this quant island is also home of Salla Tallone, where unforgettable concerts can be enjoyed in late June.

Occasionally, veiled in a light mist, this majestic island has an air of mystery surrounding it. It’s no wonder this treasure has been kept so quiet.

 

4. Atrani, Amalfi Coast

Atrani.jpg

Hidden between two cliffs, this stunning little fishing village is often overlooked as tourists gravitate towards the more popular towns on the Amalfi Coast. This fact alone, means visitors are gifted a blissful serenity in which to appreciate the architecture of the Medieval Church of San Salvatore de’ Birecto built in the 10th century, and the 15th century fortress of Torre dello Ziro.

After a spot of lunch at one of the laid-back restaurants, why not mosey on down to the small, sandy beach for some time out – a perfect spot to admire the breathtaking views.

Disney Magic Cruise| Where dreams really do come true

A friend of mine and her family are avid Disney cruise goers, but I had always struggled to join in on her enthusiasm. I just couldn’t see the fascination of a Disney cruise, when for the same amount of money, you could go to Disneyland. That is, until she recounted her holiday over dinner one night, then I wanted to go and not just because the kids would love it, but I knew I would too.

The Froggatt family are like boomerangs; before they’ve returned to terra firma, their next Disney cruise is booked. What is it that keeps them wanting more? I began to wonder if magical, MSG circulates through the air conditioning on board, or whether there are subliminal messages woven into the words of Snow White’s Hi Ho.

But as she explained the whole experience to me, I was sold. Disney has perfected the fairy tale. Random, magical moments occur over the duration of the cruise and, if you’re lucky enough to catch them, they will become treasured memories.

A Disney cruise isn’t a gimmick; it’s a floating wonderland where a crew of attentive and very talented people turn dreams into a reality.

So, if like me, you’ve been wondering what Disney Cruises are all about, here’s a summary of a cruise on Disney Magic:

Cruise Liner: Disney Magic

Itinerary: Barcelona -> Cruising -> Seville (Cadiz) -> Lisbon -> Cruising -> Ponta Delgada -> Cruising -> Cruising -> Antigua -> Cruising -> Cruising -> New York (Manhattan)

The Navigator App

Prior to departure, guests can download The Navigator app. This enables guests to view up-to-date holiday information, pre-book activities, view entertainment schedules, restaurant menus and destination details.  It can even be used to send messages to other members travelling in the same party.

Arrival

Approaching the ship, it’s hard not to be impressed by the sheer scale of it; with 11 public decks, Disney Magic can accommodate 2,700 passengers.

On arrival at the port, it’s only a matter of seconds before guests’ bags are whisked away, not to be seen again until they enter their stateroom.

Check in is smooth and on occasions where there is a slight wait, children are way too distracted by the appearance of their favourite Disney characters, to care.

With guests organised into groups, they wait for their group to be called to embark. But even this usually, standard event has a touch of magic added. Families are announced on board by a crew member, much like a master of ceremonies welcoming royalty to a stately event. Crew members form a walkway along which guests walk to rapturous applause. What an entrance.

Rooms

Room Booked: Deluxe Family Oceanview Stateroom with Veranda

Large enough for five people, this stateroom offers a queen bed, single sleeper sofa and two cleverly disguised, wall pull-down beds. The toilet is conveniently separated from the bathroom and there is ample under-bed storage space.

Dining

Disney uses ‘rotation dining’ where guests rotate between the restaurants on board. There are two seating times available – early and late. Each night guests are seated with the same table guests and a dedicated server rotates with these guests for the duration of the cruise.

Servers are experts at reading people and constantly strive to understand the preferences of the guests they are serving. Each dining experience is enhanced by the server who takes guests on a culinary journey, describing the origin of the ingredients and recommending complimenting wines.

Main Dining Restaurants

Animator’s Palate: As well as American cuisine, this restaurant serves up a spectacular Disney show while you eat.

Lumiere’s: The most refined of the three main restaurants with Art Deco styling and a French inspired menu, guests can enjoy a touch of Beauty and the Beast while they dine.

IMG_7901
Lumiere’s Roasted Rack of Lamb with Dauphinoise, Buttered Brussel Sprouts and a Burgundy, Rosemary Sauce
IMG_7902
Lumiere’s Iced Lobster and Jumbo Shrimp
IMG_7903
Lumiere’s Chateaubriand with crushed new potatoes, shallots, green beans and red wine jus
 

Carioca’s: Inspired by Disney’s, The Three Caballeros, this restaurant offers a fiesta of flavours in its South American inspired dishes.

Casual Dining

Cabanas: At lunchtime, Cabanas offers buffet dining including steak and seafood. During the evening, guests can dine under the stars or indoors, watching the ocean sweep past. The evening menu provides four courses of Brazilian specials.

Pete’s Boiler Bites: Grab one of Pete’s Boiler Bites – a selection of Burgers, tacos and hot dogs.

Pinocchio’s Pizza: A delicious feast of pizzas.

There’s also 24-hour in-room dining available for in between meal snacking.

Palo Restaurant: Adult-exclusive

For those wishing to indulge, guests can treat themselves to the delights of Palo restaurant, specialising in Northern Italian cuisine with a twist.

Entertainment

With West End-style nightly shows, deck parties, fireworks and character greetings, entertainment on a Disney Magic cruise never ends.

During the day time, there are plenty of fun activities for everyone, including karaoke, game shows and bingo.

Kids’ clubs

Safety is paramount in the Disney Magic Kids’ Clubs. On entering, each child is given a wrist band which means the exact location of a child can be pinpointed at any given moment. Children can roam freely between the Oceaneer Club and Oceaneer Lab using a secure, secret passageway.

Disney’s Oceaneer Club – 3 – 12 years old

A feast for little imaginations, Pixie Hollow, Andy’s Room, Mickey Mouse club Room and MARVEL’s Avengers Academy offer secure environments for children to explore.  In these rooms, there’s plenty to keep them busy including, dress up, crafts computer games and Disney movies.

Oceaneer’s Lab: 3 – 12 years old

A pirate-themed area designed with exploration in mind. Here, children can visit the Animator’s studio and create their own animated drawings, play games or perform crazy experiments. Oceaneer’s Lab also offers children a space to relax, watch movies or read a book.

Overall thoughts

Quite simply, Disney truly know how to turn children’s dreams into a reality and it seems there’s a little bit of magic on board for adults too – so really, who wouldn’t want that?

 

Top Family Hotels in Zakynthos

Here are The Sandy Pencil’s top choices when it comes to family-friendly hotels in Zakynthos:

SENTIDO Louis Plagos Beach, Tragaki, Zakynthos

Transfer time from airport: 20 mins

 

Set amidst old vineyards and olive groves and just 150m from the beach, Sentido Louis Plagos offers the best of both worlds. If it is peace you are seeking, then lounging by one of the hotel’s two infinity pools, offers a tranquil haven. Take a five-minute taxi ride and you’re in bustling Tsilivi with its many bars and restaurants.

There is a children’s pool with water slides, kids club, playground and mini-disco, making this the perfect choice for families.

Facilities

  • Buffet Restaurant
  • Traverna
  • Main Bar
  • Cocktail Bar
  • 2 Infinity Pools
  • Family Pool
  • Large Children’s pool with water slides
  • Evening Entertainment
  • Gym
  • Spa
  • Playground
  • Kids club: 4 – 12
  • Water slides
  • Babysitting – available at additional charge and upon request.

 

Review

Rooms

We stayed in a sea view, family room on the ground floor with direct access to the infinity pool from our terrace and allocated sun loungers.

At the time of booking, the sea view rooms overlooking the infinity pools were exclusive to Thomas Cook.

These rooms and the infinity pools were a recent addition to the hotel, so our room was fresh, modern and clean. The bathroom was plush and spacious, with an enormous walk-in shower.

There was a daily maid service and our room was kept immaculate. The maid even took the time every day to arrange the girls’ teddies on their pillows neatly.

Food

Food is available all day. When the main restaurant is not open, you can help yourself to pastries, toasted sandwiches and fruit.

All the food well exceeds the standards you would expect from an all-inclusive hotel.

The theme alters nightly with a wide selection of delicious meal choices available. I’m one of the hardest people to please when eating out, and couldn’t fault it.

As well as the buffet, there is a choice of freshly grilled meat and fish. On Greek night, there was a serving station where a chef prepared fresh gyros and on the English night, there was a carvery. Children can choose from the main buffet or a children’s buffet.

When dining in the evening, the restaurant feels far from that of an all-inclusive hotel catering for the masses; the customer service is second to none. You are shown to your table by a waiter who then gets you your first drink leaving you to help yourself to your dinner.

We all agreed, that having stayed at many all-inclusive hotels, Sentido Louis Plagos is by far the best one for food.

Entertainment

Nightly entertainment was kicked-off by the mini-disco which the girls loved, especially the nightly appearance of the Sentido children’s characters.

It’s clear the entertainment team work very hard and some of the shows they put on were very good, others not so, but that would be my only grumble and I’ve had to dig deep to find that one.

Kids Club

Our girls went to the kid’s club twice and enjoyed it both times. The girls that run the club were very friendly and excellent with children.  Our girls were a little reluctant to be left on their own there, which was fine as staying with them gave me a good idea of what goes on in there and all the children appeared to be having fun. If I were to suggest an improvement, it would have been to include more activities geared towards English-speaking children as many of the songs we didn’t understand, but we sang and danced along anyway.

Customer Service

The second you step through the doors of the Louis Plagos hotel, you know you are somewhere special.

On arrival we were greeted by a friendly concierge and offered a refreshing drink and cold wash cloth. The service doesn’t stop there either, the staff cannot do enough for you and are genuinely pleased to help.

The bar staff were engaging and entertaining, the sort that have your drink ready before you’ve even sat down.

All the staff at Sentido Louis Plagos work very hard. They take time to get to know their customers, interact with the children and generally make you feel incredibly welcome.

The Sandy Pencil Rating: 9 /10

 

Clio Hotel, Alykes, Zakynthos

Transfer time from Airport: 30 minutes

 

This idyllic hotel is situated 350m from Alykes centre and boasts mountain views, chic sun-loungers and a laid-back feel.

Many people return to the Clio Hotel year after year and as soon as you stay there, it’s obvious why – the family who own this property know how to look after their guests and go that extra mile to make you feel welcome.

If you’re holidaying on a budget and want to stay somewhere where you’re really looked after, Clio Hotel is the right choice.

Facilities

  • Bar
  • Pool.

Review

Rooms

Our accommodation was booked directly with the hotel and included the transfers to and from the airport. We booked a family room which had a large balcony and beautiful mountain views.

Our room was spacious, nicely decorated and well equipped for a self-catering holiday including a large fridge with freezer compartment, two hot plates and a kettle.

The rooms were cleaned to perfection daily.

Food

Breakfast was a simple and tasty continental. For those wanting something more substantial, there was also the option of a cooked breakfast at an extra cost.

The homemade, evening meals were delicious with plenty of healthy choices.

Entertainment

Weekly Greek night.

Customer Service

For us, what made our holiday, was the way we were welcomed into the family for the two weeks we were there.

The owner made our children fresh fruit platters every morning, gave them a gift each, made Darcy an olive oil concoction when she had an ear infection and even offered to take us to the pharmacy. It’s these little touches that give the Clio Hotel its excellent reputation and why it has such loyal customers.

The Sandy Pencil Rating: 9/10

 

Top 10 travel tips when flying with toddlers

Holidays with our families should be joyous occasions. But nothing is worse than the trepidation of a long-haul flight with toddlers. You just know at some point in the journey they will take advantage of the captive audience and showcase their well-perfected tantrum skills.

What’s worse is, when the time comes and you board the plane, there are other toddlers; an army of mini Machiavellians, all in on it together. Half an hour after take-off, when the novelty of the window blind has worn off, Billy on the back row kick-starts the kick-offs.

By the time it’s your child’s turn, Doris and Ethel in the row next to you have well and truly had it up to their bouffant buns. Ethel slams her Mills & Boon shut and whispers something to Doris with a sideways glance at your little one, who you now feel an overwhelming desire to protect.  The others started it. I’ve been there, unprepared, stressed to the hilt, frantically waving inanimate objects in front of Darcy’s face to distract her.

Here are some nifty travel hacks I’ve picked up along the way:

1. Pre-book seats on the flight

I was shocked to hear that airlines do not have to allocate young children and infants a seat next to an accompanying adult.  The airline will endeavour to seat you together as a priority, but if not possible, your toddler could end up one row away from you sitting with strangers.

2. Optimise space on the plane when pre-booking your seats

If travelling as a family of four and the plane seating plan is 3 / 3, book two seats each on each side of the aisle. This way you have more chance of having the entire six seats to yourself – a bonus when the little ones get tired as you can lift a seat arm and cobble a makeshift bed.

3. Check your suitcases in later

Waiting around a dilapidated carousel for your suitcases with ratty toddlers is no fun. Checking in later for your flight, means your suitcases will be more likely taken off the plane earlier at the other end. This seems to work most of the time for us, but it depends on the airline.

4. Arm yourself with activities to keep your little one busy

Before the flight, have a mental itinerary ready to keep your little one occupied. Colouring, travel puzzles, non-messy craft, reading a story book are all good ways to keep them entertained.

5. Don’t peak too soon. Keep an activity back for the last hour of the journey

Save their favourite activity till last. That way, when they’ve really had enough, it’s got the added umph to hold their interest.

6. Load the iPad up with their favourite films, games and TV programmes before you go

There are plenty of really fun activities for toddlers on the iPad. Our girls love CBeebies and Puzzingo.

7. Take a lightweight blanket and a travel pillow just in case they do fall asleep

This is where the extra seat comes in handy.

8. Make sure you have a euro handy (or equivalent) on your outbound flight

The last thing you want to be doing when you reach your destination is scrabbling around for a coin for a luggage trolley. Or, worse still, not getting one and trying to juggle toddlers, hand-luggage and suitcases through arrivals and into your coach or taxi.

9. Pack a travel fan in your hand luggage

Bus and taxi journeys with no air conditioning are no fun with tired toddlers.

10. Most importantly – don’t stress about Doris and Ethel

Make sure you stock up on things that you enjoy for the quiet moments, whether that be items from the mini bar or a good book.

 

Lindos| Donkeys n’ all

With its glittering, crescent bay and white washed houses, it is impossible not to marvel at the beauty of this medieval village. Crowning a steep rock, the Acropolis sits proudly above pretty cubic houses nestled in the rock’s surface. It’s easy to see how this archaeological site draws over half a million visitors each year.

Lindos village is accessible only by foot, so when we arrived shortly after lunch, we abandoned our car and made our way through a maze of pebbled alleys and courtyards, where history resonates with every footfall.

From the imposing Acropolis dominating the skyline to the Church of Panagia situated at the heart of the village, there was much to excite even the most laid back history enthusiast.

The advantages of us being completely disorganised meant we missed the crowds and were able to wander at our own pace, nosing in gifts shops and eyeing up prospective restaurants to look up on Trip Advisor in advance of our dinner later.

But of course, a visit to Lindos would not be complete without seeing the Acropolis close up. This meant either clambering a steep, uneven staircase or, for those wishing to take the easy option or drench themselves in the true experience, a bumpy donkey ride.

Approaching the accent, I spied a couple of donkeys feeling their way up the crumbling steps, their legs buckling under the weight of their hefty passengers and immediately knew I could not inflict myself on something the size of a large poodle. Surely there should be weight restrictions for donkey rides? Heavier than a four year old, you can’t get on. They have height restrictions on theme park rides after all.

Not being one with a head for heights and getting struck by vertigo by just standing on a step ladder, I had second thoughts and eyed up one of the donkeys waiting nearby who did its best to avoid eye contact with me.

The climb was tricky with few holds. Once at the top, glugging a lukewarm bottle of water, I mentally congratulated myself on my mini achievement, deciding it was worthy of a frozen Mythos later.

Meandering the site, we consulted our guidebook like obedient tourists. The views were incredible if slightly disconconcerting, with sheer drops in places and no solid barriers.

Nevertheless, we soaked up the history of the Acropolis. In 300BC, the Acropolis was dominated by the Doric temple of Athena Lindia and further developed during Hellenistic and Roman times. In the 14th century, the Castle of the Knights of St John was built, the walls and towers of which mould into the natural structure of the cliff.  These have been well preserved.

With my daily allowance of knowledge intake exceeded, we navigated our way back down and found a quant taverna. Welcoming us with a toothy smile, the owner led us up to a rooftop garden where we were gifted with a magnificent view. Just in front of us, the church’s bell tower protruded into the skyline and there behind it, etched into the horizon, was the slate grey silhouette of the Turkish mountains.

When our main dishes arrived, a grumpy but competent waiter took pride in filleting a freshly caught sea bream at the table. Perhaps it was a mixture of the stunning scenery and my elation at having climbed higher than a stepladder, but I can still remember the taste of that fish. So there I was, Mythos in hand and Baklava on the way, watching the sun slip into the sea amidst a crimson haze. It couldn’t get better than that.

Ceterparcs Review| did it live up to my overactive imagination?

Long before our girls came along, I had always wondered about the enigma that was CenterParcs. What was it about these concealed villages in the woods that drew thousands of people there in their bike-racked cars donning the latest sportswear?  Every time I’d pass one of these mysterious villages on a journey somewhere far less intriguing, I’d squint through the gaps in the trees hoping to catch a glimpse of what lay beyond. What were they all doing in there? I imagined families wearing wide grins and trainers, frolicking through the trees on strawberry-scented unicorns and jovial crowds gathered around bonfires at night rubbing shoulders with Robin Hood and his Merry Men.

Fast forward ten years and two children later, there I was about to become one of the CenterParcs gang. In a haze of heady excitement, we crammed the kids’ bikes, along with half of our house contents into the boot of our car and set off for Sherwood Forest.

With two kids in tow, their four eyes in the back of the car peering over the mountain of pillows, coats and teddies we had squished around them in the back seat, we set off.  

The first thing that struck me when we arrived was a newly developed condition called Lodge Envy.  Turning into the signposted entrance, CenterParcs gulped and we were swallowed up into the sky-scraping forest, then the road forked into two lanes, one lane designated for those booked into luxury lodges and the one we were in. Our queue moved slowly, allowing me enough time to cast envious glances at a few smug faces in the luxury queue speeding past us.

We didn’t pre-book our lodge and because we booked last minute, we were allocated a lodge in the 800s, one of the farthest from the hub of the village. This was good. It meant we had to get stuck into the outdoors and immerse ourselves in the true spirit of the CenterParcs vibe and it wasn’t long before the crisp, pine-flecked air awakened the Grizzly Adams in me and I was off.

On our way to grab some lunch, I soon realised that flip flops were not the order of the day or a wise choice for a serious forest trek. After ten minutes of getting bits of twig stuck in my feet, I decided that the bike-racked trainer-wearing, CenterParcs goers knew a thing or two.

Before booking, we were told there was no need to pre-book bikes as there were more than enough to cater for everyone. Having not ridden a bike since I was ten, I overcame my weird adult bike fear. Like a toddler unleashed without stabilisers for the first time, I wobbled my way around the village until eventually I picked up enough speed to feel the wind in my hair. The girls thoroughly enjoyed being dragged behind Mark in the little pod contraption which avoided monumental melt downs about tired feet. I’d highly recommend hiring bikes and the pod attachment as it’s a great way to see the village in a calm and whinge-free state of mind.

We ate out every night, mainly because I don’t like to cook when I’m on holiday. Don’t get me wrong, at home I love to watch the food channel and concoct recipes that I can present on oversized plates with elaborate swirls of pureed veg, but holidays are a no-cook zone. That is, until we settle down for our first meal and I digest the prices on the menu with my mouth gaping open. Perhaps on our next CenterParcs visit I won’t be so quick to ditch my pinny and oven gloves.

The only cure for my indigestion when I saw the food bill, was the fact that all the restaurants have a soft play area, so the little ones can whack each other around the head with over-sized, soft bricks while you savour the last of your well-deserved glass of wine. Of all the restaurants, we liked Strada the best.

After three days, we had eaten and cycled our way around the village. Proudly donning my saddle-battered bum cheeks, I was now well versed in all things foresty and had the sores to prove it. So, I jotted down my top tips and here they are:

  1. Be prepared to be active – it’s a large village and very hilly in places. Wear trainers and pack waterproofs
  2. Buy your essentials locally before you check in. We found the onsite market expensive
  3. If you have a weakness for Emma Bridgewater pottery, stay away from the giftshop
  4. Hire bikes and get stuck in
  5. Consider cooking your evening meals. Or, if the weather is good, stock up on BBQ food. All lodges have BBQs
  6. Not really a tip, but something worth noting – phone signal can be nil. I liked that, but if you’re a workaholic, you will be forced to step away from the phone. Then again, if your phone is glued to your ear when you’re away with the family, you may as well have stayed at work
  7. Get stuck in and try the activities. Our girls loved the tennis, even at ages three and four, but overall they enjoyed the science activity most.

So, did I get a whiff of strawberry or hear the clanking of goblets around an open camp fire at night while I was there? No. Obvs. But my curiosity about what lay beyond the trees was thoroughly satisfied and on my next trip, I might even buy a bike rack.