Life
William Ham Bevan 27 Jul 2017 10:00am

The best left-field holidays that the kids will love

Forget Tenerife, Tuscany and Orlando – this year, why not treat the children and yourselves to a holiday that’s miles removed from the ordinary? William Ham Bevan takes his pick

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Caption: The Canadian West is an endless wilderness of forests, lakes and mountains.

Vancouver to Alberta, Canada

If your idea of the great outdoors is the Yorkshire Dales, prepare to alter your sense of scale. The Canadian West is an endless wilderness of forests, lakes and mountains – and hiring a motorhome (or “RV”, as they’re known there) gives you total freedom to explore it at an unhurried pace. Starting in Vancouver, you can make your way to the Jasper and Banff National Parks at the Alberta border, staying overnight at well-equipped campsites.

The kids will love: Rugged activities that will give them bragging rights back home. Whistler is Canada’s capital of zip-lining, with a cat’s cradle of wires above the treetops. Then there’s white-water rafting on the Athabasca and Sunwapta Rivers, mountain biking around Banff, hiking through Maligne Canyon...

You’ll love: The Icefields Parkway, one of the world’s most beautiful drives. Stop at the Columbia Icefields Centre, where the glaciation creeps almost as far as the road; you can walk out on a glass-floored observation platform 900ft above the valley. Look out for wildlife, as the parks are home to black and grizzly bears, elk, mountain goats and bighorn sheep.

Everyone will love: The pure air and heart-lifting scenery. Choosing particular highlights is tricky, but it’s difficult to imagine a more heavenly scene than Lake Louise, its water a vivid turquoise from the sparkling minerals washed down by the glacial flow.

Alderney, Channel Islands

Alderney is a place where you could still imagine the Famous Five pedalling past, bicycle baskets full of sandwiches and ginger beer, on their way to solve a mildly perilous mystery. The island may be just 10 miles from the French coast, but it feels like a speck of 1950s England cast adrift in the Channel. The only town, St Anne, is a charming time capsule of cobbled streets and pastel-coloured houses with not a chain store in sight.

The kids will love: Bucket-and-spade escapades. You can choose a different beach every day of the week, starting at Braye beside the main harbour. Secluded Saye offers safe swimming and the odd inquisitive seal, while there are rockpools to explore in Longis Bay.

You’ll love: Alderney packs a lot of history into its three square miles. The Channel Islands were the only part of the British Isles to suffer occupation during the Second World War. Walking on the cliffs you’ll pass pillboxes, gun emplacements and bunkers repurposed as party venues during Alderney Week in August.

Everyone will love: Alderney has its own railway – the only one left in the Channel Islands. It runs every weekend through the summer, using 1950s London Tube carriages pulled by a diesel locomotive. The two-mile chug to Mannez Quarry will delight Thomas fans and railway buffs alike.

The Dolomites, Italy

When the snow melts, the ski areas of South Tyrol reinvent themselves as one of Europe’s greatest summer playgrounds. Chic resorts such as Cortina d’Ampezzo, Val Gardena and Alta Badia make perfect bases for a multi-activity break amid the precipitous pinky-grey cliffs of the Dolomites. You can spend the days hiking and biking together, and discovering more offbeat attractions. Highlights include the alpine coaster toboggan ride at Val di Fiemme, and a special via ferrata climbing route for kids at Kronplatz. It’ll be a cultural education for them, too.

The region is trilingual, with German and the local Ladin language spoken alongside Italian. And for insight into its history, visit the newly opened First World War museum at Marmolada, which at an altitude of 10,000ft, is Europe’s highest museum.

The kids will love: Going up, up and away on the many cable cars, funicular railways and chair lifts that stay open during the summer. The Dolomiti Supersummer pass includes more than 90 of them, granting access to thousands of miles of mountain trails.

You’ll love: The chance for a post-hike pampering if you stay at or visit one of the many spa hotels that speckle the region – or if you stop at the superb thermal baths in the town of Merano.

Everyone will love: The local cuisine. Sit down for lunch at a mountain hut and you’ll notice a distinct Germanic influence: dumplings, cured sausage and barley soup are among the staples. More surprising is the fact that South Tyrol has more Michelin stars than any other Italian province, and even the swankiest restaurants tend to be tolerant of well-behaved children.

The Flemish Coast, Belgium

For somewhere so close to home, Belgium’s 40-mile coast is hardly known in the UK as a holiday destination. That’s a shame, as it boasts wonderful beaches, a string of family-friendly resorts and fantastic food and drink. Getting about is part of the fun: the entire length of the coast is linked by the Kusttram, the longest tram route in the world.

The kids will love: De Panne, the town nearest the French border. It has two claims to fame. Its vast beach is where land yachting was invented, and the kids will thrill to see the three-wheeled craft scudding about on a windy day. It’s also home to Plopsaland – a theme park based on the exploits of inventive children’s TV characters you won’t have seen on CBeebies, such as Mega Mindy and Plop the Belgian Gnome.

You’ll love: The amazing variety of architecture and ambience when you hop between towns. Knokke-Heist is all expensive villas and glitzy boutiques, while De Haan is a perfect ensemble of Belle-Époque buildings surrounded by quiet dunes for picnicking. Ostend, the only true city on the coast, is elegantly raffish: a Belgian Brighton. While there, head to the James Ensor museum. The artist’s nightmarish paintings always seem to have a peculiar attraction for kids.

Everyone will love: The comfort food. You’ll be tempted at every turn by crisp shrimp croquettes, the best fries in the world and fluffy-centred waffles, fresh from the iron. Grown-ups can explore the many styles of Belgian beer, from fruit-flavoured lambics to treacly Trappist brews.

Hong Kong, China

Hong Kong may not immediately spring to mind as a family-friendly destination, and it’s perhaps not the best call for very young children thanks to the heat, humidity and hilly terrain. But the bustle, crowds and culture shock just add to the excitement of the holiday. The new experiences keep on piling up, from bronze Buddhas and sailing junks to dim sum and dragon parades.

The kids will love: The two theme parks. Disneyland Hong Kong is great for smaller kids, and it’s a far more manageable size than Mickey’s better-known resorts. Teenagers seeking a shot of adrenaline will prefer the rollercoasters of Ocean Park. The floorless Hair Raiser does exactly what it promises, while the corkscrewing Dragon offers spectacular views to those brave enough to open their eyes.

You’ll love: Discovering that more than a third of Hong Kong’s territory is open space and parkland. On Hong Kong Island, the classic urban escape is to take the Peak Tram up its near-vertical tracks to Victoria Peak. Savour the amazing views and choose a trail to get back.

Everyone will love: The markets and shopping streets. On Hong Kong Island, don’t miss the Cat Street antiques market and Tai Yuen Street for toys. Kowloon’s shopping gems include Apliu Street for all manner of electronic gizmos, the self-explanatory Jade Street and the Goldfish Market. It’s worth letting kids stay up late to wander down Temple Street Night Market, with its cast of fortune-tellers and hawkers pushing trinkets and knock-offs.

Galápagos Islands, Ecuador

There’s wildlife watching, and then there’s Galápagos. The archipelago that sparked Darwin’s theory of evolution is like nowhere else on Earth. It’s like being immersed in a living nature documentary, with a cast of comical blue-footed boobies, curious penguins, sly-looking iguanas and soaring frigatebirds. It’s a magical experience for children, who’ll need to be coached in etiquette: however cute the creature, touching and petting are not permitted. Getting here from the UK is something of a trek, involving a long flight to Quito and then onward air transit to the islands; and the big question is whether to stay on land or on board one of the many cruise ships. Neither option is cheap, and it’s a good idea to enlist a specialist tour operator.

The kids will love: Snorkelling with animals that have no fear of human interlopers in their underwater world. Sea lions and marine iguanas are everywhere, and certain spots all but guarantee sightings of the bizarre flightless cormorant and the tiny Galápagos penguin. Manta rays and Galápagos sharks look somewhat more threatening but are entirely harmless.

You’ll love: A trip to the Charles Darwin Research Station on Santa Cruz Island. Established in 1959, the institute aims to ensure the fragile ecosystem will be preserved for many generations to come. Its scientists, who do an excellent job of explaining the ongoing projects, are quite resigned to the fact that they’re not the main attraction. That distinction goes to the giant tortoises who live here as part of the captive breeding programme.

Everyone will love: The stopover in Quito. It may seem like an incidental detail in a Galápagos itinerary, but Ecuador’s capital in the high Andes makes a delightful place to bookend your trip. It’s worth exploring the Old Town, a World Heritage-listed district of fine colonial buildings and engaging museums, and trying an empanada – a hugely addictive type of fried pastry – from a street stall.

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