Nature-based theme parks in Denmark
With its beaches, creative restaurants, art galleries and Viking museums, Jutland has plenty to recommend it, plus, this summer, two new nature-themed parks. Naturkraft – “the world’s first sustainability theme park” – is due to open on 50 hectares of former seabed in West Jutland in July, with exhibitions, a forest garden, maze, ziplines and hands-on activities to encourage sustainable living. And Wow Park, a forest activity park near Billund, is set to open in May, with treehouses, hidden huts and giant walkways across a 28-acre forest. Near there in Horsens, the Jorgensens Hotel is a newly revamped 1700s palace with rough luxe rooms.
• Jorgensens’ family rooms sleeping four from £105 (jorgensens-hotel.dk). Hometogo.co.uk has cool wooden cabins all over Jutland from as little as £16 a night, sleeping four
Eco-guesthouse near the French Pyrenees
South of Toulouse, between the city and the spectacular hiking of the Pyrenees sits Violaine’s cheery eco-lodge. It has a garden full of trees, a sandpit, playground and – the highlight – a sleek chlorine-free natural pool made from volcanic rock that is cleaned by plants and overlooks an expanse of hill country and endless fields. A few miles away are lakes and rivers for wild swimming and the Canal du Midi for cycle rides. Goodies, including homemade bread and jam, are piled high at breakfast, and the hosts will cook organic vegetarian and vegan meals (€22pp).
• Doubles from €65-€75 a night, myecostay.eu. Take a train to Toulouse
Coastal Pas de Calais
A short hop from the Kent ports, the Pas de Calais seaboard is essentially one long beach, stretches of which remain uncrowded even in August. Chichi Le Touquet is the hotspot here on the Opal Coast, but smaller gems such as Stella Plage are all but deserted outside the busiest weeks. Kids can dip into the military museums and bunkers when they tire of sandcastles; there are fab restaurants and food markets for filling the family’s faces, and for more action you could all rent an electric boat from Le Petit Quentoic and explore the river between Montreuil-sur-Mer and Etaples.
• Near Montreuil, the newly renovated gîte in the grounds of the Chateau de la Caloterie (sleeps 12 from €950 a week), or camp at Domaine du Blanc Pignon (from €19 per tent per night, chalets also available)
Beaches on Germany’s Baltic coast
What a faultless beach destination the German Baltic is. More than 2,000km of beaches, dozens of little unspoilt islands with dunes and cliffs galore, crowd-free and with shallow, barely-tidal-at-all sea that makes it super safe for toddlers. And honestly it’s not that cold. It can even get hot. The largest island, Rugen, is popular for its white sands, and is home to Gut Uselitz, a collection of smart apartments in a 16th-century Renaissance manor. Or pick Usedom, the next largest island, with a coastal conservation nature park, where a near-self sufficient farm hotel offered by My Eco Stay has farm animals, its own beer and handicraft and baking sessions. The island is shared between Germany and Poland and is well served by trains terminating in the Polish port of Świnoujście.
• An apartment at Gut Uselitz from €110 a night sleeping four (welcomebeyond.com). In summer a double room on Usedom is €69 B&B (myecostay.eu). To reach the farm without flying drive across Wolgast or Zecherin bridges, or take train to Usedom via Brussels, Cologne, Berlin and Züssow
Green Heart of the Netherlands
Those who come to the Green Heart of Holland area come for verdant landscapes and lakes linked by bike and walking trails and boardwalks, and can choose to stay in places that don’t have a negative impact on the nature they’ve come to enjoy. One is Landal De Reeuwijkse Plassen, a sustainably built complex of waterside holiday homes with their own private jetties, a nature play island, pool and canoes to borrow. Another, Hihahut, is a creative collection of wacky cabins, off-grid with their own water filtration system, solar power and compost loos. Days can be spent visiting local cheese-makers and windmills, and picking fruit on organic farms with cafes.
• A six-person residence at the Landal De Reeuwijkse Plassen costs from €149 a night (landal.com). Hihahuts from €99 for two people (all huts sleep two, hihahut.nl). Eurostar to Rotterdam, train to Gouda, then bus
Wallpaper* eco-home in Tarifa, Spain
Use wind power to propel yourself in funky Tarifa, Europe’s kitesurfing capital. Older kids can learn through one of dozens of local kitesurfing schools, then relax in Moroccan-style cafes, and join a whalewatching tour. Stay One Degree offers a fab modernist eco-home above the town, with terraces hung with hammocks, an outdoor kitchen and shower, a clever open-plan layout with bunks and beds in cubbyholes, and views across to Tangier in Morocco. It was designed by Swedish architect Thomas Sandell for Wallpaper* Magazine’s exhibition in Milan.
• From €145 a night, sleeps six in two bedrooms (stayonedegree.com). Rail to Algeciras via Paris, Barcelona and Cordoba, then bus
Forest stay near San Sebastián, Spain
Combining visits to the pinxtos bars of Basque region’s culinary capital with some chill time in nature should keep all family members happy. And the place to stay is Arima Hotel: stylish, sustainably built, and just 20-minutes from the centre, in Miramon Forest. The rooftop pool with wooden decking adds a touch of luxury, while the hotel uses geothermal and aerothermal energies, has a water collection system, bike stations and free electric vehicle recharging points. Within reach are the Oma Forest, cheese-making villages and San Juan de Gaztelugatze’s biosphere reserves, film location for Game of Thrones’ Dragonstones.
• Doubles from €82, interconnecting rooms available (arimahotel.com). Train to San Sebastián via Lille, Bordeaux and Hendaye
Grandpa’s house on the Algarve
The grandchildren of a man they describe as “an old sea dog” now run his old family home as Casa Modesta, a stylish eco-hotel by the sea in the Algarve’s Ria Formosa nature park. Rooms are super simple, decorated with natural local chalk, terracotta tiles and red limestone, and organic veg is grown in the garden. As a partner of the Foundation for Environmental Education, the hotel encourages guests to practise sustainable tourism and activities, sending them out foraging for clams, birdwatching and to make voyages by boat.
• Doubles (can include one child in same room) from €100 B&B, including bikes (casamodesta.pt). Train to Huelva via Paris, Barcelona and Madrid, then bus
Family adventure in the Austrian Tirol
Austria’s gorgeous Tirol region is brilliant for families – full of quirky attractions and family-friendly mountain inns with amazing playgrounds. A self-guided Inntravel tour in the Leutasch Valley combines two days cycling between hotels with hiking in dramatic gorges, swimming in lakes and rivers, cable car rides and pigging out on ice-cream and strudel in pretty towns such as Mittenwald, over the border in Germany.
• The six-night Tirol Adventure trip costs from £2,280 half-board for two adults and two children (aged 5-12), sharing a family room in two hotels and including return Dover-Calais ferry crossing, luggage transfers, two days’ bike hire (tagalongs and child seats available), and return taxi back to hotel where you can leave the car (inntravel.co.uk)
Beautiful chateau in northern France
A short train ride west of Paris, the 17th-century Chateau de Villiers-Le Mahieu has been turned into a style-conscious hotel aimed primarily at Parisian families. It is the first in what is hoped to become a collection of contemporary reworked chateau hotels, called Les Maisons de Campagne, where boating on the moat, bikes and scooters, lawn games and trampolines, yoga classes, arcades, an outdoor pool, posh cinema, kids’ club and spa are included and unlimited, along with help-yourself beer fridges, outdoor snack buffets, barbecues and wine (grab whichever bottle you fancy from the trugs of ice).
• From €169 adult, €89 child, full-board including drinks and activities, lesmaisonsdecampagne.com. Train to Garancières via Paris
A cave house in Andalucía
Everything you want from Spain – the hot beaches, culture, amazing tapas bars, rugged landscapes – is in Andalucía. And so too are some things you didn’t know you wanted – in the form of your own cool cave house. Tucked inside one of Almeria’s hillside caves, pretty whitewashed Casa Isadora has a garden overflowing with bougainvillea, jasmine and hibiscus, and terraces to sit with a sundowner as the sky turns to blush behind the mountains. Nearby are Guazamara’s food markets, cave restaurants, and the sea.
• From £101 per night sleeping four in two king-sized- beds (canopyandstars.co.uk). Train to Alicante via Paris and Barcelona, then bus or car hire
A chic homage to Catalonia
With organic dining, natural thermal baths in an ancient building with bare stone walls, plus its own farm and gardens, it’s all very rustic chic at Mas Salagros Eco Resort, 20 minutes outside Barcelona. Claiming to be a 100% sustainable hotel, this revamp of a 1497 farmhouse is set in a nature reserve, with views of the Parc de la Serralada Litoral, and gentle activities such as wine tasting, guided hikes and yoga classes, and as well as the kids’ club, children can join in with farm sessions, outdoor activities and handicrafts.
• Garden rooms sleeping two adults and two children from €161.50 in summer (massalagros.com). Eurostar to Paris then TGV to Barcelona
Bear watching in Italy
The European Nature Trust organises experiences that connect holidaymakers to nature while raising funds to protect European wilderness. Families are welcome if kids can handle bike rides and watching wildlife from a hide. One of the most family-friendly is a trip to the national park of Abruzzo, Lazio and Molise, two hours east of Rome, to spot Marsican brown bears, a relative of the kodiak bear, along with red deer and wild boar. Accommodation is in a family-run albergo, plus a night in a mountain cabin wildlife refuge. The experiences are now sold through Steppes Travel.
• The five-day break costs £1,695 adult full-board (under 12s £1,195), which includes all activities and a £500 donation to the bear foundation Salviamo L’orso, steppestravel.com. Train to Rome via Paris and Milan
Bike tour of central Europe
Cycling holiday operator Saddle Skedaddle has a brilliant range of self-guided and guided group holidays for families, providing kids’ bikes, toddler bike seats, side carriages and tagalongs on many routes, so even tots can go too. A self-guided trip from Vienna to Budapest – through Austria, Slovakia and Hungary – covers 20 to 35 miles a day, with easy stretches following the Danube and crossing the plains of Hungary, with plenty of stops for castles and cake.
• A week from £680pp, skedaddle.com
Interrail across Europe
If you’re planning on embracing a no-fly lifestyle, you could dive in with a mammoth family Interrailing trip across Europe. That children under 12 travel for free is a great incentive. The widest-ranging ticket, the Global Interrail pass, gives unlimited travel in 33 countries. You’ll need to make reservations in some countries (especially in summer) and pay for the Eurostar (reduced rate) and for sleeper and couchette reservation on overnight trains, but the continent is your oyster.
• See seat61.com and theguardian.com/travel for detailed information on routes and passes. Global Interrail passes cost from £284 for seven days (in one month) for adults in 2nd class, £213 for youths (aged 12-28); many other options available. Couchettes typically cost €20-37pp, beds in sleep cabins €40-92pp (myinterrail.co.uk)
Eco-pioneers in Croatia
The family behind the bohemian Palmizana retreat on car-free Sveti Klement island claim they were Croatia’s eco-tourism pioneers. The founder bought a 300-hectare expanse in 1906, planting it with palms, pines, exotic shrubs and herbs, which make a luscious backdrop for the collection of art-filled villas and bungalows his descendants now run. Pebble beaches with shallow calm water, two restaurants and sleepy islets a sail away make it fab for young tots.
• Doubles from €119 in May half-term, from €136 in summer (i-escape.com). By rail to Split via Paris, Munich and Zagreb, then ferry
Family cycling tour in Switzerland
UTracks is proud of its new offering: the “Swiss chocolate cycle”. Not a ridiculous new contraption that will prove useless on a hot day, but the title of its self-guided family cycling holiday following a loop from Zurich. The trip calls at two chocolate factories, where families can make their own bars, useful for fuelling the 18-31 miles they’ll cycle each day. The Limmattal Valley, Baden, and a boat cruise from Lucerne are other highlights.
• A week costs from £930 adult and £450-£730 child depending on age, six nights’ B&B in three-star hotels and pensions, bike hire and luggage transfer (utracks.com). Take train to Zurich via Paris
Camping in Italy’s Piedmont region
From June, a new super-fast Frecciarossa train will bring the connection from Paris to Milan down to six hours – a good excuse for a summer holiday in northern Italy. The Piedmont region is famous for its slow food, fine wines and mountain backdrops. The fun-packed Future is Nature campsite, near the village of Sala Biellese, has group games such as an archery challenge in the woods, and a choice of tents and cabins, such as a transparent geodesic dome sleeping two in a double bed, and suspended tents strung between the trees. Nearby, there’s hiking, the towns of Biella and Ivrea, and the Bessa nature reserve.
• Suspended tents sleeping two from £34 a night, dome sleeping two from £67 a night, book via pitchup.com. Train to Milan via Paris then taxi or hire car 1½hrs to Sala Biellese
Haarlem: Dutch city without the crowds
Quirky buildings, bikes, boats and pancake houses make the Netherlands an appealing choice for families looking for a low-key break not too far from home. Dodge Amsterdam’s overtourism by carrying on out to smalller, quieter Haarlem, 14 minutes away by train (or miss Amsterdam altogether if you land by ferry at Hook of Holland) for similar vibes without the crowds. It has the bonus of sandy beaches nearby — Bloemandaal-aan-see and Zandvoort. Many Amsterdam couples relocate to Haarlem when they have, and why wouldn’t they, with delightful parks (Keukenhof gardens) and cycle rides into the main Dutch flower-growing region, plus cool family-friendly cafes and kinderwinkels – children’s shops, and possibly the cutest word in the Dutch language (kidsproof.nl has a useful list). Stay in a stylish city centre home such as Inge’s Airbnb Villa Center Harlem, a former kindergarten that’s now a light, airy home filled with pot plants, sleeping eight for £101 a night in summer. Eurostar to Amsterdam or ferry to Hook of Holland.
Tour southern Ireland
Like a colder version of the Caribbean, the west coast of Ireland is all glorious white beaches and captivating scenery, wonderful for a summer tour if you don’t mind swapping jerk chicken and rum cocktails for buttered eggs and pints of the dark stuff. A route through the south and west, though easiest by car, is possible using public buses, supplemented perhaps by hire bikes (try Cycle West Cork, which also has holiday packages). Sawday’s has some lovely B&Bs across the area, or make a base in a beauty spot such as Sheep’s Head peninsula in County Cork – famed for its splendid walking – at the tip of which the Artists’ Cottage & Studio has two self-catering homes sleeping four and five that share an outdoor pool (the cottage sleeping five costs from €770-1400 a week). Inside the Cottage, a Rayburn warms the kitchen and there’s a glass sunroom, while the Barn is smaller, with sea views. Bantry Town’s pubs and the beach at Barleycover are close by.
• A P&O ferry from Liverpool to Dublin (in summer holidays from about £500 return for car and family of four including two meals and overnight cabin, no foot passengers on route, 8½ hours, pandooffers.co.uk), or from Holyhead on Stena (about £200 return for family of four on foot in summer holidays, or about £500 with car, 3¼ hours, stenaline.co.uk). See buseireann.ie for buses
Looking for a holiday with a difference? Browse Guardian Holidays to see a range of fantastic trips
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