‘Plan now and breeze through the school year’
Whether you’re after adventure or plenty of sunshine, Sally Peck has the formula for half-term happiness
You should know that there is a secret to surviving – and even enjoying – half-term holidays. British children spend less time in primary school than their peers abroad (in America, for example, or Indonesia). Naturally, this puts the onus on parents, as yet another mid-term break rolls around, to pull something really magical and surprising out of the hat.
Lacking the length and preset agendas of Easter and Christmas, and devoid of the clear mandate (bucket, spade, sun) and relatively fair local weather of summer, the October, February and May half-terms can easily be squandered. And yet, these are some of the best times of year to travel with children if you pick your destination carefully.
Finding the right destination at the right time of year is not straightforward; tropical weather can be fickle. You might be tempted to book in southern Europe in October, but you’d be taking a big chance: Cyprus and Turkey are your best bets then, but you still have a 25 per cent chance of encountering rain.
Come May, however, and it would be a shame not to take advantage of the lower prices and moderate heat in Greece, or southern regions of Italy and Spain. Another consideration: you must be realistic about what you and your children are ready to take on in a short time period. In many ways, Thailand, Japan and Brazil are among our favourite destinations for families: each country offers culture, food and beaches that beckon people of all ages. But given a week, we would advise sticking to shorter flights, or destinations where flopping or beach sports are more of the focus; leave longer trips for Easter or summer.
February, for example, is one of the best times of year to visit Kenya, says Geoffrey Kent, founder and CEO of Abercrombie & Kent, because “water is scarce and so wildlife is abundant close to any available water sources.
“For those who want to avoid taking malaria treatment, South Africa and Namibia are favourites, with October and February ideal times to visit.”
With so little time difference between London, Nairobi, Cape Town and Windhoek, children can hit the ground running as they explore.
The subtropical climate of the Canaries, and the relatively short flight-time to this Spanish archipelago off the south-western tip of Morocco, make this the most popular choice for families travelling with Thomas Cook in February. Tenerife and Lanzarote remain popular in October with the operator, though Turkey is favoured for the autumn half-term, as it is in May. At a slightly higher price, Kuoni, specialists in long-haul sun, sees the Maldives dominate the February and October half-terms for families, while Spain is top choice over the Whitsun half-term, though the United Arab Emirates and Mauritius make strong showings in each holiday period, too.
Whether you’re after an adventure or guaranteed sunshine, plan your trips now and breeze through the school year without last-minute panics with our expert guide to where to go when, and at what age.
Read on for our favourite picks for October, February and May, plus the most reliable year-round destinations and the best of Britain, at any time. Following the school year’s longest stretch without a break, October half-term is the perfect time to escape Britain – but unless your child’s school has a two-week holiday, you’ll be competing with everyone else for the same fares and wanting to avoid excessive flight times.
This is the time of year to pursue three things: sun, animals and culture. If it’s warmth you want, you might chance it around the Med – Cyprus or Morocco are your best bet weatherwise, with temperatures in the high 60Fs (low 20Cs) – but you’ll have to fly a bit further for true heat before the dark days descend.
You might also try exploring somewhere different that doesn’t rely too much on the weather – this is a fine time for city breaks around Europe, as the flights are short and you can be flexible on the amount of time you devote to the trip: if work schedules allow only for a long weekend in Berlin, you’ll still get a break from daily life, and an injection of art, history and culinary adventure for your family.
Amsterdam’s canals, galleries and parks are well suited to exploration with primary-aged children. Kid & Coe’s stylish, fully equipped (that means toys) family apartments make life even easier. After a few days of culture, head south-east to Efteling, a fairytale theme park based around woodland cabins.
Kid & Coe (0203 962 0784; kidandcoe.com) offers four nights at the Oud West Residence in Amsterdam from £1,632 for a family of four, arriving Oct 22 and Efteling (0416 537777; efteling.com) offers one night at the Loonsche Land Hotel from £312, arriving Oct 26, including park tickets. You could fly (easyjet.com) or take Eurostar (eurostar.com) to Amsterdam and Dutch trains (ns.nl/en).
REEF LIFE IN MAURITIUS
Sunshine is virtually guaranteed and sailing and glass-bottom boat trips should keep school-age children busy at Constance Belle Mare, a recently refurbished resort on one of Mauritius’s best beaches. The kids’ club here features computers and cookery, while the more adventurous can learn to dive. Turquoise Holidays (01494 678400; www.turquoiseholidays.co.uk) offers seven nights from £8,599 for a family of four on a half-board basis at Constance Belle Mare, departing Oct 20, including flights from Heathrow.
BOWS AND ARROWS IN TANZANIA
Older children will love a safari in Tanzania, which can be less busy than the Masai Mara at this time of year. They can try shooting arrows with tribesmen, hike alongside zebra and giraffe and paddle across lakes in search of hippos.
REACHING OUTConstance Belle Mar Plage in Mauritius, right; fantasy-themed Efteling, above; getting tribal in Tanzania, below