Maxine Sheppard, editor of the Virgin Atlantic blog, picks a selection of destinations suitable for a summer family holiday.
Cornwall has to be one of the most family-friendly destinations in the UK, with its wide sandy beaches, beautiful countryside and jumbled fishing villages the stuff of seaside holiday dreams.
This is a destination where golden childhood memories are formed, where elaborate sandcastles are built before the tide comes in, where overhanging hedgerows are sniffed from open car windows, and the gulf stream warms the air.
Head to the north coast if your family’s the adventurous type. This is where you can learn to surf on the big Atlantic waves that roll in, or try your hand at rock climbing and even scuba diving if you can brave the chilly water. The gentler south is home to impossibly pretty harbours like Mevagissey, Polperro or Mousehole, where natural rock pools offer safe paddling at high tide and sightseeing boat trips venture back and forth along the coast.
Looking for the good life? Cornwall has a great selection of farm accommodation, many offering fun activities like tractor rides and the chance to help out with feeding the animals and collecting eggs.
The state of Tirol in western Austria is an alpine paradise for families. For a start, you’re surrounded by some of the most staggering mountain scenery in Europe and the whole tourist infrastructure has children at its heart.
Family Tirol Hotels (a group of 23 properties in beautiful locations inspected for family-friendliness) offer a special children’s buffet, organise loads of fun activities every week, and provide safe outside play areas, play rooms and crèches. They’re particularly good for babies too, with all the equipment you could possibly need, from night lights and changing mats to child carriers and pushchairs.
Active families will be in their element here. The fresh mountain air and crisp summer days make this an ideal environment for new adventures, like llama trekking, rafting, horse-riding and climbing. And if that’s all far too healthy why not indulge in a spot of cheese-making?
At the Hexenwasser Hochsöll water park, kids can spend all morning splashing around in one of the 60 Get-Wet Stations, then spend the afternoon making cheese, baking bread and learning how to extract honey. Or if you want to really relax, head to the idyllic village of Ehrwald. Here, the Familienbad (family bath) Tiroler Zugspitz Arena offers thermal waters and a spa area for adults, with a baby pool, children’s pool and monster-sized water slide for older kids.
Menorca is one of the Mediterranean’s most beautiful islands and the short flight (just two hours from London) makes it a quick and easy escape for families. It’s not as big as neighbouring Majorca, but the major draw is its beaches, of which there are more than all of the other Balearic islands combined. These range from craggy pine-fringed coves to flat horse-shoe shaped bays and best of all, most are ideal for children, with gradually sloping shorelines and soft golden sand.
With a city at either end of the island (Mahon in the east and Ciutadella in the west) and about the same size as the Isle of Wight, Menorca is easy to explore. A dramatic system of caves and gorges makes for adventurous day trips, and there are plenty of coastal routes and inland rural roads for cyclists to enjoy. Or spend some time out on the turquoise sea as well as paddling in the shallows.
Menorca is the perfect destination for water babies, with specialist teachers for kids and teens keen to learn windsurfing, sailing or kayaking skills. Remember to pack some plastic water shoes, as it can sometimes be a little rocky underfoot.
Germany’s Black Forest – named after its impenetrably dense hills of evergreens – has long been known as a fairy-tale land of traditional dress and cuckoo clocks, dotted with hidden lakes, old castles and dairy farms. There’s a magical, old-fashioned feel about the place, with twisty roads taking you high up into the hills, as steam trains chug past over the pastureland below.
A real back-to-nature destination, the Black Forest is easily traversed by train or by car. East of the river Rhine and north of the Swiss city of Basel, the region is compact and well-connected, with a variety of family-friendly activities that belie its small size.
As with Cornwall, farm stays are immensely popular, with children encouraged to help milk the cows and muck out the pigs. Older kids shouldn’t get bored either, with wild lake swimming, forest climbing parks and old abandoned mines to explore. And if you still need an extra jolt of adrenaline, Germany’s largest leisure park, Europapark, is located in the southwest of the forest with over 100 rides and attractions, including 11 rollercoasters.
Finally, don’t forget to try a slice of Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte (Black Forest Gateau) – the record for the largest ever made, all 3,000kg of it, was set at Europapark in 2006, including more than 700 litres of cream and 800kg of cherries.
Looking to go further afield? For the ultimate family-friendly escape, there can be few better long-haul destinations than Toronto. The journey is only marginally longer than flying to New York, but your funds will stretch a lot further here.
With an unbeatable mix of skyscrapers, parks and water, it’s unsurprisingly ranked as one of the most liveable cities in the world, and there is an inordinate amount to do. Get your bearings from a Red Rocket streetcar then spend a lazy day exploring the car-free Toronto Islands by bike or on foot, stopping to enjoy the stunning skyline views.
Or take in one of the many world-class family friendly attractions like Canada’s Wonderland (the country’s biggest theme park), a brand new Legoland, or the Toronto Zoo – who have just welcomed two new giant pandas with great fanfare. Five-year-old female Er Shun and four-year-old male Da Mao will be chowing down the bamboo here for another five years.
Also set to open this summer is the vast Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada, bringing you face to face with tiger sharks, seahorses, stingrays and dozens of other species. Expect plenty of interactive experiences and sleepover adventures too.