Thermal waters and late-night pizzas in Lake Garda
We swam everywhere in Lake Garda, easing into its fabulously warm waters on sun-baked beaches to the west, or charging off piers in impossibly picturesque towns to the east, with bellies full of massive ice-creams.
Mae had just hit her teens and loved the novelty of late-night dining in still-warm streets, every evening bringing a new style or flavour of pizza as the sun set over the rugged mountains ringing the lake.
We were staying in a mobile home at a vast holiday camp to the south that had three huge pools of its own and lengthy waterslides, offering a high-energy start to the day, as well as lots of kids of all nationalities.
The highlight was the trip to nearby Sirmione, built on a peninsula with a medieval castle at its centre, a beach on its tip and bougainvillea everywhere. The ice-creams were enormous – an essential way to cool down after spending too long in the thermal currents streaming into the lake, another thrilling novelty.
We’ve had great holidays since, but Lake Garda just worked, from morning till lights out.
This summer Mae’s talked us into going to Greece so she can drift around a gorgeous island in the sun, plunging into turquoise seas, lying about on white-sand beaches and drinking mocktails in sunglasses. More Mamma Mia! than Love Island, we hope.
Pool volleyball and ice-cream in Mallorca
Ten days in Mallorca is my tried-and-tested formula for a holiday with teenagers. It has the picturesque mellow charm that fortysomethings like me crave, but enough Instagrammable pool inflatables and buzzy restaurants to keep teens from getting bored. Tick “wifi” and “pool” as must-haves on Airbnb and find somewhere within walking distance of a town or village: teen independence will help with family harmony.
In 2019, when my kids were 16 and 13, we rented a house with friends a couple of miles’ hike along an old donkey track from the village of Valldemossa. The heat of the day was too scorching for anything but reading in the shade (me) and pool volleyball (not me), but in the mornings and evenings that dusty donkey track gave the teens access to the town square with its ice-cream parlour and stalls selling friendship bracelets.
On the other side of the island, the towns of Pollensa and seaside Puerto Pollensa have given us lovely holidays in previous years. Wherever you stay, book a late lunch at Ca’s Patró March near Deià, and take swimsuits: after paella, you can sip hierbas (aniseed-flavoured liqueur) on ice while watching your teens take turns jumping off rocks into the crystal-clear sea. Perfection.
This summer For a post-pandemic change, we are going to explore the Peloponnese and the Greek island of Hydra. It has no roads and no cars – apparently, you can hire a donkey to carry your luggage from the port to your accommodation – which I figure must make it explorable without a car, right?
Surfing and camping in Biarritz, France
Since my children were nippers, my go-to “easy” family holiday has been camping in France. When Angus was 18 and his twin sisters, Nancy and Lola, were 14, we piled into my Bongo camper and snaked down France’s Atlantic coast to Biarritz. The beautiful belle époque resort is the surf capital of Europe and you can’t move for surf schools and salt-flecked beach bums in Fat Willy’s T-shirts. The teens were in their element. We stayed at Le Ruisseau des Pyrenees (pitch from €24), a large, modern campsite surrounded by woodland but only 10 minutes’ drive from Biarritz and the surf beaches.
Over the week we sampled them all. Plage de Bidart was deemed the best for enthusiastic bodyboarders like me and the girls, while Angus, a proper surfer, nailed the waves off Grande Plage and Plage de la Côte des Basques. When we weren’t surfing, we nipped across the Spanish border to San Sebastián and hopped in and out of pintxos bars. It was probably our most successful holiday to date.
This summer Our next trip is to Rome to celebrate the end of the twins’ GCSEs. We want to see the Colosseum by moonlight, hang out at the Trevi fountain and eat as much pizza and gelato as our belts can handle.
E-scootering and street parties in Lisbon
Living in the hills in rural Wales, my 17-year-old daughter hankers after the glitz and fizz of metropolitan life. Earlier this year, we tried to satiate that craving with a trip to Lisbon. Our oldest son was living in Portugal’s City of Light, so we had inside intelligence before we booked.
On arrival, my daughter and her friend went on a three-hour e-bike tour with an English-speaking guide. They zipped past the major landmarks and, critically, climbed the seven hills of Lisbon. It was a masterstroke because they got their bearings immediately: they then took the iconic trams, buses and their favourite e-scooters in and out of the different bairros or neighbourhoods for five days on their own, and never got lost.
They found Instagrammable shops, cafes in tiny sunlit squares for coffee and pastéis de nata, and their own favourite spot for brunch (sitting outside Café Janis); on Friday night, they wandered through the weekly street party in the labyrinthine district of Bairro Alto, where revellers spill out of the warren of tiny bars to dance on cobblestone streets. Lisbon has a youthful, accessible and gregarious ambience that put us parents at ease. I would be less comfortable watching my daughter and friends swan off around, say, Barcelona, Paris or Rome. Perhaps best of all, we didn’t have to drag the girls around the National Tile Museum.
This summer None of my three children will commit to coming on holiday with us: it’s a new era. We’ve booked a cottage on the Ceredigion coast and we’ll see if anyone turns up.
Hiking the Dalesway from Ilkley to Windermere
I cannot recall how we chose the Dalesway as our trip: an 80-mile footpath that winds from Ilkley, West Yorkshire, through the Dales and Howgill Fells to end at Windermere in the Lakes. I thought Conor (16 at the time) would like the challenge, and the pubs. I liked that he was now strong enough to carry his own kit.
I’d travelled with all my kids from when they were babies: Conor had been to Bali when he was four – weeks, that is. With children you enjoy their company, but welcome the moment they fall asleep and leave you in peace. With teenagers, that relationship comes to an end.
You are going to be travel companions. They are going to see the side of you that was previously hidden in the space between bedtimes. Let’s hope they like it.
It was only by chance that we chose to go in the depths of a particularly savage winter. The days were short and the puddles always hard with ice, but that made it a challenge. Some of the night stopovers were wonderful: I remember Conor having a long discussion about red squirrels and otters with the then owners of Nethergill Farm (which is still providing shelter and sustenance to walkers).
Mobile phones are more ubiquitous now, which might preempt such moments – I’d be tempted to leave them behind. The pubs in Dent and Kendal met with his approval, as did being handed a substantial packed lunch every morning. (Rating them became a thing – Stone Close B&B in Dent was victorious.)
Somewhere in the Lune valley I got acute tendinitis in my ankle and Conor had to carry my bag too, while I hobbled along. If we started as parent and child, we certainly finished as companions.
This summer Conor is an adult living in Berlin now, but we’ll be meeting for a cycling adventure in Scandinavia in July, then going to stay with a friend in Copenhagen.
Weird wonders and steam-powered drinks in Germany
I was tasked with getting my son out of the house this Easter while my wife was busy at work and my daughter was revising for GCSEs. He had just turned 14. He loathes hot weather and when I asked him where he’d like to go, he said “somewhere weird”.
I took him to the Harz mountains of Saxony-Anhalt in eastern Germany. I had been before and really liked it. The landscape is great: wooded mountains, spooky gorges, and rushing streams. A narrow-gauge steam train chugs up to the summit of the Brocken, where witches are supposed to gather on Walpurgisnacht on 30 April. We saw no witches, but the summit was covered in snow. The region also has pretty, half-timbered towns, great cake, schnitzel – who doesn’t like schnitzel? – and the eerie legacy of communism.
The DDR museum in Thale preserves some of the flavour of that lost Soviet world. On our last night, we stayed at a steam-train themed hotel in Wernigerode (doubles from €94.50), where a tiny train delivers the drinks in the restaurant. My son was gratifyingly amazed when it brought his soft drink to our table.
It was a great and memorable trip – more because of the sense of togetherness than any specific activity. As every parent of a teenager knows, the moments of camaraderie are precious.
This summer After two years of disrupted travel, we’re planning to go, finally, to the US east coast to see family. I hope my kids haven’t grown out of swimming in the sea and mini golf. My daughter has made it clear that her top priority is visiting thrift stores.
Mountain adventures in Austria
We bought hiking boots for eight-year-old Nancy on the opening night of the 2012 London Olympics, as the Red Arrows were shooting past the shopping centre. The next day, we flew to Innsbruck where she developed a love of the Austrian mountains that continued throughout her teens.
Best known as a lively ski resort, the town of Soelden, in the Tirolean valley of Ötztal, is transformed by summer into a natural paradise. On that first visit, Nancy was obsessed with the Sound of Music – and the hills truly felt alive: flowers everywhere, snow still atop the peaks, cowbells, scything in the fields, schnitzel and strudel.
In the clean air and with a waterfall, dramatic peak or hidden lake for swimming at every turn, Nancy walked cheerfully every day. We have returned many times since, with the activities evolving as she’s grown older. Almost all outdoors and active, these proved the perfect antidote to the screens and stress of teenage life.
Later, we hired a guide for tougher hiking into higher mountains, went mountain biking and discovered zipwires and rafting at the adrenaline-filled adventure park, Area 47. Taking advantage of the largely empty cable-cars and chairlifts used in the ski season, we zig-zag around the mountains to eat at Ice Q, the glamorous mountain-top restaurant seen in the James Bond film Spectre, or at timbered inns serving hearty breakfasts and lunches – our favourite is Gampe Thaya, where oompah bands play. We love the thermal spas of the Aqua Dome and the extensive network of saunas at the Das Central hotel.
This summer Having finished her A-levels, Nancy is spending much of it travelling with friends, but I’m determined to grab a few precious days with her before university starts.Her first request – post-pandemic, post-exams – was “please take me back to Austria”.
Soaking up the ancient magic in Fez medina
When Tess was five she and I spent a month travelling around Cambodia and Vietnam, and after that she was never entirely satisfied with a plain old bucket-and-spade holiday. In Fez, we found the ideal compromise. The long-haul experience without the drama, the jabs or the visas; the perfect blend of the exotic and the familiar.
Now that she’s 15, we’ve been enough times that she’s made a local friend – who teaches her to speak Darija – and she can strike off into the exquisite souk on her own to find trinkets for her friends. She knows that when she inevitably gets lost, she should head to the magical Café Clock, and order herself one of their justifiably renowned camel burgers while she waits for me.
She’s also a huge fan of being scrubbed raw in the Riad Laaroussa hammam. Not me, I’ll be under an orange tree in the courtyard with a mint tea.
This summer Neither of us has been to New York but this might be the year. I’m dreaming of the pierced skyline, MoMA, Central Park and a Katz Reuben sandwich, but Tess wants to see “that enormous Christmas tree they have”. The most intrepid of teens is a big kid at heart.
Teaming up with other teens in Cornwall
As mum of Scarlett, 18, and Fin, 15, I’ve learned that one thing is guaranteed to keep teenagers amused on holiday, and that’s other teenagers. We’ve had many fun getaways as a family of four, from the Maldives to Turkey, yet no matter how exotic, there’s always this nagging feeling that they’d much rather be with their friends. The solution, of course, is to team up with another family with teens. We did just this during February half-term in Cornwall, staying in Sea Spray (from £1,170 a week), a house high above Perranporth’s epic dunes, with plenty of space for eight of us. What could have easily been a damp squib as we contended with Storms Dudley and Eunice, turned into a joyous mix of swimming in sea pools hewn out of the rock (the sea was way too rough), the teens (who met at nursery) hanging out in the outdoor hot tub, dancing round the kitchen preparing dinner, and watching films with the woodburning fire roaring. Perfect for all ages.
This summer Cornwall was such a success we’re all off to a villa in a village in Languedoc this summer, with sun replacing the storms. It feels like a last hurrah, as the girls are off to university in September.
Camping, food-tasting and wild swimming in the Sussex hills
It was the summer before GCSEs and our daughter pictured something luxe and lazy before being confined to a study cell for the rest of the year. There would be a villa, a plunge pool, a consistent tanning temperature, and, most importantly, a posse of friends. What she had to settle for was a watered-down version of the teen dream – it being between lockdowns and subject to the vagaries of the English summer.
But in all other respects, a week’s camping in the Sussex countryside couldn’t have worked out any better. (I know. We’re still wondering how we got away with it.)
It helped that the campsite was above and beyond – Woodfire Camping (pitches from £19.50 adults, £9 children) in the hills above Petworth serves up bacon-and-egg sarnies of a morning, delicious meals from the firepit in the evening, and they even put on a food-tasting event with outside chefs one night. Better yet, they hire out ready-pitched tents (£36 adults, £12 children 3-18) and agreed to my daughter’s demands that she and her four friends could be camped at the opposite end of the field to her parents and their pals.
Instead of a plunge pool, the girls got to swim in the river, they took the bus to West Wittering to sunbathe on the beach, and they spent lazy days hiding in the long grass listening to music and dozing. We barely saw them all week, but we could faintly hear them singing and giggling away with each other in the evening.
This summer We’re heading to Kefalonia for the luxe-light and lazy option. An apartment on the beach with a pool and a consistent tanning temperature.