The family vacation, like the concept of family itself, has evolved. Kids are travelling with grandma, or a single parent, or an indulgent uncle (or all three). However you define your kin, we have an itinerary that’s all relative.
Family hikes through pristine forests, plus fruit-picking.
Pick wild strawberries and raspberries on trails in the Tirthan Valley. Photo: André Morris
WHY GO Children of all ages will love the bracing mountain air, time in the outdoors, and the novelty of experiencing (in a small way) where food comes from. This 12-day trip, half of which is powered on foot, can open their eyes to relishing a life without climate-control, TVs, and iPads.
Stop to sample wild raspberries while hiking. Photo: André Morris
THE PLAN From Chandigarh, make the nine-hour-long road journey to Gushaini in the Tirthan Valley and stay a few days near the river. Adults and kids can learn to fish for Himalayan trout while obeying the catch-and-release policy. Also on the cards are short day hikes to nearby hilltops, temples, or a waterfall. On all the trails the kids will delight in picking delicious wild strawberries and wild yellow raspberries.
Next up is a planned five-day trek into the adjacent Great Himalayan National Park. Treks to Marahni, Nada Thach or Dhel allow spectacular vistas and exploring Himalayan villages and the park’s wildlife. Himalayan Ecotourism can make all the arrangements along with guides. Post-trek recoup for a day in Gushaini, then make the long drive over the Jalori Pass to Kotgarh. Plan a few days either in apple paradise Kotgarh, or peach haven Rajgarh further down in Himachal’s Sirmour district. During harvest season, the trees around Kotgarh and Rajgarh are heavy with fruit. The entire area from Gushaini to Kotgarh is also cherry country and kids will love climbing trees with a basket, to pick the luscious fruits during the months of May and June. This trip is about little joys: watching mynas wash themselves in pools left behind by a rain shower, following butterflies and bees as they flit from one exotic flower to the next, trails through pine and deodar forests, and the roaring Tirthan River.
DON’T MISS Peach, plum, apricot, apple and other orchards bursting with fruity goodness. Squeeze in a trip to Renuka Lake and (in season) the Bhuira jam factory near Rajgarh, if you are in the area. Even reluctant kids will quickly learn to enjoy spotting colourful birds that thrive in this part of Himachal Pradesh.
The awesome Mayan ruins of Chichén Itzá in Mexico enthrall visitors of all ages. Photo: Pat Canova/Getty Images
#MayaMexico with the teens.
WHY GO Let the high schoolers channel the spirit of their inner Indiana Jones in Mexico’s Maya temple-strewn Yucatán Peninsula, where they can scale mysterious pyramids, bushwhack through jungles, and cool off in freshwater cenote pools the way the ancients did. A week-long road trip connects the Maya dots from the Caribbean to Gulf of Mexico coasts.
THE PLAN From the region’s main airport at Cancún, drive inland for two hours to the great ceremonial city of Chichén Itzá. Stay at the adjacent Lodge at Chichén Itzá to stage an early morning visit, when the popular site is most mystically quiet. Get a living lesson in sophisticated Maya astronomy by counting the 365 steps ascending the nearly ten-storey-tall El Castillo. Imagine real-life Hunger Games at the elaborately carved ball court, where competitions ended in human sacrifice.
En route to Mérida, another 128 kilometres west, detour to Izamal, where the Spanish colonial buildings are painted a bright egg-yolk yellow. Race to the top of the town’s Kinich Kakmo pyramid.
Comb the lost city of Dzibilchaltún, about 16 kilometres north of Mérida, an archaeological site dating to 300 B.C. that features a central plaza, amphitheatre, temple, and—swimsuit alert—the freshwater Cenote Xlakah.
Safari-break some 96 kilometres west at coastal Celestún to spy rosy flocks of mating flamingos. Time your next Maya conquest, eighth-century Uxmal, 80 kilometres south of Mérida, to arrive after dark for the dramatic sound-and-light show. After a night at Hacienda Uxmal, return to the site to Instagram the elaborately carved gods, including mighty Chaac, god of rain, wearing a serpent’s mask, and a throne featuring a two-headed jaguar.
Swing back east to Cobá, sight of Yucatán’s tallest temple, 138-foot Nohoch Mul, providing a high-priest’s view over the jungle canopy.
DON’T MISS Cool off with a dip in the waters of the Gran Cenote on the drive back to the Maya’s most beautifully sited ruins, seaside Tulum, just 128 kilometres away, but epochs apart from where you started in the chaotic city of Cancún.
A horse-and-buggy tour of the French Quarter, New Orleans. Photo: Tyrone Turner/National Geographic Creative
Play date with a favourite uncle.
WHY GO Bourbon Street may be restricted to 21 years and older, but an indulgent uncle (or aunt) seeking to spoil nieces and nephews in New Orleans can find plenty of lively attractions for young people. “The city’s very friendly,” says 12-year-old Brynn, who can walk to the famed St. Charles Avenue streetcar from her Carrollton neighbourhood home. “There are parks everywhere.” And you need only one packed day to get the good times rolling.
THE PLAN Breakfast begins with beignets—the uniquely New Orleans deep-fried pastry topped with powdered sugar—at Café du Monde in the French Quarter’s heart. After breakfast troop across Jackson Square, past Andrew Jackson’s statue and the fortune-tellers, to the Louisiana State Museum’s second floor in the historic Presbytere. Here, discover both bejewelled costumes and the stories behind the city’s Mardi Gras festivities at the permanent exhibit “It’s Carnival Time in Louisiana.”
Next stop: an hour-long tour of the French Quarter conducted by French Quartour Kids, designed for children up to age 13 by former elementary school teacher and historian Jill Dresser. Hear about pirates, ghosts, and how kids lived in the 1830s. Then visit the New Orleans Insectarium and its bug buffet, serving up mealworm salsa and chocolate chirp cookies made with crickets.
Those not enamoured of six-legged entrées may instead tuck into the fare at District, with a menu of homemade sliders and “extra fancy” doughnuts in exotic flavours like Vietnamese coffee and miso bacon praline. No need to quit munching at the Southern Food and Beverage Museum, where you can snack while touring the exhibit halls.
Work off the meal with a four-hour kayak tour along the Bayou St. John waterway and spot some of the southern Louisiana wildlife—turtles, egrets, pelicans, and maybe an alligator. If you can’t find a representative of A. mississippiensis in the wild, the Audubon Zoo features them, as well as the get-wet attraction, “Lazy River Gator Run,” where visitors can float in inner tubes past the exhibits.
DON’T MISS John Besh’s Pizza Domenica on Magazine Street features gourmet pizzas and garlic-bread knots with a dipping sauce of melted aged provolone. End your day with a traditional New Orleans snowball at Hansen’s. The fluffy mound of shaved ice (never crushed) is flavoured with homemade syrups. Locals adore the cool treats. And so did the James Beard Foundation, which named Hansen’s one of “America’s Classic” restaurants in 2014.
Plaster body casts of victims killed by the A.D. 79 blowup of Mount Vesuvius are poignantly displayed in Pompeii. Photo: Hans Madej/Laif/Redux
Ciao time with older teens.
WHY GO A deadly volcanic eruption. Gelato. Nudity. And pizza! That’s how to sell this four-day southern Italian itinerary to teens. What they’ll also get is solid insight into Roman life in A.D. 79. That’s when Vesuvius exploded in a superheated cloud of toxic gas and ash, killing some 16,000 people in Pompeii and neighbouring Herculaneum almost instantaneously and preserving their towns in remarkable detail—until the buried cities were discovered some 1,600 years later.
THE PLAN Base yourself in gritty, sprawling Naples, capital of the Campania region and far sassier than the likes of Rome and Milan. The Naples National Archaeological Museum safeguards many of Pompeii’s unearthed treasures, including a mosaic of Alexander the Great defeating the Persian King Darius. In the city considered the birthplace of pizza, dine at L’Antica Pizzeria Da Michele. Da Michele still serves only two classic styles of pie: margherita and marinara.
From Naples, take the train to Pompeii Scavi station. Book Pompeii tours online, via the local tourist office, or at your hotel. Choose a guided two-hour tour of the main highlights—from the bathhouses and brothel (you may want to skim the kids past the giggle-inducing naughty murals) to the taverns and launderettes of ancient times. The plaster casts of dogs and people immortalised in their death throes invariably pique the curiosity of kids.
Head to Mount Vesuvius on board the multipurpose four-wheel-drive “Unimog,” the only vehicle allowed to the foot of the walking trail. Trek up the steep, dusty path for spectacular views of the smoking crater.
Prepare for “it’s stinky” comments, prompted by sulphurous gases. If asked “Will it erupt again?” reply that an explosion is long overdue.
DON’T MISS In Naples, head to Il Gelato Mennella, with flavours including pistachio and lemon.
A carnival swings into Paris’s Tuileries Garden each summer. Photo: Keenpress/National Geographic Creative
European spree for mademoiselle and mom.
WHY GO What jeune fille (or fils, for that matter) wouldn’t love a charming weekend in Paris, packed with culture, shopping, and macarons?
THE PLAN Shake off jet lag with a guided tour of Paris’s major attractions in a vintage convertible Citroën Deux Chevaux, run by a company called 4 roues sous 1 parapluie. Then join the beau monde for afternoon tea at one of the French capital’s posh palace hotels such as Le Meurice, centrally located across from the Louvre. It’s pricey, but the high tea’s tower of finger sandwiches, scones, and petit fours could easily substitute for dinner.
Globe-trotting restaurateur Amy Morton recommends beginning a “monumental” day with Notre Dame Cathedral. Visiting the church’s crypt with its Roman ruins “gave my young daughters a real sense of Paris’s multilayered history,” she says. At the Eiffel Tower, skip the long ticket queues by reserving online ahead of time. Commute between these Seine-side icons by Batobus, the city’s ferryboat transit system.
Mona Lisa isn’t going anywhere. So why not try one of Paris’s insider venues such as the Gaîté Lyrique, a cultural incubator and digital-art exhibition space in a belle époque theatre? Or explore the free Cognacq-Jay Museum, a former aristocrat’s mansion with opulent 18th-century decor in the artsy Marais neighbourhood. (The Picasso Museum is practically around the corner.)
The magic word for most Parisians is not Chanel but soldes (sales). Outside of France’s biannual sales weeks, head to Monoprix (known for its discounted goods) for costume jewellery, scarves, and casual wear; the Opera location, especially, stocks fun, tasteful souvenirs such as Eiffel Tower iPad covers. On the Left Bank, Le Bon Marché (France’s Neiman Marcus) carries Louis Vuitton and Dior, a great selection of lingerie and hosiery, and fine chocolate bars in its ground-floor grocery.
DON’T MISS Sign up for a macaron-making class (in English) in the cosy Latin Quarter kitchen of Fred and Amanda Pouillot. Or stop at a Pierre Hermé patisserie: New macaron flavours debut monthly.
—Ceil Miller Bouchet
A multigenerational odyssey.
WHY GO From the windy Cyclades islands to the calmer Ionians, isle hopping in Greece is a great idea for a multigenerational holiday. But avoid the hassles of ferry schedules, flight connections, and multiple hotel bookings by chartering a crewed boat. On the Calypso (www.calypsoadventure.com), an elegant sailboat that sleeps ten, captain Dave Sidwell teaches kids to snorkel or spearfish. Or try Incrediblue, a Greek start-up that matches would-be sailors with boat owners. It’s basically Airbnb at sea.
THE PLAN The Dodecanese, 12 islands close to the Turkish coast, comprise castles, monasteries, colourful towns, and castaway coves. The regional capital, Rhodes, is most travellers’ first port of call. Then set sail for Symi; mansions in every shade of peach line its horseshoe harbour. Panormitis Monastery contains Byzantine and folk art, as well as a collection of bottles retrieved from the sea containing offerings to St. Michael, patron saint of sailors, that will spark the imagination of young seafarers. The monastery operates a wood-fired bakery where you can stock up on fresh bread.
Next stop: Nisyros, a sleepy island with a smouldering volcano at its heart. Dock outside the fishing town of Pali, then clamber up to the sulphurous crater, tiptoeing among hot springs puffing out smoke rings. It’s an easy hike for all ages. For white sand, cruise to the uninhabited island of Yiali nearby.
A sanctuary for over a hundred bird species (including rare Eleonora’s falcons), Tilos is a throwback to Greece before tourism. The town hall houses Stone Age fossils of dwarf elephants discovered in a nearby cave. In the abandoned 15th-century village of Mikro Chorio, inhabited mostly by goats, a crumbling stone house has been converted into the island’s only disco, where teens can dance under the stars. The final port is rugged Astypalaia, known for its windmills, antiquities, and lobster spaghetti. At Vathy, a hidden lagoon, hike over the headland to admire prehistoric rock carvings, then tuck into fried calamari at the only taverna.
DON’T MISS On Kounoupes, two tiny isles connected by a strip of sand, collect natural sea salt by the handful, a savoury memento of your trip.
Appeared in the September 2015 issue as “Tailored Trips For The Modern Family”.
Kakslauttanen Arctic Resort, Finland No night-lights or tech toys required: Kids lie in bed and watch the aurora borealis (mid-August through April) overhead. Igloos sleep two or four.
Wigwam Villages; Kentucky, Arizona, and California, U.S.A. The last roadside motels remaining of seven built from 1936 to 1949 offer 28-foot-high freestanding tepee rooms and a retro American vibe.
Glenapp, Ballantrae, Scotland Families get the royal treatment at this fairy-tale castle overlooking the Irish Sea, and kids get to try their hand at the ancient sport of falconry.
DRIVE-IN CINEMA ROOM
V8 Hotel-Motorworld Region, Stuttgart, Germany Your crew can pile into an apple-red Cadillac Coupe DeVille bed to watch their favourite flicks on the wall. The driving theme rolls on throughout the Motorworld complex, with its classic Lamborghinis, McLarens, and other vintage sports cars.
Gardaland Hotel, Castelnuovo del Garda, Italy Gardaland amusement park has been delighting children and adults since 1975. Between the park’s vertigo-inducing water slides and roller coaster (called Oblivion: The Black Hole, no less) and Gardaland Hotel, which has pirate, magic, and circus-themed rooms, the entire family will be reduced to giggling 8-year-olds.
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