As a travel writer and a mother, I’ve often discovered supposedly family-friendly hotels to be not that child-friendly, and the top-of-all-Google-list family-friendly hotels to be colossal eyesores of waterslides, chicken nuggets and plastic chairs with ex-aesthete parents soothing their new reality with all-inclusive margaritas.
There is, on further inspection, a sweet spot, where stylish interiors, slick service and enjoyment for both parties are not sacrificed for the sole crime of having children. Indeed, most hotel managers I chat with have observed a spike in parents returning to their favourite pre-children spots, and using those precious weeks to bond in stylish surroundings rather than leaving their broods with a grandparent or nanny, or embarking on a Centre Parcs surrender.
Even the most glamorous hotels have had to adjust to this trend, keeping things chic for those without sprogs and energy-filled smalls and easily-bored teenagers entertained. Then there are the pioneers, those hotels (mainly in Greece) who prophetically weaved children into glossy-magazine-worthy interiors and kept the food, spa and service standards Elysium-grade from the get-go.
From creche services for tinies as young as four months (read, a few well-earned hours in the spa) to creative-thinking kids’ clubs that children refuse to leave, here are the best family-friendly getaways in Europe.
JW Marriott, Venice
With its fine dining restaurant Agli Amici Dopolavoro, shaded gardens filled with birdsong and extensive spa peering across the Venetian lagoon, JW Marriott is a veritable exhale from Venice’s tourist-laden canals. Peppering Isola delle Rose, an incredibly tranquil private island only 15-minutes from St Mark’s Square via water taxi, the hotel offers an escape from the crowds and plenty of family-friendly aspects to make for a veritable break.
Separate family areas have been cleverly stitched into the island picture, keeping the peace for those without little ones and parents not wishing to pitch up in eggshell territory. These include a family pool area with an accompanying tot pool, alongside which families munch pizza and gelato from Gardino, or sink into giant beanbags for al fresco film night. A large, light-filled Kids Club feels plugged-in and activity-focused, with multi-age toys and doors that spill onto the gardens for plenty of fresh salty air and outdoor fun. With their broods well-occupied, parents can hop foot it to the rooftop pool for daiquiris-with-a-view, or the sleek spa for massages using ‘clean beauty’ potions and a few hours of peace, slumping between the Finnish sauna, hammam and vitality pool.
Potentially an unwittingly family-friendly element is JW Marriott Venice’s exceptionally large balconies – a treat for parents to enjoy room service, the balmy evening with crickets chirping and a bottle of wine without needing to book a babysitter.
From £328 per night; marriott.com
Sani Resort, Halkidiki, Greece
Most parents with small children will have stumbled upon the word ‘Sani’ at some point – the secret code for a different dimension, where family holidays are no longer synonymous with an eye-sore tangle of waterslides and verruca-ready pools. Comprised of five different properties that run along the white-sand and wondrously pretty Kassandra peninsula in Halkidiki peninsula, with even entry-level Sani Beach offering parents stylish, luxury interiors and service, with all the kids’ clubs, creche time and sun lounger space you could hope for. More grown-up children are kept busy with endless watersports, sailing, tennis or cycling around the pine-studded grounds, whether with parents or at the Melissa Club or dedicated Teens club.
Meanwhile, tiny tots as young as four months are looked after and entertained by Sani’s Little Guests and Peppa Pig Creche team, leaving parents time to use the spa, the superb restaurants or simply wallow in the bath-warm sea. There’s even a ‘Babe Watch’ team on the beach to entertain children with games. And you can forget the nuggets and chips. Annabel Karmel has worked her healthy-but-delicious magic on the children’s menus.
From £180 per night; sani-resort.com
São Lourenço do Barrocal
Just under two hours’ drive from Lisbon, São Lourenço personifies the bucolic Alentejo idyll. Wild horses’ hooves pound wildflower meadows, daisies scatter lawns of an ancient monte (farming estate) and wrinkly olive trees dating back to the Romans still deliver the goods. A collection of barns, cottages and pressing rooms have been thoughtfully eased into the twenty-first century, with clay brick floors and white-washed walls cutting a refined-yet-rustic picture.
Children have also been eased into the mix, with outdoor activities connecting them (and their parents) to the land and its traditional rhythms. These include crafting with nature workshops, foraging the estate’s wide variety of flora and fauna with an expert guide then crafting souvenirs from their finds; creating a telescope using 3D printing with the nearby Dark Sky Alqueva Observatory, then learning how to read the constellations with it; and for teens, Martian rover building workshops with in-depth teaching on robotics and programming – while parents head to the Susanne Kaufmann spa. Families can mount Barrocol’s steeds for hacks, munch on acorn paté and roasted octopus under a pergola, or simply laze by the pool in the old walled garden (NB. not the adult only one).
For spring 2023, a new three-night ‘Wild at Heart’ experience has launched to take advantage of the spectacular countryside, featuring beekeeping workshops, floristry classes and ethnobotanical hikes.
Doubles from £360; barrocal.pt
Verdura Resorts, Sicily, Italy
Part of the Rocco Forte family, who have nailed the chic family-friendly formula, Verdura lies in a vast, verdant landscape peppered with citrus trees, palms, then tennis courts, vast pools and a polished golf course. Only an hour south west of honey-hued Palermo and occupying its own stretch of pretty coastline, this is Sicily’s answer to the country club, where afternoons can be spent in the spa, by the pool, on a bike, or simply under an umbrella with a cool glass of Sicilian white, while broods forget they even own parents in the superlative kids club. Here, it’s all about the Sicilian cooking classes, shooting films and editing them, and conducting scientific experiments, all while getting to know other children and building a sense of camaraderie. Verdura also makes the most of Sicily’s generous sunshine (and its brilliant sports facilities), with a summer football academy, and golf lessons for all levels. Older children and teens will breathe a sigh of relief at the pool table or contemporary art sessions – though most days are spent al fresco, by the pool or exploring Sicily’s Moorish-influenced Eastern coastline.
From £342 per night; roccofortehotels.com
Forte Village, Sardinia
Ah, Sardinia! Turquoise waters that can’t possibly belong to the Mediterranean, just-caught plates of shellfish and golden beaches where afternoons seem to drift on into dusk without one negative thought. Sardinia’s Forte Village leverages the Italian island’s wild beauty with over 100 acres of sun-dappled gardens and a milky white beach lapped by the mottled green-and-blue Cerulean.
The term ‘village’ is rather misleading here – consider it a little city-on-sea, with a choice of five different 5-star hotels and three 4-star, along with 13 plush villas with private pools. Resort snobbery quickly fades with the exquisite Italian food, the impressive spa and a vast outdoor pool where cocktails arrive in a flash. But mostly when grinning sprogs return from football clubs led by Real Madrid coaches or the kid’s club where they’ve run the full gamut of watersports and tiny tot games around the ‘village.’ Babysitters can be easily booked for smalls while parents sample the glass-fronted fish restaurant that hovers over the sea, and more grown-up families will relish the live music and evening entertainment in the piazza-style square.
From £573 per night for a family of four on a half-board basis, excluding drinks; fortevillageresort.com
A little blocky, yes. A little Costa del Sol resort, sí. A little slice of polished heaven in the last place any self-respecting sun-seeker would expect to find it, certainly! Leave all resort prejudices at Heathrow and check into the adult-only cabana-flanked pool at Ikos Andalusia, while the tinies inspect the toys in a creche that would make most Holland Park nurseries blush. As part of an ambitious redemption era of the Costa del Sol, Ikos Andalusia ticks all the family-friendly boxes – bottle sterilisers magically appear in rooms, as do the Rolls Royce of cots, cuddly toys and bath regalia – all while keeping things chic, creamy stoned and hibiscus-lined. A wise separation of the family-friendly pool and play areas from the adult-only (gated) area ensures all parties have a bona fide holiday.
Rooms are fresh and subdued, with woven-in tech and divinely comfortable beds, and restaurants are prolific – with tots’ organic mush or fussy eater food whipped without a word. Activities roll on throughout the day: tennis lessons, football academy, and cooking sessions, while older children and teenagers can hop on kayaks, paddleboards and jet skies while their parents snooze in a cabana along the beach.
From £250 per night; ikosresorts.com
Anassa Hotel, Cyprus
With its tranquil, pine-shaded gardens on the fringes of Akamas national park and generously long summers, Anassa Cyprus is a heavenly spot to escape to before you’ve even considered the family-friendly elements. Sugar-cube houses dotted around blooms of flowers and manicured lawns ease down the slope until they meet a private beach. Here, families set off on sailing, diving or snorkelling adventures, or simply laze along the beach for some down time. The notion can be guaranteed for parents with a write-home-about-it kid’s club, where the activities menu feels refreshingly outdoorsy: kayaking, paddle boarding, sailing… maximising time spent in the pretty surroundings and in the spanking fresh air.
Meanwhile, well-deserving parents can be found flopped like seals onto treatment beds in the Thalassa Spa or ordering the next round of cocktails at the Meltemi swim-up bar, just like old times. What’s more, weekly beach barbecues and evening entertainment, en famille, breaks up the repetitive supper-and-board-games holiday evening routine.
From £370; anassa.com
Borgo Egnazia, Puglia
For Italians, family is a way of life as opposed to an inconvenience. As is the case with most hotels up and down the boot, though Borgo Egnazia stands out. Mostly for its three terrific kids clubs: the Trullalleri Kids club (3-7), where arts and craft workshops can be rounded off with farm visits; the Marinai Teens club (8-12) where creative workshops, pool games and fun go-karting sessions are a daily affair; and the 13-16 lot, who are keen to lose their clingy parents on group dives along the reefs or for useful cooking classes learning Italian Nonna-style dishes.
Families will fall for Borgo Egnazia’s limestone good looks, its turreted towers and the sun-blasted Puglian coastline ripe for exploration. The hotel puts great emphasis on locality and tradition – organising festivals and sourcing food only from local farmers and fishermen, with children’s menus and a nourishing, whistle-stop tour of the Puglian coast and surrounding countryside.
From £289 per night; borgoegnazia.com
Occupying a calm bay on the lesser-trodden Athos peninsula in Halkidiki, Eagles Palace offers families a villa degree of privacy without sacrificing the fairy dust of a plush hotel (families should book into the architecturally on-point glass and stone sanctuaries). The hotel also serves up magnificent views of Mount Athos and (a rarity for hefty Greek coastal hotels) a short walk to the quaint village of Ouranoupolis. Afternoons here drift languidly into evenings – for parents that is. Children have spent the day crafting and scrambling up elaborate climbing frames at the kids’ clubs, or for the more grown-up children, tucking into an extensive watersports menu at the Aqua Explorers Club with lessons on tap. The hotel cleverly puts on a tasteful roster of family-friendly evening entertainment, such as al fresco movies and popcorn nights, so parents can inspect the Hellenic cuisine and wine lists in peace.
Seven nights at Eagles Palace available through Fish&Pips from £3,238 in a 2 Bedroom Sea View Bungalow. Price includes breakfast and is based on 2 adults and 2 children travelling including return British Airways flights from London to Thessaloniki and complimentary Fish&Pips concierge service; fishandpips.co.uk
The Marbella Club, Marbella, Spain
Back when Marbella was cool (though its redemptive chapter is now underway), The Marbella club was the place to swing your convertible e-type into, before gently prizing sunglasses from a silk scarf and lighting a long cigarette. Dining off its 50’s glamour (and princely beginnings) rather than pandering to more modern Costa del Sol tropes has ensured this legendary hotel’s survival, and enduring popularity amongst families reluctant to sacrifice chic beach club scenes and slick service in the name of offspring.
The kids’ club here is as legendary as the sub-tropical gardens teeming with lemon and fig trees and the Missoni-Gucci-Chanel-lined pool. Parents have been known to envy their sprogs’ activity-filled days of gazpacho-making, flamenco-yoga, archery, pulling together concoctions with an expert perfumer and creating art from upcycled materials. The full gang can stow away for a week (or two) in coastal-chic, earthy suites with oodles of space, light and, if it’s high on the holiday agenda, private pools for carefree splashing in the grand villas.
From £398 per night; marbellaclub.com
Daios Cove, Crete, Greece
Tracing the layout of a fishing village with little sand-hued cubes convening, amphitheatre-style, around the surreal Vathi Bay, Daios Cove is a Cretan refuge of good service and good taste. As well as bearing all the hallmarks of a grown-up hotel – the immaculate, parasol-lined white beach, the neat paths flanked by herbs and cacti, and the just-caught grilled fish restaurants with views of the Cretan sea – Daios Cove also manages to integrate energetic sprogs into this chic equation.
After long, lazy al fresco breakfasts en famille, children make a break for the under-12’s Scott Dunn Explorers Kids Club (4 months upwards) where treasure hunts and beach games are typically afoot, while the older lot can take a break from watersports, snorkelling and swimming in the high-tech games centre. Parents can relax at their children’s waterbombing form in the villas’ private salt pools or the children’s communal pool – while the premium all-inclusive option (from unlimited ice cream and smoothies to cocktails and Champagne) is the insurance families look for those who have been stung by an end-of-week bill in the past.
And with Crete’s season limbering on well into October, those with tots can make the most of a less ferocious sun while the sea remains deliciously warm.
Scott Dunn offers seven nights at Daios Cove, Crete from £7,200 based on a family of three (two adults, one child under 5) in a Deluxe Junior Suite on an all-inclusive basis, one Explorers Kids Club place and return flights from London and private transfers. For more information, please visit scottdunn.com or call 020 8682 5080.
Sun Gardens, Dubrovnik
Peering over the Adriatic, with views across to the Elaphiti Islands, Sun Gardens is superbly located for families keen to explore the Dalmatian Coast (Dubrovnik’s Old Town is a short drive away). The kids’ clubs here are cleverly divided into four age groups, and, as part of a growing trend in family-friendly hotels (the non-chicken-burger-and-chips sort) to hire big names for coaching, The Marco Polo Kids’ Club offers star-led sporting academies that run throughout the school holidays. The professional football school, run by ex-Premier league players, is a standout. All these top-notch tutoring and creative sessions (from 12 months) leave parents ample time to work their way through the spa menu or those in Sun Gardens’ eight restaurants and bars. And with its own pretty private beach, pine-tree studded gardens and two pools to splash in, families can unpack and camp here for a few days of R&R before any coastal exploration plans are even considered.
Seven nights at Sun Gardens available through Fish&Pips from £2,466 in a 2 Bedroom Sea View Residence. Price based on two adults and two children travelling including return British Airways flights from London to Dubrovnik and complimentary Fish&Pips concierge service; fishandpips.co.uk
One&Only Portonovi, Montenegro
With its Chenot Spa, ravishingly pretty sunsets over the bay of Kotor and glossy beachfront pools, One&Only Portonovi doesn’t immediately strike as family-friendly. In fact, quite the opposite as you gaze at the spa’s menu of detoxes and cryotherapy, or the cocktail and caviar form at the Caminetti bar. But somehow, this smooth, good looking hotel has pulled it off, like the courageous Gucci spec’d, cream linen’d parents with weaning toddlers. Here is a coastal sanctuary for sprogs au fait with reading Mum the Italian wine list or hopping in a Rolls Royce before embarking on any bear hunts (the classic speedboat, en famille is an epic way to explore nearby Adriatic islands).
The KidsOnly kids’ club reflects the hotel’s right-on service and slick interiors, with waterborne activities, crafty classes and invaluable life skills learned from local tutors (such as raft building or pizza making). Breakfasts are an elevated feast of eggs, fruit, detox juices and viennoiserie, and parents can either join their broods for hearty Mediterranean plates, Montenegrin-style classics at lunch, or stick to their Henri Chenot regime – easily done at La Veranda.
From £232 per night; oneandonlyresorts.com
Terre Blanche, Provence, France
Envisage a Provencal country club, far away from the Cote d’Azur crowds in the cool, scenic hills, where the privacy of a villa combines with a village-style warren of restaurants, pools and an enormous cloistered spa. Terre Blanche is a rarity in France (a country not notorious for nailing the hotel-en-famille formula) with its complimentary kids’ club (3-13), brilliantly thought-through children’s menus and family-friendly pool areas. High chairs, colouring sets and bibs are whipped out with the same finesse as plates of Confit du Canard at the brasserie-style Le Gaudina or poolside Le Tousco – its Italian menu being a resounding hit with families.
Those with tots will relish the villa balconies – reading a book or sunbathing during nap times – or the babysitting service, for Le Faventia’s clipped roasted-blue-lobster-and-fig menus or a hot stone massage in the spa. Family time can be spent on the fairway (the hotel also puts on an impressive Golf Academy for 4-18), cycling around the grounds (children’s bike seats are easily fixed) or rolling up sleeves for cooking or perfume-making classes.
This is as good as it gets for families holidaying in Provence.
From £405 per night; terre-blanche.com
MarBella Corfu, Greece
‘I’m bored’ are two words you’ll never hear at this legendary Greek island hotel, where classes and activities read like every child’s (and parent’s) nirvana. Expect pottery and nerdy robotics classes, watersports galore and an Aqua Park that somehow tiptoes in through the white-washed backdoor of this sea-fronted hotel. While children are sinking their teeth into ceramics or cooking classes, parents can snooze alongside the adult-only pool, book in for a treatment at the seafront Thalasso spa, or pick up their rackets for a game of doubles on the tennis courts. This is as close as families can get to a veritable holiday, without going down the plastic chair resort route. Any blocky, multi-pool snobbery quickly evaporates with the ultra-all inclusive package (recommended for multi-generational groups), which comes into its own at the six bars and restaurants, or with older children reluctant to hold back on the water sports.
From £296 per night on an all-inclusive basis; marbella.gr
Eliamos Villas Hotel & Spa, Kefalonia, Greece
For parents reluctant to kick their pre-children aesthete habits, where visuals were as nourishing as the sea air or the food for sun-soaked European jaunts Eliamos Villas Hotel & Spa (opening May 1 2023) honours its splendid Ionian views, with oaty, linen-clad bedrooms seemingly torn from the pages of a glossy magazine, and pools lined with wild herbs and lavender.
The style and layout mimic the tastefully dressed Greek island home of a well-to-do Athenian, with great care put into each and every detail, from a multitude of textures and fabrics towing the organic, subdued line to the angular sun lungers mimicking the shapes of the pool and the colours of the stone. So how do children fit into this serene and impeccably stylish picture? One-, two- and three-bedroom villas (with their own saltwater pool, outdoor dining areas and barbeque) easily engulf families, who are guaranteed the privacy of a villa with the polished service of a smart hotel. The goal here is for families to unplug, reconnect with each other (over olive picking or cookery classes) and slip into Kefalonia’s go-slow rhythms.
From £384 per night; eliamos.com