Midlifers on tour: why now is the time to holiday with friends again
You don’t choose your family, as Desmond Tutu pointed out. What he neglected to add was that you can choose your friends, and go on holiday with them instead.
Our friends are our elected modern family. The people who make us laugh, share our tastes, understand us, take us as we come. And over the years, it is the holidays we take together that keep our friendships alive, colour them in, give us moments to treasure and anecdotes to tell and retell over the years until they are as polished as precious stones.
They are like waymarkers at every stage of life. First come the childhood holidays, families joining forces with other friends with kids. Next, your first independent holiday with friends, a coming-of-age ritual, followed by the blurry years of youthful hedonism in Balearic villas and Glastonbury tents, on stags and hens. Then grown-up country-house weekenders with other couples… until the whole process begins again, a generation on: holidays with other families; and with lifelong friends.
The return of the reunion holiday
With all the restrictions of the past two years, holidays have become somewhat downscaled, reduced to members of our own household, perhaps immediate family at a push. But now the rules have relaxed, the time is ripe for a reunion holiday on a grand scale.
“2022 promises to be the year that extended friends and family come back together,” says Francesca Reed of Unique Homestays, which has seen its bigger and more unique UK rentals getting snapped up first. “We’re seeing friends’ gatherings prove popular, with groups of eight-plus opting for longer breaks than previous years, as they make up for lost time.”
The importance of boundaries
Of course, just as with family, sometimes things can go wrong. In books and films, holidays with friends tend to end in disaster: infidelity, betrayal, murder. The reality tends to be less dramatic, but still, resentment, arguments, and unforgivable home truths, can destroy a relationship. So, how do we holiday with our chosen family and ensure we’re still friends at the end of it?
“You need to establish boundaries around the issues that can be problematic,” says relationship and behavioural psychologist Dr Angela Smith, the Married at First Sight expert who runs Relationship Retreats (relationshipretreats.co.uk) at Eastwell Manor in Kent. She identifies some of the common issues: money, tidiness, drinking, personal space, and how you spend your time.
“It all comes down to your personality,” she says. “Extroverts are re-energised by being around people, so they can go out for the whole day, have fun, party, and go straight back out in the evening. Introverts need more personal space, and time alone to re-energise – without that they can feel overwhelmed, irritated, stressed and then resentful. So set a boundary – make it clear you’re going to need your own space as well as time together.”
Set a budget
Money is another issue that can cause resentment – especially when people have different budgets. Remember that episode of Friends when half the group order wine and seafood at an expensive restaurant, and the low-earning others have tap water and starters, and they split the bill evenly regardless?
“When you go out for dinner and some people are drinking and somebody’s not, yet they’re lumbered with paying the same amount, that can cause a lot of conflict,” says Dr Smith. “Again, it’s about setting boundaries – be clear about what you’re happy to pay.”
But the time to do this is not at the end of a boozy meal. Dr Smith suggests discussing such issues before you’ve even gone on holiday.
“Doing it in advance ensures that the conversation goes really well. It’s about having a plan. If you try to do it when you’re angry, invariably it won’t go well – you won’t be able to get your point across eloquently or compassionately.”
Celebrate common ground
When we get them right, holidays with friends can be enriching, bonding – the best days of our lives. I can clearly recall moments of childhood holidays with family friends as though preserved in a halo of eternal sunshine, and that sense of reckless liberty of those first adventures away from parents with like-minded peers.
Forty years on, my parents are still holidaying with that same crowd. There are 16 of them now – a mix of empty nesters, grandparents, silver-haired bachelors, all in their 70s. They still have lots in common, plenty to talk about. “Although,” says my mother, “these days we spend the first hour discussing our illnesses and medicines.”
“You’ve got to give people space to do what they want to do,” my father says. “And be honest with each other about what you want. That way you can make sure you’re all happy.”
Whether you're looking to go away with a group of mates, join up with other families or make it a couples affair, read on for the perfect breaks for you.
The friendship group
When you’re young, holidays with friends – whether as singles or a ragtag mix – are invariably hilarious, wildly fun and eventful. What with excessive drinking, little sleep, and living in close quarters 24-7, they can also tip into conflict: things said that cannot be unsaid, people kissed who cannot be unkissed. And why do singles always seem to end up with the sofa bed? By day three, you will have realised there is one incredibly annoying person in the group. (If you don’t, then it’s you.) Yet by the end, you will have bonded more deeply than ever before. Even the disasters will seem, already, like stories to tell.
With age comes wisdom, and a preference for tea and rambling over tequila and raving, which leads to gentler, more harmonious holidays with friends in later life. When choosing a holiday house, the kitchen becomes the all-important hub, and should always be big enough for dancing – at any stage of life.
Where to stay
The new breed of luxury holiday village works brilliantly for big groups of friends, with accommodation to suit all types and sizes, and places to eat, drink, swim and play, together or alone. Soho Farmhouse was the pioneer, but there are an increasing number to choose from, depending on your budget and taste.
Norfolk’s folksy Fritton Lake suits wild swimmers and nature lovers; while the super-luxe houses of the Lakes by Yoo in the Cotswolds have superstar retreat writ large from jukebox to rooftop pool (Kate Moss, Elle McPherson and Jade Jagger have all designed houses on the estate), plus there’s a spa, pool, zipwire and climbing wall. Fritton Lake (frittonlake.co.uk) offers three-bedroom cottages sleeping six from £980 for four nights. The Lakes by Yoo (thelakesbyyoo.com/stay) offers five-bedroom houses sleeping 14 from £12,000 per week.
Island-hopping on a private charter has all the makings of Best. Holiday. Ever. That sense of utter freedom and privilege as you sail wherever the mood takes you, finding beach tavernas for lunch and dropping anchor to leap into empty blue bays. Red Savannah has yachts to charter in Turkey, Greece and Croatia and Montenegro; prices and luxury ranges enormously, starting from around £520pp for Kaya Guneri III, a traditional wooden gulet with eight cabins on the Turkish coast (sleeps 16, from £8,245 a week in May and October (redsavannah.com). If you want more structure, culture and an onboard historian, Peter Sommer offers expert-led charters from about £25,000 a week for 10 people on a Turkish gulet (petersommer.com).
The family affair
These are the best-of-all-worlds holidays. You get quality time with your family, and there are buddies for everyone: children, fathers, mothers. For one-parent or one-child families these can be particularly wonderful. As a child, these multifamily gatherings felt loose-limbed and boundless, our pack given more freedom to roam and play than at home. Suddenly we saw our grown-ups not merely as our parents, but people with their own personalities, senses of humour and standing among friends. Our newfound extended family grew with friends-of-friends, the godmothers and sort-of uncles who would appear with ice creams and beach toys.
Now, a generation on and holidaying with your own family, together with other friends with children, means the good times are still rolling. The big group means pool Olympics and beach cricket, long loud evenings for adults and extended company for kids; it means sharing cooking, clearing up, bed times and lifeguard duty – and also allows space to do your own thing, even a stolen afternoon with your partner.
Where to stay
Jacobean hunting lodge Huntlington House in Worcestershire has the feel of a rock star’s country retreat, yet is totally set up for families. Interiors are baroque’n’roll: gilt-framed portraits of Ozzy Osbourne, Led Zeppelin and David Bowie hang on oak-panelled walls, there’s a music room with full drum kit, grand piano and Sonos system; plus a colonnaded indoor pool, sauna, hot tub, gym, lake, topiary maze, children’s play area, tennis court and outdoor kitchen with barbecue and pizza oven. Fun times for all ages. Unique Homestays (uniquehomestays.com) offers a week at Huntlington House, sleeps 14 and two dogs, from £8,250.
Every house in the Casalino portfolio is checked out personally by founders Amélie Fiat and Olivia Bartoli, who vet them for loveliness before adding to their immaculately curated French collection. Each is a stunning example of local architecture: there are modernist architect-designed beach villas in Cap Ferret, traditional wooden chalets in the Alps, a shuttered village house on the Ile de Ré, a houseboat in Paris. Given the calibre, prices are delightful too – a medieval hilltop house in the Vaucluse, for example, sleeping 14 in seven bedrooms, with a pool and pétanque in the tiered gardens, starts from £2,271 a week (casalino-homes.com).
The couples retreat
Like a sort of extended dinner party, breaks with your friends-in-couples are perhaps the easiest of the lot. There are no children to look after. Everyone’s a grown-up, with blessedly few demands and disposable income to splash out on decent accommodation, whether that’s a house in the country or a cool Airbnb in a European city.
Pick one that will delight when you arrive, whether that’s the games room or steps down to the beach. And make sure bedrooms are all desirable – nothing breeds resentment faster than spending a sleepless night in a bunk while others slumber deeply in their emperor bed. Hotels can also work well for groups of couples – particularly for those who want a break from cooking and tidying, or for restless types who need laid-on entertainment.
Where to stay
In North Berwick, Leuchie Walled Garden is a stunning modernist glass and timber house set in five acres, which has just launched as a holiday rental. It was designed in the 1960s by Sir James Dunbar-Nasmith for the Dalrymple family, who wanted a more liveable alternative to their stately home, and it’s filled with their grand trappings: antique furniture, rococo sconces, grand piano, oil portraits of ancestors. There are two games rooms, snooker, table tennis, tennis court, golf pitching range, croquet, boules and a firepit; and six lovely bedrooms, five of them accessible. Three nights from £3,740, sleeping 12 and two dogs (leuchiewalledgarden.com).
Villa rental company Luxury Travel Book has added the most gorgeous restored finca, Can Felanitx, to its collection in Mallorca. The green-shuttered ochre-stone house is set in gardens of fig, orange and pomegranate trees, with a pool, covered dining terrace and barbecue. Inside are five bedrooms, all natural interiors, and historic features complemented by mod cons from the likes of Bose, Sonos and Apple. From £4,247 per week, sleeping 10 (theluxurytravelbook.com).
For full details of entry requirements and Covid rules for your favourite destinations, see telegraph.co.uk/tt-travelrules. Refer to gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice for further travel information