The best family hotels in Europe
It is a great feeling when booking a packed and organised holiday. Discover your next family getaway with this list of all-inclusive stays around Europe, featuring beautiful scenery, great food and all stress-free.
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Forte village, best for family luxury and sporting excellence
Forte Village is home to several different luxury five and four star hotels and villas all with their own unique design and ethos. The grounds and rooms are immaculately kept and you’ll discover 50 acres of sub-tropical gardens stretching towards the white sands and sparkling sea of the south coast of Sardinia, the beach is adorned with stylish deckchairs and parasols and the gently sloping waters are perfect for families to play and swim in.
Amongst the wealth of tropical trees and plants at Forte Village, dotted around the grounds are 21 gourmet restaurants, over 20 sports academies, multiple swimming pools and the world-renowned Acquaforte Thalasso & spa, so you won’t run out of new experiences to explore. Despite its size, it’s easy to move around the hotel by hopping onto one of the many smart golf buggy taxis that are on constant rotation across the resort.
The children’s wonderland offers high quality childcare for the duration of your stay, children will find a theatre where they can take part in stage productions, a miniature village including a walk-in Barbie house, a vegetable and gardening patch and best of all a private swimming pool so kids’ can splash around under the watchful eye of the professionally trained staff.
If your child is a sports fan then you’ll find an unparalleled range of opportunities for them to be coached by well-known stars and international champions, from football sessions with the Fundacion Real Madrid Clinic where you might see Alvaro Arbeloa, to rugby with Will Greenwood and go-karting with Paolo Gagliardini. Other academies include fencing, golf, climbing, dance and netball to name just a few. Professional sports kits are gifted to the children at the beginning of the course and the academies generally run from 10am in the morning to 1pm, giving adults the chance to relax before an afternoon and evening of family time.
If you choose to spend your free time making use of the tranquil spa area, then the thalassotherapy is a unique and deeply relaxing experience, you’ll follow a course of six pure Sardinian seawater pools, with varying temperatures, minerals, and salts, some of which will have you floating of no volition of your own, but all resulting in a deeply detoxifying experience.
Forte Village works on a half board basis, breakfasts are a luxurious affair with fresh juice bars, exotic fruits, omelettes, and eggs made to order, beautiful local meats and cheeses and a plethora of pastries, yoghurts and cereals.
In the evenings there are a wide range of restaurants to choose from, from lavish buffets under the stars, to some truly exquisite dining experiences overlooking the Sardinian sea. Many of the vegetables are supplied by the hotel’s expansive kitchen garden and there are a wealth of restaurants specialising in the local Sardinian cuisine, from open charcoal grills with sizzling local meats, to freshly made pasta and pizzas. As you’d expect, there’s an abundance of local seafood on offer, both at the Fish Market restaurant and the celebrated Beachcomber restaurant by Heinz Beck. The Wild Scandinavian BBQ by Brian Bojsen is not to be missed, situated on the seafront and prepared over an open fire, the wooden platters of perfectly prepared steaks and lobster are his speciality and watching your food being prepared over the open flames is all part of the entertainment.
Between July and August Forte Village also hosts a number of celebrated Michelin star chefs from around the world for exclusive evenings, from Andrea Berton from Milan to Frank Reynaud from Switzerland who will offer one-off menus with set wine, all for an additional price.
Forte Village, Sardinia has rooms from €530 per room per night based on two adults sharing a Deluxe Bungalow on a half board basis. fortevillageresort.com
Creta Maris, Hersonissos, Greece
All-inclusive, best for children of all ages
Creta Maris is a sprawling resort and located directly on the glittering Aegean coastline, it is home to a myriad of pools, 250m of private beach, restaurants, tavernas and even an impressive water park, but most importantly it has retained its Greek charm and warm family-run feel. The surroundings are beautifully maintained, with cobbled streets, hidden squares and a hugely impressive array of plant life and flowers, it truly does feel like a small, traditional Greek village.
There’s a huge variety of accommodation to choose from at Creta Maris, from sea-view apartments for couples with babies or young children to two storey villas which are perfect for larger families or those with older children, as they offer complete privacy as well as comfort, with two large separate rooms, two balconies, two large bathrooms and big, comfortable beds. Cleaning services come twice a day so the whole villa feels pristine throughout your holiday.
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The all-inclusive offering here manages to be high-quality and very generous at the same time, with an array of food and drink on offer from morning until night. You’ll find seven restaurants on the premises, which all have a focus on local, organic produce which is sustainably-farmed with a farm-to-fork ethos – the Creta Maris have their own kitchen gardens on-site which supplies fresh fruits and vegetables to the hotel.
Children will love the buffet restaurants which have plentiful choice and decadent dessert bars, the buffets mostly focus on traditional Greek cuisine with fresh salads, seafood and grilled meats, but the largest buffet restaurant offers themed nights which change every evening. However, the à la carte restaurants are the highlight and it’s worth making your booking early through the hotel app to secure the restaurants of your choice the day before dining.
Pithos is an organic restaurant overlooking a quiet pool which focuses exclusively on Cretan cuisine. There’s a traditional wood oven and you’ll find dishes such as cuttlefish with fennel and olives, grilled sea bream and homemade burgers and chips, and a good choice of local Cretan wines which are all complimentary. Cochilias is another restaurant highlight, specialising in barbecue and having spectacular sea views and beautifully barbecued steaks, chicken souvlaki, fish and an array of salads, freshly baked breads and oils and a towering dessert and ice cream bar. Platia is a smart Greek restaurant overlooking the Byzantine chapel, where traditionally dressed waiters serve exceptional seafood pasta and an imaginative children’s menu.
Despite all this, children may well be mostly taken with the many snack points on offer throughout the hotel, where you can order freshly made waffles, crepes, Greek salad pots as well as hotdogs, toasties and slushies – no one will go hungry. The bar overlooking the pool and beach outside reception also serve a good range of cocktails and mocktails which are all included in the price of your stay. Borrow from a range of board games and settle in to see the sunset.
Sports facilities for children here are also excellent, you can book professional tennis and football courts for free anytime during your stay which are flood lit during the evenings, the perfect time to play in hot weather. Creta Maris is also home to an open-air cinema where you can see box office classics or big games under the stars as a family, and pick up complimentary popcorn on your way in.
The all-inclusive offering lasts until the moment you leave the hotel, even if you have a late-night flight back home. There are showers and changing facilities specifically for checked-out guests, so you can enjoy the pools, beach and restaurants for the entirety of your last day.
How to do it Rooms available at Creta Maris from £180 per night on an all-inclusive basis, use of all facilities included.
P&O Cruises Norwegian Fjords tour
All-inclusive, best for older children
Starting a trip abroad without having to fly or take a very long drive sets the precedent for one of the most stress-free ways to travel. Cruises have a reputation for an audience of a certain age but P&O Cruises ships couldn’t be more family-focused. Set sail from Southampton on the Iona and spend two nights at sea being pampered. Keep the hunger at bay at the round-the-clock street food area, The Quays, serving exemplary fish and chips, big burgers and fried chicken, and Thai curries and katsu. For the first full day, there’s a gala evening with a menu of timeless classics like beef wellington, curated by culinary heavyweight, Marco Pierre White, who was on board throughout the voyage giving daily talks and cookery demonstrations (other chefs are involved, too). There are more dining options than days on the ship to enjoy them, the popular Olive Grove (booking essential) make pizza to order and serve other Mediterranean favourites, Sindhu is Indian-fusion, and you can pick your own steak from their on-board meat-aging cabinet at The Keel and Cow – you won’t go hungry.
First port of call is Norway’s fourth biggest city, Stavanger. The ship docks in the old quarter with its view of old white wooden houses. Stavanger is home to the Norwegian canning museum. Norway is reliant on preserved fish and here you can learn about every step of the sardine-canning process, from the arrival of fresh fish to smoking (which you can taste on some days, check website) to the canning itself.
It’s up early the next day to take in the first views of the spectacularly scenic Fjordland before stopping at the picturesque village of Olden. There are lots of ways to experience the Olden Fjords, from the reasonable safety of a cable car to the more adventurous option of a speed boat, which can be combined with catching langoustine for a seafood feast (with homemade mayonnaise, bread, wine and salad) when you get back on shore. Trips can be organised through the ship’s expert shore experience team and all Olden activities can be booked independently at oldenactive.com.
After a morning cycling from the snow topped mountains to the most iconic and busy fjord port, Geiranger, you are ready for a sugar fix at the Gerianger Bakeri. Here, they specalise in filling cinnamon-flavoured buns and flaky pastries with whipped cream and make a lesser-known traditional dessert ‘heitevegg’ or ‘hot wall’ which involves pouring hot milk over a soft, sweet cardamon bun and allowing it to soak in like an individual bread and butter pudding. Our last day was spent in the town Haugesund which is rich in Viking folklore and is a short bus ride away from the Norwegian history centre and Viking village, Avaldsnes.
Haugesund offers lots of shopping opportunities from out-and-bound clothes shops to small delis and there’s a lively waterside restaurant and coffee shop scene with all day dining at Brasserie Brakstad and small plates with a Nordic slant at To Glass.
After all that action, you’ll be thankful for the last two nights at sea, making full use of the ship's spa facilities or just relaxing in one of the 18 jacuzzis. If you want to combine the all-taken-care-of elements of an all-inclusive but still want the culture fix of touring, then a cruise has it all covered.
HOW TO DO IT
P&O Cruises Norwegian Fjords tours start at £999 per person for a room with a balcony, and we sailed on the Iona.
Verdura resort, Sicily
Utter luxury with childcare
Hugging the south coast of Sicily near Agrigento, the Verdura resort is set amid the mossy green expanses of golf courses (two championship courses and a 9 hole) kept lush using recycled water, and almond and orange groves with a backdrop of mountains and an expanse of private coastline. This low-rise establishment with its enormous sky-reflecting infinity pool barely causes a blip on the gorgeous horizon and feels loved, it’s been nurtured by the owner, Rocco Forte, beautifully decorated by his sister Olga Polizzi in a spare but luxurious way, and a large percentage of the staff are local. Come in the off season, especially autumn half term, for warm water, blue skies and a balmy temperature that doesn’t tip over into too hot.
Breakfast is a buffet of dreams, bottomless orange juice from the trees onsite (nearly 4000 of them) as well as home-grown prickly pears, pomegranates, almonds and other fruit. A make your own juice station featuring an array of veg (there’s a kitchen garden) and a stand where you can make your own brioche con gelato (yes, it’s a traditional breakfast dish, your children will love it) and acres of the sweet treats that make Italian breakfasts such a delight are supplemented with a hot menu, skip the eggs royale for local grilled Sicilian sausages or a thin frittata made with wild fennel and herbs.
There are three restaurants dotted around the estate, Amare sits on the coast by the beach and specialises in fresh fish, it has its own fish counter so you can see what you’ll be eating. Treated simply, fish are grilled and taken off the bone for you, or you can opt for squid or seafood if you prefer, busiate is the local pasta shape (a spiral formed around a skewer) and comes with prawns and pistachio pesto. You need to check the menu, not everything is included in half-board but you can pay extra for ‘off ticket items’. Children are welcome as they are throughout the resort. Liolà down by the golf hub is bright and breezy with a terrace overlooking the sea, a huge pizza oven and a menu that includes pasta and, at lunch time, ‘sandwiches’ including a pane cunzatu, a Sicilian speciality packed with tomatoes, oregano and anchovies. Zagara looks out over the enormous pool and with a view of the coats and specialises in Sicilian cuisine, pasta is dressed in local red prawns from Sciacca, courgette leaves and lemon, octopus comes in a deep bowl with chickpeas and mint, hearty but fresh. There’s a children’s menu available across the resort with plainer pasta, chicken and pizza, ask and they will do whatever they can to help you. Prices on adult menus are on the expensive side so it’s worth investigating half board options and offers or leaving the resort on occasion.
Kids club (open 10-8, collect your off-spring for lunch) is free for 4-12 year olds and teens club is free between the ages of 13 and 16, there is also a paid for baby club and babysitting until midnight. The club centres around Vedùland which has its own heated pool and outdoor space as well as a proper kitchen for cooking lessons and mini science lab and a video games room and TV room. There are several sporting academies on site, these cost extra, and you’ll have to check dates as to what’s on where, but budding footballers might enjoy Juventus Academy or Football Legends Academy, or tennis, swimming, golf or water sports. While your kids are running around you can visit the spa and thalassotherapy pools, the four pools are an oasis of calm in the open air surrounded by lush vegetation and lantana flowers. Use of the indoor pool, gym, sauna and spa are included in the room rate, as is use of the driving range and putting green.
Rooms are all very spacious, have shutters and mosquito nets and are very well equipped. Bathrooms are enormous, pampering and filled with toiletries from the Irene Forte range, made with herbs and fruit from the farm. The hotel has all manner of baby and toddler equipment from highchairs and sterilisers to eating utensils, changing mats and pool floats, as well as rubber ducks in the bathroom and tiny bathrobes and slippers, check before you go, you will be able to pack light. Cots and beds for children under 12 can be added to rooms free of charge. Suites have kitchenettes with hotplates for heating milk and baby food. There are bicycles everywhere, including kid’s bikes, these are free to use, you pick them up and leave them where you like, and they make a quick way to get around the resort.
The lead-in rate on B&B basis starts from €400 per night in a Deluxe Room for double occupancy. Half (from €528) or full board (from €650) can also be booked. For additional information, please call +39 06 32 888 630 or visit roccofortehotels.com/hotels-and-resorts/verdura-resort .