If only there was a destination on mainland Europe that ticks every conceivable box for a family holiday. The good news is that there is.
I’ve been taking my young family down to Portugal’s Algarve every year for the last decade and it’s Europe’s ultimate family playground.
It’s all too common as someone who writes about travel to hear about friends who have been disappointed with a long-anticipated family holiday. Maybe the older kids were – that family nightmare – bored. Or maybe mum and dad just felt a bit short-changed on the fun front.
None of this is a danger in the Algarve, which has been honing its family-friendly credentials for over half a century.
The raw materials are hard to beat as this southern stunner boasts mile upon mile of beaches with perfect, puffy sand – from shallow, calm waters ideal for tots, through to big waves for teenage surfers.
Albufeira may be the most popular resort and I won’t knock it as we’ve had great trips there. It’s just we prefer Lagos in the west and Tavira in the east.
Lagos has the great beaches and all the facilities you need, but also the lashings of history and a characterful old town that Albufeira has largely lost. The beaches here are better too with plenty for everyone – don’t like one and you can just swim, walk or catch a boat to another.
Tavira, meanwhile, is lower key. Its dreamy old town is awash with what feels like more church spires than people, riverfront strolls and leafy parks. You can catch a boat from town right out to the star beach escape, the unspoilt sand that is the otherworldly Ilha de Tavira: the family oasis you’ve dreamt of. Except for beach patrols, it’s largely car free and development is seriously low key.
Its 11km entirety is lined with the sort of white sand many people presume only exists in tourist brochures.
A great stretch for families is Praia do Barril, which is connected to the mainland via a narrow gauge train line.
There are myriad family attractions dotted around the Algarve, from water parks to zoos, on to dolphin spotting cruises and scuba diving trips.
My number one tip is Zoomarine. This brilliant attraction is both a water park and a marine zoological park.
My wee girls have been lucky enough to spend time with dolphins here.
There are myriad hotels to choose from in the Algarve. For years we went every year to Pine Cliffs. They are superb with kids of all ages (my kids still go on about the massive pirate ship and racetrack in the huge outdoor kids playground), but we’d heard great things about Martinhal Sagres in the less developed western extremities of the Algarve.
Martinhal is quite simply for us the best family resort on mainland Europe.
They get the basics right here of looking after the whole family, from really wee ones, through to stressed out parents and grandparents seeking to bond with everyone
The facilities, from age appropriate kids’ clubs and multiple heated pools, through to football pitches and surf lessons, are second to none.
Last but not least on my Algarve family round-up is a recent discovery for me – Aqua Ventura.
The couple behind this venture organise family activity breaks. They reassure parents during bodyboard and surf lessons, while building the confidence of wee ones.
Aqua Ventura for me is a microcosm of what the Algarve offers families – forging memories that linger long after the kids are back at school.
easyJet fly to Faro from Glasgow with returns from £95.94. Hiring a car is the best way to get around the Algarve. Holiday Autos can arrange www.holidayautos.com.
Tourist information from www.visitalgarve.pt.
My Top 10 Favourite Algarve Food and Drink
1. 2 Passos – I dined here recently and was impressed that an upmarket fish restaurant had as much time for kids as they do for well-heeled golfers. My girls loved choosing our own fish.
2. Pastel de nata – Ok, so they don’t originate from the Algarve, but these irresistible cinnamon topped custard pastry cakes are a winner with kids and big kids alike.
3. Tasca – A fish restaurant in a prime spot in Sagres overlooking the Atlantic and fishing harbour, with boat fresh seafood on the menu. You can choose your own.
4. Olhao Market – Kids can marvel at the treasures of the deep on sale here in a dramatic building designed by Gustave Eiffel, before snaffling some snacks from the stalls.
5. Cantinho Algarvio – A cut above the usual tourist places in the centre of Lagos, with live lobster and crab in their window display. Their traditional seafood cataplana fish stew is superb.
6. Polvo & Companhia Restaurante – The seaside village of Santa Luzia is famous for one thing and that is octopus. This is handily the best place to savour it fresh from the local boats.
7. Restaurante Por Do Sol – Restaurante Por Do Sol on the vast sandy expanse of Meia Praia is ideal for those with really wee ones with short attention spans. Steamed local clams sautéed in garlic and white wine star.
8. Vila Joya – It’s Michelin star time for foodie families with older kids at this glorious gastronomic temple.
9. Restaurante Avenida – This Tavira gem is an authentic Algarvian restaurant unlike some of the eateries huddled around the riverside. Their star dish, pork with clams, hails from the Alentejo though.
10. As Dunas – Pick lobster fresh from their tank after a starter of Algarvian clams and prawns here at the Martinhal in Sagres. They are very much geared towards families and cater for non-guests too.