Way out on the eastern side of the Gulf of Thailand is the wild island of Koh Kood, with rainforest, waterfalls and mangrove tangles. And in the middle of this jungly spot is the extraordinary Soneva Kiri. Spread over 150 acres, it has 35 enormous villas with free-form infinity pools, round-the-clock butler service and electric buggies buzzing between the beach, boutiques and spa. Yes, many places have all that, but this hotel will inspire young heads like few others.
Reached across a drawbridge, The Den is one of the best kids’ clubs you’re likely to find: an ingenious bamboo structure shaped like a giant manta ray up in the treetops, with peepholes down to the forest floor and catamaran-style netting underfoot in the library. On the timetable there are music classes with traditional Thai instruments, tie-dye workshops and bracelet-making using recycled paper. There are also quidditch matches in the pool, obstacle courses, cooking lessons and good old-fashioned postcard-writing.
Stargazing sessions are held at the observatory and family-favourite films are screened at the outdoor cinema. For toddlers, the gorgeous, ground-level Eco Den offers face-painting, kite-making and bug hunts, as well as sandcastle-building on the beach and treasure hunts. To cool down, kids choose a scoop from one of the 60 flavours at the ice-cream parlour or try a junior treatment at the Six Senses Spa, which includes a honey-and-yogurt facial and coconut-oil scalp massages.
INSIDER TIP: Take a trip to one of the island’s waterfalls where you can swim in the cool plunge pools.
JOURNEY TIME An 11.5-hour flight to Bangkok, a private plane to a nearby island, then a five-minute boat ride
TIME DIFFERENCE +8 hours
PENSAO AGRICOLA, ALGARVE, PORTUGAL
If your frazzled teenagers are in need of sunshine and downtime after exam exhaustion, consider this newly opened, whitewashed farmhouse in the Algarve. Pensao Agricola is surrounded by green meadows that are home to snoozy cows and Ernesto the donkey (soon to be joined by a wife amidst plans for an equine dynasty).
The six bedrooms are all different and all charming, in a sun-dappled rustic sort of way. Three are in the main house, but if you want a bit more crashing-around space, choose from the other three in the former stables and outhouses. Each of these has its own terrace, where chairs and cushions are laid out for lounging.
Parents should grab the Páteo Suite, which has a tiny sitting room facing a courtyard and fountain, and a bedroom filled with artwork. The rain showers are lit naturally by skylights, there’s springtime almond blossom by the bathroom sinks, and the polished-concrete floors have underfloor heating for chillier weather. Furniture is a smart mix of antique and retro and you’ll spot little piles of books everywhere (Portuguese authors in translation).
Housekeepers Barbara and Maria stir up dishes inspired by the childhood recipes of owners Nuno Ramos and Rui Liberato de Sousa, including salt cod with layers of sweet potatoes and fig ice cream. There is a small heated pool, dining tables hiding among lemongrass and lavender bushes, and an honesty bar on top of a wall in the shade of a magnificent olive tree. Deserted beaches, such as Lacém, are a few minutes’ drive. Those with urban urges could head to Seville, an hour and a half away, or to nearby Tavira, the Algarve’s prettiest town. But actually, why move at all?
INSIDER TIP: Load up with films on your iPads as this place is blissfully TV-free but has excellent Wi-Fi.
JOURNEY TIME A two-hour, 20-minute flight to Faro, then a 30-minute drive
NIHIWATU, SUMBA, INDONESIA
Bali, we are familiar with. Lombok, some people have ventured to, but Sumba, which is closer to Darwin than to Jakarta, is pretty much uncharted territory. And Nihiwatu, on the south-west coast of the Indonesian island, is a game-changer for people who want a little down time while their gang gets stuck into the action.
What sets it apart as a hotel is its window into a little-known culture and its commitment to return all profits to the community. Ninety per cent of the staff are Sumbanese and the service is friendly, thoughtful and energetic. Yes, there are personal butlers but it couldn’t feel less like a stiff high-end resort.
Three-bedroom Mamole Tree House opened at the end of last year and is a thrilling retreat for families, with circular rooms on stilts amid the rustling palm and papaya trees, linked by bamboo bridges. Not that anyone lingers here for long.
Join in the fun or choose a Spa Safari, which involves a trek to Nihi Oka valley, a yoga session and treatments in a private cabin overlooking the sea. Then hook up with everyone again for an Indonesian feast.
INSIDER TIP: Do visit one of the nearby clinics or schools with the Sumba Foundation, the charity founded by the hotel, which has sunk more than 60 wells and 240 water stations in the area.
JOURNEY TIME A 17-hour flight to Bali via Singapore, a 50-minute flight then an hour-and-a-half drive.
TIME DIFFERENCE +8 hours
AMILLA FUSHI, BAA ATOLL, MALDIVES
The Maldives is an awesome family destination. The excitement starts on a seaplane ride captained by barefoot pilots (in fact, shoes are redundant here). On arrival, it’s hard to choose where to drop the bags: for teenage thrills there are cool white cabins over the lagoon or tree houses 40ft up among the giant banyans with plunge pools that appear to float in the jungle canopy. Best for younger children, though, are the two-bedroom beach villas, which have plenty of dash without any dangerous design: shady gardens, private pools and moments from the house reef (see the dolphins swimming by the jetty at tea time).
Amilla Fushi has also recently opened its residences: magnificent, Miami-style beach houses with four to eight bedrooms, playrooms and huge kitchens. But there’s no need to cook. The emphasis is on laidback eating. Dig your toes in the sand and let the kids run around at Baazaar: a cluster of rustic restaurants set beside the largest pool in the Maldives (policed by hawk-eyed lifeguards). Fussy eaters love the Fish & Chip Shop (fish fingers or lobster tempura) and Joe’s Pizza, which delivers to the villas.
The kids’ club is staffed by possibly the most amiable people on the planet, who will cheerily meet any request, from play-acting the Frozen soundtrack to administering complicated sun-cream regimes. In-house marine biologist Lauren Arthur wears a mermaid tail for guided snorkelling tours and takes trips to the blue hole on a Penguin submarine. There’s something rather wonderful in the air here – go now before they grow up.
INSIDER TIP: Stock up on kiddie essentials at the Emperor General Store, a juice bar and deli that sells Marmite, popcorn and cupcake mix.
JOURNEY TIME A 10-hour flight to Malé, then a 30-minute seaplane transfer
TIME DIFFERENCE +5 hours
BOOK IT Cleveland Collection (+44 20 3111 0805; clevelandcollection.co.uk) offers seven nights from £7,559, based on two adults and one child sharing, half board, including flights, transfers and one complimentary spa treatment per adult.
EL LODGE, SIERRA NEVADA, SPAIN
On a clear day you can spot the sea from the highest peak. And with more than 100km of pistes to explore, including lots of travelators and beginner tracks, El Lodge in Sierra Nevada makes a compelling case for family skiing in Spain. Rebuilt after a devastating fire in 2013, it has recently reopened and reclaimed its title as the smartest place to stay in town.
The Finnish-timber-log cabin, tricked out from top to bottom by designer Andrew Martin, is cool but cosy with enormous leather Chesterfields, cowhide rugs, antler chandeliers and an antique cable-car cabina in the stairwell. Guests are mostly Spanish families of all generations, gathered for a weekend in the mountains with their broods of little learners.
In the basement is the kids’ club, where silver-birch trunks create a fairytale-forest feel. Staff can easily arrange babysitters and sort ski school and lift passes. There’s even a ski-in, ski-out rental shop and boot room, which means no schlepping to the lifts or arguments about who carries the poles.
After a day schussing around on surprisingly good snow (even though it’s this far south, at 2,300 metres it’s higher than Courchevel), clomp onto the sun deck and curl up in the faux-fur-covered chairs with glühwein for the grown-ups and hot chocolate for the kids. For supper, the restaurant dishes up grilled lobster, steak and raclette. Or, just as easy, a free shuttle service is on hand to whizz down the mountain for tapas at Tito Luigi’s.
INSIDER TIP: Pack ski-suit pockets with Oreos and chocolate-chip cookies – given at breakfast – for mid-morning, on-piste sugar lows (a practice positively encouraged by the team at El Lodge).
JOURNEY TIME A two-hour-40-minute flight to Granada, then a 40-minute transfer
TIME DIFFERENCE +1 hour
ONE&ONLY CAPE TOWN, SOUTH AFRICA
One&Only Cape Town may be surrounded by apartment-lined canals instead of a beach, but somehow this place feels a lot like an island hotel – especially when you’re sprawled on a day bed big enough for the whole family while the kids bob around on lilos in the ginormous pool, and staff in khaki shorts hand out frozen mocktails and icy flannels. Nab one of the private cabanas and you can expect a stream of bubbly and oysters, and mini foot massages too, all free.
The best rooms are on a little island with easy access to the spa, pool and the guests-only Isola restaurant (Caprese salads, tempura fish and chips and the silkiest mango sorbet). The Nobu restaurant (the only one in Africa) opens at 6pm and offers sushi-making masterclasses where everything can be eaten afterwards.
The revamped KidsOnly Club is not all crafts and colouring-in; there’s mini golf, and daily outdoor adventures for tweens and teens, including sandboarding and surfing. The entire family can book a stand-up paddleboarding lesson in the canals. Do it early morning before the wind comes up then have a breakfast feast at Reuben’s. The same applies to boga (that’s yoga on a paddle board).
The hotel’s trump card is it’s right in the middle of the V&A Waterfront, next door to the Two Oceans Aquarium where little ones can feed the penguins, while qualified divers over the age of 12 can swim with sharks. The hop-on/hop-off sightseeing buses also stop here, the easiest way to get to the cable-car that whizzes to the top of Table Mountain. After working out the exchange rate, you may just want to shop – and it’s all within strolling distance, from smart local design at the Water Shed to what the kids are really interested in, a branch of Hamleys.
INSIDER TIP: Whether it’s a cabana, a Bastien Gonzalez pedi or the Nobu masterclass, book well in advance if checking in over the peak December-February season.
JOURNEY TIME A 12-hour flight, then a 30-minute airport transfer
TIME DIFFERENCE +2 hours
BOOK IT Turquoise Holidays (+44 1494 678 400; turquoiseholidays.co.uk) offers five nights from £4,109 based on two adults and one child sharing, including breakfast, flights and transfers.
ANDBEYOND KICHWA TEMBO, KENYA
The animal-spotting starts before the plane has even touched down in the Maasai Mara, as the pilots swoop in low over the airstrip to warn off herds of fat-bellied zebra and lone giraffes. Soon everyone’s bumping along in a four-wheel drive with the friendliest of guides. By the time you’ve settled into one of the three family tents (the walls are canvas, but the chic furniture and crisp-sheeted beds are light years from camping), the kids will be perfecting Swahili phrases and playing football with the staff on vast lawns where resident warthogs graze unperturbed.
Re-opened in 2015 after a radical makeover, AndBeyond Kichwa Tembo is big, but each one of its 40 tents is now cleverly positioned to maximise the glorious sense of space and privacy. Kids can romp around safely, parents can steal time for Africology spa treatments or cocktails, and everybody can flop horizontally by the pool and watch the passing parade of topi antelope and buffalo on the open plains below.
There’s no need to stress about missing the annual migration of a million dust-kicking wildebeest and other herbivores between August and October, as the plains teem with wildlife year round. Days fill up quickly with game drives to see elephant swimming across the Mara River or a pride of lion snoozing belly up in the grass, before stopping for a bush breakfast beneath a giant strangler fig tree.
Activities in the Wildchild programme are age appropriate, from fishing and animal tracking to learning the craft of African beading or how to make a bow and arrow with a Maasai warrior. Helping to plant vegetables and fruit trees in the kitchen garden may persuade the pickiest of eaters to eat up all their greens.
INSIDER TIP: To really appreciate the vast scale of the Mara, take the family on a hot-air balloon safari. It’s expensive but astonishing.
JOURNEY TIME A nine-hour flight to Nairobi, then a one-hour flight to Kichwa Tembo, and a short drive into camp.
TIME DIFFERENCE +3 hours
BOOK IT Africa Travel (+44 20 7843 3591; africatravel.com) offers a four-
night trip, with three nights at Kichwa Tembo, from £6,220, based on two adults and one child sharing, full board, including flights, transfers and game drives.
FOUR SEASONS RESORT MARRAKECH, MOROCCO
There are quirkier, more boho places to stay in Marrakech with tiny travellers. Fawakay Villas has a Berber tent in the garden for sleep outs, for example, while the Beldi Country Club is a rustic-chic enclave with pottery classes and riding lessons. But for a gentle introduction to North Africa, Four Seasons Resort Marrakech is safe and reliable, yet has a thrillingly high excitement factor.
On arrival, there are silver trays of fresh mint tea and little bowls of almonds in the lobby, where kids are mesmerised by the chirping from the gigantic white birdcage. At night, the hotel is a sparkling, candlelit extravaganza, and bedrooms are scented with orange or rose. Children fall in love with the atmosphere and squeal over in-room surprises such as chocolate brownies, mini dressing gowns, mini djellabas (to sleep in) and toy camels. The kids’ club can arrange everything from belly dancing to bread-making, and the staff seem to be permanently on an exaggerated cartoon high. There’s a warm, shallow pool for toddlers, a basketball net, film screenings, picnics, and games on speed dial.
While all that’s happening, parents can dash to the cooling calm of the spa for an authentic hammam – including scream-out-loud cold-water dousings – followed by the most delicious fresh rosemary and geranium tea. Or play tennis, have a yoga lesson or just loll in the sunshine. There are two swimming pools – one an adults-only dream of symmetry, the other a sprawling, free-form frenzy of floats, balls and water bombs. Cabanas provide much-needed shade, the wood-fired pizzas are bang-on, and the homemade ice creams irresistible.
INSIDER TIP: Head to the Moroccan restaurant for dinner. There’s a man in a spinning fez who plays music nightly here – he’ll distract the kids enough for them to tuck into local tagines and pigeon pastillas.
JOURNEY TIME A three-and-a-half-hour flight then a
TIME DIFFERENCE None
BOOK IT Trailfinders (+44 20 7368 1200; trailfinders.com) offers four nights from £2,097, based on two adults and one child sharing, including breakfast and flights.
EKIES ALL SENSES, HALKIDIKI, GREECE
Isn’t this the sort of place you long to unearth? A small family-friendly bolthole with plenty of grown-up style. It’s hard to imagine that somewhere as pretty as Ekies All Senses in Halkidikiis so welcoming to squealing rotters and their anxious parents. But the vast majority of guests here are clutching iPads loaded with Peppa Pig.
This is all about taking a simple trip; a back-to-basics, bucket-and-spade holiday. There’s no organised fun, no timetable of activities, no children’s club. Instead, there is the beach (which slopes gently so is perfect for paddling), the hammock (strung over the water), the long jetty to jump off and the pool (surrounded by umbrellas like oversized vintage lampshades for plenty of shade). A little treehouse is set on the deck, and there are floor cushions to flop onto, and slides and swings in the gardens.
You will find both style and substance: Coco-Mat mattresses made of natural rubber and coco-fibres, gorgeous mismatched tiles, pastel-striped changing huts and Soho House-style banks of daybeds looking out to sea. Nobody bats an eyelid at a five-year-old leaping into an Eames rocking chair. All of the rooms are big enough for a cot or camp bed to be added.
If separate space is required for older children, go for the new Evergreen suites, which have plunge pools and views of sweet-scented pine and gnarled olive trees. Take the daily boat trip for snorkelling and picnics in secluded bays. Any itchy-footed members of the gang can borrow one of the hotel’s sit-up-and-beg bikes for exploring. But mostly people stay put, watching the waves lap the sand.
INSIDER TIP: If you are still bound by the lunchtime nap, ask for a room facing the pool so that you can sunbathe on your balcony during that precious quiet time.
JOURNEY TIME A three-hour, 10-minute flight to Thessaloniki, then a 75-minute transfer by car
TIME DIFFERENCE +2 hours
BOOK IT +30 2375 091000; ekies.gr. Family suites from about £260