Just because you’ve got a family, it doesn’t mean you have to stay in boring hotels and villas. There are plenty of child-friendly but quirky boltholes that will stay in the memory long after you’ve unpacked your suitcase. We asked Nadine Mellor, Kids’ Collection Editor at i-escape.com to choose ten of her favourite unusual places to stay with a family. Rather than featuring generic hotel chains, i-escape features family-friendly accommodation spanning boutique B&Bs, city apartments, swish designer hotels, lovely villas and gorgeous guesthouses – and all make the grade stylewise. Here’s what Nadine would recommend….
Bivouac, Yorkshire, UK (each unit sleeps 2-7)
Set in a huge estate in the Dales is this collection of self-catering canvas yurts and timber shacks which offers an authentic back-to-nature adventure. Your kids will get stuck in to crafts and let their imagination loose exploring nature trails. There are bikes to hire, horse riding, waterfalls and castles nearby. And a useful central cafe/bar serving meals all day so you don’t have to self-cater if you can’t be bothered. But its the sheer fun of staying under Mongolian-inspired canvas or in a woodland hut which will really float your family’s boat.
Siwa Villa, Siwa, Egypt (sleeps 4-9)
To stay Flintstones-style in a unique 4-bedroom mud house is truly memorable, an endless source of anecdotes for years to come. You’re in a small oasis in the Sahara, 8 hours from the closest airport so well off the beaten track in beautiful sand dunes and wilderness as far as the eye can see. Roman tombs, fossils, meteorites and sandboarding are all to be discovered. The house itself has a vast roof terrace with fireplace, overlooks the ruined citadel in the town’s centre, food is provided on arrival and there are restaurants nearby. Kids can share a bunk room or a twin room; beds are mattresses on mud-brick platforms. Yabbadabbadoo!
Canals are the quintessential component to Amsterdam’s allure so where better to base yourself than on a family-owned Dutch canal boat. Justly popular, this boat is well-priced and offers a tranquil bolthole after a busy day’s sightseeing, with its bright bohemian open-plan interior that includes a piano, and a tub in the bathroom. Best of all there’s a deck with plants which is perfect for dining al fresco, watching out for passing traffic (whether the motored or feathered variety). The helpful owners are on hand with maps, advice and cups of tea.
Finca de Arrieta, Lanzarote, Canary Islands (cottages and yurts sleep 2-8 each)
The Canaries need no introduction as being a super family destination pretty much year round. We really rate Lanzarote in particular for its exciting geography (lava fields! beaches! desert!) and love this great value off-the-grid eco resort in the north-east of the island, close to the ocean. The playground alone provides any family with hours of fun – it has a giant chess set, trampoline, a boat and play houses – and there’s also a solar-heated pool, table tennis, donkey rides, ducks, chickens and toy box. Accommodation comes in the form of Mongolian yurts, volcanic stone cottages, barn and farmhouse, all scattered around the gardens, yet close enough for instant friendship with other families to forge.
Puglia in the heel of Italy is renowned for its UNESCO-listed quaint stone trulli cones which dot the rolling countryside. Built in bygone centuries as vernacular storehouses and dwellings, some have been restored to holiday accommodation. We visited these six cool converted cones in 2014 and found classy white interiors with vintage collectables in wall niches, antique chairs and flagstone floors. There’s a modern apartment at the rear, which can be rented together or separately; both share a stunning swimming pool, wonderful pagoda and Mediterranean garden. The food in this part of Italy is rustic and delicious, the beach is 15 minutes away. Heaven.
The Mudhouse, Puttalam, Sri Lanka
In the heart of the country, surrounded by wetlands and woodland, is a unique group of open-sided wattle and daub thatched huts. Three are large enough for families, sleeping up to 12, and there are cooking lessons, nature trails, kayaking and cricket to enjoy on site. The impromptu picnics, the teeming wildlife, and private lake for swimming all imbue a sense of freedom and adventure which is wonderful for older children. Day trips can be arranged to rock temples, Wilpattu Park (leopard, buffalo, crocodile) and ancient cities. Unleash your inner Indiana Jones!
Whitepod, Les Cerniers, Switzerland
What a setting and what a view! The Alps always inspire awe; tweens and teens who think they’re too cool for school will think staying in these cosy igloo-shaped tents is also pretty awesome. They have wood-burning stoves, cuddly sheepskins, mezzanine floors for the younger generation to sleep on, and there’s a central Pod House and superb restaurant too. Open both in flower-strewn summers – hiking, mountain biking, paragliding, nature reserves, dog karting – and beautiful white winters – skiing (both downhill and cross-country), show-shoeing, sledding, hiking harnessed to sledge dogs – you’re assured of a wonderful time any time.
The Dune, near Pondicherry, India
Tamil Nadu is the new exciting destination to discover in southern India. It has wonderful beaches, an ancient history and great outdoors (forests, plantations, hills). This eco-friendly beach resort is set in an organic farm (watermelons, pineapples) and serves mouth-watering curries, fresh fish, dosas and seafood in its open-sided restaurant. Family facilities include a toddler pool next to the bar (handy!), a main pool, large playground, playroom and bicycles to borrow. There are also pottery, kids yoga and animal feeding (and superb spa) on offer. Cottages are scattered throughout the grounds, each is individually designed and built with reclaimed materials from heritage houses; you could stay in a stylish art-filled villa or palm-thatched hut, as you prefer.
Milos Windmill, Cyclades, Greece
>Yes, it’s a windmill. And sleeps 2-8 over three vertical floors (there’s a kitchen-diner on the ground floor, and a bedroom each above) and two stone outbuildings with a bedroom, simple kitchenette and terrace apiece. The windmill has been decorated with restraint, nothing fancy-schmancy here, with white-washed walls and blue shutters. Milos island is superbly rugged and unspoiled: think cliffs, coves, turquoise seas, picturesque villages and ancient churches; families will enjoy the beaches and boat trips nearby.
Tierra Patagonia, Torres del Paine National Park, Chile
Talk about wow factor! The brief was to design a hotel which blended into the spectacular, yet harsh, natural environment of this flagship national park in deepest Patagonia. And the architects have spectacularly succeeded. It has a living roof, is shaped long and low to hug the contours, and constructed of native wood. Picture windows gaze upon the lake and towering peaks of the Paine Massif. Families are enthusiastically welcomed in Family Rooms, there are fabulous hiking trails and lake tours to take. Rates include daily excursions to sail past glaciers, ride with gauchos, watch condors soar and photograph pumas. Retire to the spa or sit in the outdoor Jacuzzi and contemplate the view.
Where’s the most unusual place you’ve stayed as a family?