White pebble beaches, crystal-clear waters for snorkelling, small towns with friendly restaurants and a clutch of ice-cream shops, bakeries and crêpe stalls, made Monodentri on the Greek island Paxos, a little bit of paradise for Pol and his family this summer.
From a villa on the sun-kissed Greek island of Paxos, to a tiny beach at home in Wicklow, shares some of his favourite child-friendly locations
Spain is Irish families’ most popular destination and Florida’s theme parks and sunshine, for long-haul
SO you’re a travel writer. Where do you go on your holidays? That’s a question I’m asked all the time, and to be honest, I’d hoped it would be easier to answer by now.
My job takes me to a whole heap of destinations every year, but whittling them down to a few favourites is no easy task. In fact, it’s getting harder.
I started writing about travel for a simple reason — to find a sustainable way of seeing the world. Gap years and gringo trails are one thing, but I wanted a career that allowed me to explore for as long as I could take it. A decade and two kids later, I’m still going.
All of which is a roundabout way of saying that, given the choice between somewhere new or somewhere I’ve already been, I’ll generally take what’s new. It could be better, it could be worse, but the point is that it’s new — that’s what excites me.
A family holiday, however, is a whole other kettle of fish.
Our kids are aged seven and three and we’re all curious and energetic creatures. But that’s within reason. Even if we could afford long-haul flights, we’d spare them the exhaustion. Until they’re older, we’re also sticking to destinations that run minimal health risks.
This summer, we struck gold. Pooling accommodation costs with friends, we booked a villa on the Greek island of Paxos for a week. Aer Lingus flies direct to Corfu, and from there it’s a short taxi ride and an hour-and-a-half on the ferry to paradise.
What does paradise entail? Naturally, that’s different for every family. But in our case, it meant white pebble beaches, crystal-clear waters for snorkelling, small towns with friendly restaurants dishing up moussaka and grilled fish (on average, dinner for four rang in at around €35), and a clutch of ice-cream shops, bakeries and crêpe stalls to punctuate the swims.
Paxos is a small island, no more than 10km long and 4km wide. The extra hop from Corfu tends to discourage holidaymakers looking for fly-and-flop breaks or party resorts.
It’s small, but perfectly formed, in other words substantial enough to satisfy my own urges to explore, and everyone else’s to chill out and relax. During siesta time, I took off down the mountain roads, nosing out nooks like Erimitis Bay, with its chalk-white cliffs rising up to the heavens. When the kids were back in action, we teamed up again.
Our favourite beach was Monodentri, towards the north of the island. I’ll never forget the first time we drove up to it. The stony cove was one thing. The aquamarine Ionian Sea, where we followed colourful fish with our snorkels, was another. But a small clutch of beach bars also offered a free saltwater pool, shady umbrellas, wi-fi and a play area.
Another beach that ticked all of our boxes was Fuerteventura’s Grande Playa. The Canary Islands are hugely popular with Irish holidaymakers — nabbing some 400,000 visitors a year — but the profusion of black sand and stony beaches can take first-timers by surprise. Fuerteventura is different. It’s not as developed as Tenerife or Lanzarote, but neither can touch it when it comes to sandy beaches. The Grande Playa stretches for several kilometres south of Corralejo, and it’s straight out of a glossy travel magazine. Before us, royal blue water stretched out towards Isla de Lobos. Behind us were the rolling dunes of Las Dunas National park. The sand was good for castles, there were waves enough to have fun with a bodyboard, and once you swam out past them, you could snorkel too. We had a ball.
As we learned during this summer’s heatwave, of course, you don’t have to board an airplane to find the best beaches. For all the pleasure of Paxos or Fuerteventura, overseas holidays are something we can afford once a year at most, and the majority of our escapes are roadtrips or short breaks here in Ireland. We have a long list of favourites at home, too.
I’m thinking of Dollar Bay on the Hook Peninsula, or Old Head near Westport in Mayo. Westport is a town we gravitate towards again and again — the food, beaches, landscape, people and activities all click effortlessly there — but the beach we visit most often in Ireland, and one without which a summer would never be complete, is Wicklow’s Silver Strand.
This one is a real local secret. If you’ve seen The Count of Monte Cristo (2002), you may remember the scene where Jim Caviezel washes up on the Côte d’Azur. That wasn’t filmed in the sunny south of France.
It was filmed at the back-end of the Wolohan family’s camping and caravan park, a few miles south of Wicklow town on the R750.
Entry to the property costs €8 for a car (€6 on weekdays), but that’s a small price to pay for one of the most beautiful little cuts of coastline in the country. Descending by a precarious series of concrete steps, you reach a golden, sandy cove. The cliffs are riddled with caves. It can get crowded when the tide is in and the sun is out (it really is tiny), but on a good day, the water is so clear it could have come from your tap, and I’m smiling like a cheeseball.
Irish families have their favourite overseas spots — Spain is our most popular holiday destination by a country mile (the Canaries, Balearics and mainland all count); we love the Algarve, and Florida’s theme parks and sunshine are our popular for long-haul.
Others work brilliantly as once-offs. Taking our then five-year-old daughter to Disneyland Paris could have broken the bank, for example, but to see the wonder in her eyes as she hugged Rapunzel, rode the teacups and watched her favourite princesses on stage in a sea of fireworks was worth every cent. Plus, I got to ride Space Mountain.
Where to in 2014? Like I’ve said, I’ll always look for somewhere new. But when it comes to family holidays, the decision goes four ways. We’re already saving for Paxos.
* Buy the right suitcase: A backpack or wheelie case can weigh 3kg-4kg before you throw in the first pair of socks, so consider upgrading your luggage to newer, lightweight materials.
* Make a list: Lists are a pain, but serve a purpose. The trick is to make one when you’re unpacking — you’ll see exactly what you did and didn’t need on holiday.
* Lose the heavy stuff: The No1 way to lighten your load is by not packing hairdryers, nappies, beach towels, and books in the first place. Many of these can be bought overseas or found in your hotel room. Kids always accrue items like toys and books and you might pick up clothes — so try not to ‘pack’ your suitcase to overflowing. If you do, and you can’t re-pack on the way home, consider a small package of your items being posted back from your holiday. It’ll probably work out a lot cheaper than the excess baggage fee.
* Bring a kids’ survival pack: One of your cabin bags should be for kids only. Along with games and snacks, it should include spill-proof cups (drinking during take-off and landing helps little ears cope with cabin pressures), wipes, special toys, and some surprises.
* Anticipate a problem: Sod’s Law of Travel 1.0 states that no matter how often a child pees, poos, or pukes before take-off, the minute that seatbelt sign lights up, they’ll need to go again. Pack enough basics for the flight and the first night of a holiday.
* Handbags are luggage too: Ryanair and Aer Lingus allow one piece of cabin baggage for each passenger. If you have a handbag, nappy bag, or laptop, it needs to fit into your cabin baggage (and the 10kg allowance).
* Weigh your bags: Do this before leaving the house. Aim to come in at least 1kg-2kg under.
— Pól Ó Conghaile