Return journeys: Holidays that end with ‘See you next year’
Families recommend the places they’ve been and why it has worked for them
Joanne O’Donnell with Sam (4) and Ben Wallace (13) at home in Killaloe, Co Clare. Photograph: Brian Arthur/ Press 22
Brian Keane with his daughter, Grace, enjoying Île de Ré in France.
Stephen McNabb, in the tent he uses on camping holidays with Michelle Lynch and their two sons, Samuel and Christopher.
The house the McErlean family stayed in while holidaying in the Black Forest, Germany.
‘Would you go back?” It’s the definitive question in post-holiday conversations.
To answer “no” suggests your holiday was far from perfect – although, in fact, it may just mean that you believe life is too short and the world too big to be retracing your steps.
“Yes” is the endorsement people want to hear – and many, many families not only say it, they do it. They love the familiarity and the laying down of memories that returning brings.
While choice of location and type of trip are very personal, we’ve asked a selection of families to recommend their holiday and explain why it works for them.
in France and Ireland
Michelle Lynch and Stephen McNabb find camping works for them and their sons, 11-year-old Samuel and Christopher, who is eight.
It means they can afford longer and more frequent holidays, since first staying in a pitched tent in France in 2007 and buying their own trailer tent the following year.
Camping is also a very sociable way to holiday, where interaction with the people camped around you is the norm, she explains, and her boys never have a problem making new friends. They enjoy the fact that playing, eating, sleeping, etc are all done in the fresh air.
“As many campsites are in beautiful rural or woodland locations, it’s a brilliant way of winding down and getting a bit closer to nature,” Michelle says.
“I don’t think there’s any such thing as an easy holiday with children and, for us, self-catering in a house was just too similar to being at home and two weeks in a hotel just isn’t for our family.”
They mostly return to France for their main holiday – particularly the Loire valley and the Alsace region – but take shorter breaks all around Ireland. They’ve also camped in Windsor while visiting Legoland and London.
At home, the spacious Blarney campsite in Co Cork is a particular favourite, with excellent facilities and plenty of space for the kids to play.
In France, they’ve stayed twice in a “stunning” area of the Loire Valley, near the town of Saumur, and have also been back to ClairVacances near Colmar, in the Alsace region.
“It’s another beautiful area and the site is family run and immaculately kept. There are loads of activities for children, ranging from arts and crafts to team games and sports.”
The main disadvantage of camping is having to leave the tent to go to the loo at night, Michelle says with a smile. It’s not a “no-work holiday” either – there are still meals to prepare and tidying of the limited space is essential – so it’s not for everybody.
“It does involve a willingness to rough it a bit and you need to be quite organised,” she adds. “I have a camping list that we go through at the start of the season, which has sent some people running for the hills.”
Cambrils Park, Spain
Everyone is given a wristband on arrival and they write the bungalow number on their children’s, in case they lose their bearings.
“Coming in and out of the resort, at any time of day or night, security check you and you won’t get in without a wristband. There are lifeguards everywhere and the pools are locked from 6pm until the morning.”
They were there for their third summer holiday in a row this year – they always go in May or June, which are significantly cheaper than July and August – and have already booked for next year.
“Everybody literally checks in and then rebooks for next year,” she says. They fly into Reus, which is less than a 10-minute taxi-ride away, while Barcelona is more than an hour on the bus.
Deirdre and her husband, Martin, who live in Donaghmede, in Dublin, hardly see the three older children all day, as the youngsters are away doing their own thing and meeting friends. Deirdre reckons it was “90-95 per cent Irish on site” when they were there this June.
The family eats lunch in the bungalow but most evenings they go out for dinner in the small town area just outside the resort.
The park is immaculate and very quiet, she adds. “I can’t imagine going anywhere else while the kids are still enjoying it.”
Île de Ré
daughter, 10-month-old Grace, in tow.
Knowing France quite well, they chose Île de Ré, which lies just off the coast from La Rochelle and is connected by a 3km-long bridge. They remembered it from a previous day trip there as being really pretty – and another attraction was that the direct Ryanair flight to La Rochelle from Dublin takes under two hours.
There are “fantastic” cycle paths, says Brian, throughout the very flat island, which is just 30km long and 5km wide. “So we rented bikes and kept them for the week.” Grace sat in a seat at the back of one them, regularly falling asleep in transit. “She had a great time. She is at a good age, as she is not walking yet,” he points out.
Describing Île de Ré as “a real family destination”, he thinks it hasn’t yet become that well known as a place to visit.
Although the temperatures in June were ideal, one drawback was that there wasn’t a huge number of restaurants open yet for the season, he says. But they were more than happy to shop at the local Carrefour and dine in most evenings at their mobile home.
Having been a bit apprehensive about travelling abroad from their home in Raheny, Dublin, with a baby, Brian says it could not have gone more smoothly and he is “100 per cent sure” they would go back again next year if they had the chance.
Black Forest, Germany
“Very few English-speaking tourists head to the Black Forest (our hosts had no English), despite the fact France is so close and flooded with folks from UK and Ireland,” says Donal. It worked out really well for them and their two children, then aged two and four.
“The farms have lots for young kids to do: feeding animals, pony rides, playing in tree houses, hill walking, all in an Alpine-style setting. The whole Black Forest is full of walking trails. You walk a mile or two and then suddenly there is a place for hikers to stop, with ice-cream, etc.”
They took the car over from their home in Ennis, Co Clare, stopping for a couple of nights in France on the way and in Belgium on the way back.
Although prior commitments ruled out a return this summer, “we would definitely go back”, says Donal. “I would highly recommend it for families.”
Inishbofin, Co GalwayGreen PartyEamon RyanVictoria White
They rent the same house every time, right by the sea, “with Croagh Patrick in the distance and the 12 Bens to the right”, says Eamon of their view, as he speaks from the island on the day of their arrival.
They drove from Dublin to Cleggan, from where the ferry takes about half an hour.
“You can hear the sea lapping and the currachs bobbing away – it’s lovely,” he says with the air of somebody who is rapidly winding down – which is the whole point of their chosen destination. It’s somewhere for the whole family to read, hang out and spend time with friends.
The big advantage of returning every summer, he points out, is being able to make connections, and there is none of the tension that can arise when taking your family somewhere new about whether it will work out.
“We’ve always loved going to islands. To be honest, Victoria had a particular view about sticking to the one thing and not driving all over the place – and an island copperfastens that.” (They usually go back to the mainland just once, for a traditional gathering of friends in Clifden.)
“It’s very simple, there is only one little shop and you kind of know people.” He and Victoria don’t believe in doing a big supermarket shop beforehand, preferring to eat what’s available locally.
They go fishing every day and eat fresh fish most evenings. It’s also a great island for chickens, because there are no foxes on the island.
If friends come over, they’ll put on trout or mackerel, buy lobster from the fisherman next door “and it’s special – just really special”, he says, acknowledging they are lucky to be able to spend three weeks there, but both he and Victoria, a journalist, do writing work during that time and there is wifi.
Eamon wonders why only 18 per cent of Irish people holiday at home – especially considering the weather this summer and last. Holidays here are not as expensive, he argues, because there are no flights and, in their case, being on an island keeps it simple – and cheaper.
Lanzarote, Canary Islands
They requested it the first time, after Lisa saw it recommended on TripAdvisor, and have rebooked it for each return. The two-room suite – with sofa beds in the living room for the children, now aged 10 and 12 – is situated in the main hotel and has good sea views.
Finding it difficult to get away for an annual holiday in the summer months, the O’Briens, from Dún Laoghaire, Co Dublin, usually take a 10-day trip around the October mid-term.
At that time of year, the Canary Islands are the best bet for sunshine and pleasant temperatures (average maximum 27 degrees) without a long-haul flight.
They book it on a B&B basis (although there are half-board packages) so that they can go out to some of the many nice restaurants nearby. And the children are issued with a free “passport” for the resort’s extensive kids’ park, which includes facilities for swimming, football, tennis, basketball and other organised activities.
Familiarity with the set-up, explains Lisa, means they can make the most of their stay from the moment they arrive, with no time wasted finding their feet.
However, with their eldest child turning 13 next month, she feels the children have probably outgrown the resort at this stage and they are going to have to find a new holiday destination. email@example.com
‘House swaps have opened up a new world for us’
Joanne O’Donnell dipped her toes into house-swapping for the first time this year, with a short trip to London, and is already dreaming of making it across the Atlantic next year for a much longer holiday.
“It was fantastic. We saved a huge amount of money and the house was stunning, in a great location, right on the Tube line.
“They had kids as well so the house was very child friendly.”
O’Donnell also has an apartment in France, which she has put on the site too, and between that, and the Co Clare house, she has had no shortage of offers since registering last March.
“The key is to put up really nice, snazzy photos,” she says , “because you’re competing with a lot of other really, really nice houses.”
Having done it once, she wouldn’t hesitate to do another exchange. She spoke on Skype a couple of times to the Englishwoman she swapped with, which she recommends for getting a feel of the person.
With a house swap, you want to be a bit open about where you want to go on holidays, she suggests. An interesting offer from homeowners in Maine in the US has caught her eye and she is in tentative negotiations with them for 2015.
The Allen family also used the UK-based Love Home Swap (lovehomeswap.com) to exchange their house in Connemara, Co Galway, for one in Vancouver, Canada last year and, at the time of writing, they are in a rainforest house just north of Cairns in Australia.
“We have found that house swaps have opened up a new world for us. It has allowed us to explore places we may never have visited,” says Margaret in an email from Australia.
In addition to the obvious substantial cost savings for her and her husband and their two sons, who are 18 and 16, “We are making new friends with people around the world; staying in real homes rather than hotels or apartments and living like locals, not tourists, in those places.”