Off the beaten track
With some canny planning you can find undiscovered spots which thanks to new flight routes, the first timid foray into tourism, or even a recent return to peace, are now an option for families, says Bernadette John.
The thought of Northern Ireland as a holiday destination may at first have you spluttering in your cornflakes. But it’s a full 20 years since the Northern Ireland Peace Agreement was signed, and the political murals are now part of sightseeing tours (check out tours of Belfast by black cab www.belfastblackcabtours.co.uk). And it’s a safe bet for the Easter holidays, if there is post-Brexit bedlam in ex-UK flights.
Its landscape is epic enough to have featured extensively in Game of Thrones (see www.gameofthrones-winterfelltours.com for bike tours around the filming locations) and Star Wars. Kids will love the Giant’s Causeway, and crossing the thrilling Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge, slung 30 metres high between two cliffs.
County Donegal on the west coast has been highlighted on National Geographic’s cool list. Try cycling the 4.5 mile Wild Atlantic Way from Ballyhiernan Bay to Horn Head – with none of the coach convoys you’ll find in the south. Along the coast you can scramble on Europe’s highest sea cliffs, surf in Magheraroarty, and horse-ride along the shores of Dunfanaghy. Vagabond Tours www.vagabondtoursofireland.com can organise tailor made trips.
The Egadi Islands
If you lust for the Italian beach life of Eleanor Ferrante’s novels, for seafronts of fishermen mending nets rather than designer boutiques, and homely trattoria rather than five star flash, then head to this trio of islands. Frequent hydrofoils ply from Trapani in Sicily to and between the islands of Marettimo, Favignana and Levanzo, so it’s easy to arrange an island hopping tour.
Foodies head to Marettimo for its lobster soup, while Favignana’s tuna fisheries fill plates with fresh steaks and bottarga (dried and cured roe). Best for those who want to get away from it all – the only high life comes from hiking the mountainous interiors and taking in the views from the ruins of Roman and Arab fortifications.
Come armed with a translation app – fellow tourists tend to be Italian. Fly to Trapani or Palermo, and for villas on the islands, try Thinking Traveller, www.thethinkingtraveller.comThe Sicilian Villa Company, www.thesicilianvillacompany.com and Holiday Lettings www.holidaylettings.co.uk.
If only you could have Greece or Croatia without the crowds … Well you can! Neatly sandwiched between the two, Albania has the same dreamy Ionian and Adriatic coastlines, the difference is you get much more of that sea and sand to yourself. Cut off for 50 years until 1991 under dictator Enver Hoxha, it has taken another two decades for the country to realise its tourism appeal – and what a bounty that offers, from an embarrassment of Unesco world heritage sites, to 100km of beaches along the Albanian Riviera, and thrilling trekking, canyoning and riverboarding in its interior.
A place to give the ‘phones a rest – you’ll have a job getting a signal – but also your wallet can take a breather. Dinner might set you back £6-7 each, while a top of the range hotel in the capital Tirjana is £100 a night in peak season – don’t expect the spas and service levels of neighbouring countries though. In the Ottoman old town of Gjirokastra, doubles in an 18th century palazzo go from £35 (oldbazaar.al). While you’re there, check out the 80 room secret bunker built by a paranoid Hoxha under the castle.
Flights are only available from BA and Wizz – or you can fly to Corfu and catch a 30 minute hydrofoil. Steppes Travel, www.steppestravel.com/albania-the-best-of-albania/overview Explore www.explore.co.uk/destinations/europe/albania and Cox and Kings www.coxandkings.co.uk/destinations/europe/albania offer packages.
São Tomé & Príncipe
Do those names have you reaching for an atlas? Then trace a finger left from Gabon in West Africa, to find this miniature African country adrift in the South Atlantic.
A mini-Attenborough will be in their element – it’s known as the African Galapagos, and has more endemic species per square mile than anywhere else on earth. School summer holidays coincide nicely with peak whale-watching season, while on a Christmas trip you could see Leatherback, Hawksbill, Loggerhead & Green turtles coming ashore.
Lesser-spotted varieties here are tourists – just 13,000 arrive each year. Fellow sun worshippers on its palm lined beaches will be kingfishers and giant crabs. When you fancy some action, there are big game fishing, snorkelling and canoeing trips, or you can take quad bikes into the jungle.
Food is a Portuguese-Creole combo (it’s a former Portuguese colony). There’s no wristband complexes here – accommodation is in comfortable locally run lodges, and you’ll get a refreshing night with no jetlag (it’s on GMT). Packages available from Rainbow Tours www.rainbowtours.co.uk/country/sao-tome-principe-holidays
Norwegian Air has newly opened up Argentina to families with the launch of direct flights to Buenos Aires, with slashed rates at around £600 return.
Start with a tour of tango and football sites in the capital, and a day at a country estancia learning the horseriding and lassoing tricks of a gaucho. Then head south to Puerto Madryn, where you can take a boat trip to see southern right whales cavorting in the waves, and do a spot of beachcombing on the fossil rich shores.
Top sight is the Iguazu Falls on the border with Brazil. Real World Holidays www.realworldholidays.co.uk/argentina/family-holiday.aspx has a family tour which allows you to see the falls from both country’s sides, including Devil’s Throat, where 14 separate falls combine in a single drop. You can follow walkways into the middle of the waterfall system, or dart through the spray in a speedboat. The tour includes rainforest trips to spot monkeys and parrots, and a cable car ride to the top of Sugar Loaf mountain.
Have you taken your children to any unusual holiday destinations? Let us know what you thought of them on Twitter or Facebook with the hashtag #chalkandchat