‘Fab place — sort of kibbutz in the Breton countryside. Swimming and cycling, communal barbecues. Kids insanely happy. Am reliving those long childhood kibbutz hols!”
That is the text I sent my parents at the start of what turned out to be a wonderful week at a self-catering holiday park in southern Brittany.
Yes, of course, I was being fanciful. Very. A holiday park in France is hardly an exercise in Zionism and Socialism or, indeed, any ideology except, I suppose, mild hedonism.
Holidays, as all parents can confirm, are for people without young children. For those with little ones it is perhaps more accurate to classify vacations as childcare in a scenic environment.
Crete is very scenic — it is also warm. But more than that, the island offered the tantalising prospect of a holiday that the children would enjoy and would count as a break for their daddy and grandma, too.
George IV is indirectly responsible for much of the sheer fabulousness that is Villa D’Este, the legendary Italian hotel on the shores of Lake Como. If, as Prince of Wales in 1795, he had not rejected his bride, Princess Caroline of Brunswick, within months of their wedding, his neglected wife would not have sought solace at this ravishing spot where the Dolomites meet the most northerly of Italy’s shimmering lakes.
If you were looking for empirical evidence that Mallorca has totally reinvented itself, Palma Airport is the place to look. Of the 200 people who were disgorged from an early-morning easyJet flight from Stansted to the island’s airport, a majority were either men on golfing weekends, Boden-catalogue families heading for a pre-half-term sunshine break, or the kind of linen-clad travellers who have Tania Plage kaftans and Vilebrequin trunks stashed in their suitcases and deem the sun-drenched Balearic island one of the Med’s smartest.
It must be a nightmare trying to dust in here, I heard someone say as I gawped at the intricate stone-carved walls of St John’s Co Cathedral. The exterior may look more like an old army barracks than a house of worship, but inside it is breathtaking. You don’t need to be Sister Wendy to appreciate Baroque artist Mattia Preti’s gilded carvings of foliage and flowers that stretch up to the vaulted ceilings, where painted cherubs flit between scenes from the life of John the Baptist.
At the time the old Yugoslavia was carved up 15 or so years ago, Slovenia emerged with the thinnest end of a pretty fat wedge —- a country the size of Wales with a measly 25 miles of coastline. But what a 25 miles they are.
Surprisingly, even in crowded Britain, there is still one relatively quiet road that can be explored at leisure. It’s called the Hidden Highway, and it follows roughly the line of the Anglo-Welsh border, all the way from Chepstow to Chester. The road — or more properly a series of A-roads zig-zagging their way through some of the nation’s most glorious countryside — has retained a semblance of isolation and secrecy because, today, there are newer and faster routes between North and South Wales.
I’m sitting on the terrace of the Luxor restaurant, in the shadow of the Acropolis and Europe’s longest wooden roller coaster, when the waitress uncorks an excellent bottle of Spanish wine and sets a gourmet selection of starters on the immaculately laid table. Where am I? One of the last places you’d guess would be a theme park in Benidorm.