By Audley specialist Georgina
When the whole family still talks excitedly about a trip, years after, you know it was a success. As part of Audley’s concierge team, I help parents decide on their next family vacation on a daily basis, and find locations to suit toddlers right through to teenagers.
Finding a destination that suits children and offers a level of luxury for adults does take a little extra thought. I’ve compiled a selection of my recommended destinations for families also seeking luxury. Ideas include the safe waters of Mauritius, malaria-free adventures in South Africa, and offbeat solutions such as the rainforests of Belize and the sultry bazaars of Oman.
Best family safari location: South Africa
Many parents are keen for their children to experience animals in the wild, but I’ve found that malaria is a common concern. I’d suggest South Africa for a family safari destination as many of its parks are free from the disease, such as the Eastern Cape Game Areas.
South Africa’s well-maintained and easily navigable roads, plus the lack of traffic, lend well to a driving trip, and the Eastern Cape National Park joins up with my top driving journey for families in South Africa: the Garden Route.
The start point for this itinerary is Cape Town and I’d linger here first, sparing some time to ascend Table Mountain on the cable car. The Belmond Mount Nelson is a popular base for families and looks after its younger guests with games consoles in the rooms, milk and cookies at bedtime and mini bathrobes and slippers. The elegant suites are fitted with marble bathrooms and have private balconies overlooking the city.
Heading east from Cape Town, the coastal Garden Route joins Mossel Bay and Plettenberg Bay. Stopping along the way, you can take a canopy tour through the Tsitsikamma forest, spot dolphins surfing the waves in Plettenberg Bay and stop by roadside seafood cafés to refuel.
Ending the trip in Eastern Cape National Park, family friendly lodges are easy to find. My first choice is Kariegha, in its own private reserve, which is home to lion, elephant, rhino, buffalo and leopard — the elusive Big Five. The activities schedule for children includes animal tracking and painting using traditional bushman techniques, and there’s even the chance to earn a junior ranger certificate by completing challenges around the lodge.
Most parks allow children from the age of six to join game drives, but I’d suggest they’re best suited for children aged eight and over, who can keep very quiet when wildlife is near.
Best luxury beach location for families: Oman
Even the most luxurious beach hotel can be ruined by a busy beach. I’d suggest looking for more unconventional locations such as Oman, which can arguably claim some of the best-appointed family hotels in the world. With calm, clear water and fine, golden stretches of sand, the beaches are top class. There’s also the possibility of seeing nesting turtles from January to July.
When advising on luxurious beach options, I’m often asked if the hotel has a couples-only feel. Opulent hotels are aware of this concern and have created luxurious hotels with family facilities, separate from their honeymoon hotels.
Shangri-La’s Barr Al Jissah Resort & Spa on the Sea of Oman is, in my opinion, one of the best. Consisting of three hotels, the Al Waha is its family offering. Designed to reflect southern Omani architecture, the hotel’s carved arches and gold façades retain an Arabian feel within a safe, modern environment.
Specifically for families, the hotel includes a children’s pool and lazy river, an adventure zone with a climbing wall and soft play areas, an aqua park, and a mini-golf course. If you want to make use of some of the resort’s adult-only areas, the children’s club and in-room babysitting team can step in.
Visiting the capital Muscat, a short drive from the coast, is a rewarding way to introduce younger children gently to a new culture within the city’s network of souks.
Best family winter break: Sri Lanka and the Maldives
The festive season can be a challenging time to book a trip for, as hotels fill up quickly. I’d advise planning a year in advance to ensure you get the pick of the accommodation.
For me, Sri Lanka and the Maldives work well together. The temperature sits at a comfortable 25°C (77°F) and the good weather is only interrupted by a few showers. The temples, tea plantations and wildlife parks of Sri Lanka pair well with time relaxing on a Maldivian island.
Sri Lanka is best explored with a private car and English-speaking chauffeur-guide. Moving around at your pace, your guide will suggest places to stop and explore along the way to make the journey part of the tour. It’s also possible to break up long drives with the occasional domestic flight — small nine-seater seaplanes land on lakes dotted around Sri Lanka — which are an adventure in themselves.
For activity-seeking families, the tea region in the middle of Sri Lanka is lined with biking and walking trails, and threaded with rivers where you can try a gentler form of white-water rafting.
In terms of accommodation, I especially like the Ceylon Tea Trails, a network of five luxurious tea plantation bungalows booked on all-inclusive basis. Each bungalow comes with a pool and sweeping gardens that make the most of the views. You’re well looked after with a butler service on hand.
While Sri Lanka’s beaches are beautiful, the sea can be choppy and prone to strong currents. But, the Maldives, with its shallow, calm waters and tropical fish aplenty, is only a two hour flight away. Don’t be dissuaded that the Maldives is full of honeymooning couples, hotels manage to blend luxury with a family-friendly atmosphere seamlessly.
The Conrad Maldives Rangali Island has some cleverly designed family villas with private pools and easy access to the beach. A member of the children’s club will greet you on arrival before taking the children on their own special tour of the island. One stop is the Ice Cream Spa, designed for children over the age of four, where treatments use ice cream smelling products.
Best destination for young children: Mauritius
If there’s one destination I talk about more than any other, it’s Mauritius. Its blend of adventure and beach can be enjoyed from one location, which keeps things simple for parents of very young children.
The hotels are family-focused, with babysitting services, special children’s menus and pool areas commonplace. My top choice is the Constance Belle Mare Plage on the island’s east coast. Its children’s club entertains with a selection of activities from cooking lessons to traditional craft workshops, for those aged four and up.
The sumptuous Garden Pool Suite has a private pool, a separate bathroom for the children and the services of your own villa master who can arrange for meals to be cooked in the villa’s kitchen.
You could easily while away a week without leaving the hotel, but it’s easy to explore. With a 160 km (100 mile) coastline, it only takes about three hours to drive around the perimeter of the island, and hotels can arrange car hire for the day. The roads are in good condition and easy to navigate, and the sheltered coves dotted around the coast are ideal stop-off points for young children to try snorkeling.
Driving inland, the Chamarel Mountains are a pristine area peppered with waterfalls and rock formations. Drive up to a viewing point to see across the island to the sea, or rent bicycles with a guide to explore deeper. Children-size bicycles are usually available, as are bicycle seats.
Best destination for teenagers: Belize
The tiny nation of Belize is my recommendation for families with teenagers. Its small size is part of its appeal: a concentration of rainforest, Maya ruins, and some of the world’s best snorkeling sites. With English as first language and a friendly, Caribbean atmosphere, touring around is hassle free.
The western, jungle covered Cayo District offers enough activities to tire the hardiest teenager. Canopy zip lining, river tubing, white-water rafting and wildlife walks can be topped off with a visit to the local caves and Caracol, the largest Maya site in Belize.
From the depths of the jungle, head out to Ambergris Caye, the second largest reef in the world. Here, you can relax or embark on some rewarding snorkeling among reef sharks and turtles. A protected marine reserve, the safe waters and well-reputed dive schools make the caye a good choice if your children are keen to learn to dive.
Lodge at Chaa Creek, a luxurious ecolodge in the heart of the Cayo, offers treetop suites, built on stilts, with private Jacuzzis overlooking the surrounding rainforest. Originally a farm, the hotel’s sustainable approach is evident in its butterfly farm and natural history center. Facilities such as the freshwater infinity pool and spa provide the luxury.
Best for something a little different: Japan
An explosion of futuristic technology, quirky pop culture and flashing neon, I’d definitely position Japan as a destination for families looking for something more offbeat. A great induction for families is an urban exploration of Japan’s cities.
Safe and meticulously clean, with slick transport connections, Japan is a straightforward country to explore with children. Even mundane tasks like using a vending machine — for anything from fresh flowers to pizza slices — are fascinating. I’d suggest journeying by bullet train, the 320 km/h (200 mph) speed is enough to amaze adults too.
I especially like Tokyo as it seems designed specifically to entertain children, and instill an element of childlike wonder in adults. The Gibli Museum is a fantastical exhibit of the award-winning animation of Studio Gibli, and it contains interactive sets and humungous cuddly characters. At the Sumo Hall, this ancient sport of wrestling sees near-naked men clash with vigor.
The array of sleek, cleverly designed hotels in Tokyo makes luxury easy to find, but I’d suggest the Conrad Tokyo. Staying in a glistening skyscraper is a thrilling way to experience the city — opt for a corner suite for panoramic views across Tokyo Bay. Facilities include a swimming pool, spa and timetable of classes including ballet and yoga, and the children’s menu is well designed to introduce children gently to Japanese tastes.