AS A granny and an enthusiastic skier, I had long been hoping that, before I got too old, the day might come when my two grandsons — my juniors by 70 years — would be old enough to join me on the slopes.
After many a hint to my daughter that, although the boys (aged seven and five) could wait, I was not getting any younger, it was agreed that we should all go on a family ski holiday.
The week we subsequently spent at Avoriaz, at the centre of the large Portes du Soleil ski area in France, turned out to be a splendid family experience, with many treasured granny moments.
But good holidays do not just happen, especially ones that involve a spread of ages. Thorough pre-planning, and a willingness to be flexible and tolerant are key. Otherwise, the holiday could turn out to be memorable for all the wrong reasons.
Crucially, will there be something that everyone likes to do? Should it be at home or abroad? Seaside or mountains? What kind of accommodation?
My husband and I have now been on four holidays with our grandchildren and their parents. We have skied in France, hired a narrowboat for a canal holiday in Wales, camped in France, and celebrated our golden wedding at a resort-hotel in the Carribean. Each, though very different, has been a huge success.
FOR skiing, Avoriaz, near Mont Blanc, ticked all the boxes. It is high up, which means that it has a long season, and good snow, likely to last well into the Easter school holidays. Half-term in February is more reliable for snow, but is also busy and expensive. Around Easter, there are often bargains to be had, and the weather is warmer — another advantage with small children.
We decided that an apartment would be more flexible for feeding the boys than a catered chalet or hotel. We chose one with three separate bedrooms in the Amara complex, which has a pool — an après-ski attraction we knew the boys would enjoy. More in my line, it also had a spa.
A bonus was discovering that the resort, which was purpose-built in the 1960s, is traffic-free: you get around on foot or by horse-drawn sleigh. I loved being able to wave the boys off each morning as they excitedly caught a special ski-school sleigh from outside our apartment.
There is a piste to suit every ability. Preferring less challenging ones and a slower pace than my daughter and son-in-law, I was happy to potter alone whenever they wanted to head off in search of “blacks” and moguls. At lunchtime, it was easy for us all to meet at one of the handy restaurants near the nursery slopes.
ANOTHER holiday activity that works well with all generations is canalling. My husband and I have enjoyed holidays on the English canals ever since we first took our children as teenagers. Now they take their own children at a much younger age.
Aboard a narrowboat, there is always something to do, from steering and operating the locks to more leisurely pursuits such as strolling along the towpath, or playing I Spy; this is always a favourite, particularly when lounging on deck with plenty of time to spot ducks, sheep, etc., as you chug along at just 4mph, which is the top speed.
Narrowboats have immediate child appeal. Only seven foot wide, but up to 70 foot long, there is invariably a row of cosy bedrooms, diminutive bathrooms with shower and lavatory, and a galley/sitting area with fold-up tables, chairs, and convertible sofa. Catering is never a chore when there are canal-side villages to shop in, and an ever-changing view from the galley window.
As a starter, the Brecon and Monmouth Canal in Wales worked well the first time we were joined by grandchildren and their parents. Running from Brecon towards Pontypool, it is rural and quiet all the way; and with only six locks and one short tunnel (375 yards), it was especially relaxing.
Routes with several locks, which can come in “flights” of anything from five to 20, are always fun, even if you are too young or too old to operate them without help from other crew members. “Paddles” on the heavy wooden gates have to be wound up or down to adjust the water levels and let the boat pass through. For children, it is a science lesson at first hand.
On the 1500-mile network in England and Wales, there are plenty of routes to choose from, including circular ones such as the Four Counties Ring and the Warwickshire Ring.
Indeed, exploring them is a learning experience for all ages, as you chug through towns and countryside, over aqueducts and under picturesque bridges. We always allow time, too, to enjoy the old waterside pubs that punctuate any voyage.
On our most recent voyage, we hired a boat at Napton-on-the Hill in the Midlands for a voyage that took us through the narrow 2042-yard-long Braunston tunnel. The grandchildren excitedly flashed torches and squealed when icy drips fell on their heads from the roof. We all clapped as Grandpa steered us to the pin-point of light at the far end without a bump.
ON DRY land, camping sounds more suitable for children than elderly adults; but if you find the right campsite, there is a freedom and a lack of formality offers a good opportunity to share time together. Nowadays, there is no need to rough it, or put up a tent in a field. Plenty of sites offer facilities to suit all ages, as we found when we stayed in a mobile home in France this year.
We choose Yelloh! La Plage camping village, a large site at Le Guilvinec, on the south coast of Brittany. It was a straightforward and comparatively short drive from the Channel, had direct access to a beach, and its attractions included indoor and outdoor pools, daily children’s clubs, a tennis court, and table tennis — something for everyone.
We played crazy golf, football on the beach, and hired bikes to cycle along a coastal path to visit Halioteka, an excellent “World of Sea Fishing” museum at Le Guilvinec.
The markets and boutiques in places such as Pont-l’Abbé and Quimper were tempting distractions for me; our daughter and son-in-law, both keen surfers, went to La Torche beach near by, which is famous for its waves. On the white sands of neighbouring Pors-Carn, Grandpa supervised the building of castles and dams while I snatched a lie-down to work on my tan.
Like narrowboats, mobile homes are not spacious, even when dressed up as “cottages”. But you can rely on mod cons such as showers, fridges, and central heating.
At La Plage, ours had a sitting/dining/kitchen area and, importantly, three separate bedrooms which avoided having to make up a sofa-bed in the living area. This gave us more privacy and meant bedtimes could vary for adults as well as children.
THE success of a three-generation holiday certainly does not depend on cost. Having unlimited funds is no guarantee that everyone will enjoy themselves, because simply being together does not work without shared activities and interests.
If, however, you are able to splash out for a special occasion — as our family suggested to mark our 50th wedding anniversary last year — it is an opportunity not to be missed.
This once-in-a-lifetime possibility set us looking for a memorable treat for small children, adults in their forties, and me and my husband. We decided that everyone would enjoy some winter sun with warm sea for swimming; so we settled on a February half-term trip to the Caribbean.
After much research, we finally chose Turtle Beach, an all-inclusive resort on Barbados, recommended by Travel Matters, which specialises in family holidays — not least as the island has direct flights from London.
For a big project such as this, it pays to get expert advice: not just on where to go, but also on “packages”, the details of which vary in cost, flight timings, and what “extras” are involved.
A semi-circle of spacious beachside double rooms and suites awaited us, spread around lush gardens and two pools. In different combinations, we swam, jumped over exciting waves (which made the sea too rough for swimming), built dams, or lazed on the white sand. We played fiercely contested family table-tennis, table football, and, in the cool of the evening, adult tennis.
The buffets were varied and plentiful — three meals a day with snacks, drinks, and ice-creams on tap all the time — so we all ate a great deal. “The most I’ve ever eaten in a week,” our son admitted. Altogether, there was not a moan or a tear from anyone until it came to leaving.
One week in an apartment for six at L’Amara, Avoriaz, costs from £1068. Phone 0870 0267 145, or visit www.pierreetvacances.co.uk. A train from London to Cluses, which is a 30-minute bus/taxi ride away from the resort (change at Lyon), costs £142 return. Phone 0844 848 5848, or visit www.voyages-sncf.com. Or, from £575 per person, including flights and transfers, phone 01483 791114, or visit www.inghams.co.uk.
Narrowboats can be hired from bases in England and Wales through Hoseasons. One week costs from £1297 in school holidays. Phone 0345 498 6130, or visit www.hoseasons.co.uk.
Brittany Ferries Holidays features several campsites in Brittany. A week for five people at Yelloh! La Plage costs from £998 in school holidays, including return ferry crossings with car. Phone 0330 159 7000, or visit www.brittany-ferries.co.uk.
One week at Turtle Beach, Barbados, for six adults and four children in February costs £24,500 including BA flights. Phone 020 8675 7878, or visit www.travelmatters.co.uk.