Time to learn, not sunburn: Great holiday ideas for curious families

Learning doesn’t stop when school’s out for summer, at least not in our house.

The learning holidays we find best are where everyone starts as a complete novice and we learn something together as a family, going through the pain of failure before emerging into the pleasure of a new skill gained.

The range of holidays where you can learn while you relax grows every year but here are some of my favourites.

Get wet, or out on the water

Surfing in Alentejo on BritMums

Surfing in Alentejo

Activities Abroad runs surfing holidays in the Alentejo region of Portugal, far less crowded than the Algarve and with a string of Atlantic-facing beaches that are some of the best in Europe. Surfing is just part of the activity though; you’ll also learn canoeing, orienteering and abseiling. The holiday is based in the pretty town of Milfontes, centred on its 16th-century stone castle.

Sailing is a wonderful way to get hands-on with the family and flotilla holidays are the ideal way to get a gentle introduction to the ways of the water. If you don’t know how these work, it is a group of like-minded people, often families, sailing together on their own yachts on a pre-planned itinerary.

Days typically start with breakfast on deck followed by a briefing on the day’s course. You make your own speed and meaning you can stay with the flotilla or go off to an isolated cove on your own for swimming adventures. Help is always close at hand and the lead crew will arrive at each evening’s port to help with mooring.

To charter a boat requires someone to have a Day Skipper qualification or similar but this can usually be done in advance of the trip. The kids can pick up the basics of sailing on the holiday and hopefully get bitten by the bug and want to learn to sail after they return home.  

As well as learning the ropes, kids will love being able to mix with kids their own age.

Ocean Elements runs flotilla holidays in the Ionian Islands of Greece.

If your kids love the water and want to learn a new skill, then sea kayaking could be for you. It’s easy to pick up and feels incredibly adventurous.

Croatia is a great destination for the activity-focused family and Paklenica Bay is the perfect spot to learn sea kayaking. The water is blue, there is a mountain backdrop and you go out for a full day, stopping to take in the stunning views, plunge into the waters for a swim or a fortifying lunch to give you energy for the afternoon.


Lakitira Beach Resort on BritMums

Lakitira Beach Resort

Exploring the deep with your children is another life-changing experience. Many diving schools offer courses for kids and PADI courses are available from ten years upwards. If you have enthusiastic kids who are younger, why not try Mark Warner? Their Lakitira Beach Resort in the Aegean offers taster sessions in the pool for kids aged eight and nine as well as PADI courses for the older ones.

It’s ancient history, kids!

Holidays are a perfect way of introducing kids to history in both a way that brings it far more to life than rote learning from a stuffy textbook. How about learning about the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in AD 79 and the subsequent burial of the town of Pompeii?

Or what could be more exciting than learning about the mysteries of the pharaohs in Egypt itself? Pyramids of a different kind are on offer in Mexico () where the kids can learn about the ancient Mayan civilisation.

Or take them to the largest religious monument in the world, the stunning temple complex of Angkor Wat in Cambodia.

Hands Up Holidays offer one of the freshest and most interesting ideas for families looking to have a learning experience on holiday. The company runs volunteering holidays for families with all ages of kids. For kids under 12, the company says wildlife conservation holidays work best and it offers trips involving caring for sloths in a rescue centre in Costa Rica or helping with surveys of kangaroos and wallabies in Australia.

Older kids might prefer something a bit more challenging, such as helping build classrooms in Kenya or installing eco-stoves in poor households in Belize.

Now you’re cooking…


Pizza-making classes in Rome on BritMums

Pizza-making classes in Rome

A holidays involving a trip to a cookery school is a great way to give the kids something they can bring home with them – new culinary skills. Tuscany’s food heritage is rightly lauded and families can learn together about the region’s specialities at the five-star Castel Monastero Tuscan retreat. This ancient hamlet in the Ombrone Valley, just 23km from Siena, is now a luxury retreat with a Gordon Ramsay restaurant. 

The courses have been designed by Ramsay and resident chef Stylianos Sakalis and over two hours you learn about ingredients and preparation methods. After the course, guests will move on to the restaurant for dinner.

If you are on a city break to Rome, why not take a private pizza-making class or learn how to make pasta from scratch; they will learn to tell their fusilli from their spaghetti and why it needs to be cooked al dente.

Horsing around with polo

Polo Valley on BritMums

At Polo Valley kids learn to play the sport

One of my favourite new ideas comes from Powder Byrne. The company recently set up Polo Valley to share company founder Rory Byrne’s passion for polo.

This purpose-built polo ranch in Sotogrande in Andalusia has its own stables, practice pitch and arena and the polo pass concepts lets each member of the family book sessions on horsemanship, “stick and ball” polo practice, and mock matches, so that each person gets a programme tailored specifically to their own interests and requirements. The gauchos have been teaching and playing polo at a semi professional or professional level for many years and guarantee to get you hitting a ball from a moving horse by the end of the week.

By all means relax on your holidays – there is a lot to be said for stretching out on a beach or splashing in the pool to forget about homework and early mornings – but remember that this time together is very special. Learning experiences can be amazing bonding experiences.

Mark Frary is family travel editor of 101 Holidays (www.101holidays.co.uk). Get more ideas for active families at http://www.101holidays.co.uk/family/best-family-activity-holidays .


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About Mark Frary

Mark Frary is the editor of 101 Family Holidays. Mark is a regular contributor to national newspapers, magazines and websites on travel. He has held a number of roles including The Sunday Times travel agony uncle and ski correspondent and business travel editor at The Times. He writes for Huffington Post and his own family travel blog Travelling with the Kids and has circumnavigated the globe several times with the family in hot pursuit. Mark has won a number of awards for his travel writing.

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