Walking through the autumn woodland, hazy sunrays shining between the trunks, and our feet rustling through the colourful carpet of leaves, it occurs to me that this is a beautiful, meandering walk. But we’re not here to fill our lungs with the earthy smell of dewy hummus and leaf mulch and take in the gentle Umbrian scenery.
A few feet in front of us, setting the pace and leading the way is Giuliano, a truffle hunter, and his dog Leda. We’re on the hunt for the white gold that lies beneath our feet – the prized wild tartufo bianco that has a short season and can’t be farmed. Thanks to its elusive habit and the incredibly rich, umami flavour that it brings to any dish, white truffles are the most expensive food on the planet, regularly costing £2,000 per kilo.
Suddenly the dog barks and rummages excitedly in the undergrowth; Giuliano steps in with his knife. He’s struck gold – we can smell it! The truffle is not much to look at, more like a dirty stone or a gnarled piece of pale clay – but we don’t catch sight of it for long. As quick as a flash it’s in Guiliano’s pocket. By lunchtime it will be on the menu at L’Antica Osteria in the tiny hilltop town of Montone, or for sale in the town square as part of the annual Festa del Bosco.
The end of October marks the beginning of the white truffle season here and there are festivities to celebrate its arrival across the region. Montone’s Festa del Bosco takes place between 30 October and 2 November. Every restaurant and shop in the small pedestrian town brings out its truffles and forest foods to sell throughout the weekend.
After a slap-up lunch of tagliatelle with white truffle, venison stew with shaved truffles and a slab of steak covered in truffle, washed down with local Umbrian wine from Montefalco, we head north to Citta di Castello.
Here, the Tartufo Bianco Festival is in full swing (31 Oct-2 Nov) and the atmosphere in the evening is more like a carnival, with dancers, street performers and, of course, plenty of food and wine. The Truffle tents greet you with their intense woody whiff, so strong that it’s almost dizzying, and at every stall you can try truffle pate, oils, truffled honey, cheese, and even buy the real thing. While you might not want to spend E500, you can pick up a small black truffle for about E10 or oils and other treats from about E5.
It’s not all truffles – new season porcini, hazelnuts, wild boar, wine and olive oil are all for sale and foodie stalls sell delicious snacks to eat now or take home for later.
Our home for the weekend, was a lovingly restored and converted medieval farm and church, Chiesa del Carmine, nestled in a valley surrounded by olive groves, vines and its own truffle woods. The next day we sat in the autumn sun and ate al fresco, while sipping on some of the estate’s own Sangiovese. It was the perfect setting to feast on the harvest bounty from this unspoilt, authentic slice of Italy.
Chiesa del Carmine sleeps 14. From E4,000 a week. www.chiesadelcarmine.com
Fly to Perugia with Ryan Air from £22.99 each way. www.ryanair.com
Want to know where to book for the year ahead? Read this ultimate family travel guide to where, and what, is going to be hot in 2015, from country weekends and mini breaks to holiday rentals and multi-generation escapes
THE SMALL-INCLUSIVE Once all-inclusives meant ginormous resorts with bad buffets and dated entertainment, but in recent years the all-inclusive has been given a make-over. Think glammer, better quality and independent.
“New parents are increasingly keen for us to recommend the kind of small, stylish, independent accommodation they holidayed in before having children but with the added benefits of three meals a day and drinks included without succumbing to a typical package holiday hotel,” explains Sian Williams, founder of Baby Friendly Boltholes.
lla Pia, Tuscany This 17-room house has the relaxed vibe of a home, but none of the cooking – Brit owners Kevin and Morag take care of all that for you and there’s a fully-stocked fridge, bar and coffee machine for any snacks in between that you can help yourself to. Seven nights from £1,070 in a family room which sleeps two adults, two children and has room for a cot.
Country Kids Chestnut House, Languedoc-Rousillion You want the wild beauty of the French countryside, and the privacy and freedom of an apartment, but you also want a free drop-in crèche on tap, included activities like sailing, vineyard tours or tennis, a couple of nights babysitting, suppers, a pool with a bar, and a deli so you needn’t go out to buy delicious local food. That’s just the start of the options that are all part of the price at this luxurious small family retreat. Sleeps five plus room for a cot. From £3,500 per week.
Mas de Thau, South of France This converted French winery opened last summer as a self-catering country estate. Your first supper and daily breakfasts are included along with a bumper welcome pack and a communal meal each Sunday.
But unlike other self-catering holidays, this one comes with a daily maid service, two night’s free babysitting, a wine-tasting evening, kids club and crèche and a petting farm, a complimentary massage for parents and a blissful pool. Sleeps four plus room for a cot. From £1,200 a week.
TREE HOUSES The latest way to get back to nature – hug a tree, quite literally. Now you can play, stay and eat in amongst the tree canopy.
Alnwick Treehouse, Northumberland This wooden turreted restaurant is reached by a wobbly bridge and trees can actually be seen growing out of the dining room floor. In the evening, it’s lit with candles for a magical, Faraway Tree experience that you’ll never forget. www.alnwickgarden.com
Center Parcs Longleat and Sherwood The new two-storey, four-bedroom treehouses at Longleat and Sherwood Forest are a real Swiss Family Robinson affair, with wooden bridges and gangways connecting the different wooden cabins and a deck with an outdoor hot tub, sauna and games room. Brilliant for groups or large families. www.centerparcs.co.uk
Forest Holidays Treehouses Available in Deerpark in Cornwall, Keldy in Yorkshire, Thorpe Forest in Norfolk and in the Forest of Dean in Gloucestershire, kids will love staying in these treehouse hideaways. Some have wooden walkway entrances, others come with outdoor hot tubs, and all have wood-burning stoves and bathrooms. Sleeps up to ten. www.forestholidays.co.uk
Cleveley Mere, Lancashire W.O.W – leave any notion of a DIY wooden shack at the door, or should that be rope bridge. This futuristic tree-top retreat is seriously luxurious and even has its own harbour and boat, as well as bikes, pedaloes and canoes that can be borrowed. Sleeps four. From £129 a night, www.cleveleymere.com
BeWILDerwood, Norfolk This award-winning forest adventure park is home to treehouses, jungle bridges, swings, slides, walkways and even mazes all set in and around the trees. There’s also storytelling, nature walks, boat trips and a tree-based café to keep the whole family occupied. www.bewilderwood.co.uk
THE MULTI-GENERATION GAME aka The 3G holiday Take the kids, the grandparents, the auntie and uncle, the nanny, even the dog – in the last year, one in six travellers in Britain has been on a 3G holiday, that’s three generations on one trip.
And the trend is growing, as more of us choose to travel with friends or family, either to share the cost of larger accommodation, or to help share the burden of childcare.
More than one in ten 3G-ers said that the main motivation for taking their parents or other relatives on holiday was to relieve to load of caring for their children.
“We took went away with our brother and sister-in-law, their kids and our parents last year,” says Nicola 40. “It was lovely for the grandparents to spend time with all of the grandchildren while they still can, and they got to try things that they wouldn’t have done on their own. It also made our villa much better value for money, overall – we were able to stay in a much nicer place for not much more per person than if we’d travelled separately.”
Want to try it? Serviced villas are a great way to take more than one generation away, or resorts that offer entertainment for both young and old. Make sure you look for somewhere with plenty of variety.
Coastline, Corsica, Mallorca and Ibiza For all the freedom of a villa combined with the luxury of a serviced hotel, this is the perfect solution. Have a chef cook for you, book a private nanny for your stay, use the concierge service to arrange excursions, restaurant bookings and have food delivered to your villa, and expect a maid service, too. But the real bonus is a communal living area where the whole family can mingle and a private pool at every property. www.coastline.co.uk
Daios Cove, Crete Older travellers will appreciate the resort-like feel here (you needn’t leave, there’s so much to do), the smart-but-not-trendy vibe, and the infinity pool and spa. There’s a daily programme of activities for young and old, as well as a crèche, kids club, and teen club. You’ll love the private bay and white-sand beach – and the family villas with private pools are a great choice for bigger parties.
Belmond La Residencia, Deia, Mallorca The old-school glamour of this breath-taking resort will wow the grandparents as much as you – though they may be more impressed by the mature gardens and the exceptional views than the fabulous, art-filled manor house hotel and spa. Chill out in the spa, or over a yoga or tai chi session, borrow a mountain bike and head down to the beach, or put the children into the kids club, which offers art and cookery classes, while you read a book by the pool or visit the restaurant, which is the best on the island. Book with Tots Too to take advantage of their private nanny service, Nanny Too, which is available at this hotel. www.belmond.com or www.totstoo.com
Sensatori Resort Aphrodite Hills, Cyprus Thomson’s luxury all-inclusive resorts are expanding this year, with new hotels in Fethive, Turkey, and Cyrpus. We love the modern rooms and stylish spas, with fantastic entertainment and activities for kids, no matter what they are into. And Cyprus has kitten-soft sandy beaches that make us want to go back every year. The climate is especially good for a spring or autumn break with babies. www.thomson.co.uk
WHAT THE EXPERTS PREDICT
Emma Barnett, Tots Too: We are seeing the return to traditional family resorts. Despite the appeal of experiential and authentic family experiences, which there is certainly demand for, we have really noticed in recent months that the traditional, full-service family destinations continue to be hot property, and if anything are soaring. Parents tell us that the peace-of-mind and ease of a family resort, like Forte Village in Sardinia or La Residencia in Majorca, make them a fail-safe bet.
At the other end of the spectrum, we’re also seeing families being prepared to travel further than ever. The Maldives, Mauritius, Antigua and Barbados are some of our biggest sellers – that’s even surprised us!
Nadine Mellor, I-Escape With Kids: Living like a local is a growing trend – people don’t want to feel like tourists anymore, they want to be immersed in the culture and experience of their holiday. So we are seeing more families booking apartments rather than hotels and wanting lots of information about the destination, or perhaps a concierge service, to make themselves feel at home.
We’re also seeing an increase in foodie breaks, where parents want to take the kids somewhere that they can eat well when out sightseeing during lunchtimes, bring good-quality grub back to the rental property, or dine in the hotel’s restaurant in the evenings with a babysitter or baby monitor. Places like Chateau les Merles in the Perigord region of France or Masseria Prosperi in Puglia, Italy, are proving really popular.
GREECE GOES GLAM – The Peloponnese Blessed with as much sun as LA, but a whole lot closer to home, it’s time to put Greece back on your radar.
The Peloponnese has seen a raft of chic opening in the last few years, from the ultra-exclusive design den Amanzoe (perfect for a pre-baby glam getaway) to the family-friendly, eco-luxe Costa Navarino and the established grand-dame The Poseidonion in Spetses. Add a new hotel and spa from the club group Nikki Beach in Porto Heli into the mix and it’s no wonder this is where stylish Athenians go to catch some sea breeze. www.visitgreece.gr
CROATIA’S DALMATION COAST If Croatia isn’t already on your wanderlust wish-list, here’s the lowdown: pretty beach towns dot the coastline, pine-covered islands are in easy day-tripping distance; the cosmopolitan UNESCO-listed port town of Split is on your doorstep – and it’s all just two-and-a-half hours from the UK. I-Escape With Kids (www.iescape.com/kids) has it in their sights as a hip destination for families this year; try staying in Hvar or at the Palmizana, a cluster of villas nestled in lush botanical gardens on the Dalmation Island of Sveti Klement, just a short hop from Hvar.
Closer to the action, the new Radisson Blu Resort in Split overlooks the Adriatic sea and has apartment accommodation for families. www.croatia.hr
IBIZA GROWS UP (but not old) The sun, the turquoise sea and the blissed-out summer beats… How much fun was Ibiza back in the day? But having a baby doesn’t put this Balearic bolthole out of bounds. The original Ibiza hotel, the Hacienda Na Xamena, that first opened its doors in hippie days of 1971, has been through a major revamp and reopened last summer with a luxurious spa, yacht (for jaunts out to sea), and three pools, but the boho vibe is very much alive and well. Perched on a cliff, 180 metres above the sea, and surrounded by a national park, the views are spectacular.
Meanwhile Thomson is opening its luxury all-inclusive Sensatori brand on the White Isle this year, with a beachfront setting in Cala Tarida on the west coast. For some thrilling sunset views, head to the rooftop bar – but what makes this work for families is the nursery for babies and free Playhouse club for children over three, there are even supervised evening sessions so that you can have a meal or, dare we say it, hit a club! Family rooms sleep five, while entertainment and a fab spa complete the very stylish package.
Could it be time to dig out your white bikini? www.ibiza.travel
BRISTOL GOES GREEN Locals have always known that this is one of Britain’s coolest cities, and now a new accolade will have visitors heading west. Crowned European Green Capital 2015, the easily walkable, or cycleable, city has an independent vibe and a thriving arts and music scene, as well as magnificent views from the Clifton suspension bridge – could this be the UK’s answer to San Francisco? Take a Banksy tour for an alternative view of the sights, and check into the new Bristol Hotel (from £99 a night, www.doylecollection.com/bristol), which sits next door to the Arnolfini contemporary arts centre. Tots will love the aquarium, and the SS Great Britain on Spike Island where you’ll also find another modern art venue – the Spike Island Artspace. www.visitbristol.co.uk
PORTUGAL: THE ALGARVE and BEYOND With its beautiful beaches, short flight time and gorgeous climate, Portugal is a perennial favourite for families as it is also good value. But new choices are springing up beyond the traditional Algarve package holiday.
Martinhal at Sagres offers the best of barefoot beach luxury and is a villa resort with an eco spa, cool kids club (book ahead!) and a stunning beach, set in a protected natural park.
Head further north to Sintra and Cascais on the Estoril Coast as a chic, less crowded alternative that’s a short hop from Lisbon. Housed in a converted 14th-century monastery Penha Longa is an outstandingly tranquil and beautiful place to shake of the stress of modern life. Children are treated like royalty, or VIKs as the hotel calls them.
And the new Conrad Algarve at Quinto do Lago brings Michelin-starred chef Heinz Beck to Portugal – but if that’s too fancy, there’s also a poolside BBQ bar. Add a great kids club, Aromatherapy Associates spa and the nearby marina with bustling boutiques (you will buy something!), and it’s a recipe for a top holiday. www.visitportugal.com
This article appeared in the January 2015 issue of Gurgle magazine.