Finding out I was pregnant was a shock. I wanted children, absolutely. And I knew I didn’t want to wait much longer to have them, but when a pregnancy test came back positive just six weeks after saying yes to a marriage proposal, I won’t deny that I was less than prepared. Emotionally, I was there. And I definitely had the very best man in my life to be embarking on such a journey with. But I was at the peak of a successful and extremely enjoyable career as a travel journalist and that area of my life was far from ready for the inclusion of a baby. Surely he or she would scream from take off to landing, make jetlag all the worse and deny me entry to any half way decent hotels that hinted at pampering and fine dining? Well, fast-forward three years and I am delighted to say that I’ve found that to be untrue. Admittedly, not every flight has been a dream, and a trip back from Thailand in 2012 when Lola was only 16 months old took weeks to recover from, but every journey has been so worthwhile. Having her at my side has only made every trip more magical, more memorable and much, much more fun. It was just all about knowing where to go…….
Wilmington, North Carolina
I am truly biased when it comes to this twinkling city on the sea. I went to university in Wilmington and it is home to some of my very dearest memories, not to mention friends. Think Dawson’s Creek, dancing sea oats and miles of coastline fringed with clapboard houses and sugar-soft sand dunes. The people are loaded with genuine Southern charm, the food is fabulous and the sunsets seem to last for hours. There are some lovely hotels, especially on Wrightsville Beach (a beautific barrier island that juts off the edge of Wilmington), but I recommend renting a beach house if you can. If you prefer the mountains, the ethereal and very inviting peaks of the Blueridge Mountains are just a drive away and just as gorgeous by summer as they are in autumn when the leaves change. This may not leap out as an obvious American vacation destination, but that only adds to its appeal as far as I’m concerned. The beach draws me back time and again and Lola loves it, too. There’s something about the place that still has me on my knees in minutes, just begging for some Bluegrass and a beer.
I was lucky enough to spend a month in Malaysia when I was pregnant and I can’t wait to return as a family. The whole country is awash with tiny islands, sensational food (I could eat Laksa every day for life) and amazingly family-friendly places to stay. The Malays adore children so you’ll be hard pushed to find a hotel, restaurant, and even a beach bar that doesn’t welcome little ones of all ages with open arms. The Four Seasons and The Andaman Hotel (both on the idyllic island of Langkawi, which is just a short flight from Kuala Lumpur) were particularly memorable for this reason. And if you choose childcare options, it’s likely the lady who shows up to take care of your little one will have her own children with her, too.
The Balearic Islands, Spain
Again, I’m biased as I lived in Mallorca for some time and still return as often as I can. But there is something about these islands that bob gently off the southeastern coast of Spain that makes life so incredibly easy. Many possess memories of summers spent, albeit less than sober, in the clubs of Ibiza. But Ibiza is as great for families as it is for young hedonists. Most hotels have children’s clubs, great spas and tantalizing restaurants for parents. And being Spain, you can bring children of any age into any establishment at any time of the day or night, without fear of lingering stares and grumpy guffaws. The same goes for Mallorca and Menorca. Mallorca has some amazing family hotels, most notably the Jumeirah Port Soller Hotel and Spa. Defined by fully-supervised swimming pools, babysitters on tap, views across the fishing village of Soller and out onto the Med, and wonderfully luxurious rooms in which to end the day, you can’t beat this as a hotel option just a short drive from Palma airport. Menorca is smaller, flatter and far gentler in pace but, again, a fantastic island for renting a villa, some local bikes and relaxing as a family.
From Hampshire into Dorset, across Somerset and on into Devon and Cornwall, there are fabulous glamping, camping, hiking, walking, kiting, sailing, swimming and riding options. Whether you want a luxury yurt for the whole family or an insulated treehouse, a five-star estate with facilities for all ages or a picturesque cottage to rent, there is no shortage of sensational options really close to home. (Of course these all available across the country but the southwest is my personal favourite). The Cornwall Estate and Spa near St. Austell is particularly dear to me. With its close proximity to the Eden Project, you’ll find as much outside the grounds of this gorgeous hotel as within them. You’ll adore the spa, the memorable food (lots of local produce used here) and the relaxing pool. Children will love the kids’ cinema, the organized treasure hunts on the grounds and the tennis.
Big Sur, California
Again, this particularly gorgeous spot on the coast of California isn’t the only great place on America’s western coast, but it stands out. A long and lazy drive up Highway 1 from Los Angeles in early February when Lola was still a baby proved one of our finest holidays yet. Not only did I feel like I was driving through a film set, but the sun shone every day (back home England was being smattered by storms) and this particular section of coastline is dotted with designated, cliff top spots for whale-watching. Tiny taverns intersect the winding road, all gorgeous for a light lunch in the sunshine, and evenings can be spent huddled in wonderfully welcoming B&B’s along the pristine Pacific coast highway. Family-run and extremely friendly, we rocked up with a babe in arms and they met our every need, from warm milk to a cot bed, a bottle of local red wine and even, on one occasion, a spare tire. Lola may not ever remember being there but we will always remember having her with us and, though I had to get fairly creative in terms of nappy-changing spots at times, I wouldn’t change that for the world.