Three life-guarded, open-air swimming ponds (yes real ponds, weeds and all!) in the heart of London. Each pond (ladies, mens and mixed) has its own unique atmosphere, whether you want secluded bathing among ducks and lily pads, clear open water for training, or a place to splash about with friends and wash away the London grime. At each pond, there is a grassy bank for sitting, a jetty to dive off and changing rooms complete with showers. Swimming in the pond is the most serene, yet invigorating way to finish off a summers day in the capital. Oh and did I mention that they're open all year round?
+44(0)20 7485 3873
Google map: bit.ly/QdGSKG
Nearest tube: Highgate or Hampstead
Overground: Gospel Oak or Hampstead Heath
Whether you are visiting Olympic Park or just looking to keep the kids occupied head down to Billingsgate, take a picnic but be sure to pack a mackerel (the fish market closes at 8.30am) and when you spot Sammy the seal (although most likely Simone) throw the fish at her. She has been hanging around here for a few years and why not with all that fish around? You might see porpoises and the odd dolphin too....
River Thames between Canary Wharf and as far in as Vauxhall Bridge. West India Quay on DLR and walk along the docks.
Google map: bit.ly/QdJAzO
If you fancy some wild swimming, but don't want to dodge the River Thames traffic, there are other watery magnets around the capital. Try the ponds on Hampstead Heath, or the Serpentine Lake in Hyde Park. There are also Grade II listed lidos in Parliament Hill Fields and Brockwell Park. Break up a day of London sight-seeing with a dip in the outside pool at the Oasis in Covent Garden. Finally, at 90m, the Tooting Bec Lido is perfect for serious swimmers.
Outdoor Swimming Society: www.outdoorswimmingsociety.com
The Outdoor Swimming Society interactive map: wildswim.com/
Kate Rew's film about wild swimming in London: www.guardian.co.uk/travel/video/2010/aug/05/kate-rew-wild-swim-london?INTCMP=ILCNETTXT3486
Hampstead Heath Ponds
Men only, women only and mixed. No children under 8, children under 16 with an adult.
Address: Hyde Park, W2 3XA
Tel: +44 (0)20 7706 3422
Open: 10am-6pm weekends and bank holidays in May; 10am-6pm daily June-mid Sept
Brockwell Park Lido
Address: Brockwell Park, Dulwich Road, London, SE24 0PA
Tel: +44 (0)20 7274 3088
Open: Mon-Fri: 06:30-22:00, Saturday: 07:30-21:30, Sunday: 07:30-21:00
Parliament Hill Fields Lido
Address: Gordon House Road, NW5 1NB
Tel: +44 (0)20 7485 3873
Open: May-Sept 2012: 7am-9am & 10am-6pm daily; 6.30-8.30pm Mon, Thur & Fri. Sep-May 2013 7am-12.30pm daily
Oasis Sports Centre
Address: 32 Endell Street, WC2H 9AG
Tel: +44 (0)20 7831 1804
Open: Mon-Fri: 6.30am-9pm, Sat-Sun: 9.30am-6pm. (Last admission one hour before closing).
Tooting Bec Lido
Address: Tooting Bec Road, SW16 1RU
Tel: +44 (0)20 8871 7198
Open to the public from 19 May to 30 Sep. For the rest of the year, the Lido is open every day to the South London Swimming Club.
You don't have to be a famous comedian or a boat-race prankster to swim in the Thames, but from 1st July 2012 you do have to get prior consent from the harbour master if you want to swim between Putney Bridge and Crossness (near the Thames Barrier). Anyone can enjoy a dip in the water upstream, and there are some lovely spots to cool off on a hot summer's day from Chiswick to Richmond, via Barnes, Old Isleworth, and Strawberry Hill.
Port of London Authority: www.pla.co.uk/swimminginthethames
Yes, you can sail in the middle of London. The Shadwell Sailing Club is open to the public every Tuesday from April till October. For as little as £10 a session the club will provide all the equipment, sailing gear and instruction needed for novices and experts alike. The evening starts at 6.00pm, and if the conditions are good, you could find yourself on the water for four hours. After all that exercise you'll relish a pint or two at the Prospect of Whitby right next door.
3-4 Shadwell Pierhead, Glamis Road, London E1W3TD
Tel: +44 (0) 2074814210
Google map: bit.ly/Ontf8n
The Shadwell OAC also runs youth courses for RYA certificates in sailing.
Fishing is free anywhere along the tidal Thames from Teddington Lock to the sea. Catch freshwater and sea fish, ranging from roach, pike and perch to bream and flounder. Choose your spot carefully and watch the tide. A friend of mine is a passionate angler, and swears Thames carp fishing is some of the best to be had anywhere. You'll need a rod and line licence, available online or through the post office.
Licence: 1 day £3.75 (or £8 for salmon and sea trout)
Google map: bit.ly/OnukwR
Hiding in the foothills of the Pyrenees, and often overlooked by foreign tourists, this protected valley is sprinkled with Unesco-listed churches from the 12th century. It is also a gateway to the dramatic Aigüestortes i Estany de Sant Maurici National Park where a week won't be long enough to fit in all the hiking, cycling, adventuring and bird-watching on offer.
Avoid the familiar, round up the family and go there in the summer.
It's a lovely family camping on the beach (you can even rent a bungalow on the beach!). It's quite, sunny, not too hot thanks to the trees and the nearby seaside. Adapted for families with one or more children. Very friendly and happy life.
First week in August every year. A mgnificent four or five days of activities for everyone. There are painting and drawing competitions, a puppet theatre and a parade of the gigantes for the children; a temporary fun-fare at one end of the beach offering attractions to all; sardanas, habaneras and flamenco for traditionalists; and a greasy pole, swimming events and cycling competitions for the more adventurous. But the highlights enjoyed by everyone are the four open air dances on the paseo (midnight to 3,4 or 5am) to a variety of bands/groups; the carrefoc, an explosive fire run with devils dancing through the streets breathing fire and hurling bangers and jacky-jumpers everywhere; and the spectacular, ear-bashing fireworks display in the bay on the last night, watched by thousands seated on the beach or the promenade wall. An exhausting but exhilarating four or five days.
Sant Feliu de Guixols, about 25 miles from Girona
Google map: bit.ly/LvgVW4
First ensure you’ve had a couple of kwak beers in their proper glass, then head upstairs to Toone’s theatre with its puppets dangling from the eaves, take your place on the bench – and be prepared to not understand very much. Fear not though, this is normal. This is Bruxellois.
This time it is an adaptation of Hamlet, transported to the backstreets and canal of Brussels. There is a bit of hanky panky between King and Queen, a regal ghost burning his bottom on the fires of purgatory, and someone has caught the “English” flu. Sitting near the front you can appreciate the arms behind the artifice: 7 young puppeteers are needed to perform the show, and the lead puppeteer (Toone VIII) is also ticketmaster, barman and answerer of baffled-tourist questions.
“To be or not to be: that is the cwestion…” We’ll say this in English, that way everyone can say they didn’t understand a thing”, says one of the characters. But perhaps this Bruxellois dialect isn’t so tricky after all. There’s a spuuk in this play, you know, and a snotneus, and a stoemmeriek (stupid person). Mostly performances are in French Bruxellois, but once a week you can try Flemish Bruxellois (and be even more confused). The dialect survives mostly as a strong accent and vocabulary: you’re most likely to hear it amongst the older generation and Flemish speakers.
In the interval, you can drink yet more beer amongst retired 30 year old puppets in the tiny museum-cum-bar. Meanwhile I’m mulling over a line from the performance, “Justice is a snail. It will come in its own time.”
Performances at 20:30, and at 16:00 and 20:30 on Saturdays.
Check online to see what is playing, and reserve places online or by telephone a couple of days beforehand if you can.
Impasse Sainte-Pétronille, Rue du Marché-aux-Herbes 66, 1000 Brussels
+32 2 513 54 86
Google map: bit.ly/PYFjRD
* Bec is our Been there local for Brussels. You can view her profile here: www.ivebeenthere.co.uk/articles/brussels-local-rebecca.jsp and follow her tips here: www.ivebeenthere.co.uk/travellers/Becinbrussels
Only 15 minutes away by car from the lovely seaside town of Granville in Normandy, the Champrépus zoo will keep you busy for at least half a day. I used to visit the park often as a child and went back last month while on a trip back home. Well, my last visit was probably 15 years ago and how surprised I was! If the zoo used to be a bit shabby, and the animals sad-looking, it has now become such a beautiful park with great gardens and hundreds of playful creatures. The giraffes are a must-see and the young ones will love the cute lemurs and the farm animals as you can get very close to them. The information boards are fun and translated in English and they even have an affordable restaurant with great local food such as delicious salted caramel desserts! I would definitely recommend the zoo if you are in the area, even if you don't have children and, like me, want to practise your photography skills!
A chance to stay in the safari park. From the balcony watch the exotic animals and sunset over the lake (with a glass of wine) while the children/friends interact with free-roaming deer and wallabies. The gibbons, rhinos and antelope enclosures are just a few meters away and for an extra 69euro per group of six you can get a behind-the-scenes tour to get a bit closer to the animals. You can also book workshops and outings (children 5/adults 10 euro), going though the Cerza woods at night which is particularly scary.
All materials used to make the lodges are eco-friendly and they are equipped with the usual mod-cons.
A couple of nights here was a great way to break up the visits to the castles, cheese farms and galleries.
Ferries from Granville. This fabulous archipelago of islands is barely populated, car free, breezy, sunny, a timeless place of great beauty. There are a couple of gites and little shops and a fair few yachting visitors. Weathered rocks, deserted shorelines, beaches, pools teeming with life all abound. Great for kids.
Located in the national park at the base of the Cotentin Peninsula near Isigny sur Mer is the delightful Chateau de Monfreville.
The Chateau is home to Paul and Zoe and their family, who look after all visitors with an informal enthusiasm, kindness and unremitting good humour.
The grounds are populated by ducks, geese, hens, a variety of wildlife and chickens, plus the ever-hungry labrador Hector. The chateau gardens also provide organic vegetables for one and all.
You can stay in the chateau itself or in one of their gites or roulettes (gipsy caravans), or alternatively camp in the grounds overlooking the national park. All this is within easy reach of Bayeux, the D-Day beaches, Mont St Michel and the Normandy coast and countryside.
Staying at the chateau is a unique and totally relaxed experience – just how holidays used to be – families will love it.
Sardinia has a bit of a reputation as a playground for the rich and famous, but don’t let this put you off. Head for Alghero - fly into its airport and it’s only a euro to take the bus into town. It might not be one of the more glamorous spots on Sardinia but it has a delightful old town with well preserved bastions, excellent restaurants specialising in seafood and plenty of places to sit with a cocktail watching the sun go down. There is a working harbour and port and the town is not reliant on tourism, although it does get busy in July and August. An excellent large gently shelving sandy beach stretches the length of the bay, making it an excellent choice for families.
North west coast of Sardinia
Google map: bit.ly/QgnVWe
Keep kids and adults engaged by visiting the fascinating turtle sanctuary based on the beautiful south coast of Sardinia. As well as the rescued sea turtles and aquarium the nearby Roman ruins and beautiful beach with perfectly situated Sant'Efisio church will easily fill a day out. Best of all, we managed this trip, which was one of the highlights of our stay on the island, by public transport from Cagliari.
We had a superb two-week holiday with two teenage children. We flew to Zagreb and picked up a hire car. Drove to Pula, Beli on Cres (heaven, do walk to the lost villages), Rab, Zadar and finally dropped the car off at Split. We then took ferries to Korcula and on to Dubrovnik to fly home. Get to Krka National Park very early for the magic - it felt like Alton Towers on a bank holiday when we left at 11.30am. We recommend booking hostels - we stayed in them in Pula, Rab, Zadar and Split. Basic but really clean, friendly, central and cheap. Particularly liked the Old Town hostel in Zadar. You can spend hours jumping off the harbour wall listening to the sea organ and then return in the evening to the sun salutation to enjoy the Saturday Night Fever light display.
A car-free island. No cars - no roads! Life at human pace. We caught the ferry from Sibenik, booked in to the one and only hotel, walked from one end of the Island to the other, swam in the bright blue sea and finished off with local wine and good food by the village green. The elders played bowls, the kids played football, the dogs chased each other and we watched the moon rise over the sea, while listening to the sound of ... no cars.
Half an hour on the ferry from Sibenik, which is a couple of hours north of Split, regular bus service.
Google map: bit.ly/MnDWcC
Set within the state capital's lush Botanical gardens, the Thiruvananthapuram Zoo is an example of a zoo trying to do the right thing. According to its pamphlet, many of the animals were kept in small, dingy cages as recently as 1996, and were simply there as exhibits. But an effort to change the zoo (it declares itself to be the oldest in India) from being a place of "unlimited animals and limited facilities" to "limited animals and adequate facilities" is working. A zoo animal hospital has been built and the stated objective is to conserve species endemic to the local area, from the coast to the Western Ghats.
There are still some anomalies: I'm not sure how often you see zebras, hippos and ostriches in the wilds of India. And I can't understand the reason for holding twelve kites (including the regal Brahminy kite) in one smallish cage; these birds can be seen on any day in (practically) any part of Kerala. I saw a rather forlorn "Jungle cat" (a bit bigger than your average-sized moggie) in a small cave-like den, with no trees or foliage.
On the other hand, the big cats (tigers, leopard and asiatic lions) had large, landscaped enclosures as well as smaller feeding cages: I watched one leopard gently headbutt its mate (mother? sibling?) before falling over and purring, just like any Jellicle cat at home; a lioness lay on her front licking her paw and passing it over her face, with eyes closed, while next to her another female stretched out and yawned; two young tigers prowled in their feeding areas, and as the keeper walked round the back of the cage, they play-stalked him. To my untrained eye these animals looked pretty content.
The zoo is full of mature trees and is well shaded. The landscaping and planting is fantastic.
This coverted farmhouse hotel on the edge of the town of San Jose in the Cabo de Gata National Park was peaceful, stylish, child-friendly and great value for money. Don't let the seas of plastic tomato greenhouses on the way from Almeria airport put you off - Cabo de Gata offers quiet seaside towns with lovely uncrowded beaches, rare wildlife, great seafood and excellent diving and snorkelling. Calm, warm waters and gently sloping beaches like the beautiful Playa de los Genoveses make great swimming spots with small children. All three generations on our trip were well catered for.
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