Europe's largest indoor waterpark sits in an aircraft hanger outside of Berlin. Surrounded by flat fields, the structure is completely incongruous with the setting and indoors, it is hard to believe you are in Germany.
It is an enormous and cheesy but fun tropical water park with spa, sauna, cabaret, Germany's highest water slides, a "Bali lagoon" and waterfalls.
It is a bit of a white elephant, having failed to attract the optimistic forecast of one million visitors a year but the plus side is, it is rarely uncomfortably busy.
Located about 35 miles outside Berlin and easily accessible on the train from Alexanderplatz - a shuttle bus from Brand station takes you to the "resort".
If the rain and cold of Berlin winter get you down, pop there for a dose of jungle fever.
One of Germany's most beautiful natural areas is only an hour and a half by train from Berlin's Hauptbahnhof. The Spree Forest is laced with lakes and canals channelled from the Spree River hundreds of years ago. There are barges with guides for a relaxing glide through the forest, or canoes for a more energetic exploration. The local dill, mustard and herb-flavoured gherkins taste good with locally smoked fish sandwiches. There are plenty of paths for walking and cycling, and there's hot-air ballooning if the weather is right. A glass of refreshing Lübbenauer Babbenbier is the traditional way to end the day before heading home.
The Spanish have their own version of the tooth fairy albeit in mouse form and he is known to Spanish children as Ratóncito Pérez. Hidden away in a tiny shopping centre in central Madrid is a cute tiny golden statue of this famous Ratóncito Pérez. Upstairs on the first floor of the shopping centre is a small museum dedicated to the history behind this mouse.
This park is in my opinion better than the
El Retiro park in central Madrid. It is more geared towards children and families. Children will love it as there is lots to discover such as ... I am not going to tell you. Go to the park, ignore the plan of the park, lose yourself and discover the many buildings within it for yourself.
I assure you that around every corner you will discover something new. It will feel like you are nowhere near Madrid at all (El Capricho park is in fact right on the very edge of the Madrid) as it is small and showy with colourful roses and sunflowers all year round. The sun brings out the autumnal colours. Take food and drink with you though as unlike El Retiro park there are no food or drink shops within the park itself. Although there is a free tap providing free drinking water within the grounds near El Capricho palace. My favourite spot to stop and sit was on the seat by the artificial lake opposite the waterfall on the manmade island in the middle of the lake. Sadly this park which was previously unknown to many tourists and Madrileños has been discovered and is now very popular and can be busy which is why they have a daily limit of 1,000 people in the park at any one time. This has spoiled the serenity of the park somewhat but there are still some secluded spots left within the park to escape the crowds which is good. If you are lucky like I was you will be treated to some free dancing and acting outside the dance hall in the park (usually between 12.00am and 13.00pm). Entry is free but the park is only open Saturday and Sundays from 9.00am to 21.00pm.
Calle de la Galera, 0, 28042 Madrid, Spain
+34 917 42 97 87
Nearest metro station: El Capricho
The long 45 - 60 min metro journey from central Madrid is worth it I promise you!
Exit El Capricho metro station (there is only one exit) and follow the brown signs which say Parque El Capricho which will lead you across scrubland and past some flats to the park entrance on the opposite side of the zebra crossing.
Google map: bit.ly/TpdqoR
The square of the Irish - named after the Irish pub in the square and St Patricks college (or Irish College) which backs on the square. During the afternoon it is completely quiet and practically deserted.
Google map: bit.ly/Tusf9y
On a searingly hot day in the Argentina summer we turned up in town and staggered into the Adventure Hostel. Rooms are simple but clean, with air-con (essential in this climate.) It has a well equipped kitchen, and a great breakfast by Argentine standards with home made potato cake. However the main draw are the family-friendly facilities, with lots of games, play area, plenty of outdoor space, barbeque pits, hammocks, and excellent cooling swimming pool. Great place for chilling, watching the jungle wildlife, or exploring the nearby Jesuit ruins and surrounding area. You could, and will, get stuck here ...
Calle Independencia 469, San Ignacio - www.hihostels.com/dba/hostels-San-Ignacio----Adventure-Hostel-002122.en.htm
Independencia 469, San Ignacio, Misiones
+54 376 4470955
Google map: bit.ly/QvMDBe
A beautiful castle, village, and forest just 40 minutes from the centre of Paris. There are loop walks around the forest starting from right by the train station, which give you an immediate sense of escape from the intensity of Paris. Then from there you can wander through the formal parkland towards the centre of the town. Plenty of restaurants offer lunch or dinner, or enormous ice creams and crepes. Then the chateau, the former country escape of French royalty, offers fine gardens, a large pond, grand rooms and plenty of history to explore.
Château de Fontainebleau, 77300 Fontainebleau
+33(0)1 60 71 50 70
Google map: bit.ly/QNMMyB
Accessible only through Wolohan's Caravan and Camping Park, this sheltered sandy cove is more like a Mediterranean beach. We shared it with only two other families when we visited in late August. There was plenty of room to build sand boats to catch the incoming tide and to spread out as we picnicked under the cliff.
We watched a seal fishing in the breakers all morning, and when the tide started to ebb, we were able to walk round the headland to its home. There were seal tracks in the sand which disappeared into a cave, but we decided it was prudent to leave the animal alone.
The campsite charges a small fee to park and to cross their land to the cove, which varies throughout the year. But it's worth it.
With its skew-whiff half-timbered houses, thatched roofs, rolling hills and ancient church, Lavenham is every American tourist's idea of little England. All of this medieval Englishness is encapsulated in one building: the Guildhall. While it won't impress you with its size (it's quite small compared to many National Trust buildings), the higgledy-piggledy arrangement of its rooms across a number of buildings, lends it a magical Grimm's fairytale atmosphere.
Inside, everyone loves Rammeses the mummified cat, believed to have been interred next to the chimney to guard against evil spirits. The dungeon is too well-lit to be spooky, but the dark cells outside in the yard are home to a man-trap and hearse, enough to send a few shivers up my spine. There are displays in every room which tell the story of the town, but I was content to soak up the building itself: a great place for conjuring stories of a ghostly nature.
If you feel in the mood to "whack a banker" look no further than Southwold's pier.
Despite being completely re-built in 1999, the pier retains a refined sea-side resort ambience, full of places to grab a cuppa or sit in the sunshine and eat ice creams. It is good for a stroll at any time of the year, but when you need some respite from Suffolk's relentless buffeting winds, I recommend the "Under the Pier Show". Full of slot machine games hand-built by Tim Hunkin, the wooden room is fun for all ages. I particularly liked THE BATHYSCAPE which pretended to take me underwater to look at all the poo being pumped into the sea, several radioactive plastic fish, Robert Maxwell's skeleton and finally started leaking as it hurtled to the surface. The psycho-killer chiropodist manipulated my feet far more gently than I expected. Cutting close to the bone of good taste with his MOBILITY MASTERCLASS "Start training for your future today", Tim gives you the opportunity to practise crossing a motorway, lane by lane, pushing a zimmer frame. I was mown down several times.
On the way out I was taken by a mallet and a series of holes in a table, and worked up a sweat whacking several bald bankers as they popped their heads up through the holes. Very therapeutic.
Southwold Pier Limited, North Parade, Southwold, Suffolk IP18 6BN
+44 (0)1502 722105
More on Tim Hunkin's machines: www.underthepier.com/10_current_machines.htm
Google map: bit.ly/TM8Ez3
Staying in caravans and tents, particularly on designated "sites", had never appealed to me until I spent a few days last week with my partner's family at this Suffolk coast campsite. They used to come years ago, and we were here because his youngest brother had called everyone together to help him re-live his rosy childhood memories with his new son.
The rows of mobile homes and tents carefully spaced between wooden sleepers on the closely cropped grass, and the ranks of clean, cream static caravans on the other side of the path look neat enough, but it is the endless beach stretching north and south that really impresses. One night we sat on the verandah of our caravan when a muntjac strolled past. Birds hover and swoop all day, and it's not uncommon to see seals playing just offshore. The site is surrounded by woods and there are plenty of paths for walkers and cyclists to follow.
The Sizewell nuclear power stations are a spit away (my partner tells me he remembers swimming in the water close to Sizewell A because it was warm, and I'm still not sure if he was having me on), but with all the fresh air and natural beauty they are surprisingly unobtrusive.
The area is full of families who have been returning for decades.
Monday afternoon between noon and 2pm is the best time to sit in the shade by the mermaid sat on her fish by the lake in El Retiro park. The monument to Alfonso XII provides a suitable backdrop to watch people messing about on boats in the lake next to the monument. It is funny to watch them trying to row their boats as there are the occasional crashes between boats. Don't forget to smack the mermaid's bottom for good luck before you reluctantly leave the lakeside!
The most famous cycling race in Spain which easily rivals the more famous Tour de France. The 9th September is usually when the race finishes in Madrid. It is free to stand behind the barriers by the road and cheer the cyclists on as they race past you at an alarming pace (be quick to rein in your camera after taking your photo otherwise it will be shot out of your hand and broken by passing cyclists). I managed to get some brilliant photos of the riders and of the prize giving ceremony after the race. Don't be discouraged if the police move you on from some of the barriers by the finish line as they actually did me a favour as I got to be right next to the barrier and could practically touch the cylists. It was one of the best experiences of my life as it was exciting to actually be there in Madrid instead of watching it on the TV. Top tip - find a barrier on the right side of the track (where you will get the best photos) at 12.00pm and keep your spot. Arrive later than 12.00pm and you will loose your spot!
The atmopshere is fantastic and exhilirating. It is not intimidating at all even for children so it is perfect for families. There are police everywhere to protect spectators and cyclists so don't worry about safety but do as I did and keep your rucksack on your front and NOT on your back to avoid things being stolen from it without you noticing. There will be lots of people around you but unlike the Tour de France you wont be jostled about and knocked all over the place - everybody looks after each other (even if your not supporting the same rider!)
The Vuelta de España follows this route into Madrid city centre: c/Princesa,
Plaza de España, Gran Vía, c/Alcalá,
Plaza de Cibeles, then passing the Thyssen museum, Fuente de Neptuno, Paseo de Prado, Gta de Emperador Carlos V and back up to Plaza de Cibeles then down again to
Gta de Emperador Carlos V (10 times) before the cyclists cross the finishing line
(la meta) for the final time near Plaza de Cibeles. The exact route is usually announced on the website of the
Vuelta de España and in the local and national newspapers every year
Google map: bit.ly/Ph2plP
Try the fortified medieval town of Provins 1h25 by train (from Gare de l'Est) to the south-east of Paris. Away from the usual foreign tourist route. You tend only to find French visitors. Great with kids as there's a donjon, ramparts, underground passages. In summer there are lots of events such as jousting knights, etc. Plenty of restaurants from the good and cheap crepe (Le Fleur du Sel in the old town) to the fancier place with lovely outdoor dining areas.
If you are looking for a small, truly family run authentic German hotel with fabulous food in an unspoilt town in the Bavarian Mountains with loads to do for families and great public transport links which remove the need for a car - this is the place for you.
We stayed for 10 nights in August 2012. We flew London Heathrow to Munich and then took the train from Munich to Ruhpolding with a change at Traunstein. The hotel collected us from the railway station for the short drive to the hotel which is in a peaceful location a few minutes walk from the town centre.
We had an en-suite room - which would be best described as a suite with a lounge area and a connected bedroom for our five year-old son. We had a terrace with furniture which lead onto the hotel garden and children's outdoor play area. There was also a children's playroom. We enjoyed delicious breakfasts and fabulous dinners every night at the hotel after days packed with activities aided by the Ruhpolding Extra Card included in our hotel package - which provided us with free access to numerous activities in and around Ruhpolding including outdoor and indoor swimming pools, cable cars and chair lifts, family parks and free local bus services - even as far as Berchtesgaden! It is also easy to take the train from Ruhpolding for day trips to Salzburg, Munich and the beautiful lake Chiemsee. We also hired bikes locally to cycle the wonderful cycle routes around Ruhpolding.
On a recent visit to Keswick, I discovered a delicious solution to the often difficult problem of dining out while traveling with children. I found a courtyard tucked behind a pub (Kings Arms), a sports bar (Casa's Bar) and a pizzeria (LB's Pizza House) that was perfect for family dining. With the courtyard setting, we could dine outdoors, catch a favorite sport on TV, and enjoy a mix of food and beverage from any or all of these three establishments. Our goal that evening was to watch the gold medal Women's football match of the summer Olympics, and the bar tender from Casa's accommodated us by finding the game on the television set near our table. Along with pints of ale and cider carried out from the bar for refreshment, we ate some of the best pizza I've ever had, a thin and crispy, spicy hot Diavolo that had been stonebaked in a wood fired oven (with margherita pizza for the kids, of course.) The meal was so delicious we ordered another pizza and had a second round of drinks to take us through the second half of the football match. My only regret at the end of the evening was that we were far too full to finish the feast with a sticky toffee pudding.
23 Main Street Keswick, Cumbria CA12 5BL
+44(0)800 840 1241
Google map: bit.ly/OIytx8
The hillwalking in the Cantal is blissful. You are unlikely to see many people on your way up or down through wooded hillsides on waymarked paths, until you break out on spectacular ridges rising to 1700m.
Sheffield Park gardens are my favourite as they are always changing with the seasons, so there’s always something different to see. There is wheelchair access and you can hire powered buggys so everyone is thought of. There is also now a lovely cafe and restaurant to stop in at. My best tip for visiting any of our wonderful gardens is, if you see a plant you like, take a picture of it, immediately followed by a picture of the plant label so you will know what to look for if you want one for your own space.
Sheffield Park, TN22 3QX
Google map: bit.ly/NHT6ak
Hestercombe Gardens offers a magical day going through three centuries of garden design. There is a seventeenth century mill, now restored, plus an eighteenth century picturesque hillside garden with several follies, and a stream running into a large pool. There is a Victorian terrace from which, looking down, one catches one's breath at 'The Great Plat', looking like a Moorish cushion. This is part of the design : the best of Hestercombe: made in the early twentieth century by Gertrude Jekyll and Edwin Lutyens. It is their garden masterpiece with its many levels, rills, water spouts, pergola and glorious planting. Hestercombe has a gallery, a super shop with plants as well, plus cafe. There are events throughout the year for both the family and garden history scholars. Most of the garden is accessible for wheeled users; a lift takes you to the ticket office and onto the path past the hillside, stream and pool – but you have to retrace your wheels to get into the Jekyll garden.
Perched above the Dee Estuary, with stunning views across to Wales, Ness Gardens nestle, a haven of tranquillity. Created by Cotton Merchant, Arthur Kilpin Bulley in 1898, who was responsible for introducing thousands of new plants into Britain, they are now maintained by Liverpool University and are still a major botanical centre involved in plant conservation. The gardens provide an extensive area of wonderfully varied planting, with south facing terraces and many water features. Finding a lovely picnic spot is easy, choosing is difficult.
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