Hotels, campsites and holiday cottages.

Finding the right place to stay with the family can make or break a holiday. We have experienced a variety of places from picture postcard log cabins to flop houses and the experiences have taught us just what a difference a day makes.

Lunch at the cottage
Lunch at the cottage

But can you plan ahead for the best spot? We have all had one experience or another with getting something off the internet that looks like the deal of century and a classic beauty to boot, only to find that it’s the worst money you ever spent and is more like the ugly stepsister.

Of course Tripadvisor and its ilk have improved things massively in terms of knowing what to choose, but contributors on these sites don’t always see things through your eyes, and anyway they don’t really help you to decide on the type of accommodation to go for in the first place.

The country cottage

The cottage in all its splendour
The cottage in all its splendour

If you want your kids to be happy running around and you don’t want to spend a fortune then go for a cottage. We’ve stayed in cottages in Tuscany, Estonia, Latvia, Sri Lanka and Wales, and when we think of our happiest holidays, it’s often these places we think of.

Turns out our Kandy cottage wasn't made of candy.
Turns out our Kandy cottage wasn’t made of candy.

You could argue that a cottage up a mountain is hardly as entertaining as family extravaganza destination like a Disney Land, but there are good reasons why you would choose a wet sheep field in Wales over sugar induced mania. First of all $$$$$$$! cottages might seem more expensive in terms of initial outlay, but once you’ve paid for your week, you can buy your own food and once your there it’s easy to have spending free day by not going anywhere, try doing that in Butlins!

Also even the most street wise wired in urbanite little darling will soon realise that spending all day running around a big garden is much more fun than standing in line for an hour to go on a three minute thrill ride.

A cabin in the woods
A cabin in the woods

I can’t give a complete run down on the best places for renting a cottage but I will share my limited experiences in series of pithy one line descriptions:

Best value: Latvia for a dreamy log cabin with its own lake for Eur 50 a night, with your own boating lake thrown in.

Tommy going it solo on the boating lake
Tommy going it solo on the boating lake

Most picture postcard: This cottage in Tuscany was like something from a Guardian reader’s fantasy world, complete with incredible gardens and bees.

Breakfast after a bit of bee keeping
Breakfast after a bit of bee keeping

Biggest dump: This ‘cottage’ in Nuwar Eliya in Sri Lanka was in fact a weekend hide-away for 20-something Sri Lankans who wanted somewhere to get drunk. I’d show you a photo but we deleted them all. The lesson learnt was partly cultural, the owner I think really thought the place was fine, it came with a cook and a so-called ‘houseboy’ but the furniture was falling to bits the kitchen stank (it was designed to be used by the Tamil (read inferior) cook, so who cares right?)) and the bedrooms were no better.

The flat in town

The flat in town obviously doesn’t give you the space that kids love, which is why I wouldn’t recommend it for more than a few days. But it would be a shame not to stay overnight and feel the atmosphere, something you can’t do on a day trip.

The apartment had the wheel they used to haul goods upstairs when it was a warehouse a million years ago or there abouts
The apartment in Tallinn had the wheel they used to haul goods upstairs when it was a warehouse a million years ago or there abouts

The best places in Europe seemed to get booked up quite a way ahead of time, I’m thinking of places we rented in Tallin and Riga and outside Europe there aren’t as many choices, although we did stay in a couple of places in Argentina, in La Plata and Buenos Aires.

The apartment in Buenos Aires was two minutes walk from the Plaza Foch with all ts bars and cafes.
The apartment in Buenos Aires was two minutes walk from the Plaza Foch with all its bars and cafes.

Of course the other thing about a flat is it gives you the chance to leave the car. We never rent a car when we’re in town, it’s a pain to park and with my sense of direction we would spend most of the time driving round in circles.

The view from the flat, but least we didn't have far to walk to get a train in Riga
The view from the flat, but least we didn’t have far to walk to get a train in Riga

Camping

This can often be the cheapest option and doesn’t always mean a tent. We did stay in a tent once. Again there’s no documentary evidence,  we weren’t really in the photo taking mood at 10 o’clock at night when we got back to our tent at a festival campsite to find it soaking wet, on the inside….so it was off to a hotel and admitting defeat…

Inside a very cold tent
Inside a very cold tent

BUT there were more successful campsite experiences in Argentina, where a campsite means a collection of small cabins, which can be a bit rough and ready but do come with a roof. And Jordan where camping was in a goat’s hair tent or in the UAE which more often than not means falling asleep face down in sand dune the worse for drink.

 A Jordanian goat hair tent
A Jordanian goat hair tent

If I could persuade Lorena to get back in a tent with me (after what happened last time), I would go to more campsites but until then we’ll keep going back to renting cabins on sites that give the advantage of a bit green space plus a roof.

Camping = green in Estonia
Camping = green in Estonia

The jungle lodge

This ‘class’ of accommodation might conjure up images of fellas in pith helmets being waiting on by scantily clad maidens wearing only palm fronds and a smile, I did in fact buy the helmet but couldn’t get Lorena to agree to the other bit. So in fact what we have are eco-friendly wooden things surrounded by trees, and I love ’em.

Our Amazonian living room
Our Amazonian living room

Of course the point is not what they are, it’s where they are, in our case in Ecuador either in the Amazon basin or in more easily accessible cloud forest, or more recently in Kerala in South India.

Ela Blooms in the Keralan hills
Ela Blooms in the Keralan hills

You might get fairly basic amenities like a shower that is a bag of water or a toilet which is dark hole with some sawdust at the bottom, but the sounds of jungle at night and the sheer amount of oxygen going into your lungs is why you’re there.

Casa Divina in Mindo
Casa Divina in Mindo

Again some people might not be convinced that jungle lodges are the best places for kids, and maybe we’ve just been lucky, but in fact these have been the best places for kids. The sheer sense of adventure and the fact you can find a caiman under your cabin or a Toucan waking you up for breakfast is like a adventure story make flesh (and feathers and that).

Hotels

I’ve left hotels until last for a good reason, I can’t remember much about them. I suppose we use hotels mainly for short stays, no more than a couple of nights and there are some good reasons for this.

– You either all cram into one room or pay for two

– You have to eat rubbish hotel food OR really expensive delicious hotel food

Having said that we have played in plenty of hotels over the years, including cheap and cheerful guest houses in Nepal, posh chain hotels in the UAE (usually courtesy of work), not-so-posh chain hotels a la Travelodge and eccentric and sometimes smelly family hotels in Jordan, Oman, Argentina, Sri Lanka and Italy.

the Nepalese guest house was great for people watching and hanging out with other tourists.
This Nepalese guest house was great for people watching and hanging out with other tourists.

The other thing that stopped me writing about hotels sooner is I don’t seem to have any photos of any. I mean why would you take a photo of a Novotel in an industrial estate 10 miles from the airport in Milan? Of course despite their lack of charm there are some other reasons for staying in the sort of place you wouldn’t want to take a photo of, namely price. Many of the cheaper chains have family rooms where they get three or four beds in a room and only charge a little more for the getting you all in.

Come to think of it some of the cheaper family hotels do the same thing, I guess they are catering for the backpacker market a bit as well, at least this was the case in the ‘guest houses’ in Nepal. Again they are cramped but cheap.

An expensive desert hotel with a fantastic infinity pool
An expensive desert hotel with a fantastic infinity pool

I guess the only place I wouldn’t stay would be in resort hotel, which seem to be ghettos in the middle of nowhere designed to fleece tourists of their cash while providing an utterly insipid holiday ‘experience’.