Category Archives: Family Travel

39 Activities & Day Trips for London Kids

Morning All, So I was thinking, and realised that there are many posts on this Bus Stop that might be useful to you now the sun is shining. I’ve been presumptous and listed them for you in one place.

Think of it as a map to your family weekend, or just food for thought… either way, I hope it helps when you have no energy left to think about what to do tomorrow, because you have been tidying up aqua beads from behind the sofa, and cleaning the back of the fridge again.

Dont forget to drop me aline if you have any specific requests of where/ what and when to do it in the capital (no nut allergies here) I love to be asked. Also don’t forget the EVENTS DIARY on the bus stop homepage that lists events and workshops for you. xo

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1. National Trust places around London. You know you have to visit one of these days!

2. The Best of Kids Theatre. Book it Danno, or Julia, or Colin… whoever is paying.

3. Family Dance Shows at Sadlers Wells. They love kids it over there, and dance is not just for the school disco you know.

4. The Best Backstage Theatre Tours in London. Everyone loves a behind-the-scenes moment, so here’s your chance.

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5. 10 Fantastic Family Days Out in London. The names on the tin, so to speak.

6. Craft Project : Make a Tea Cup Garden.

7. A Top 5 Best Ever Summer Days Out in London

8. 49 Summer London Activities for Kids. Can anyone think of 1 more? I hate odd numbers.

9. Explore Secret Gardens in the Capital. Don’t say I told you so.

10. Visit a Nature Club in London. You’ll feel all warm and cosy afterwards.

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11. A Top 5 BEST Beaches near London. Family Railcard & A Bucket and Spade, ready steady go.

12. Top 5 House Swaps Sites for your Summer Holiday.

13. Top 5 London Days Out for Under 5’s.

14.  Top 5 English Heritage Castles and Palaces.

15. Top 5 Best City Breaks for your Get A Way from the washing up

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16. Top 5 Fountains for playing in around London.

17. Top 5 of places Kids eat FREE in London… now you can have that 2nd glass of rose.

18. The Best Delicious Dim Sum in London Town.

19.  Top 5 Educational Websites for Kids

20.  Top 5 Kids Magazines that make the perfect birthday gift.

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21. Music Courses and Classes around town for all the family. Time to pass on your musical genes.

22. Craft Project : Make a Leaf Man/Lady.

23. Visit The Queen at Buck Palace, a Top 5 of the Best Royal Venues in London.

24. The Bluest Bluebell woods near London want you to show off to you.

25.  The Best Science Kids Clubs. Bang Whizz,  you’re a scientist.

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26. Grab the train direct from St Pancras and visit Whitstable for the day.

27. Look after your grey matter with 10 TED talks about Education.

28. Get inspired and find out where Kate Prince hangs out in London.

29. Check yourself into a family workshop at The National Theatre.

30. Pack a picnic and check out a Heritage Trust Property.

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31. Treat yourself to this fab HUMAN BODY APP.

32. Set your heights and watch Brooke climb in this inspiring video.

33. Find your inner Matisse with one of these ART-Y books.

34. Get Happy with a super easy finger printing project.

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35. It’s simple, go to the park, a royal one at that.

36. Book your Summer Holiday camp now.

37. Clean your tent ready for the Best Family Festivals this Summer.

38. Tap shoes at the ready, book a Drama Holiday Camp today.

39. Dim Sum for lunch ? Here are some suggestions.

 

5 Best Family Self-Catering Holidays

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With the Easter holidays fast approaching, check out these gorgeous self-catering places to stay which still have space for you and your family, chosen by i-escape.com’s Kids Collection Editor, Nadine.

** check out the Special Offers too **

Alegria : Stay 4 nights, pay 3 : Stay 7 nights, pay 6 and get our special welcome offer: a bottle of local rosé, a welcome breakfast basket and a farewell present.

Elies Hotel : 7 nights for 6 (Low): Stay a week and get one night free. Valid: 01 Jan 2015 – 10 May 2015; 21 Sep 2015 – 31 Dec 2015

The Cottages Charlestown, nr St Austell, Cornwall

These bijoux cottages in a gorgeous little village on the south coast are perfect for small families and those with younger children. Kids will adore being close to the water, learning about Cornwall’s smuggling and seafaring history, and rockpooling and crabbing in and around the harbour. The world-famous Eden Project is only 10 minutes’ drive away and has a Great Eden Egg Hunt scheduled over the holidays where kids follow clues through different botanical habitats. The cottages are tasteful, snug and thoughtfully furnished, all come with private gardens. And homemade meals can be delivered if cooking becomes a chore.

Molino Rio Alajar, Andalucia, Spain

Escape the vagaries of the British weather and head inland an hour and a half from Seville to beautiful bucolic forested countryside is this collection of six sandstone cottages, conceived for families of 4-6 to enjoy a relaxing back-to-nature break. You’re in a National Park with great walking; on site are donkeys, (unheated) pool and paddling pool, tennis court, boules, outdoor chess and table football. A shopping service can be arranged and there are kid-friendly eateries nearby. Your children will instantly make friends with the other guests.

Alegria, Provence, France

Immerse yourselves in quintessentially Provencal landscape at this rural retreat. Each of the colourful contemporary Suites has a new nifty bespoke kitchen island for breakfast and light snacks (you’ll be heading to local markets and bakeries for delicious provisions) and there’s also a microwave for heating up food. The larger Suites have sofabeds, the largest two bathrooms, and all have private terraces with hammocks. There’s a pool, petanque, treehouse and board games, and watersports and sandy beaches at the large nearby lake.

Elies Hotel, Peloponnese, Greece

You get the best of both worlds here: self-catering if you want and a sociable taverna if you don’t. 18 secluded stone cottages of varying sizes are found amongst sun-dappled olive trees just a pebble’s throw from the beach; you get airy uncluttered interiors, covered patios and kitchenettes, and children are free if sleeping on sofabeds. There’s a playground, coves and villages nearby and boat trips to enjoy. And there’s a stay 7 pay for 6 offer to entice you to visit over Easter.

Europa House Apartments, Maida Vale, London

London is brilliant for kids at any time, and especially buzzy over the Easter holidays. There are shows to see (The Railway Children is on at Kings Cross for example), movies to catch (such as Disney’s live action Cinderella), themed activities and special events [thought you could add in links to various posts/events you already feature on your blog about forthcoming Easter events so could cross-pollinate if you see what I mean!]. And after a busy day sightseeing, no better place to flop than these stylish spacious 2-bedroom apartments. My daughter delighted in the kids cupboard labelled ‘Keep Out, Kids Only!’ which is filled with toys, books and games for children to help themselves. The kitchen isn’t enormous but it is well-equipped and a family of four can dine there easily. You get a directory of local eateries and takeaways, and you’re close to lovely grocery shops, tube and buses.

For a full list of super places in the Kids Collection still with Easter holiday availability click here: http://www.i-escape.com/kids-easter

Q&A with Kids Editor, Nadine Mellor at i-escape

Nadine Mellor, Editor of the i-escape Kids is already on no.5 of her bucket list. She has a beautiful Irish husband and two cute kids Esme and Cormac (tick). A fantastic job (tick). Has seen some of the world’s most magical sights, lived in exciting cities, and sticks to her promise of having a travel adventure every month (tick). oh! and she is always charming and professional (tick).

For those of you that might have been living under a cosy rock, and haven’t booked a holiday yet with i-escape, let me introduce you. Award winning i-escape.com are an online travel agent and guide to wonderful places to stay around the world. They cover 60 countries, and offer over 1500 places to stay. All of the accommodation is small, stylish, and has character, (a-hem no chain hotels thank you), and each client is hand-picked and reviewed in-depth. If something doesn’t make the grade, then they don’t add it, and if somewhere goes downhill then it is removed from the site. It’s a huge success, and by word of mouth, I can share that what they do, they do it very well.

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Hi Nadine, Tell us a little about you… I was born in Islington and lived abroad as a child for a few years before we returned to Islington where I spent my (desperately unhip) bespectacled teen years (a consequence of growing up in Norway in the mid-70s – funnily enough my urban classmates weren’t into camping beside fjords and birdwatching). I really enjoyed my 6th form years, loving both the studying and the partying (contact lenses are a marvellous invention – especially for an awkward teen), and determined to head out of London for uni, settling upon Exeter University as it was a campus setting. Here I made many strong friendships, which endure to this day.

Where were you educated/ train, and did you have any mentors that helped you along your way?  After uni (Modern History and Politics) I went travelling for a year to Australia and SE Asia. I then pursued a career in the media, and scored a job in the Newsroom at Channel Four News, for four memorable years (Berlin Wall, end of apartheid, the General Election), before heading back to Australia for where I worked for the BBC in programme sales and marketing. Returning to the UK I took a Masters in Media Technology and was the first employee of Sky’s movie-making arm – my mentor here being James Baker. When that excitement ended (had a hand in making 17 films), my second career then took off – in travel, working for the hip hideaways specialists i-escape.

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Which were your favourite parts of education, and if you could go back (fees all paid by us!) then what else would you study? I loved working for my A-levels and then completely lost enthusiasm at university, too distracted by socialising! So I think I’d like to redo my degree and choose a more interesting subject and really knuckle down second time around – perhaps linguistics or anthropology?

Where would you escape to for a (long) weekend away ? Too many places on my wish list to mention but I’m dead keen to get to Iceland – the one Scandi country that I’ve not visited.

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Do you have any amusing/ tragic travel experiences you can share?
There was the time we went self-catering camping to Leningrad in 1974….

What are the 3 most important items in your handbag?
Oyster card, iPhone, keys

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Where would you love to spend an afternoon with your favourite people, and why ?On a glorious coastal walk with some birds to sight, plus a picnic with all the trimmings

Which are your 3 favourite shops for buying travel essentials ? REI in San Francisco is a campers’ delight, every gadget and item of clothing you could think of; Boots for all potions and lotions; the app store for apps for the kids.

What products have made the top of your birthday list this year? A good book to read (just finished Le Freak by Nile Rodgers); artworks purchased from our artist friend and neighbour; canvas bicycle shed; vintage outfit from a market stall; some old pots for the garden.

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Which is your favourite place (museum, park or venue) to spend a creative afternoon ? If with the kids then the V&A/Natural History/Science museum combos – something new every time, I never miss the Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition.

If money was no object, what would you like to collect/buy, or where would you take the family on a years sabbatical ? Southern Africa. I’ve only been to Zimbabwe so a tour of SA, Namibia, Botswana, Mozambique and Zambia would be awesome. I’d include some volunteer time too so the family could give something back. And we’d come home via New Zealand as I’ve only been to the North Island for 5 nights and am longing to see it all properly.

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What do you use for inspiration (books, magazines, stationary) with your work that you can not live without? Conde Nast Traveller if I had to choose a work-related magazine – bit strong to say I couldn’t live without it.

Which are your 3 favourite websites/blogs at the moment ? This is Your Kingdom; Family Traveller, What I Wore; I guess I can’t say i-escape’s Kids Collection?

Which clients/properties and destinations on i-escape kids are exciting you ? Destinations for families that excite include Morocco, Croatia, Northern Portugal, Sicily, the Cyclades, Languedoc and Gascony; further afield Mexico, India and Thailand. (Check them out on i-escape).

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Can you leave us one travel secret/tip to share please? Pack clothes which all work with each other colour-wise so every item gets used properly eg on our last holiday to Italy I had blue & green items with some neutrals (cream, white, grey, black) and for my daughter only purple, white and light pink and that saves space to bring back that souvenir item (most recently a lump of driftwood gleaned from the beach in Puglia!)

Thanks so much Nadine. xo

Surf, research, or book your holiday on I-escape or I-escape kids now.

 

5 Best Hot Beach Family Holidays

The tanned team at i-escape’s Kids Collection have come up with a Bucket and Spade List of 20 fun activities all discerning pre-schoolers should try. It’s live on their website now.

To tie in with all things ‘sandy’ and because you lot are very special, Nadine (Editor of the Kids Collection) has chosen her ‘5 Best Seaside Hotels’ below.

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As she is one of the select team at i-escape she has first hand experience of knowing the best places where all nippers (especially the U-5’s) can play happily for hours and hours on the beach.

Think …. sand building forts &  castles/ F-type Jag cars designed by Dad (this is quality time right!?), whilst Mum listens to her Sony yellow water proof walk-man (one for the retro readers!) and reads more than 4 pages of The Goldfinch. It is possible, especially if you take the loom bands for the girls. Enjoy. xo

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1. Ammos Hotel, near Chania, Crete, Greece

Perfect for families with smaller kids is this friendly hotel set right on a safe shallow sandy beach, perfect for building sandcastles (no.1 on their Bucket and Spade List). It has a kids pool as well as playroom complete with Wendy House. Children’s meals are available in the restaurant, which serves home-made Greek food, and all Suites and Studios have small kitchenettes for simple meals.

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2. The Rosevine, Cornwall, UK

Stay at this coastal-chic apart-hotel for a truly stunning seaside holiday. All the baby and toddler paraphernalia you could wish for is supplied and babysitting is available on request. Kids will be in their element with the trampoline, playground and well-equipped playroom. The sandy beach at the end of the lane has great rock pools (no.2). Should the weather turn inclement there’s even a heated indoor pool!

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3. Med-Inn, Bodrum Peninsula, Turkey

This laid-back seaside hotel has both a private beach and private jetty, as well as verdant Mediterranean gardens and large swimming pool. Suites are spacious, there’s a kids menu available and children under 6 stay for free. There are plenty of opportunities to take a boat trip (no.19), whether on a traditional Turkish sail-powered, or by ferry to Rhodes or Kos

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4. Hotel Martinhal, Sagres, Algarve, Portugal

One of the jewels in the Kids Collection, this designer kid-friendly hotel has everything you could possibly want on a family holiday. Its set in a National Park, with stylish connecting rooms, oodles of facilities including 4 pools, tennis courts, masses of baby equipment, and, pleasingly, all extra beds and cots are free (including breakfast). From the wealth of activities on offer, pre-schoolers may want to join in the treasure hunts (no.20) organised by the Kids Club (one of four, each dedicated to a different age range, and there’s a fully staffed creche too).

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5. Palmizana, Sveti Klement Island, nr Hvar, Croatia

What a superb place to bring kids of all ages, even the grown up ones will really appreciate staying at this Bohemian hideaway on a car-free island so you can run around carefree. The beach is shallow, there are extensive gardens, and there’s a range of accommodation to suit all family sizes. This is a also prime spot for ticking off no.14 (paddling a kayak/canoe with your parents) as kayaks are available to hire nearby.

And, as they are good friends, they wanted me to share the love that they are running a Twitter competition to win £50 in i-escape vouchers towards your next family holiday by sharing photos of your own mini-adventurers using the hashtag

#iescapebucket

Here’s mine from last week! Good luck everyone. xo

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Sandcastle Image credit : Arron & George (Artist)

 

5 Best Quirky Holiday Locations

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Tired of identikit hotel rooms with no character? Bored with staying in dull, uninspiring rentals? One of our friends, Nadine Mellor, Editor of i-escape.com’s Kids Collection has handpicked some super cool suggestions for unusual places to stay which will provide really memorable family holidays. Send me a postcard please. Xo

Bivouac, North Yorkshire, UK

Getting back to nature is all the rage these days, and these shacks and yurts set in peaceful moorland and woodland around a restored farmhouse fit the bill. There are wood-burners and proper beds plus kitchenettes inside, and there’s a cafe on site for those who don’t want to self-cater. For the kids there’s a play area plus nature trails and craft sessions. And the whole family will love the relaxed, authentic vibe.

Milos Windmill, Cyclades Islands, Greece

This charming converted windmill has two bedrooms (one of which can be made up as twins) and a kitchen/diner spread out over its three floors – all simply decorated with typically Greek white-washed walls and blue shutters. There are also two outhouses which sleep two each so the whole property would be good for an extended family holiday. Take the kids to explore secret beaches and smugglers caves nearby, or out on a boat trip. And best of all, it’s great value.

Finca de Arrieta, Lanzarote, Canary Islands

For all-year-round sunshine the Canaries can’t be beaten. This fun eco-resort has yurts and stone cottages (sleeping 2-8) set amongst fruit trees, and is a fantastic place to bring the family. Parents will love the convenience of being just 35 minutes from the airport and being able to self-cater, while the kids will adore the pool, trampoline, playground, table tennis, donkey rides and meeting farm animals. The property is extremely well-equipped for babies and toddlers. There are also beaches just half a kilometre away. Perfection.

Whitepod, Les Cerniers, Alps, Switzerland

This is a unique set up: 15 boutique eco-pods with superkingsize beds and wood-burners, and wonderful views across pristine mountains. Here the kids stay for free, and there are mezzanine platforms for them to sleep on. This is a quiet location, away from brash downhill racers, with impeccable eco credentials. Families will enjoy trying sledging and snow-shoeing in winter, and the camp is also a wonderful place to stay in the summer with hiking, biking and dog-karting on offer. There’s a central restaurant serving hearty local produce. Magical!

Siwa Villa, Siwa, Egypt

Unleash your inner Fred Flintstone when staying at this impeccably renovated mud-brick house overlooking an ancient citadel in a small oasis on the edge of the Western Desert. There’s a housekeeper on hand to look after you, and adventurous older kids will love trying sand-boarding down dunes, swimming in the hot springs and going on a desert safari. At the house are board games, DVDs and books, as well as a well-equipped kitchen.

You know the old saying, Go Get ‘Em… well that’s my advice when you’re planning any of these trips, send i-escapeemail now to chat about your booking, enjoy top class customer service, (which I pinky promise you will be thrilled with) and then get down to Morrison’s, they have the best ever (cheap) selection of sun-hats for kids.  xo

5 Best Beaches near London

5 Best : Lovely Beaches near London

1. Whitstable, Kent (pebbles) – 1h30 hr train from St Pancras/ Victoria

We are fans, for the food, the fab train connection from St Pancras, the easy going atmosphere, a decent pint, and enough stones for the kids to throw in to the sea, and ice cream to keep them from ever eating a proper meal… it’s got to be on the 5 best list. Read up for more tips and info from your ever faithful Bus Driver.

2. Camber Sands, East Sussex (ummm… sand!) 1h33 Charing Cross to Hastings, from station take bus 711 to Camber Sands.

Camber Sands is the beach at the village of Camber (near Rye). It is the only sand dune system in East Sussex and is east of the estuary of the River Rother at Rye Bay stretching as one expanse beyond the Kent border.The beach has become a popular location for kitesurfing, Kite landboarding and kite buggying due to its sand and favourable wind conditions. Kite launches are only allowed in the designated area at the eastern end of the beach near the Jury’s Gap car park.

3. Brighton, East Sussex (pebbles) 1hr7min from Victoria/London Bridge to Brighton

From iconic tourist attractions to beachfront cool, Brighton is a treasure trove of things to do and places to go. Vibrant, colourful, fun and free, Brighton offers the energy of the city and freedom of the sea. It really is unique. From the stunning heritage of the Royal Pavilion, Regency architecture and Victorian aquariums to the seaside fun of Brighton Pier, the Brighton Wheel and the famous pebble beach, Brighton offers something for every walk of life. Explore the exciting range of things to do in Brighton : Bursting with beachfront sports and events, tranquil green spaces, plus Brighton tourist attractions and activities for all the family, there’s so much in store just waiting to be explored. You’ll also find a world of beautiful Sussex countryside, castles, country houses, parks, forts and gardens just moments from the city!

4. Frinton On Sea, Essex (sand) 1hr 30 Stratford to Thorpe-le-Soaken with 1 change

Frinton’s beach has no traditional seaside traits; no shops selling buckets, spades and lilos, no merry-go-round, no ice-cream van. It does have more than a mile of sandy beach, though, which is lined by a promenade and several hundred beach huts.

5. West Wittering, West Sussex (sand) 2hrs Victoria train to Chichester, Bus Station then bus to West Wittering, Old House at Home (Found Road).

Offering wonderful views of Chichester Harbour and the South Downs beyond, the natural and unspoilt sandy beach of West Wittering has been a favourite destination for a family day out for generations. The highest water quality and excellent facilities have made it one of the premier Blue Flag beaches in the country.

Other stuff to read…

For the really keen, you can read up on the best beaches in the UK here from Tripadvisor, read what The Telegraph have rated as Britains best beaches here, and tell your friends the impressive stat that Rhossili Bay has retained the best UK beach title and come 9th in the world league table. Don’t forget the Good Beach Guide for those keen on water clarity, and marine conservation … though let’s face it, unless your super hard, we can only dream on taking our li-lo in the actual water, and will enjoy watching the kids freeze their teeny tiny feet in the English Channel. Enjoy, and leave a comment if you have any tips and trade secrets for the other places we have missed. xo

 

Q & A : Cass Chapman : Kodomo.com : Luxury Travel Website : Dorset

I like it when I read anything which include the following words … luxury, travel, family, friendly … they are more than enough to get me to start dreaming of holidays, planning my packing list, deciding which books will join me on the adventure, and how many suitcases I can persuade my better-half are “…totally essential and full of plasters and nick-nacks for the girls”.

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Recently I came across the charming Cass Chapman who is the Director of family travel website Kodomo. She knows her onions from her top travel resorts, and holds the key to many a secret about which holiday locations across the globe are worth you spending your hard earnt pennies on. Being a food and travel writer, she has spent her lifetime gathering research on all the to die for villas, hotels, restaurants, and can share even more genuine tips for really getting to know each location if you are looking for that perfect holiday, then look no further.

PS. if I were you, I would make a special note to give her a call and talk through what she thinks you are after for your next holiday, you are definitely going to be impressed, and left feeling quite excited after hearing what she has to say.

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Tell us a little about you, your family, and where you live.

We live right next door to my husband’s restaurant called Shell Bay, which nuzzles on the edge of the Isle of Purbeck in Dorset. Jamie and I have a daughter, Lola, who is nearly three years old. I am a luxury travel journalist and founded kodomo.com in September, a website dedicated to luxury family travel.

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Money is no object for today, which holiday will you book for the family ?

Probably a few weeks at the Maia resort in the Seychelles. I went a few years ago on assignment for the Independent and it blew me away. The Seychelles themselves were more beautiful, more historical and far steeper in culture than I imagined. And the resort itself was a new level of luxury. La Prairie products were, at that time, kept in mini bar fridges at the perfect temperature, the views from each room across the infinity pool, the surrounding ocean and the nearby mountains were picture-perfect and the spa was one of the finest I’ve ever encountered. I remember feeling devastated at having to pack my bag and head home when we left!

Which are your favourite kids shops for birthday presents ?
For little ones, the kids’ department in John Lewis is always great, while Graham & Green in London has some wonderful and often quirky gift ideas for bigger kids.

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Credit : http://www.dorseteye.com

Which are your favourite places to hang out with the friends for a day without the kids?

Portobello Road in London has long been a favourite. While in Dorset, lunch and cliff edge walk at Durlston Castle always hits the spot. It serves wonderful food and the views across Swanage and to the Isle of Wight, on a clear day of course, are unbeatable.

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Which 3 items are most essential in your handbag ?

Wet wipes, Elizabeth Arden’s 8 Hour Cream, and blusher.

Where can you recommend that is kid-friendly for lunch ?

I recently stayed at The Pig in Bath which was amazing with Lola. Gorgeous, healthy children’s options, or they can have anything on the adult menu in a half-size. And in London, there is a gorgeous Malaysian restaurant called Makan under the westway in Notting Hill. It’s not much to look at but the food is the best I’ve had outside of Malaysia itself, and Lola adores the chicken stay and Roti Canai.

Lola at Shell Bay

Which 3 children’s books are you most fond of ?

Anything by Enid Blighton, Owl Babies and anything by the Gruffalo team.

Where would you like to book for a family UK holiday weekend away ?

We are looking at Wales because I used to spend a lot of time there as a child and have amazing memories of the coast line and the idyllic village of Llanrhystud. I want to go back and explore it with Jamie and Lola. Oh, and I recently interviewed Stephen Terry at The Hardwick which I hear is amazing so really want to try that out too.

Which are your favourite blogs or websites… are there any in your field that you admire or take inspiration from?

I think Babyfriendlyboltholes is great, especially for UK breaks, and I’m writing a bit for Sophie Dahl’s new website ‘At The Kitchen Table’, which I think is wonderful on so many levels.

Cass and Lola in Big Sur

What success, personal or business would you like to have achieved in the next 5 years ?

Lots of regular bookings, more of the fantastic press that kodomo.com has been receiving and, fingers crossed, another baby!

About Cass :

Kodomo.com was created by freelance food and travel writer Cass Chapman. Having had her daughter Lola in 2011, she decided to create a website providing much-needed, authentic, well-written information for parents on where to eat, stay and play with babies, toddlers and young teens in tow. From Batu Batu to Barcelona, Montreal to Marbella, Kodomo (and its team of fabulous writers) gives you well-researched, personal, and detailed information on hotels, villas, and restaurants across the world, with much-needed detail on when to visit, what to do once you get there, and essential need-to-know information specific to each destination. Cass has written for The Independent, The Telegraph, Vogue. Elle and GQ,amongst others.

CASS CHAPMAN
Director
kodomo.com
cass@kodomo.com
Twitter:@kodomoluxtravel
instagram:kodomoluxtravel
Facebook: kodomo.com

5 Best Holiday Rental & House Swaps

1. Air BnB

Air BnB (Air Bed & Breakfast) is a website which allow you to either ‘host’ and list your own property, (or a room in it), or ‘guest’ and search the site to find a place to stay. The site offers a diverse range of properties (11 mil across the globe). You can rent these for any period of time in a choice of 34,ooo cities in 192 countries.

This San Fran based company has shaken up the travel industry, as it has 150,000 people staying in properties across the world each night, with a 24/7 customer support line for owners, (and a 2 mil dollar insurance policy for home owners if you were worried about city-types raving in your flat all weekend whilst you’re on your yoga retreat!). (Image :The Canal St Martin attracts more Parisians than tourists to its arched bridges and concrete banks.)

2. Kid & Coe

Kid & Coe is a stylish vacation rental website featuring unique family friendly properties. Their mission is to simplify modern family travel.  Their kid-friendly properties combine all the comforts of a boutique hotel with the convenience of a baby concierge. From child care essentials to coveted neighbourhood locations, they provide everything you need to make a home away from home for the whole family.

They see themselves as a network of families with shared beliefs and understandings. You can either ‘host’ or ‘guest’ as a family, and once registered, list your property, stick to their simple and clear guidelines (i.e. don’t wear outside shoes inside the house, no late night raves, and post back the toys that ended up in Charlie’s pocket *please*), then off you go, and enjoy the experience.

3. OneFineStay

This friendly lot want you ‘to live like a local’ during your trip. The service gives you the chance to stay in someone’s place while they’re out of town. They offer an easy booking process, and the homes come with recommendations from the people who live in them.

Each home and guest will enjoy the benefits of hotel-style accommodation with fun perks. The bathrooms each have posh bubbles and fluffy towels, you’re given a free i-phone for the stay, (wifi is standard in each property), help with florists, maid service of catering companies, 24/7 customer phone service, and a guide of local recommendations from the home owner.

If you join this members club, you will become part of their exclusive and alluring club, and “…you’ll be in line for some serious discounts when shuttling across the pond”. At the moment their directory of homes are in London, Los Angeles, New York and Paris

4. Intervac 

INTERVAC was started in Europe in the early 1950’s by a group of teachers with plenty of vacation time looking for economic means to travel internationally. Their main focus is two families agree to live in each other’s homes over a specified period of time. Currently they offer services around the world and facilitate home exchanges in 45 countries for 30,000 families from all walks of life.

5. Homelink 

A UK Based company which allows you to browse home swaps by country / region or use the ‘advanced search facility’ to locate homes of interest. Once you are signed up to the website, you can then contact other members using their secure message facility to suggest a home swap. When the other members have seen your house swap listing they will contact you if they are interested.

You are asked to share plenty of information, ask lots of questions and get to know each other before finalising arrangements, then agree the house swap using the Home Exchange Agreement Form. Et Voila! Don’t forget to write your welcome pack, leave out the goldfish food, and please don’t mention the rain.

 

5 Best City Breaks for Families

Look what I found for you lovely lot who really really need a (city) break, some fantastic food, and a shot of culture for 1/2 term. Here is a bespoke list of the best City Breaks for Half-term : Guest posted by Nadine Mellor the Kids Collection Editor at i-escape kids. Now, think about this one super quickly and get on the phone to your banker, as these places will go faster than you can say “why didn’t I stop watching Made In Chelsea and book that holiday” Don’t say I don’t look after you. xo

1. Casa Capella, Barcelona, Spain

Barcelona is a great city to bring the kids to. They’ll love all that wacky Gaudi design – Park Guell is the perfect introduction – and don’t miss the Museum of Ideas and Invention, which has a slide and a corner of the absurd. There’s even a beach. Stay in this architect-designed apartment, which is in a safe shopping area, has every gadget you could want in the kitchen, and three spacious bedrooms, two bathrooms, designer furniture, black out blinds, state-of-the-art acoustic insulation and laundry facilities.

2. Istanbul Place Apartments, Istanbul, Turkey

Even hard-to-please teens and tweens will get a kick out of exploring one of the world’s most fascinating cities. This complex of seven stylish apartments in the bohemian Galata district makes a great base for sightseeing. Take them on a boat trip up the Bosphorus, up the dizzying Galata Tower, to marvel at the Haghia Sophia or the extraordinary relics and blood-curdling history at Topkapi Palace, or shopping in the Grand Bazaar which contains thousands of shops and bags of local colour.

3. Vinorhady Boutique Apartment, Prague, Czech Republic

Live like a local in this super apartment which has one double and one twin bedroom, and is just 15 minutes walk to the centre. Kids will like exploring the castle, cathedral and chocolate museum plus you can take boat trips on the river; there’s a playground near Wenceslas Square. Return to kids TV channels and WiFi; and for those kids unwilling to give Czech cuisine a go, you can whip up child-friendly fare in the modern kitchen.

4. Jnane Tamsna, Marrakech, Morocco

For a really exotic half-term break and (nearly) guaranteed sunshine, book into this delightful rambling hotel spread over five houses in a walled estate on the outskirts of this colourful city. Here the whole family can revel in extensive gardens, ideal for hide and seek, plus five large swimming pools (one is even heated). Kids have a host of interesting activities to try from learning Arabic calligraphy to playing tennis, Moroccan cooking lessons and camel riding.

5. Apartment 43, Jerez de la Frontera, Spain

Set in the heart of the beautiful car-free old town, this sleek, light-filled two-bedroom apartment has been cleverly conceived within a former nobleman’s mansion house, and is best for slightly older kids. Who will be impressed that the sound system synchs to smartphones; as are parents by the swish kitchen and wealth of yummy eateries and food markets on the doorstep. Outside are plazas, playgrounds, botanical gardens, and beaches just a 20 minute-drive away.

 

5 Best Family Travel Websites

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1. Conde Nast Traveller

Packed with features on all things family, yes on the more luxury side, but if you dig around you are likely to find relevant information that will help you research your holiday. Take your pick from culture club info on European city rental apartments, all inclusive hotels luxury resorts with the extras included in the rate , How to Travel with Children tips on what to research, ask and what first aid to pack, and for those happier to pack the car full of snacks and book in a ‘valet steam clean’ on their return read up on the 10 child friendly UK country retreats.

2. I-escape with Kids

A website winner of various awards, the site has over 850 family-friendly hotels, B&Bs, city apartments and house rentals.They split the choices into Boutique hotels, Family villas, City Apartments, and School Holidays, then select locations specialising in Babies, Toddlers, 4-12 years, or Teens. Their personal touch means that you will always be able to contact a ‘real’ person at I-escape when booking or making enquiries, and every one of their sites has been visited by someone on their team – maybe they offer summer work experience ?!

3. Kodomo

The site was set up by freelance food and travel writer Cass Chapman. Kodomo (and its team of fabulous writers) gives you well-researched, personal, and detailed information on hotels, villas, and restaurants across the world, with much-needed detail on when to visit, what to do once you get there, and essential need-to-know information specific to each destination. It is a simple, beautiful and smart site where you can browse via Country or Holiday Types, and essential reading for life-style lovers is the blog, which is full of Q+A’s from well-heeled style icons and cool travel features.

4. Baby Friendly Boltholes

A site run by parents, that has the best pick of child friendly hotels in the UK, Europe and Worldwide. They also offer sister websites for Bridal boltholes, and Boutique boltholes. Check their list of ‘10 Best Boltholes in the UK or Overseas, Romantic, Chicononic or Boutique‘. A handy read is the BFB Blog, covering a range of useful posts featuring travel experts, holiday tips and parenting gossip. It’s worth signing up to the site to keep ahead of the offers they run, as well as the competitions, and their special discounts on the shopping page.

5. Telegraph Newspaper : Family Holidays

A wide range of travel guides with suggestions for child and teen-friendly holidays, travel reviews, news and expert advice, with a specialist section on family trips of a lifetime. There are also various offers, and an impressive picture gallery, to get the whole family inspired about where to choose for their ‘lottery winning’ holiday. Search online with any keywords, and you are 99% likely to find some information to help guide you to making a decision, as well as provide you with a whole lot of ideas of holidays you may never have considered.

What are your travel tips ?

This 5 Best list is just the tip of the iceberg. If you dig deep out there in the online wilderness, there are lists of travel blogs written by well-travelled parents. I’d love you to share your favourites with the Bus Stop readers. Or, just share a few of your travelling tips; the best and worst airlines, airports or cities. What toys or apps do you travel with ? Which are your favourite campsites ? All and any tips would be great to have.

Please leave your comments and share with us all. xo

A Weekend Away in Whitstable, Kent

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Some things are meant to be … and taking children to the beach, with fish and chips on your lap, and ice-cream messy t-shirts are just a few of those simple pleasures.

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As we didnt get a chance to leave the UK for our Summer break, we made an effort to taste the delights of easy day trips from London. We are lucky to live a 15 minute bus ride from the newly polished St Pancras and Kings Cross international train stations, so recently jumped on the 2012 Olympic javelin train from St Pancras, and found ourselves in sleepy Whistable 1h 25 minutes later.

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WHITSTABLE, KENT

Whitstable is an English seaside town in North Kent and famous for its Whitstable Oysters, fabulous food and traditional fishermen cottages and beaches. The beaches are perfectly situated for Sunsets due to its location on the north Medway coast. Once landed at the train station, you have the choice of either slowly meandering down to the beach front by foot (15 mins), past real life houses, and cute beach nik naks sitting in the windows of charming semi’s. Or, if you were organised I am sure you could book a taxi to take you directly to the beach (5 mins), or even a bus, and then you would really be starting your adventure in style.

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There are plenty of salty things to do in the town of Whitstable, mainly most of them involving eating, sitting, browsing at unique and charming shops, and then making life and death decisions about where to have your next pint or oyster. Here we have a great list of secrets shared by a real local, who rest assured has very good taste indeed.

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EAT (with advice from a local)

  1. VC Jones do Fish & Chips on Harbour Street. The locals rate this as excellent, and is best eaten out of the paper on the beach. If you’re trying to impress say hi to the (insider tip) owner whose name is Madeleine.
  2. JoJo’s is great for tapas on Tankerton Slopes. Another highly rated restaurant owned by Paul. It is a (BYO) Bring Your Own Booze joint, but (insiders tip) don’t take wine from Tesco’s as Paul will either throw you out or charge you extra corkage! The team in charge only buy local produce, so you can sleep easy after a slap up meal here. Make a note that you do need to book before you go. Its very popular with those in the know, and it’s quite a walk so be prepared if it’s still under 10 degrees, especially if you’re taking kids with you.
  3. Tapas restaurant on Harbour Street is owned by Chris. Simple, the food is great.
  4. Browns Deli on Harbour Street. If you are having a meal in they have some really special food, it can be quite pricey but good. This is owned by David. He and Chris from the Tapas were business partners but now run the places separately. (Insiders tip) You will notice David’s food in Chris’s tapas restaurant).
  5. Duke of Cumberland. This is a decent pub that now has a good restaurant out the back, called the Salt Marsh. They also do a tapas style menu which hits the mark. The put tend to serve what they have cooked that day, rather than a set menu.
  6. Zizzi’s. This is a bog standard pizza joint which the kids will think is ‘like heaven’.
  7. Crab & Winkle. You will find this In the harbour itself. It keeps changing hands so can’t vouch for that, but it is definitely worth a try for the location.
  8. Oyster Fishery. This is the famous restaurant, that everyone knows. It is right on the sea front, and locals know it as the place that the Londoners love. Some find it a bit impersonal and too pricey, as they charge London prices too. (insiders tip) It is owned by the Green family who own most of Whitstable including the beach!
  9. The Sportsman. I’m saving the best until last. This is situated a little out of town at Seasalter. You will need to drive or grab a cab (see cab numbers below). Its a Michelin star pub, and totally fantastic. Dare I say it, you can save up for this one, and book a babysitter. Taxi costs £5-6.
  10. If you want a curry take out, call Krishna by the railway station.

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BOOK YOUR TABLE

  1. East Quay Restaurant, The Harbour, Whitstable Kent 01227 262 003 (Seafood on the beach)
  2. Hotel Continental, 29 Beach Walk, Whitstable Kent 01227 280 280 (French Style)
  3. Wheelers Oyster Bar, 8, High Street, Whitstable, Kent 01227 273 311 (Cash only, rated as one of the best UK fish restaurants)
  4. The Sportsman, Faversham Road, Seasalter 01227 273370 www.thesportsmanseasalter.co.uk (gastro pub, 1 Michelin star)
  5. Williams and Browns Tapas48 Harbour Street  01227 273167  www.tapas.co.uk (traditional and modern Spanish Tapas)

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STAY (self-catering & hotels)

http://www.whitstableholidayhomes.co.uk/

http://www.whitstablecottagecompany.com

http://www.ownersdirect.co.uk

http://www.placestostayinwhitstable.co.uk

http://www.best-escapes.com

http://www.hotelcontinental.co.uk

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FAMILY TIME

  1. You can hire bikes and cycle along the promenade. Whitstable Cycle Hire, Wide variety of bikes for all ages to hire  explore local areas such as the popular Crab & Winkle – now a defunct railway line. Visit web page for hire rates & advice, The Captain’s House, 56 Harbour Street 01227 275156 www.whitstablecyclehire.comThere is a small museum in the town which will take 30 minutes and is interesting for the kids also
  2. There are lovely shops on Harbour Street for browsing and shopping, especially ‘George’s’ on the high street is like Aladdin’s cave. Cheap as chips and has everything you ever wanted. Bucket & Spades, toys, sun cream, swimming trunks, wellies, flip flops, time-share apartments!! etc
  3. The Canterbury Tales tour. Good but might be too scary for the little-uns
  4. Crabbing  – hours of fun for the kids while the parents drink wine on beach!
  5. The Harbour has little trinket pop up shops that are open in the week, certainly on Saturdays.
  6. The tide goes out big time in Whitstable so take wellies so the kids can go out onto the mud flats
  7. There is a spit called The Street which you can walk along. It goes directly out to sea and is about a 1/4 of a mile long. Make sure you are back before the tide comes in!
  8. Whitstable has a small castle with a really nice play area for kids.
  9. Whitstable Swimming Pool – 2 pools and gymnasium located on the front, a short walk from town Tower Parade, 01227 772442
  10. AMF Bowling – Ten pin bowling – fun for all the family Tower Parade – next door to swimming pool 0844 8263037
  11. Tennis courts – Five well maintained courts bookable through Windy Corner Stores, lessons available located on seafront, 50 yds away at 110 Nelson Road 01227 26240
  12. Snappys Adventure Play Centre – Indoor adventure play centre for children under 12, 45b Joseph Wilson Estate (behind Tesco) 01227 282100 www.snappysadventureplay.co.uk
  13. Great Old Thames Barge, Get away from it all and sail off into the Thames Estuary on this beautiful old barge. Parties of up to 12 people, bring a picnic or catering can be arranged. South Quay, Whitstable Harbour 07711 657919 Steve Norris www.greta1892.co.uk
  14. Failing all of the above hire a video, put the kids in front of it, get a bottle of wine from ‘The Offy’ in the hIgh street and get drunk!

Whitstable Taxis

  1. Abacus Cars 01227 277728
  2. Whitstable Taxis 01227 261561

Travelling by car

If you’re travelling by car, Whitstable is just 60 minutes drive from the fringes of London, and only 45 minutes from the M25 and Dartford Tunnel. Most visitors will be travelling to Whitstable via the A299. Exit at the Whitstable junction and follow the brown signs for the harbour. These take you through Whitstable High Street. If you’re traveling from abroad, Whitstable is around 45 minutes drive from the ferry at Dover or the Channel tunnel exit.

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Before we go, don’t forget the famous Sunsets

View the live Whitstable webcam

A Weekend Away in Norfolk

Are you looking for a cosy bolthole within 3 hours from London? A few weeks back, a few of the Creative Bus mama’s spent a happy few days pottering around the beautiful countryside of South Norfolk. For those of you that have treated Norfolk like a distant cousin, and always head West for your family driving breaks, (complete with ‘learn to speak cornish’ cd’s in tow), let us share with you a few of the secret’s of the rather flat, but unspoilt county of Norfolk.

It is a county of enormous contrasts, with wonderful huge open spaces, big skies, lots of water in and around it, and also hosts a Centre-Parcs, the forgotten Great Yarmouth, the one city of Norwich, (which Delia keeps on the map), was home to Diana the Princess of Wales, Lord Nelson and Barry Pinches the snooker player. Also the locals wont get offended if you call them Norfolk Dumplings (an allusion to the flour dumplings that were traditionally a significant part of the local diet of course).

STAY

We based ourselves at Wheatacre Hall Barns, close to the small town of Beccles. The property consists of 8 very comfortable holiday cottages, which are all converted barns of varying sizes sleeping between 2-7 people.

Out cottages that slept 6 were a welcomed change to the normal ‘fisherman’s cottage’ we usually end up in on our weekend breaks and were really spacious, there was no tripping over your kids or wet wellies even. The cottages are really well maintained, clean and have no noisy boilers, or dodgy TV connections. Most importantly for us was the central heating, which was happily blasting away and due to the October rain, which was sadly fairly crucial during our stay. We felt welcomed, with the thoughtful added extras; a homemade cake left waiting for us, kids games a plenty and a well stocked DVD library, as well as fresh eggs from the office, and an unpacked Tesco delivery before our arrival which added to our time in our new ‘holiday house’ being that much sweeter. Not forgetting the hot tub, the games room, the small ball pool (soft play) the football pitch, and the gorgeous walks and fresh air. All those perks, made the kids very happy, and the trip very memorable. There’s something so exciting about being in a hot tub with your best friends, that kind of bonds your friendship, well it has always had that effect in our family anyway!

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The barns are set within a working farm of 1100 acres and includes a 200 cow strong milking herd, which made for a good afternoon activity of stomp across a few fields to watch the cows being milked, an important part of any city kids’ education!

FAMILY TIME

treehouses

About 40 minutes away, not far from Norwich, is the wonderous Bewilderwood www.bewilderwood.co.uk. Set in a pine forest, this fantastic children’s outdoor adventure features magical tree houses, zipwires, T-Bars, boat trips, a maze and huge slides. On a grey, chilly Saturday our children spent a glorious afternoon behaving as if they were in a tropical jungle – swinging through the trees like monkeys, running along the treetop walkways and flying down the slides inside a cloth sack. Adults were infected by the squeals of delight and happily launched themselves down slides after their offspring! We will post more on the magic that is Bewilderwood soon.

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Back at the ranch, a soak in the hot tub, located in its own little hut right next to our cottage was the perfect reward for all our exertion, followed by big bowls of pasta and “Strictly” on the sofa.

NORFOLK & SUFFOLK

There a lots of attractive villages and towns to visit nearby and plenty of good pubs to choose from and Wheatacre provide tons of information on local activities.

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We chose to visit the quintessential English seaside town of Southwold in nearby Suffolk on our last day. It has everything you would expect from a classic seaside destination, starting with the pierside amusement arcade where I was fleeced of the last of my money by an over excited 5-year-old who had just discovered the shove penny game!

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After managing to wrench our budding gamblers away from the games, we had a blustery walk along the seafront, lined with the pretty beach huts of yesteryear – one in every colour. The town itself is very pretty and worth a look. A majestic lighthouse, set within the houses (never discovered why exactly), two cannons, ye olde sweet shop, a great looking pub and it is the home of Adnams beer and also where the popular CBeebies TV Show “Grandpa In My Pocket” is filmed – something for everyone!

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Back to the pier for sausage and chips, before piling happy but exhausted children into the car for the easy drive back to London.

OUR BUS STOP RATING

Sleeping & Eating : 4* // Kids Activities : 5* // Family Friendly : 5* // Easy Journey : 4* // Parents treats : 3*

FYI : The Bus Gang paid for everything on this trip… this is an independent review, and we would happily go back anytime.