Travel: Grand group gatherings
With more people choosing to travel with friends and multi-generational holidays on the rise, Sarah Marshall rounds up the best properties in Europe for group getaways.
:: Keeping the kids happy is child’s play at Center Parcs, says Claire Spreadbury
It’s not often I swing a leg over a bicycle and go for a pedal, but it’s true what they say: you never forget how to ride. As I wobble about trying to find my balance and steady myself, a flash of green whizzes by. It’s my four-year-old, on her bike, wearing the biggest smile you’ve ever seen.
Travelling around on two wheels is pretty popular at Center Parcs, especially at Elveden Forest in Suffolk, as nothing’s especially far away and it’s all lovely and flat, so whether you’re new to cycling, or just out of practice, it’s fun for all the family.
If you fancy a getaway for a big group of people, which also includes kids, Center Parcs is a sure-fire hit. Whether it’s a generational gathering (so nanny and gramps can babysit while mummy and daddy hit the delightfully de-stressing Aqua Sana spa), or a couple of clans clubbing together to splash out on some of the higher-end accommodation (a two-storey treehouse complete with games den, Physiotherm infrared room and outdoor hot tub, perhaps?), there’s something to suit everyone - and at every budget.
Every type of lodge comes with its own kitchen, so you can cook up a storm for breakfast, lunch and dinner, or dine out in one of the many family-friendly restaurants in the village.
Children (and adults) can join a plethora of activities, from quad biking or creating cupcakes, to aerial tree trekking and wildlife walks. You can even drop in for a family photoshoot if you so fancy. You can literally be as busy or relaxed as you please.
As I straddle the saddle for one last time before our long weekend comes to a close, it doesn’t matter that my entire family is better than me on a bike. I’ll be back to wobble on two wheels again pretty soon.
:: Lodgings from £229 (sleeps six) for a mid-week four-night break. For more information, visit www.centerparcs.co.uk
:: A friendly apartment is the top choice for a weekend break with mates to Berlin, says Sarah Marshall
“If you arrive after 6pm, you’ll need to collect the keys from our bar, Red Rabbit, in Friedrichshain.”
That’s the message I receive from my Berlin host, Lisa, who has kindly lent her apartment to myself and four friends for the weekend.
When we finally reach the doorway to the drinking hole, it’s well beyond midnight, but for the trendy crowd sinking beers and bottles of Club-Mate, the evening is only just beginning.
A Jiffy envelope is waiting for me behind the bar, packed with keys and a batch of tantalising club flyers, and I know my trip is off to a good start.
Booking an apartment is often the most comfortable and fun choice for a group of friends going on holiday, but so many properties end up being empty shells, devoid of personality, with only a sprinkling of flat-pack furniture from IKEA.
Airbnb, however, pose the appealing proposition of staying at a (new) friend’s place - while they’ve (most likely) skipped out of town for a few days.
And sure enough, when we turn the lock in Lisa’s door, we find the radiators on full blast, coffee percolator stacked with filters, and a fruit bowl overflowing with Haribo gummy bears. It’s as if Lisa had just popped out to the local Wurst stand only five minutes earlier.
We all have enough fresh towels and beds that don’t masquerade as sofas - even though on our first night, we congratulate ourselves on discovering a “spare camp bed” which in fact turns out to be a “cot”.
The position of the flat is also excellent; overlooking the East Side gallery, where remnants of the Berlin Wall remain, and close to the squatter-style bars and creative hubbub of Kreuzberg.
Of course, every flat registered with Airbnb is different, with more than 34,000 properties to peruse in 192 countries. And half the fun is choosing the right property and personality to match your needs.
Owners are often, as in Lisa’s case, plugged into the local social scene and can recommend the best cafes, bars, galleries and shops in the area. Lisa even has a giant map in her hallway, with pins helpfully highlighting her favourite haunts.
But best of all, this accommodation option is more comfortable than a hostel and far cheaper than staying in a hotel.
Our stay works out less than £25 each per night - and, I’m relieved to say, not one of us has to sleep in a cot.
:: Book this apartment from £221 for minimum two-night stay (sleeps five) at www.airbnb.co.uk/rooms/115345
:: Cheapflights.co.uk offers the best online deals through its strong partner network, with return flights from London to Berlin from £89. Regional departures available.
:: A Roman holiday is a grand choice for big families, says Tori Mayo
When your base for a long weekend in Rome is the seriously chic Villa Nocetta, just 10 minutes from the centre, you may consider taking up permanent residence.
This beautifully renovated villa has been in the owners’ family for three generations and sits in landscaped gardens where artichokes once grew among hazelnut trees.
Original marble floors and a grand piano bring a sense of classic elegance to the space, and 17th century heirloom wall coverings hang alongside portraits of Angelina Jolie and Al Pacino, taken by celebrated Rome-based photographer Angela Lopriore.
It’s certainly enough to impress my three generations of relatives, who are here for a family gathering in grand surroundings.
While my boyfriend and I spend evenings enjoying sundowners on the tower-top terrace made for two, other family members head to the basement gym or relax by the pool under the shade of Mediterranean pine trees.
Each of the five guest suites has been individually styled, featuring classic design pieces, artworks and fine Italian linens.
Even though a continental buffet breakfast and shuttle service are provided, as well as the option of a personal concierge, Villa Nocetta feels like a luxury home rather than a hotel.
It would be tempting not to leave our new abode, but we do make it outdoors to explore the city.
Ancient city planners clearly had tourists’ schedules at heart, as all the major sights are within walking distance of each other.
It’s quite possible to peer at the Pantheon, shop in the designer stores along Via Condotti, walk up and down the Spanish Steps, or surround yourself with papal pomp and ceremony in St Peter’s Square at the Vatican - all in a day.
My boyfriend and I even take a tour on vintage Vespas, riding along the cobbled streets lined with candy-coloured houses and cafes, weaving through traffic while marvelling at ancient sites.
My parents opt for the more leisurely Roman approach, taking it all in via pit stops in the piazza for a macchiato or an Aperol spritz.
But we all end up at the Trevi fountain, where we each throw a coin into the water and make a wish.
If the legends are true, next year, we’ll be back at Villa Nocetta for more of la dolce vita.
:: Villa Nocetta (www.villanocetta.com; +39 06 663 7119) sleeps up to 12 people and is available from 2,900 euros per night (approx £200 per person per night). Minimum stay of three nights.
:: easyJet (www.easyjet.com) fly from London Gatwick to Rome from £28.74 per person (one-way).