Three Greek islands, Rhodes, Corfu and Lefkada between the best European islands for family holidays.
Hvar is probably Croatia’s most fashionable island destination: everyone from honeymooners to actors flocks here for boutique hotels, seafood and boho-glam nightlife. But the island is big and varied enough to absorb families with kids, too.
The Adriatic is calm (no waves, as you would have on the Atlantic) and local winds relatively gentle (unlike the Cyclades in Greece), making this a great place to get children swimming in the sea, and to introduce teens to water sports – sea kayaking, wind surfing, sailing and scuba diving are all catered for.
Where to stay: Palmizana, set in a botanical garden on a tiny car-free islet opposite Hvar Town (served by regular taxi-boats, 15-min transfer). This hotel has 13 bungalows (from £85 per night in low season) and villas for rent (sleeping 3-10); two open-air restaurants; and a narrow strip of pebble beach overlooking a sheltered bay.
The largest of the Balearic Islands has plenty to keep every member of the family happy, from toddlers to grandparents. With dozens of safe, sandy beaches to choose from, you could go to a different bay every day. Es Trenc, Playa de Muro, Cala Millor and Port de Sóller are all great for small kids, and older children can have a go at paddleboarding, kayaking or windsurfing.
Where to stay: Outdoorsy types will feel at home at the Club Pollentia Resort, where there is a wealth of activities on offer within the hotel, out on the water, or in the countryside. Double rooms from £55 in low season; rising to £112 in high.
This island in the Canaries has been quietly undergoing a revolution and is turning into a rather chic destination. Don’t expect anything glitzy or flashy though; this quiet revolution is all about staying in eco-friendly places and spending your days cycling, walking or surfing – and if the kids will play ball, you may even have time to sample the local wines.
Where to stay: Princesa Yaiza hotel is a stylish five-star hotel complex in Lanzarote, with plenty of activities for children of all ages. Rooms from £114.
Rhodes caters to a mix of ancient history buffs, gastros, aesthetes and families. Your first stop should be Rhodes Old Town, magically located within a moated citadel with walls that are12 feet thick. This former stronghold of the Knights of St John has a distinctly medieval feel, but walk on a little further – past evil eyes, alabaster gods and jewellery stores – and you find yourself in the intricate labyrinth of the Byzantine quarter, with its minarets, working Turkish baths and impossibly narrow atmospheric streets. Its bijou aquarium is worth a visit. Beyond Rhodes town is an abundance of vernal valleys and gorgeous beaches. Come between June and September to see butterflies emerge from their chrysalises at the Valley of the Butterflies (Petaloudes). And don’t miss the glass-bottomed boats in Mandraki Harbour, where a new 150m replica of the the Colossus of Rhodes will soon be built in the place of the long fallen original.
Where to stay: Kokkini Porta Rossa is a stylish boutique hotel which offers an exclusive ambiance, impeccable decoration, and fine dining, together with personalised, friendly service from the Greek owners. Rooms from £125 per night.
Say “Corfu” and the excesses of Kávos likely spring to mind. But these (much diminished now) are well quarantined at the remotest end of this verdant island, which actually is perfect for families. Corfu’s two main coastlines contrast sharply and the entire island is easily explored by hire car; distances are modest so kids will not get too fidgety. The main family attraction is Aqualand waterpark, but head to the western shore for superb sandy beaches; at some, like Íssos in the south-west or Ágios Stéfanos, in the far north, the sea shelves gently, though others get too much surf for toddlers. The eastern shoreline, facing the Greek mainland, has much calmer sea, with mostly fine-pebble beaches.
Where to stay: East-coast MarBella Corfu (£492 half board in peak season for a sea-view two-bedroom suite), is a good-value all-inclusive, with food much better than most similar level resorts. There is a children’s Splash Park, amenitied beach, a crêche, babysitting service, and kids’ clubs divided by age range; in summer your children will not lack for playmates.
This wild and mountainous isle of powdery beaches and cobalt bays is defiantly independent, having only been ruled by France for some 200 of its 4,000-year recorded history. For culture vultures, Corsica beckons with fascinating cliff-side towns like windblown Bonifacio, with its Genoese Escheresque streets, and swanky citadel town Porto Vecchio (both in the south). Its palate is a kid-friendly mix of Franco-Italian dishes, pizza, local cheeses and fresh seafood. Add to this plenty of excellent self-catering accommodation, and Corsica makes a great family destination; but it’s the natural wonders that exert Corsica’s greatest pull.
Where to stay: The stylish La Cuve villas offer chic waterside living for families – a two-bedroom apartment costs from £979 per week.
Mention Sardinia and most people think of the glitz of the Costa Smeralda but there’s plenty more to divert you: the magnificent rugged landscape of the granite interior and the fabulous seafood, for starters. But for families, the pièce de résistance is the chic, family and couple-friendly 116-acre Forte Village resort on the island’s south-west coast. Facilities are unrivalled on the island and include tennis, cycling, basketball, rugby, cricket, swimming, netball, boxing, table tennis and the Chelsea Football Academy.
Where to stay: Forte Village has packages from £1,362 per person for a week’s half-board (May half term), based on a family of four staying in a bungalow at Hotel Bougainville.
Sporty teenagers will love Lefkada, on the Ionian Sea, with its dramatically beautiful beaches and challenging water sports. Avoid the touristy east coast, and head instead to the more isolated west coast, where the village of Agios Nikitas overlooks the turquoise sea.
Nearby you have Kathisma (2.5 miles), a popular pebble beach with cafés and tavernas, and low-key Milos pebble beach (served by boat). On the south coast, Vassiliki offers excellent conditions for wind surfing and scuba-diving, while Agios Ioannis, near Lefkada Town, is the top site for kite-surfing.
Where to stay: Myrto Apartments offers six self-catering apartments with fine views down onto the bay (£67 per night in June).
Île de Ré, France
While it will be busy in the peak summer months, the Île de Ré is pretty flawless as a family seaside holiday spot. The island’s south coast is flanked by many miles of continuous, dune-backed sandy beaches (wide at low tide, reduced to thin strips at high tide), where the waves offer good body boarding. But for the best strand, head out to the far west to Conche des Baleines, a vast, exhilarating arc of golden sand backed by pine woods.
Where to stay: the local rental agency AAPH Locations has village houses sleeping four for around £415 a week.
The largest island in the Mediterranean is a fascinating mix of Greek temples, Norman churches and Baroque palazzos. Sicily is the kind of destination where sightseeing is always more than “just” sightseeing: it’s the combination of history, a balmy climate and a vibrant contemporary eating, drinking and shopping scene that gives this island of wine, citrus fruits and ancient landscapes such all-year-round appeal. This would be a great option for a family with very young children, keen to eat well and carry the child, in a backpack, through a cultural week in the sun.
Where to stay: The sophisticated Belmond Villa Sant’Andrea hotel, in Taormina, offers its own private stretch of beach and a kids’ club (rooms from £240).