Madrid, Spain: The Old and the New.

There is something magical about Madrid. It is a stunning city rich in culture and history, a window into the world of Spain’s majestic past and modern, cosmopolitan future. In this article I describe a few options for a family-friendly expedition to the capital city of Spain.

Hit the streets
Most young kids only have a limited capacity for walking. While hours of walking and wandering through neighbourhoods is often the best way to discover and explore a city, it is no fun doing it with children that are tired and just want to stop for ice-cream. If you are going to tackle a bit of walking in Madrid then focus on the Gran Via. This is a huge, wide street that stretches for about one kilometre in length. Start your walk from the Metropolis building, grab a few selfies with its stunning bronze dome and statue. This is a busy, vibrant street with lots of shopping, but it will give you a real sense that you are in the heart of one of the world’s great cities.

Enjoy the views
A relatively low-rise city, there are quite a few opportunities to get up above the city and appreciate the fantastic skyline. The best bird’s-eye view is from Teleferico de la Casa de Campo and the children will enjoy the cable car ride up there. Also the lookout point from the Basilica de San Francisco el Grande is also stunning if you don’t mind climbing a few stairs. Madrid has great churches, but it’s likely that your family is going to have only limited tolerance for visiting churches, so if you combine a great look-out opportunity then you kill two birds with one stone.

Hang out in Plaza Mayor
When you think of “old Madrid” then you are thinking of Plaza Mayor. Sure the cafes are a bit touristy, but this is the kind of old square where you can really get a sense of how the people in this city have lived in past centuries. There’s a great Churro ( a Spanish doughnut) shop here so after a bit of exploring and wandering around the small narrow streets, you will be able to reward everyone with some outstanding hot chocolate and a big plate of Churros to share.

If you think the kids will be up for checking out a market, then on Sunday head to El Rastro which has the well established city flea market. You never know what you’ll find in a market like this, but exploring and discovering is what makes it fun. Get there early if you can – it gets very busy.

The Beach!
The children will enjoy the wonderful play areas at the Madrid Rio Project, a 820 hectare park on the Manzanares River which includes the “Urban Beach”.

One of the challenges of a family holiday in Madrid is that nothing really happens that early. It would be ideal if you could adjust your family’s sleeping patterns to Madrid time, but obviously that’s easier said than done. Most shops and museums open after 10:00. Lunch happens sometime after 14:00; and dinner happens sometimes after 21:00. You might need to have a few contingencies up your sleeve and a few snacks in your rucksack in order to get through the day.

Madrid is a beautiful city and a fantastic place to visit. Start planning your family expedition now!

Photo Credit: Creative Commons, Walter Watzpatzkowski

Family Fun In Biarritz

In years gone by, Biarritz was the glamorous holiday destination favoured by European royalty and the world’s celebrities. On the Atlantic coast in the South West of France, Biarritz has a surf beach, beautiful weather and the best of the Basque region’s cuisine. What more could you want from a summer holiday destination? Biarritz is the perfect escape for your next family adventure – in this article we give you a few hints and tips to help you get the most out of it.

Village style living
You are going to need at least week to get the most out of your stay in Biarritz. Rent a house – the French do private holiday rentals really well and it gives you much more flexibility in terms of cooking meals and washing your beach towels etc. The other advantage of hiring a house is that you quickly immerse yourself in the ebb and flow of daily life in your Biarritz neighbourhood – pick up your bread from the bakery, call into the deli to grab some cheese and ham, pick up some sausages for breakfast from the butcher. This is a great way for your kids to practice their conversational French as they point and smile and negotiate the requirements of the daily groceries.

Hit the beach
Biarritz is a surfing town. The annual surf festival held there is one of the biggest in Europe. While the main beach (Grand Plage) gets pretty crowded, it’s still a lot of fun making camp in the sand for a few hours and watching the world go by. Biarritz is a great place to learn how to surf, and there are lots of surf schools where you can sign the kids up and watch them as they get out amongst the waves. There are a few other smaller surf beaches nearby, but you can also go for long walks and explore some of the rocky outcrops along the coast.

Explore the region
I recommend hiring a car as there are a lot of interesting excursions in the surrounding region. San Sebastian (just across the border in Spain) is easily accessible, but a fantastic trip to do is to drive up into the mountains to the village of Saint-Jean-PIed-de-Port. The old cobbled streets makes this a really charming town, with the river Nive running through it. The town is an important staging point on the pilgrims’ trail known as The Way of St James – the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela. While the kids may not be feeling like a massive pilgrimage, there’s lots of interesting things to check out Sain-Jean-Pied-de-Port to make the drive worthwhile.

There is something about a beach holiday in France that feels incredibly relaxing and a complete world away from the normal hustle and bustle of life. You can eat simple food, do simple things, and just enjoy your time together as a family. Swimming, surfing, exploring, and practising your French. This is what a family holiday should be.

Photo Credit: Creative Commons : Emmanuel Dyan