The summer holidays may officially be over, but there is still time to book an October half-term beach break. Head to Menorca, recommends Lisa Salmon.
With crystal-clear turquoise sea, soft white sand and baking heat – it feels like we’ve stepped foot on a Caribbean island.
But this little patch of paradise is much closer to home on the lovely Mediterranean island of Menorca.
The quieter of the Balearic Islands, Menorca’s well known as a family hotspot. It’s only 270 square miles, but has 134 miles of coast and more than 70 beaches and coves.
Most of them are great for kids, with warm, clear, (fairly) shallow water and either white or reddish-gold-coloured sand.
The easily accessible beaches are packed with tourists in the summer months, although if you choose to travel at the end of the season, during October half-term, there are less people but it’s still wonderfully warm.
As well as the simple pleasures of sand and sea, at Cala Galdana we find pedaloes with slides (from E15 per hour), plus beach bars and restaurants selling standard fare like paninis, pizzas, burgers and salad, that are just a little more expensive than in the UK.
Best of all, there are several lovely shaded areas beneath the pine trees, meaning we can avoid forking out E14 for two sunbeds, and E5 for a parasol.
But despite being spoiled for beautiful beach choices, the truth is that my kids – particularly the youngest, Cristian, aged 11 – would be quite happy to simply stay at our villa all day, every day.
The detached single storey property, Jasmin Villa, is about 1.5 miles from the centre of Cala en Bosch, on a short but wide seaside street full of similar villas.
The pool, which measures 7m x 4m, is big enough to swim – or play – properly in, and absolutely makes the holiday for both the kids and me. Because if there’s one almost universal rule for kids, it’s that if there’s a swimming pool, they’re happy.
It’s great to spend family time here. The villa is roomy enough to escape the kids when necessary, but my husband and I are keen to explore Menorca.
First stop is the marina in the modern little town of Cala en Bosch, on Menorca’s south-east coast. It’s just a 15-minute walk from our villa, and nearly all the island’s best bars and restaurants can be found here. So on the rare occasions we’re not barbecuing, this is where we choose to dine out.
There are shops and stalls offering henna tattoos and hair braiding, as well as leather goods and souvenirs, all surrounding the flashy boats bobbing around on the marina water.
We do, however, manage to travel further afield than the marina, and drag the kids round the lovely former capital Ciutadella, which is just a 15-minute drive from the villa.
This historic town is nicknamed Vella I Bella, which means ‘the old and beautiful’, because of its Baroque and Gothic churches, terracotta-painted buildings and pretty squares. There’s also a quay with a variety of waterside restaurants offering freshly-caught fish, and a great market with a vast amount of leather goods, particularly handbags, on offer.
We also explore the narrow streets of Menorca’s present capital Mahon (Mao), on the other side of the island to the villa, but still only about three quarters of an hour’s drive away.
It boasts one of the largest natural harbours in the world, nestling below narrow pedestrianised streets, shady squares, and historic buildings including the serene Church of Santa Maria, which was originally constructed in 1287, and the Arch de San Roque, the only remnant of the wall that once encircled the city.
There’s nothing better than cool water for refreshment, and after Mahon, the kids go especially wild for SPLASH Sur Menorca, which claims to be the best water park on the island, at St Lluis (E20 for adults; E12 for children).
SPLASH is certainly a good size, with rivers, pools, Jacuzzis and six slides of varying sizes, including the Black Hole, where you can drop into darkness (if you dare), and the big green Multipista, where you race on adjacent slides.
I just about manage to summon enough energy to float around on a ring on the Slow River. My husband, on the other hand, can’t resist the slides and comes away with a huge lump and bruise on his elbow. Not the sort of thing you get on the Slow River, I smugly point out.
Adventure dad does, however, leave the go-karting, at Castillo Menorca on the island’s main Me-1 road between Cuitadella and Ferreries, to the kids (I don’t think he would’ve fitted in one, to be honest.)
Our two have a whale of a time trying to overtake each other, and a few other kids, on the track (E15 Euros for 10 minutes in a medium powered go-kart). And as they career round, I go handbag shopping in Castillo’s handy retail outlet, which is another part of the attraction, clearly designed with mums like me in mind.
Horses for courses…
That’s the phrase that sums up Menorca for me. Party animals aren’t the right horses for the Menorca course, but if you’re a family ‘horse’, you’re on the right track. And if you’ve got kids and can get a villa with a pool, you’re on to a winner.
How to get there
James Villa Holidays (jamesvillas.co.uk; 0800 074 0122) offer a week at the Jasmin Villa in Cala en Bosch, Menorca, from £498 in spring/autumn and from £1,200 in summer. To book, email email@example.com
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