Ah, the half-term holiday headache. The tension that started nagging you at the end of the summer holidays as back-to-school loomed. That period of year when you know you should be thinking ahead to that next stretch of time-off when you have [a] that fantastic window when you can all enjoy time as a family (if you’re an optimist) and/or [b] a whole hellish week to keep them happy/entertained/exercised (hello, pessimists). Maybe you’ve already booked, or perhaps you always leave it too late and that half-term holiday headache will soon be evolving into a full-on migraine as the most suitable rooms in the best family-friendly hotels have all been snapped up. Throw flights into the mix – timings and ever-spiralling prices – aargh! Logistics are reason enough to have you needing a lie-down when planning that part of an October holiday. Then there’s the issue of whether it’s long enough or too far to long-haul it en famille. What to do?
If you are showing any symptoms of this condition, let me play Hotel Doctor. I am prescribing a place that you might not have realised is just so well, exotic – Spain. And if you had your heart set on – or at least you’ve been fantasising about an exotic hideaway in an eastern hemisphere, Barceló Asia Gardens is heavensent. What’s important is that I speak from experience, that’s how we roll at Smith: we check out places in person. And if it’s a place we’re going to send you with your kids, we make sure a family or parent has given it the thumbs-up.
Drive from Alicante Airport along the Costa Brava seafront in the direction of Benidorm, and it may look like Brits-abroad package-holiday terrain. Until you swerve up towards the hills where this five-star retreat is set on these picturesque Mediterranean-view mountain slopes. The hotel’s architecture and atmosphere makes you feel as though you’ve in fact been teleported somewhere truly tropical. Immediately there’s a whiff of Thailand (that’ll be the lemongrass tea on arrival); next this bamboo-filled botanical paradise transported us far away thanks to Asian plum trees, variegated-leaved Thai ginger plants, Japanese Bonsai trees… All of our senses were truly hoodwinked. As well as the landscape – see Instagram images as evidence – our meals (when we wanted them to) took us to India via upscale eatery, Udaipur. Thatched-roof poolside Palapa treated us to the best of the Mediterranean with hyper-local flavours for lunch, while a candlelit supper at Koh Samui was as delicious a taste of Thailand as I’ve known in Bangkok’s most celebrated restaurants. And breakfast (pictured) spanned every food group and flavour whether you are in the mood for classic European or an exotic umami hit, with each dish labelled with its nutritional benefits.
An Asian-fusion ‘theme’, could sound, well, a little tacky – but it totally works here particularly in Palafito Spa. For my Nuad Thai treatment, I donned traditional loose-fitting cotton Thai pyjamas and was led to a balé for a Thai massage. Stretched and walked on, it was like someone else doing a yoga session with my body on my behalf. Perfect. As I listened to the birdsong and Far Eastern ambient instrumental soundtrack supine by the heated pool and Buddhas, if you’d reminded me I was just above Benidorm I probably wouldn’t have believed you.
And – parents – best of all, there are all the child-pleasing perks you’d want from an upscale luxury Spanish holiday resort. I haven’t even told you about all the facilities and fun awaiting the nippers. There’s a (free) Children’s Pirates Club for 5–12-year-olds, a playground, pools which are a dream for children and some which are for adults only, plus Blue Flag beaches are only half an hour’s drive away. But truth is, I was too busy having me time as a parent travelling solo for ‘work’… What I do know is this is a place that’s all about you time, whoever you’re travelling with.
Has that headache gone yet?