Consider October half term. Seems like ages since summer (if we were lucky enough to have one) and Christmas is far enough off that there are no advent calendars and singing Santas in the shops (or am I being too hopeful here).
In our family, October half term seems like the obvious time to get away from Britain for a week. The kids are exhausted after the first few weeks of a new school year and it is frequently cold and wet. But where to go?
With just a week to spare, somewhere long-haul is out of the question. Also we have a headmaster who sticks to the letter of the law when it comes to approving (or more often not) holiday during term-time. [As an aside, we once said we were going to an African island for a holiday where we could learn more about culture. We were busted when he happened to be in the classroom on my daughter’s first day back and she asked him how to spell Mauritius. It is in Africa, I promise. I think he was expecting something more than ten days on a white beach.]
So a couple of years back we started looking south – the usual suspects: Canaries, Morocco, Tunisia, Turkey and Greece, somewhere that would still be warm but without an endurance flight to contend with.
We settled on Greece. In October, the average maximum temperature is 24 degrees and the waters of the Med are around 21 degrees. Not too hot and 10 to 15 higher than the UK.
Rather than going to an island, we found a hotel on the mainland, a short transfer from Athens – perfect when you have arguing kids in the back. [Less perfect were the maps we had printed out from Google Maps. The street signs were in Greek characters, the Google Map directions in Roman. Trying to translate between the two while driving was near impossible with impatient drivers behind. Note to self – rent a satnav next time.]
Cape Sounio is an hour from the Greek capital at the tip of what is known as the Athens Riviera. Here you find the ruined Temple of Poseidon, the Greek god of the ocean, and it is easy to see the inspiration that the ancient Greeks drew from the Aegean.
Cape Sounio is one of those hotels that closes for the winter in mid to late October so by then, it is wonderfully quiet and far cheaper than in the peak summer months.
There is plenty to do for kids. Jacques Cousteau’s son Jean-Michel runs a kids activity programme called Ambassadors of the Environment from the hotel. The programme is split into kids (4 to 7) and youth (8-12) strands offering things such as underwater photography, rock pool exploration, stargazing and night-time plankton snorkelling.
At this quiet time, we often had the swimming pool to ourselves and getting a sunbed was never an issue. There were only a few other souls here at this time but the kids quickly made friends and most days were spent down at the hotel beach, a few minutes’ walk away and through a tunnel under the coastal road. The sand was soft and it was perfect for building a sandcastle or for playing in a dinghy on the calm waters. Mum and dad, meanwhile, had the chance to sunbathe, read a book (when kids allow) and take in the views of the Temple.
Despite having free run of the pool and beach, the kids’ favourite activity of the week was a nature walk through the hotel grounds spotting lizards and insects, learning about the native flowers as well as how to graft an olive tree. We all ended up in the hotel’s organic garden, munching on the best tomatoes they had ever tasted.
You don’t get that in England in October.
Cape Sounio is run by Grecotel and is one of the Small Luxury Hotels of the World. A family bungalow costs around €240 a night in October, including buffet breakfast and taxes. Rooms are 40 to 50 square metres in size and have living rooms with sofa beds for the kids. Larger villas with private pools cost from €588 a night. Flights from London to Athens with Aegean Air cost from £123.40 including taxes. Don’t forget that the hotel closes in October for the winter so check half-term dates.