We hadn’t even got to the villa and the atmosphere was already tense. It was 40°C in the shade outside Marseille Provence Airport as my husband searched hopelessly for the car hire office. The three kids, whose excitement levels had hit new highs on the plane, were getting impatient. And so, more worryingly, was my father. We all braced ourselves, knowing he was about to blow.
It was the first time all three generations of my family had holidayed together, and things weren’t going well. However, such intergenerational holidays have been a fast-growing trend in recent years, one that shows no sign of abating. More than 12.5 million Britons took a ‘3G’ holiday last year, according to a study by Sainsbury’s Travel Insurance. And 80% of those said that the span of generations had had a positive impact on the experience.
It’s a good concept. With family members often spread out across the globe and modern life demanding more of us than ever before, quality time with extended family is at a premium. A ‘3G’ holiday offers the ideal opportunity for everyone to get together, strengthen bonds and make some lifelong memories. Harried parents get a bit of a break from childcare and grandparents get to spend precious time with the grandchildren. What’s not to love? If you get it right…
After a shaky start to our family holiday, it turned out we had got it right, so much so that we’re doing it again in Greece in May. But what made it such a success in the end? Well, it really came down to the villa itself. It’s hard to beat a European villa as a venue for a big family gathering: it’s a short flight, sunshine is pretty much guaranteed and villas offer the space and privacy that’s invaluable when travelling in a large group. They are also great value for money. “Pooling resources enables generations of the same family to share the cost of a property that might be larger or more luxurious than one family might otherwise afford,” says Mary Stuart-Miller of luxury villa specialist CV Villas.
Choosing the right villa is imperative, though, and there are a few golden rules to bare in mind. Space is everything, so make sure there is enough of it, both inside and out. If people start to feel cooped up, things will go awry. There should be a big outdoor dining terrace that fits the whole gang, space for the kids to run around and ideally, the odd al fresco spot to enjoy some downtime: a hammock here, a balcony there, a small table and chair in the shade. Layout is the next major consideration as lack of sleep is a sure-fire way to ruin a holiday. Try to book somewhere with an annexe for the grandparents. “Built-in separate wings or renovated outbuildings give the opportunity for holidaying ‘separately but together’, offering privacy to each family,” says Mary. You can never have enough en suite bathrooms, while a dorm room with DVD player for the children gives parents the potential for lie-ins. Thankfully, kids never seem to tire of messing about in a swimming pool, so the bigger the better to allow for all the rubber inflatables and tomfoolery that will ensue. Games such as boules, table tennis and snooker add to the fun and are great ways for families to bond.
Space around the pool is vital for a relaxing environment. That way, granny can read her book while the grandchildren muck around. A sun lounger each is ideal, plus plenty of shade for non sun-worshippers. Safety is obviously paramount where water and children are involved, so choose a villa with a secure pool area. Chefs don’t come cheap, but are worth every penny. Book one for as many nights as you can afford. Ours made supper for the children, too, which is perfect if you don’t want to do more work on holiday than you do at home. Whatever you do, take turns with chores so everyone has a few days off.
As for location, know your audience. If, like mine, your mum gets cabin fever after a few days, make sure there’s plenty to do nearby and that everyone is able to go off and do their own thing. To this end, don’t scrimp on car hire. Two smaller cars are better than one people carrier. Finally, don’t go for too long. Two weeks in a villa would test even the most genial of families, so why not start with one and make it a family getaway to remember.