The Battle Family are currently on holiday in the northern half of Portugal, finally visiting places like Nazare, famous for its surfing waves. While I am away I have the pleasure of welcoming Mark from 101 Holidays to the blog to share his best and worst holidays to date. Over to Mark.
Best holiday – 101 Holidays
I spent more than a decade as a travel writer for The Sunday Times and stayed at a lot of fancy-pants hotels. It was a lot of fun, but it was also easy to get jaded: another forelock-tugging manager, another complimentary fruit bowl, another tasting menu. Perhaps as a result, when it came to my own family holidays, I looked for something more “real”. Authenticity and caprice.
I found it in home exchanging. We had some great swaps in France and Spain, trading our modest terraced house in South London for family homes in Malaga, Montpellier, Aix en Provence and Valencia. Sometimes the house would have a pool, sometimes we would get to drive the family car. Never did we return to find our house in a mess.
But the best trip of all was to Canada where we traded up to a mansion in the suburbs of Montreal with a huge garden and heated swimming pool. It was a great base to explore the city, and the lakes and mountains of Québec, but it also gave us an insight into local living that we would never have seen from a hotel: shopping for food, eating at small-town diners, chatting with the neighbours.
My son was 17 at the time, on the cusp of rejecting family holidays altogether. But he loved this trip, not least because he had his own suite of rooms in the basement.
After ten days in Québec, we returned the rental car to Montreal and took a train south to New York City, a fascinating journey experienced by few tourists. Flying between the two cities takes 90 minutes but Amtrak 68 – known as the Adirondack – takes 11 hours as it trundles slowly down the length of New York State, skirting lakes and stopping at small clapboard stations. At the end of the day, as we rolled towards Penn Station, the sun was setting across the Hudson Valley, a sensational way to arrive in the Big Apple.
Worst holiday – 101 Holidays
I totally understand the appeal of cruising: the convenience of visiting one tourist honeypot after another without unpacking and packing again; the endless conveyor belt of round-the-clock food and drink. It’s just not my thing.
Well, it is, providing the passenger list could fit on a single sheet of A4. I’ve enjoyed some sensational gulet cruises on the coast of Turkey and amongst the smaller Greek islands. I could probably handle a few days on a billionaire’s luxury yacht (please contact me at the usual address). I just struggle with the multi-storey mega-ships that look like floating shopping malls (actually, they are floating shopping malls, aren’t they?)
Attracted by the idea of sailing out of Southampton and thus avoiding the usual airport scrum, I took my family on a cruise to Lisbon and back. It’s not the most glamorous itinerary, but I was curious to visit Guernsey and Vigo in the north west corner of Spain, said to be the world’s biggest fishing port.
We only had a short stop in Guernsey – long enough to wander around some souvenir shops – then came the Bay of Biscay, where a persistent storm left us all seasick. When I finally recovered, I went down for dinner on the ship as we prepared to sail out of Vigo, only to be served … frozen fish.
I understand the logistic of cruising – it’s hard to pop down to the market and buy fresh fish for 3,000 passengers – but this seemed to sum up everything that was wrong about big-ship cruising. And I won’t even start on the evening entertainment. Needless to say, I didn’t repeat the experience.
Thanks to Mark for sharing his best and worst holidays with us. Montreal sounds amazing and visiting New York afterwards sounds like a great way to end a holiday. I must admit cruises have never really appealed to me. We travelled in the Bay of Biscay on our move south but we were very lucky with the weather.
Mark Hodson is Editor of and a former travel journalist with The Sunday Times. In 2014 he won the Aito Travel Blogger of the Year award, and the following year was runner-up. He has written extensively about family travel and lives in South London with his teenage daughter. You can also find him on Twitter and Instagram.
And if you would like to feature in my Best and Worst Holidays series on the blog, please send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.