Family travel with flair

Gwithian: A great place to surf in Cornwall

TweetI’ve always thought there was something sweet and a little deluded about British surfers. Sure, this is an island and there are loads of nice beaches. But when it comes to waves, it’s not as if we have the big surf of Hawaii or the iconic breaks of Australia. And yet, surf aficionados like me can find some very nice beaches for learning. I’ve tried several spots with varying success, but I’ve just returned from Gwithian, and it’s gone straight to the top of my list. Gwithian is in Cornwall, outside of St. Ives, just by Godrevy beach. We took lessons with some nice guys at Gwithian Surf Academy (GAS). My friend G found the academy, which not only offers package deals of lessons and rentals (board, wetsuit & booties) but also self-catering accommodation via Gwithian Holidays. For £200 per person we had 3 nights’ accommodation plus 3 lessons with rentals. First impressions of the accommodation: “It’s nice! I thought it would be skanky,” mused G after the owner showed us around the small apartment building. (It’s a family affair, the father owns the apartment and the son runs the surf academy.) “I thought it would be, you know, for surfers…that level of quality,” she said. Take heed, surfers with high standards, you have come home. The apartment gives the impression of having been outfitted and decorated with care. In the living area, a leather-look loveseat with mushroom-coloured throw sits opposite a TV with DVD player. In the corner of the room, just beside a table that seats 3 is a small but modern kitchen. The bedroom has a double and a single bed and a very modern shower room (the vanity mirror has tiny embedded lights you turned on and off by waving your hand underneath). Comfortable beds – tick. Hot shower with good water pressure – tick. Free wifi – tick! To be honest, I was excited/dreading surfing for two hours in cold Cornwall water in April. In actuality, the midweight wetsuits supplied by the school meant that I couldn’t even feel the cold while wading in. (A quick note about wetsuits – just forget your dignity when putting one on. Imagine wrestling a seal in a black bin bag, while grunting and puffing. And while wetsuits make buff male instructors look like sea gods, they somehow flatten breasts and highlight rounded tummies in women. Sara Blakely, where are you when we need you?) The beach just beside Gwithian is Godrevy beach. It gets an Atlantic swell...

Travel news: the only in-ocean scuba course for 8-year-olds

TweetI’ve written about (and loved) travel for years, so today I’m launching a new feature on my blog, Travel Fridays. I’m going to be writing about travel news and cool ideas for family travel. Look for regular posts every, er, Friday. For kids, learning to dive is a big leap, usually into an unglamorous cement swimming pool, to learn the basics. My stepson, who’s now mad for diving, took classes in the rather unglamorous surroundings of the local leisure centre pool. But now – for the first time –parents can get kids as young as 8 hooked on the idea of diving in classes in the Maldives that take place in an aquamarine sea, with fish darting around their feet. The Four Seasons Resort Maldives at Landaa Giraavaru is the only resort in the world that has the waiver from the Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI) for early in-water instruction for kids. Its new PADI Seal Team programme for children aged 8 to 12 teaches kids in the resort’s sheltered lagoon, giving them the basics they’ll need to become divers. (Seal Team instruction everywhere else takes place in a pool.) They learn navigation and search and recovery and go on “missions” set by the instructor. Children 10 and over can take part in a 3-hour taster session and ones 12 and over can take part in the PADI scuba diver certification program that includes two ocean dives and is credit toward open-water certification. It’s all part of the resort’s philosophy to both marine conservation and education – along with its sister property the Kuta Huru near Male) it has 12 marine biologists on staff – and also family-oriented activities. I met the General Manager Armando Kraenzlin in London not long ago where he talked excitedly about the Maldives being the only country in the world that has banned shark hunting and snorkelling lessons run by marine biologists so kids know what they’re seeing. “Diving has become a bit like skiing,” he said. “A diving family stays together and holidays together. It’s not just hitting the beach somewhere.” Although, of course, in the Maldives they have that too. Picture: www.padi.com...

When it's time to leave the beach

TweetGiven the old choice of mountains or beach, I'll choose beach every time. The sun, proper surf for wave-jumping, bodyboarding or surfing, and sand in places my doctor's never seen. Bliss. Every year we visit the same resort in Texas, Port Royal in Port Aransas. I hestitate to even mention it by name. As unlikely as it might seem that a bunch of Brits would turn up on this lightly developed section of Padre Island in the Gulf of Mexico (oil-free, I might add), it's such an idyllic, trapped-in-the-'70s vibe here we hold our breath on the ferry ride over every year, wondering if it will be "ruined".  Here we bounce between the beach and the biggest pool in the state. There is a swim-up bar and slides and little waterfalls that the lifeguards don't discourage you from jumping off. Yet a funny thing happens after a couple of days. Suddenly you notice the unappealing slick of suntan oil on the surface of the pool. The fact that there's just a little too much rubbish sticking out of the sand here and there. The floating plaster as you get out when the sun is going down. We're all a little bit sunburned and a little bit sore from jumping into waves and whizzing down the slides at funny angles. We've had another great visit. Now we're at the final stage of a good seaside hols. There's nothing quite so nice as that feeling that you're ready to go home....

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