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Self-catering Family Holidays and Breaks

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One of the luxury villas at Aphrodite Hills Holiday Residence, Cyprus.One of the luxury villas at Aphrodite Hills Holiday Residence, Cyprus.

Self catering is generally far less expensive than staying in a hotel as well as offering greater flexibility and freedom. Even if you spend minimal time in the kitchen while on holiday, self-catering facilities are useful for the odd meal, especially breakfast, and for heating bottles and making baby food, snacks and picnics. They also allow you to take advantage of local produce from markets and shops, and are especially useful if you’re holidaying with picky children in an area when familiar dishes are not readily available in restaurants. Some also have the benefit of private swimming pools. Added bonuses might include the ability to take the family dog along with you – many are pet-friendly.

Classic child-friendly self-catering options are villas, cottages/gîtes and apartments (particularly for ski holidays), but apart-hotels, combining the extra space and kitchen facilities with some of the facilities of a hotel (perhaps a pool, restaurant, launderette, maid service, kids’ club, and other amenities) are increasingly popular. 

The most luxurious villas even come with amazing extras such as daily maid service, butler service and full catering. Some can be found in small complexes or at larger hotels and resorts, meaning that you can enjoy the amenities and social elements of the latter while remaining flexible and having your own private space.

Similarly, many cottages and gîtes come in small complexes sharing outdoor space where the kids can make new friends and play freely. Many such complexes have playground equipment, sandpits and even animals to pet. Others might be on estates, in country parks or even on holiday parks or villages along with other forms of accommodation. 

Cottages are often rurally located but don’t have to be isolated. Rural cottages are a great way getting the kids out and about in nature – even in winter, when you can often come home to snuggle around a roaring fire or log-burning stove. You’ll probably travel by car, too, which means you can bring any equipment you need (although most cottages and gites will provide baby paraphernalia by request). And you don’t need to worry about young kids disturbing other holidaymakers (some cottages and gîtes only take bookings from families anyway). 

Other self-catering options are farm-stays (whether in cottages in converted farm buildings or in pre-erected tents) and camping/holiday parks (in your own tent, in ready set-up yurts, safari tents and the like, or mobile homes) and home-swaps, where you get to live in someone’s home and use their kitchen, toys and so on.

Self catering is a great option for those wishing to holiday with extended family or another family or families – you can club together for greater space and better facilities than you might afford individually, and take turns sharing the chores and giving one another a break. This can also be a way of guaranteeing playmates for the kids. But you do need to be clear about your expectations of a shared holiday to ensure that it goes smoothly.

The only problem is that with the sheer choice of self-catering options, especially cottages, sorting through the options can be a daunting prospect for the time-pressed parent. We’ve stepped in to help you find the right cottage with our geographically based sections focusing on classic family destinations, including Cumbria/the Lake District, Norfolk, Dorset, Brittany, the Dordogne and many more besides. We also have exclusive deals and discounts with some of our long-established partners who lead the field in family-friendly cottages.

Scroll down for our tips for self-catering family holidays.


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As you’ll often be dealing with independent providers when booking a self-catering holiday, do your research throughly. How far is the property from local shops and restaurants, from the beach or the ski slopes, for instance? Check for what websites might not be telling you, and ask the right questions before signing on the dotted line. Google Streetview is your friend when it comes to checking out local surroundings in advance and making sure a neighbourhood is well suited to you.

Find out if a property can provide all the equipment you need – these days, highchairs, travelcots and other equipment come as pretty standard, but do check. Similarly, some budget accommodation will expect you to bring your own towels and perhaps also your own bedlinen, although some will offer it for hire at extra charge.

If you’re self-catering in the UK or driving to the Continent, bear in mind that some properties, particularly those at the budget end of the spectrum, may not have some of the kit you take for granted at home, such as cafetières and corkscrews. It’s a good idea to make room in your car for a small box of such ‘essentials’, as well as items that you will need but might not have chance to get hold of before arriving – matches, loo roll, real coffee, and so on.

Find out if the owner can offer babysitting or can recommend a local firm or person who will, if this is something you’ll require.

Check whether any swimming pools on-site meet safety requirements in terms of self-locking gates and so on, should this be an issue (i.e. if you're travelling with young kids).

If you opt for a larger property with family or friends, do make sure that all families will get some privacy in the form of their own bathroom and preferably even a separate wing.

With larger groups, organize a rota for cooking, cleaning, shopping and perhaps even babysitting/childcare, so that everybody gets some time off.

If holidaying without family or friends, think about trying to find a gite in a complex with communal amenities, so that kids will have other children to play with.

Offer of the Week

Children in the vegetable garden at Westin Costa Navarino.
Save £500 per family at this super stylish family-friendly hotel on mainland Greece. Travel between 16 Feb – 24 Nov. Book by 28 Feb.


What would be highest on your family holiday bucket list, if budget were no issue: :
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