Passing the pre-school test

Passing the pre-school test

It sounded easy enough. About 10 days in the sun, somewhere just one short flight away, which would be suitable for a newborn and a toddler. Years of foraging for bargain long-haul flights meant I was aware of the darkest corners of online travel sites. This would be a cinch.

It wasn’t. The travel industry, I discovered, is largely indifferent to the needs of pre-schoolers. Yes, the brochures and websites trumpet “kid-friendly” holidays, but hardly any mention “baby-friendly”. Those that do seem more “baby-tolerant” than “baby-friendly” – in other words we won’t scowl at your colicky screecher as he deafens the dining room.

As I clicked fruitlessly through my bookmarks, a depressing sense of reality began to dawn. First there was the packing. A simple overnight in Ireland involves a suspension-crippling carload of paraphernalia, so how could we possibly cope with stingy baggage allowances? That aside, there was the flight. Would the little ones’ precarious sleep routine be blown apart by a charter flight leaving at some ungodly hour of the night? And once we were there, would there be enough to occupy our toddler Alex, apart from the small toys we could cram into our luggage? Those fears dissipated when Baby-friendly Boltholes popped up during some late night googling. Here was a site full of “stylish escapes” catering for pre-schoolers. (The stylish bit was reassuring as Google had previously suggested some awful looking dives, where the furniture looked like it had been chewed on or pooed on by little guests.) The collection of villas, cottages, apartments and hotels, mainly in Europe (including one in Ireland), listed an apartment in Murcia that seemed ideal.

Just a daytime Ryanair flight away in the exclusive Roda golf resort, it was kitted out with almost every piece of parental armoury. For the kids there were toys, puzzles, books, CDs and DVDs, bikes, a paddling pool and bath toys, as well as the boringly practical stuff like cots, bedrails, baby-bath, changing mats, kids dishes and cutlery, sterilising equipment, spare nappies and sun cream, high chairs and boosters, a car booster seat and window shades, and most importantly a washing machine.

The relaxation began even before leaving. We’d be travelling light (in every sense of the word) and our packing was effortless – just clothes and a few favourite toys and books. The apartment’s ever-helpful owners, Nick and Jan Pritchard who live nearly, offered lots of practical advice and help, like sending us a stock list from the resort’s mini-supermarket so that we could order essentials online. They even offered to collect the order and had it waiting in the apartment when we arrived, so we could settle in immediately. As it turns out the order was supplemented with some extra gifts, including hand-picked melons and a bottle of Cava.

Although the Dave Thomas-designed golf course draws pretty serious players, Roda is still a family-oriented resort with swimming pools and childrens’ play areas sprinkled throughout. The club house’s bar and restaurant is bereft of those suffocating golfers’ rules about how to dress and behave, but offers a casual atmosphere and even a childrens’ menu. Of course, gated golf resorts aren’t without detractors who claim they are unsustainable forms of tourism development, but Roda’s efficient layout is a welcome relief from the free-for-all development that blights most of the Spanish coastline.

If you want to escape the gated orderliness, the nearby Los Alcazares beach is a bustling spot, full of Spaniards drawn to the warm and safe water of Mar Menor, Europe’s largest salt-water lagoon. Appearing with five-week old Finn, we were quickly surrounded by elderly Spanish ladies, cooing “precioso” in his face and issuing stern warnings about the sun.

Further afield, the city of Murcia is about 50km away and is worth a visit alone for tapas-hopping around the cathedral square – those in the know reckon it has surpassed San Sebastian and Seville for the best tapas in Spain – while the fascinating port city of Cartagena with its Roman ruins is just twenty minutes away.

But on this holiday the real star was the apartment – and the Pritchard’s warm welcome and practical help. Their grandchildren are regular visitors, so they know all about the hour-to-hour demands of a
newborn and toddler on holiday. As well as the practical accessories, the safely fenced-in patio had a paddling pool and water toys, which freed up sunning time for whichever parent was on outside duty.
Meanwhile inside, gentle siesta snores from the other. Sun and sleep? Now, that’s what every new parent wants on holiday.