Are you brave enough to play the generation game? Thanks to months of separation, summer 2021 has triggered a surge in multigeneration family holidays. But are they precious time together or a recipe for disaster? Four writers took the plunge
- UK-based writers share their multi-generational holidays after 18 months apart
- Katherine Spenley visited the Cornish port of Fowey with six family members
- They stayed in separate properties but met daily at the beach and for supper
- Reveals joyous experience inspired them to booked again for next year
SO GOOD WE HAVE BOOKED AGAIN FOR NEXT YEAR
By Katherine Spenley
An hour into the drive, squinting madly into the rear-view mirror, I learnt the first rule of multi-gen holidays: never travel in convoy. Trying to keep pace with my turbo-charged sister-in-law, while watching out for my septuagenarian parents calmly bringing up the rear, was proving stressful. And I wasn’t even driving.
My husband was behind the wheel of the hire car that I had insisted on. The rental, an enormous 4X4, had two drawbacks: the first, it didn’t fit down the Cornish lanes; the second, it connected my phone to the speaker system.
As we scrambled to reroute after a particularly fraught missed turn, my mother’s voice filled the car: ‘You’ve gone the wrong way!’, she boomed, cutting out the sat nav at a crucial moment.
Like many families kept apart over the seemingly endless months of lockdown, we’d all been counting down the days to our holiday together. A close-knit bunch, we’ve enjoyed many wonderful escapes before — but never as a full gang.
Four UK-based writers share their heartwarming experiences of going on a multi-generational holiday (file image)
On our last trip, a lovely long weekend at Chewton Glen Hotel in Hampshire, my nephew, William, was crawling. Now, he is six, and our family has grown to seven — my husband Anthony completing our clan two years ago.
Keen to avoid travel traffic-light hell, and to replicate the British seaside holidays of our childhood, we’d decided on the peaceful Cornish port of Fowey.
Hiring a house was out of the question — nobody wanted arguments over the washing up — but we couldn’t find three rooms together in one hotel on our available dates. So, we compromised, the Second Rule of multi-gen holidays.
My brother, sister-in-law and nephew would stay at Fowey Hall, a super-posh family hotel, and the rest of us would head down the road to The Old Quay, a chic boutique spot on the river. We’d meet up on the beach every day and have supper together whenever we could.
As they turned up the drive to the magnificent Hall we barrelled on to the village rather grudgingly. But this accidental ‘Holidaying Apart, Together’ adventure turned out to be bliss. Because the third rule of multi-gen holidays is: Everyone Needs Space.
Staying separately meant my husband and I could wander off around the village together, while my parents watched the boats from the terrace. Later, we’d head up to the Hall for lunch and watch my nephew play, somersaulting down the sloping lawns in glee.
Afternoons were spent at the beach (full disclosure: we abandoned the 4X4, and hitched lifts with my parents, instead). We ate melting ice creams and salty crisps, built sand castles and jumped the waves together.
There was rock-pooling and boules, kite-flying, frisbee — and the traditional British sport of chasing the umbrella down the beach. It felt like the joy had returned to our lives.
On the last day of our first full family holiday together, we did something else that we’ve never done before — we booked again for next year.
THREE GENERATIONS OF FEMALES INTENT ON FUN
By Katie Fforde
Katie Fforde said one of the benefits of a multi-generational holiday, is having a young person to help with the gadgets. Pictured: Kate Fforde with her daughter Briony and granddaughter Tallulah
After what seems like years of lockdown with my husband, the chance to get away with my daughter and ten-year-old granddaughter was very appealing.
My daughter Briony, who works in the wedding industry, needed some downtime in her busy life and my granddaughter Tallulah was just excited at the thought of going to a glamourous hotel.
I’m a big fan of multi-generational holidays. The whole family went on Briony’s honeymoon to Ibiza so my husband and I could look after our grandchildren, then aged five and three, while their parents went clubbing. They didn’t leave the house until 11pm, so I stayed in charge until 11am. Thank you, Peppa Pig!
This was going to be a little bit different. We wouldn’t be so much a family, as three females determined to have a wonderful time for a couple of days.
The approach to Cowley Manor in the Cotswolds, through woodland and a pair of stone pillars indicating it was once the drive up to the house, is magical.
We’re instantly in the mood to try new things, to relax and move out of our comfort zone. (My comfort zone is about the size of a pillow case.)
It’s a beautiful old house with modern relaxed décor. Tallulah in particular is taken with the animal heads that protrude from the walls in the bar (definitely not from real animals).
There is a room outside the dining room that displays a fine collection of wellington boots for those who want to ramble and forgot there might be mud in the countryside.
It is a family friendly hotel but in the ‘staying with friends who also have children’ way rather than a ‘fun for the kiddies’ way that might mean it won’t be enjoyable for adults. Knowing your children are going to be happy goes a long way to making the adults relax.
There are many advantages to multi-generational holidays, not least having a young person around to help you with the gadgets. I struggled with the coffee machine, especially as I wanted it to make tea. You need boiling water for tea. Apparently, not everyone wants a cuppa at six in the morning. But Tallulah instantly finds out how everything works and makes me think I’d like to take her whenever I’m away.
In the afternoon, Tallulah and my daughter consider having a swim. I consider watching them while I read my book. (It’s a hair thing, and just sitting reading a book is such a treat.)
We fully intend to dress and go to the dining room for breakfast the next morning but discovering we can have breakfast in my room is irresistible. There’s a hen-party-midnight-feast atmosphere as we eat pastries, toast, fruit and yoghurt. And as we leave the Ferraris in the car park and drive away, we agree we’ll definitely do it again — very soon!
cowleymanor.com. A Wedding in the Country by Katie Fforde (Century, £14.99) is out now.
MY DAD DECLARED OUR TRIP ‘A DISASTER’
By Emma Rowley
Emma Rowley said trips away give her family a chance to spend time together without the stress of having to host. Pictured: Emma Rowley and her family plain sailing in Cornwall
Since my parents’ first grandchild was born two and a half years ago, my family has managed no less than four multi-generational holidays: the biggest involving me, my parents, my two younger sisters (both, like me, in their 30s), their husband/ fiancé respectively, and my toddler nephew.
Together, we’ve been to Cornwall twice, for a week at a time, roadtripped round Utah (tacked onto a cousin’s wedding) and just last month enjoyed a minibreak in York.
Which, if it makes us sound like the Waltons, could not be further from the truth.
Growing up, my sisters and I squabbled as easily as breathing: these days, we still argue, albeit much less frequently, but, as then, can make up and move on with head-turning speed. Now, I count them as my best friends.
There is much that can and will go wrong on a multi-gen holiday, but, done right, it can be wonderful and even relaxing.
Since, like many, my family is spread out across the country — my parents in Cheshire, the rest of us in and around London — trips away give us the chance to spend time together without the stress of having to host, or the looming prospect of Monday morning work (my mum and one sister are teachers, my dad an engineer, while my other sister works in tech).
And our multi-gen holidays have given us all sorts of memories that we wouldn’t get from our everyday lives: sailing a Cornish estuary, taking turns at the helm while my nephew falls asleep in his life jacket; long, relaxed conversations over tapas and rosé by the sea; wandering through spectacular rock formations in a Utah national park, nephew perched on someone’s shoulders and enjoying it as much as the rest of us.
Of course, there’s a cost — long-haul flights to Salt Lake City aren’t cheap (although Utah’s affordable once there; we stayed in an off-season ski chalet and ate like kings). But, for us, they’ve been worth saving up for — particularly in the light of the past 18 months, where we haven’t been able to see loved ones as often as normal.
It hasn’t all been plain sailing: the York trip was, in the blunt assessment of my dad on day one, ‘a disaster’ (urban sightseeing, a heatwave, and a toddler off his game don’t mix). Still, retreating to the aircon-ed restaurant of our treat hotel (thegrandyork.co.uk) saved the day.
Which speaks to one of the key lessons we’ve learned: know who you and your family are, and adapt. For us, making a multi-gen holiday a success is not about trying to recreate the bucket and spade, bunkbed holidays of mine and my sisters’ childhood. Every adult or adult couple needs a separate, pleasant room — somewhere to retreat to for time alone.
Likewise, that’s why we’ve so far swerved a villa or shared house: it might be cheaper, but the emotional cost of having to navigate a shopping, cleaning and kitchen rota? Simply not worth it. (Of course, for another family, cooking up a storm together might be just what works.) But, whatever your likes and dislikes, resist the temptation to fall back into your old family roles.
So, it’s everyone’s responsibility to help make plans: my middle sister has developed an alarming but helpful habit of simply announcing something’s already booked — for my slightly chaotic family, it works. Conversely, once away, you don’t have to move as a pack.
If someone can’t face the beach / country walk / Eden Project again, let them be: my dad can disappear with his book for entire afternoons; the engaged sister and her boyfriend have dropped into Cornwall for a couple of days before doing their own thing.
Which is totally fine: you all need to make it a holiday you enjoy, coming together when you can.
For that reason, consider a hotel with a large, comfortable lobby and patient staff — you’ll spend a lot of time there with a coffee or stronger drink, waiting for someone to arrive.
When your siblings have children, a multi-gen holiday is a chance to share their load and spend quality time with the kids: we’ve taken turns babysitting my nephew so that his parents can have a quiet dinner together. Or, we’ll all have an early dinner along with him, or order room service to someone’s balcony — flexibility is, as always on these trips, key.
Most of all, keep demands on each other low: assume that, at any point, someone probably needs a warm bath and a nap (the toddler, too, perhaps).
That means building in time for people to be late; booking meals in advance to avoid last-minute stress (these days, we’re all used to doing that); and, crucially, not acting as if the whole holiday’s ruined by the odd bust-up.
And, if it really does go wrong? At least, you’re never at risk of a ruined friendship — after all, you’re family.
A PRECIOUS MEMORY TO REMEMBER FOR EVER
By Patricia Nicol
Patricia Nicol said her last holiday abroad is a precious memory of the first time that three generations of her family took a trip together. Pictured: Patricia Nicol in Majorca with her sons, Joe and Harvey, and her parents
My last holiday abroad — the first that three generations of my family took together — is a precious memory. More than a year, and a global pandemic later, it seems decreasingly likely that my father, 86 and enfeebled by Alzheimer’s, will ever be able to travel again. Nor my mother, 79, as she is his full-time carer.
My mother, who hadn’t had a foreign holiday in six years, was pining to be somewhere different. Formerly experienced travellers, my parents had lived as Middle East expatriates through my father’s work as a doctor then academic, and then roamed the globe. But old age slowed them down.
They talked about trips but something — a scheduled operation, or social obligation — always got in the way. As my father’s condition progressed, the prospect of escaping their Aberdeen home for the sun gradually became as intimidating as it was inviting.
Where would be appropriate? Also, would they be insured? And might a holiday prove a lonely experience for my mother? Alzheimer’s sufferers — confused, fretting about logistics, often uneasy sleepers — can, even if beloved, be quite tiring company.
The idea that we might go away together was frequently discussed, but logistics were a nightmare. Thank goodness that in the October half-term before the world locked down, my mother and I saw a clear flightpath to a getaway abroad. If not now, when, we thought? Little knowing how wise we were to seize that chance.
We would be a party of five, ranged in age from eight to 84: my parents, myself and my two sons. My husband, Al, had already used up all his holiday allowance.
Patricia said you have the same kinds of worries holidaying with frail seniors as you do with toddlers. Pictured: Patricia and her family on holiday
Majorca was chosen primarily because the flights worked. But also, it was where my parents honeymooned in April 1966, sharing scooter trips up vertiginous mountain roads to honey-stoned clifftop villages like Valldemossa and Deià, the town made famous by the writer Robert Graves.
There were pre-holiday wobbles. My father went in for a minor skin cancer operation, which, depending on the outcome, could void his costly travel insurance. Grey skies and thunderous rain were predicted to roll in just as we touched down in Palma. Would we even be able to use the pools?
But we arrived on a sodden Sunday evening to smiling staff, complimentary Cava, luxurious rooms and delicious tapas at the Hotel Esplendido in Puerto de Soller. My father needed regular reminders of where we were but was nonetheless excited to be abroad.
In the hotel lobby the first day, a receptionist noticed my father shuffling feebly and brought him Nordic walking poles, then suggesting he keep them for his stay.
This was typical of the splendid Esplendido staff. Everyone there, from the bistro’s smiley Cuban maître d’ to the lovely lady who left us a Werther’s Original on our pillow each evening (they’re mad for them in Majorca) was skilfully attentive without being smarmy.
Of course, there were mishaps. On our return from the inland mountain town of Sóller on the first day, we overshot our tram stop and had to make a stressful, embarrassingly public emergency exit. On the second night, after trudging from a nearby restaurant through a sudden rainstorm, my father tripped and crumpled to the hotel bar’s marble floor.
A lone English drinker leapt up to set him right. The relaxed mood of our final dinner spiralled into awkwardness when my father insisted on addressing the Spanish staff in effusive Arabic.
You have the same kinds of worries holidaying with frail seniors as you do with toddlers. You are alert to trip hazards, them going in the pool alone, being unsupervised, or saying something inappropriate. But my father swam. He walked along the seafront every day — and I believe grew stronger.
A late mother, then aged 48, I am part of the sandwich generation, my attention spread thin between elderly parents and children. If my boys Joe and Harvey had been younger, this holiday would have been more challenging. But then aged ten and eight, they were a joy: summoning lifts, providing laughter, entertaining themselves in the pool, then burying themselves in their books.
‘But is your mother managing to have a rest?’, asked the lady from Warwickshire I’d met by the pool. Yes, when the sun broke through, my mother did manage to sit outside and read a whole book for the first time in ages. It was still hard work but, sometimes, a change really is as good as a rest.
Will we manage a holiday like this again? I hope so, but who can be sure, so I treasure these sun-dappled autumn memories.
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