There’s just a week to go before the family and I fly out for a fortnight at our pad in the Costa Brava. As you can imagine, the excitement is building chez Way. But people do ask whether we wouldn’t be happier trying something new each summer. So I’ve done some brainstorming with the wife and kids (aged 11, eight and five) to find out what we all especially look forward to when we’re at our holiday home. As you’ll see, often it’s the simplest things that bring the most pleasure.
The morning croissant run
The five-minute stroll from our holiday home to our favourite bakery, Bellsolà in Riells, is the perfect way to ease yourself into a Mediterranean day. Go early enough and the streets are calm but ooze a sense of anticipation for the busy day ahead. Shop-owners and restaurant staff are opening up shutters, mopping their section of pavement, putting out chairs and tables, some enjoying a quick coffee and cigarette in the gentle morning sun.
A two-minute detour takes me via the seafront, where the beach is yet to fill up and the water in the bay flat and glass-like. Often, I’ll sneak a quick café solo and people watch for ten minutes before following my nose to the queue for croissants. “Why can’t every morning be like this?” I’ll be asking myself, trying to work out logistically how it could be.
Then it’s back home to hungry little ones, hoping I’ve got the breakfast order right. It’s not easy, given the different flavoured croissants available – natural, butter, almond, pain au chocolat, or chocolate (different to pain au chocolat). Once in a while my eldest throws a curveball and requests an apple pastry, while my youngest has now discovered they do ‘cute’ mini croissants. Rest assured though, whatever they choose is a helluva lot more exciting than the regular bowl of Weetabix they get at home…
“Why can’t every morning be like this?” I’ll be asking myself, trying to work out logistically how it could be.
“The pizzeria where we played with dough”
Like all regulars to a resort, we have our favourite spots near our holiday home for eating. Inevitably with a young family, a lot of pizzas get eaten during our holiday and a favourite spot for doing this is ‘Pizza Pazza 1’ (No. 2 is further round the bay). It’s actually more than a pizza/pasta joint, with its natural charcoal grill for BBQing meat and its excellent seafood dishes. The kids remember it as the place where the chef in the funny hat once gave them each a splodge of pizza dough to play with. Brave man!
But its location is a huge part of its appeal – for all of us. It has a long sweeping terrace next to a large pedestrian area, with strategically placed boulders for climbing on, and this in turn drops down to a sandy beach with further play things for children. The only hint of traffic is the odd cyclist. Typically, a boy or two will be kicking a ball around or a gang of local and foreign children will be engaged in some game or putting on an impromptu display. Puddings polished off and charged with carbs, try stopping my kids from joining in.
From our carefully chosen table, wife Katie and I will have an uninterrupted view of them running around and entertaining themselves. Dare I say it, we can actually relax while out for dinner with three young children, which makes those few glasses of wine all the more enjoyable. The view isn’t bad either.
Walking home after dinner one year we stumbled on a ‘family-friendly’ foam party by the beach. Within seconds the children were amongst it, giggling away like hyperactive bubble-monsters. Needless to say, it made a lasting impression!
During the summer months, the resort around our holiday home is very good at hosting free events geared towards families, including discos, live bands, acrobats – we once watched some women 10-feet up on stilts walk past us during dinner – and foam parties.
Walking home after dinner one year we stumbled on a ‘family-friendly’ foam party by the beach. Within seconds the children were amongst it, giggling away like hyperactive bubble-monsters.
Local legend has it that one of the area’s best-known night-clubs, Fata Morgana in Sant Pere Pescador, helped pioneer Spain’s foam-party club movement. As we discovered first-hand, tamer versions for all the family are held on the seafront at various days during the summer. The children have started asking if there’ll be one during our time at the resort. If there is, evidently I’ll be there…
Daily doses of ‘Cacaolat’
A staple of the Costa Brava and wider Catalonian diet is a drink called ‘Cacaolat’, at least in your formative years. A chocolate milkshake made with a secret formula, Cacaolat (pronounced ‘cack-ow-lat’) is native to the Barcelona area. Rather curiously, it’s hard to find in other parts of Spain.
My kids are so in love with the stuff they’re rarely without a chocolate moustache during their time at the holiday home. They struggle to get their heads around why it’s not available back in the UK. I thought the same when I was their age. It’s best drunk chilled, and, a bit like Coca-Cola, it tastes better from the old-fashioned glass bottles rather than the more common plastic ones. Being readily available in cartons or bottles in most supermarkets means I have to fight for beer space in the fridge after a grocery shop.
Katie still tries, but I’ve given up trying to ration the family intake of Cacaolat. It’s futile. And after all, we are on holiday.
Treats you can eat and drink were always going to feature heavily on this list, so cue the rotisserie chicken. You see them spinning round on those rotisserie machines in most resorts up and down the Iberian Peninsula. Try and stop your mouth watering once you smell them. I see them as the Mediterranean’s answer to a healthy-ish form of fast food. They’re certainly an affordable and very tasty way to feed a family ravenous from a day spent sliding on and off inflatables in the pool.
We have half a dozen or so rotisserie outlets near us. However, my favourite is attached to a supermarket and has a little bar with a make-shift seating area. “Una cerveza y dos pollos con fritas, por favor”. Conveniently, the box on the back of our scooter fits my order perfectly…
A day at the water park
Like the Osborne bull sign that used to break the horizon on hills across Spain, it’s the towering slides of water parks that now mark the hazy skyline at intervals along the Costas.
Our nearest to the holiday home, called AquaBrava, is a 30-minute drive away in Roses on the other side of the Bay of Roses. A trip there generates exceptional levels of excitement rarely seen in our household. It’s the only day of the holiday the kids are happy to get up before 9am. Highlights are so-called ‘wild rides’ known as the Cobra and Anaconda. It’s just a shame that in high season the only thing resembling a snake is the queue for them.
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I lucked out last year. I was feeling lousy with an infected tooth. This meant I had a genuine reason to spend the entire day spread-eagled on the grass guarding the bags. I’m working on this year’s excuse to avoid having to ride the Cobra and again end up spread-eagled in slightly less comfortable conditions…
You might frown at this one, but I am happy to admit to treating the children to gentle scooter rides in the quiet roads behind our villa. After doing it once, it became one of ‘those things’ we do in Spain. I’ve done it since they were wee nippers. Naturally, they fight to go first and time each other’s turn to check they’re not being short-changed.
My Dad used to do it with me and my siblings. That said, rules were different when I was a lad. These days, things are a lot more stringent and rightly so. When I first started zipping in and out of cars around L’Escala I was in my mid-teens, usually in just soggy trunks and a pair of frayed espadrilles. Back then no-one even bothered with helmets and you could pile friends on the back of the bike willy-nilly. We had a few close calls… Anyway, I know I can count on you not to dob on me to the local policía.
A holiday home is a real treat that many families look forward to coming back to again and again. If you’re thinking of buying but want a more affordable option, have you considered buying with family to give you a home to share? Make sure also not to miss your tickets to Your Overseas Home if you’re buying in the next 12 months – the shows are carefully tailored for serious buyers, with expert legal and financial advice.