Ten years ago my wife and I organised a family villa holiday in the Algarve. There were 16 children and grandchildren and it was such a success that we have been constantly asked – ‘when is the next one’.
With children and much older grandchildren scattered around England, Ireland and Scotland it’s a mammoth job getting everyone together. There are not too many villas that can accommodate what’s now grown to 22 people, with a pool and games for the children. But the Algarve does have some mega-villas that are affordable during the off-season and it also has a well-deserved reputation for great late autumn sun.
At 4am in late October, Gatwick is shrouded in a chilly mist so our well-deserved touch of luxury was valet parking and a man (from www.ilovemeetandgreet.co.uk) is waiting at departures to take our car and will bring it back in ten days time.
Two and a half hours later Faro airport was dazzling with sun glinting ominously off large puddles. Rain had soaked the Algarve the previous week but our luck was in and we didn’t see a drop in ten days. The sun shone every day (around 22 C) although the evenings got chilly.
We hired a car using Car Trawler and they found us Goldcars who provided a new 5 door Audi A1 for £85 for 10 days, with free additional driver. An impressive price until we were asked to pay for a compulsory tank of petrol costing an overpriced 80 euro; even with daily use we returned it half full so the real cost was nearer £140. They also did a very hard sell on buying their collision damage excess insurance for 100 euro whereas I’d bought annual cover in the UK for £40. They were also less than honest about the necessity for renting a toll fee collecting device for use on the single toll road.
It pays to check out all the small print before selecting a hire car, the terms and conditions are always less advantageous than the big print implies. I picked up a significant car park paint scratch which cost me 380 euro, again well over the actual repair cost, but I should be able to claim it back with my UK excess cover insurance with ‘insurance 4 car hire’.
Our villas location was uninspiring but the villa itself was great; it was actually five interconnected villas around a heated pool with outside table tennis, pool table and barbeque, which meant the children were always entertained and the adults got to relax.
We put someone from each family on the hire car insurance so all five sub-families could go off independently.
With the end of the season approaching, nowhere was very busy but most places were still open. Kids swam with dolphins, went crazy in a water park, did some hair raising paragliding, rode Segways and we all took boat rides along the glorious coast of craggy limestone rocks, caves and grottoes.
The beaches all along the Algarve are superb but because it’s the Atlantic the sea is never warm. The central Algarve, including resorts like Albufeira and Carvoeiro, is highly developed and has been nicknamed suburban villa land, but it’s ideal for renting a large family villa.
The Algarve is a great family holiday destination, where you can go to the beach with the kids in your shorts and T-shirt, have lunch on the beach, big entertainment complex’s are not far away and in the evening the eating options included – Italian, Indian, Chinese, Portuguese, English, steak house, there was even an American diner.
Parts of the coast are a bit like Blackpool with sun but you only need to travel a few miles north into the countryside and traditional Portugal reappears.
The beautiful town of Silves sits beside the River Arade and perched on the hills behind are a medieval castle and an ancient windmill. Silves is one of those rare towns where history and modern life seem to get along just fine. Little cafes and restaurants spill out onto cobbled streets, there are more locals than tourists and there’s not a tacky entertainment venue in sight.
So, was the family holiday as good as the one 10 years ago – sadly not? Some of the older kids fell out with each other and their mums got agitated. Trying to organise for 22 people was just too much and created too many opportunities for teenage personality clashes.
Some useful advice: First, if arranging a multigenerational family holiday make sure you do it whilst the grandchildren are younger and before the family gets too big – do it sooner rather than later. Secondly, the organisers should stay on for a few days in a nice hotel when everyone else returns home, this might just be when grandma and grandpa’s holiday really begins.
A word of warning for drivers: The east-west A22 motorway was made into a toll road in late 2012 but no one collects the fee, charges are made electronically. Check whether your hire car has a Via Verde device installed, which automatically debits the cost of your journey. Without this device drivers have to find a Post Office to pay the fee between 2-5 days after using a toll road or receive a fine – so it’s impractical to use it when returning to the airport. It’s easy to avoid tolls by using the original National 125 road, which covers the same route but with more roundabouts.