Silvia Bastos, 46, from Lisbon
Every year we spend two weeks in our house in Ribatejo province, in a village called Moreiras Grandes, 12km south-west of the town of Tomar, central Portugal. The house belonged to my great-grandmother and I went there every summer as a child. Now I want my own children, aged 12 and nine, to have a connection to the land. We plant trees, pick grapes from our vines. They have a freedom there that they don’t have in the city.
Very few foreign visitors make it here and most Portuguese prefer to go to the beach, so it is very quiet. It’s much greener than the Alentejo, to the south – people sometimes call Ribatejo the Tuscany of Portugal – and it’s also cooler than the south. The nights are usually fresh. When we bring friends here they can’t believe how beautiful it is.
One of the best things to do is spend the day by the Zêzere River or Castelo do Bode, a 66km-long lake formed in the 1950s when the river was dammed. In the past few years the lake has become more geared up for tourism and now there are places offering water sports, such as wake boarding at Lago Azul in the town of Ferreria do Zêzere.
Tomar itself is beautiful, with one of the best monuments in the country – the vast, Unesco-listed Convent of Christ, originally a 12th-century Templar stronghold. It’s surrounded by castle walls and its various cloisters were built over several centuries, in different architectural styles.
We usually eat at home because we have planted so many fruit trees and plants, as well as vines, and it’s great to eat – and drink – what we grow, but in Tomar there’s a fun medieval-themed restaurant, Taverna Antiqua, that serves traditional dishes, like boar with wild berries. Grelha do Zêzere in Ferreria do Zêzere is also great – it serves regional cuisine, especially grilled meat.
Tomar and the river are jewels of Portugal, yet few people explore them.
• Stay at Quinta da Anunciada (doubles €65-90), a historic country house with pool, 2km from Tomar
Interview by Isabel Choat
Czech Republic: Orlické mountains
Ondřej Vach, 36, from Prague
I spent my childhood holidays at my grandfather’s cottage in the Orlické mountains, and though I have always lived in Prague, it’s the place I consider my true home.
The region, about a two-hour drive east of the capital, is attractive yet very humble, full of forests, cycle paths and nature reserves – and completely under the radar. There are no big hotels or expensive restaurants; it’s a peripheral tourist area where Czechs walk or have fun in the wild river – and that’s why I like it.
I have been returning there with my wife, Jana, since I met her in 2012, and now that we have two small daughters – Janička, aged three, and Klárka, three months – we head there for our family holiday each summer.
The iconic symbol of Orlické is undoubtedly Masaryk’s Chalet (Masarykova chata na Šerlicku), a three-storey green cottage built in the mid-1920s in honour of the first president of Czechoslovakia, Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk. During the second world war it was seized and used as a place of recovery for injured Nazi pilots, then the communists occupied it until after the revolution in 1989. It’s a fascinating site to walk to, with peaceful, unspoiled nature all around – and you can stay in lodge-style rooms for a good price, too (€14pp with breakfast).
The Pastviny Dam (Vodní nádrž Pastviny), on the Divoká Orlice river, is another great place to visit, especially with kids. It’s 6km long, and is the last stone-made dam in the Czech Republic. It’s incredibly beautiful. My grandpa’s cottage was in this valley, it’s where I learned to swim. You can hire rowing or pedal boats, or just splash around in the clear water.
A good base for exploring the region, and where we usually stay, is Žamberk, known as the gateway to the Orlické mountains. It’s a modest but pretty town with a rural atmosphere.
There are two great restaurants – Imrvere, a very typical Czech restaurant, which does excellent roast duck with dumplings, and Kanec, which is also the local brewery pub. The name means wild boar, and I often head there for their strong, unfiltered lager and a plate of utopenec (pickled sausage).
Oh, and do you know the British band Reef? Singer Gary Stringer and bassist Jack Bessant played at Žamberk’s JamRock festival a few years ago and were so impressed by the area they wrote a song called Road to Žamberk – then came back and played the festival for free the following year!
Interview by Mark Pickering
Denmark: Helgenæs peninsula, Jutland
Esben Thorup, 37, from Copenhagen
Like many Danes, my grandfather bought a plot of land in the 1950s to build a summerhouse on. The Helgenæs peninsula is pretty rural – it’s known locally as the “snot drip” of Jutland (there’s a bump on the east coast that looks a little like a nose). It’s so off the beaten track that most Danes have never even heard of it. There are lots of fields around and it’s surprisingly hilly for Denmark. Some say it looks a little like Scotland.
The house was built with two tiny bedrooms, one for my grandfather and grandmother and the other for my dad and my uncle to share, as well as a kitchen, a living room and a toilet. That was it – no bath, you just washed in the sea, 100 metres away. Because it’s on the east coast, the water is calm and it’s great for swimming. When I was small my family would spend three weeks here every summer. We swam, ate strawberries and ice-cream and the sun was always shining – at least that’s how I remember it. It isn’t fancy (although we did install an indoor shower in the 1990s) but I love it – my wife and I even got married here.
We drive over from Copenhagen every summer with our three kids – aged one, four and seven – to spend time with my parents, my brothers and their families, and my uncle’s family. My dad built another small house on the same plot to fit everyone in, but there’s usually still someone sleeping on the sofa or the floor.
Not a lot goes on here – but that’s part of the attraction. To get to the house you have to go down an overgrown track, and there’s hardly any phone signal. We spend our time swimming, talking, walking and barbecuing. There are a few local artists – potters and painters mainly – who sell work from their houses. You can go windsurfing and there’s even an annual surf festival. There’s also fishing, kitesurfing and paragliding – the steep slopes leading to the beach give great uplift for catching the wind.
If we’re ever in need of fancier attractions, we go to Ebletoft, an old port town 30 minutes’ drive away with a population of around 7,000 (this is “the big town”). There are a few visitor sites there, such as the glass museum, Glasmuseet Ebeltoft and Fregatten Jylland, which houses the world’s longest wooden ship. It’s also nice to just stroll around Ebeltoft’s old streets; sometimes we’ll get some craft beer from Ebeltoft brewery – they do a nice IPA.
We eat pretty simply when at the summerhouse – we might pick up some salad leaves, new potatoes or fruit grown from the produce stands with honesty boxes dotted along the roads. And there’s a small fishing hut at the top of the peninsula where a fisherman and his son smoke fish and sell great seafood.
I wish I could tell you what it was called and how to get hold of them, but the hut doesn’t even have a name, let alone a website. Just thinking about it brings back fond memories for me. Helgenæs is a special place that’s tightly bound to my family. It feels like “home”.
• Sol Og Strand (sologstrand.com) has a selection of holiday homes in Helgennæs, starting at €302 a week in high season for a wooden cabin sleeping four
Interview by Helen Russell
Croatia: Premantura, Istria
Daniel Dragojlović, 35, from Zagreb
At the end of the war in Croatia in 1995, my grandmother bought an old stone house in the village of Premantura, south of Pula. It was a safe area for my twin brother Davor and me to go, because it hadn’t been affected by the war. A cousin of ours had bought a piece of land nearby and said, “Oh, you have to come and see this little town. It’s magical.”
What’s so special about this peninsula, Kamenjak, is that there is untouched nature and untouched beautiful beaches. It’s the only part of Istria that has a proper Mediterranean climate – completely different from anything else.
At the far end of the peninsula are 10 to and 15-metre-high cliffs that you can jump off. There are also caves, a lighthouse and, apparently, dinosaur footprints. When we were kids we found it fascinating. It still feels magical. You take your bike or walk, to find spots where you can be on your own and not see anyone.
A favourite beach is Velika Kolombarica, whose cliffs are often featured in Croatian tourism ads. Just above it is the Safari Bar, which has a great story. This Croatian guy who used to work in Switzerland decided to live like Robinson Crusoe, so he made this bar out of practically nothing, just materials he found on the peninsula, or in the sea. We walk down to Kolombarica, jump off the cliff, go to a cave, and then go back to the bar for a drink.
We usually cook at home but sometimes we’ll go inland to villages that do truffles and homemade pasta. Istria is the land of truffles. In Banjole, up the coast towards Pula, there’s a restaurant called Batelina where the chef creates dishes using types of fish and seafood that fishermen would normally throw away. It also does amazing pasta and bottarga (cured fish roe).
Most of the accommodation in Premantura is private apartments and villas, but the recently opened Premantura Resort has a pool and doubles from €85-€175 B&B.
We come to Premantura every August with my parents and grandmother, and we still have friends we met here when we were young kids. Some of them live in Zagreb, some in other cities in Europe, but they all have houses in Premantura and now return every year with their own families. So these connections are still going strong.
Interview by Mary Novakovich
Gréta Klibán, 38, from Budapest
Péter and I have been together for 10 years, and for almost all that time we have spent part of our summers in Nyíregyháza-Sóstófürdő, eastern Hungary, a 2½-hour drive from Budapest. It is 60km from Debrecen, where Péter grew up, so the area is especially nostalgic for him. We are fortunate to have a house here, built by Péter’s grandparents, which gives us a deep connection to the land. Though these days, even friends from Luxembourg and Belgium join us here because they love the relaxed vibe.
The centrepiece is Sóstó Lake, which is surrounded by an oak forest for nice long walks. People come to bathe and run around the track. We like to take a paddle boat out on the water.
Our six-year-old daughter and four-year-old son are fans of the Aquarius Experience and Park Bath, which has a wave pool, slides and thermal waters. They also like the massive Nyíregyháza Zoo, where they always head to the Oceanarium first.
Tourism has really started to blossom here in recent years, and now there are lovely homes to rent and charming hotels to stay in, like Aventinus (doubles from £58). The upscale Hunguest Hotel Sóstó is opening this summer, and we are excited about checking it out. A bridge will connect it directly to Aquarius.
Every day, the kids crave ice-cream, usually from the atmospheric Omnia gelateria at the bottom of an old water tower. We sometimes eat at Colorado Steakhouse, which has a kitsch American wild west feel, with lots of wood.
For something lighter than steak and pulled pork, we’ll eat alfresco at Italian restaurant La Terrazza, which has magical views of the lake. Afterwards, if we are lucky, there will be live music at Krúdy Vigadó. This beautiful terrace is where everybody comes together to chat, drink, and savour summer evenings.
Interview by Alia Akkam
Spain: Guimerà, Catalonia
Elisa Minguella, 43, from Barcelona
Every August, I go with my husband and two daughters to Guimerà, a tiny medieval village on a hillside in a quiet, rural part of Catalonia. It’s only 130km west of Barcelona but it feels a world away from the city and the crowded beach resorts.
I’ve been coming to Guimerà for as long as I can remember. My great-grandfather was the mayor there, and my father was born in the house where we stay each summer. In the winter only a couple of hundred people live there but in the summer it’s full of families, almost all of them with a connection to the village going back generations.
When I was a child, I would spend the entire school summer holidays in Guimerà with my brothers and my grandmother. I had complete freedom to stay out all day with my friends, and I encourage my girls to do the same now. They love the novelty of going to the bakery on their own to buy bread.
In August, my whole family gathers in the village: my parents, my two brothers, uncles and my cousins with their families. It can get pretty crowded in the house, Cal Belleta. Every house in the village has a name and that’s how we know which extended family people belong to. People ask: “De quina casa ets?” (Which house are you from?)
There aren’t any hotels in Guimerà but it’s possible to rent a large house for far less than it would cost in more touristy places. Cal Caig (sleeps 11, on airbnb.com) for €120 a night; and Ca l’Anxica (sleeps 12) with a private pool is €1,650 a night or €590 for a weekend.
The best way to discover the local countryside is on foot via one of the many walking trails. My favourite goes along the river Corb, passing the ruins of Convent de Vallsanta. There are also many places in the area to enjoy traditional Catalan food – we go to Cal Feliuet in nearby Belltall, where we always order snails.
The day out we love the most is at the medieval market of Guimerà, which is held on the second weekend of August (10-11 Aug 2019). Everyone from the village dresses up in medieval costumes and each street is dedicated to a traditional trade, such as glassmaking. At night we put on a play based on a story from the history of the village, followed by fireworks from the tower. For me, the best part of the event is the way everybody comes together to make it happen. It’s that sense of community that will keep us coming back to Guimerà.
Interview by Annette Pacey
Italy: Capo Circeo, Lazio
Federica Cannone, 42, from Rome
My father has a house in Borgo Montenero, a small village 100km south of Rome in a pine wood surrounded by fields of watermelons and strawberries. The place is super quiet but there’s a farmers’ market every weekend, an excellent little pizzeria called La Pizza in Piazza, and a grocery store and post office.
The charming coastal town of San Felice Circeo is 10 minutes’ drive away, home to Spiaggia Capo Circeo beach, a sandy strip of stabilimenti balneari (quintessentially Italian beach clubs with rows of sunbeds and umbrellas). It gets fully booked in August, often by families who have been going for generations, so my husband and I go round the headland to Saporetti beach, right by Monte Circeo. Its restaurant, Ristorante Saporetti, is on the beach: I always go for the salad niçoise and, in the evening, fantastic (if a tad pricey) fish dishes. We like coming here because we know pretty much everyone now, from other families to the lifeguard, Carmelo, who’s been there for decades, and the owners of the stabilimento.
The area is relatively unknown to foreign visitors, who tend to head further south to the Amalfi coast or stay much closer to Rome, in Ostia. It’s a shame: Circeo is super-easy to get to (you can be here in just over 1½ hours from Rome) and it really has some beautiful beaches and pristine water – the area has been awarded a blue flag for the past three years.
There are plenty of places to stay: lots of agriturismi or B&Bs. One of my favourites is Podere Bedin (doubles €75-110); the owners are friendly and the restaurant uses local products.
The area is part of Circeo national park, which runs along the coast of Lazio, spanning forests, marshes, sand dunes, Lake Paola, the island of Zannone and stunning sand dunes. The Istituto Pangea Onlus offers trails and trekking excursions as part of its eco-educational programme, and there’s also cave diving, lots of cycling routes, and kayaking. Water Life, a company owned by local B&B Proprietá Scalfati, (doubles from €140) is our go-to for kayaking trips. You can also get to Ponza, the largest island in the Pontine archipelago, in just an hour from the port of San Felice Circeo (boats depart everyday at around 10am).
Circeo’s food and drink are also a big draw. We always go to Cantina Sant’Andrea, not far from Borgo Montenero, where you can fill your own wine bottle straight from huge casks. Aperitivos are cheap and well-done pretty much anywhere you go. We usually go to Saporetti’s St Bar for an aperol spritz at sunset, and we really like Tiki and La Terrazza, too – both in the old town of San Felice Circeo.
If we aren’t eating at home, we tend to go to Il Grottino, which has branches in the old town and the port. It’s the nicest trattoria, and their linguine all’astice – with white wine, parsley, tomatoes, garlic and astice (small lobster) – is phenomenal. Locanda degli Artisti is quite popular too, and more experimental – they do things like ravioli cacio e pepe with black truffle and seafood; prawn tartare with pine nuts and orange reduction; and scallops on a mousse of mushrooms and sundried tomatoes. And Ristorante Antico Molino, by our house, specialises in buffalo meat and mozzarella.
Interview by Marianna Cerini
The Netherlands: South Limburg
Majella van der Horst, 44, from Haarlem
Whenever we ask our children (aged 11, seven and six) where they want to go on holiday, they always say, “We want to go to Oma’s campsite,” meaning Camping ’t Geuldal, a friendly campsite surrounded by fields and woods in hilly South Limburg, where their grandmother spends six months of the year in her caravan, and where my husband holidayed as a child in the 1960s. We live in Haarlem, near Amsterdam, and compared with the city, the beautiful Geuldal region is quiet and green. You can swim in the Geul River, cycle and take long walks.
For a fun outing, we go to the town of Valkenburg, which has caves and the ruins of a 12th-century castle. There’s also a chair lift from the valley station, just south of the town centre, up to a summer toboggan centre where you can rocket back down the hill through a metal half-pipe on a sort of sledge on wheels. Our kids love getting a milkshake and a slice of Limburgse vlaai (fruit tart) at Cup & Vino in the town’s historic centre, or having a pizza at La Casa, whose fries are served with the best mayo we’ve tasted (they refuse to share the recipe).
Most of our time, however, is spent on the campsite. We’ve stayed there five years in a row, sometimes for up to six weeks, first in a rented chalet and now in our own caravan. All our stuff is there, so I just pack some clothes and off we go. The kids can be totally free and play outside all day or take part in on-site activities such as ball games, a mini-disco or caring for animals at the petting zoo. If the children are happy, we can relax too. I read, lie in the sun and work a bit on my laptop. As long as the kids still love it there, we’ll keep on coming.
• Camping ’t Geuldal is 10km from Maastricht; tent or motorhome pitches in high season €17-22 plus €3-4pp. Holiday homes around €600 a week high season, based on four sharing
Interview by Deborah Nicholls-Lee
France: Finistère, Brittany
Nicolas Tanguy, 50, from Nice
I was born in Finistère, the westernmost tip of mainland France, and loved telling people where I came from as it means the fin de terre – the end of the Earth! When I was a teenager I used to go cycling around on my own or meet my friends and we would explore the Odet river, riding past the giant blue and pink hydrangeas and on to Sainte-Marine, a tiny port on the opposite side of the estuary from Bénodet, which has since become a notable yachting centre.
I left the end of the Earth to study and work in Paris, where I met my wife, who is Australian, and we’ve travelled all over the place. Now we live in Nice, south-east France, and for 15 years I never thought about going back to Brittany, but then a few years ago my wife wanted to see where I was brought up. We went back to Sainte-Marine, sat under the giant white parasols of the Café de la Cale on the waterfront and took le bac (the ferryboat) across to Bénodet for an ice-cream at Bankiz. It was just magical, so now we go back regularly.
It’s all about the simple pleasures. We always have the blé noir (buckwheat) crêpe: a complète (ham, eggs and cheese) or a caramel au beurre salé from La Misaine. If we want seafood, we have a plate of langoustines – Sainte-Marine is the French capital of langoustines, which locals affectionately call demoiselles (maidens). The day’s catch still comes in at 4pm, heralded by squawking seagulls, so we always go down to see what the côtiers (small fishing boats) have brought in. There’s a tiny, sandy beach there too.
The bilingual French-Breton street signs make it feel very local and distinctive. The stone houses have slate roofs and the ambiance is part-riverbank, part-seaside. Towards the ocean and sand dunes, there are lots of protected natural areas, where very little building is allowed.
On our last trip we put our dog in the bicycle basket and went riding behind the dunes to the places I used to go to as a boy. You can cycle to Île-Tudy on the opposite headland, which has a huge white sand beach. Much further west (you need a car) is La Torche, which is famous for its tulips and for holding the world windsurfing championships (it’s one of the best windsurf spots in France).
Sainte-Marine has a fantastic hotel, the Villa Tri Men (doubles from €97-265 room-only,) so this year, for my birthday – a big one – we ate in the restaurant there, Les Trois Rochers, and next morning took the boat out to the beautiful Glénan islands from Bénodet (adult return €36).
The whole area is perfect for puttering round in a boat. I’m even thinking about taking my boat licence!
Interview by Jon Bryant
Germany: Lychen, Uckermark
Bert Schulz, 45, from Berlin
This summer will be the fourth year in a row that our family – my wife Claudia and my two daughters Rosa (nine) and Tilda (seven) – will spend our summer holiday in a beautiful place called Lychen, in the rural Uckermark region. It’s little more than an hour’s journey north of Berlin but feels like a world away. Unlike much of the rest of mostly flat Brandenburg state, it is quite hilly. Getting there from Berlin is very easy – we don’t have a car so we take a train to Fürstenberg (one hour) and then ride our bikes 15km to Lychen.
Every year we book one of two rental flats in a converted farmhouse called Hof Georgenhoehe (from €52-82 a night for two plus €9-13 each additional peron) a little outside the town.
One apartment used to be pigsty and the other was a stable. The place we rent has two bedrooms, and a terrace looking out over the countryside that is lovely to sit on in the summer.
The place still has a few farm animals (pigs, a couple of old Highland cows, chickens and a small flock of sheep) but these days they are kept as pets. In the morning the first thing the kids do is go and collect eggs from the chickens, then they’ll feed the pigs, visit the farm cats and so on – it is a great way for children from the city to learn more about animals.
We often go for a run in the mornings and there are several lakes nearby to swim in – our favourites are Wurlsee, which is walking distance from the farmhouse, and we can cycle to Grosser Lychensee and Rutenberger See.
In the town of Lychen (population 3,000) there are a couple of decent German restaurants (Gasthof am Stadttor is our favourite) and bars (the Stadtkrug and the Gaststätte zum Dicken) if we don’t feel like cooking.
A bit further away is a very good Japanese-style restaurant called Tenzo Gasthof, run by people who quit Berlin for life in the countryside.
With kids this age, cycling is definitely the best way for us to enjoy the region, but others explore it by canoe or houseboat – the lakes in the area are all linked and you can sail around for weeks at a time.
Interview by Kit Macdonald
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