When I was little, holidays with my parents were full on, jam-packed and whirlwind. We did all the touristy stuff, where ever we were, walking across big cities, spending hours inside museums and stopping outside every monument for photographs. While I'm so grateful to them for all we saw and did, I wouldn't describe the holidays I remember as restful. We'd be woken up first thing, dressed and ready to fill our plates at breakfast buffets that started with the sun, and then we'd be out the door, all day on our feet. Not for us holiday lie-ins. Not for us lazy beach vacations of doing nothing.
The places we stayed in, hotels and apartments, were simply sidebars, incidental practicalities. Just beds for the night. There was no need for them to be pretty - though they had to be clean and tidy - because we would hardly be there at all. Besides, holidays were (still are) expensive as a family of five. I know that now too.
These were the eighties and the nineties. The days when a travel agent would point at tiny pictures of hotels in brochures for customers to choose from. You hardly had the option of selecting your preferred holiday accommodation based on its interior style. I get why my parents prioritised holidays as being about places to visit and see and take in the noise and culture of a place and not about the accommodation. I guess that's just what most people did, and still do, even though it's so much easier to find so many different kinds of places to stay in now.
Later, as a young 20-something journalist, I used to get invited on press trips. Sometimes, I was put up in suites bigger than my first flat, suites that took up entire floors of whichever luxury hotel I had been sent to. I had never, ever stayed in hotels like this before, where people offered me whatever I wanted to eat, where I had a sauna in the middle of my room or a huge four poster bed or a direct lift straight down to the swimming pool. I'd arrive and text photos to my mother followed by exclamation marks. I couldn't believe my luck. Although now I look back with cynicism at the wasteful way in which this world used to work, at the time I felt dizzy, a little like Andy from The Devil Wears Prada. But once the gloss had worn off, I realised how I really didn't like staying in these big, showy places at all. I'm not really a hotel or resort-kind-of-girl. I find them claustrophobic, unreal, stark and not at all cosy or restful.
Along the way, I've realised how what I really like most about travelling, whether for holidays or (back in the day) work, is just simplicity. Simplicity. And the chance to rest.
So since we started taking holidays together, first just the two of us and now as a family of five, we've always looked for homes to rent while we're away, more space for us to unwind and unfold. More pockets to curl up into.
And we always try to find somewhere that feels and looks special to stay in as much as our budget allows. My mother and siblings would no doubt roll their eyes, but to me where we stay has to be pretty, has to be special, because it makes me feel rested.
Where we stay - the home in which we unpack and move into even for a short while - is as important to me as the country we decide to visit. It's all part of the holiday, and a holiday to me means rest, above all everything else. There's an instant calm, a cool relief, that washes over me when we arrive after a journey into a well-chosen and aesthetically pleasing place that soothes fraught feelings away and feels like a treat, a sanctuary. I'm not talking about five star glamour at all. I'm talking about simple, thoughtful yet beautifully-designed places that consider the ease of the people that live there, places we can temporarily call home even if it's just for a week. They don't have to be expensive or big. We look for clear, uncluttered spaces, cosy and comfortable, white walls, light. We look, depending on where we are, for nature. My surroundings impact how I feel, so I prioritise spending the time to choose somewhere to stay that allows us to unfurl in the way I feel you ought to be allowed to when you're on holiday.
This also means prioritising some time to do absolutely nothing at all, because I think we all need that, the kids as much as us grown-ups. Don't get me wrong - we do stuff, day trips and visits to places we've longed to see, but also some days we don't. My mother might think this makes me sound spoilt and/or lazy but when we do nothing, forgo the mainstream tourist sight-seeing and trips to monuments in exchange for easy garden time and picnic lunches and nearby strolls and pottering around barefoot in a home that inspires you at every turn with its belongings that tell stories, then our surroundings turn those acts of nothingness into togetherness.
And that, to me at least, is what a holiday is truly about. And it is never lost on me that it is such a privilege to be able to do this in the first place. That gratitude makes every holiday meaningful.
My six favourite Holiday accommodation sites
These are my go-to sites to search whenever I want to find simple, beautiful, thoughtful, well-designed and stylish holiday accommodation. Most of them cater for most budgets and while some are more specific for families than others, you can find family friendly accommodation for child friendly holidays within them.
This is the site we use the most now that we are travelling with the children. It features thoughtfully designed and characterful homes for families with young children, so you'll find all the practicalities you need like cots and toys and highchairs, but all in a tasteful, thoughtful way. It can be pricey but not compared to booking extra hotel rooms when you're a bigger family and you simply get so much more for your money. The aesthetics are so inspiring (the image of the living room at the top of this post is via Kid and Coe, and shows the Danish beach house we are staying in this summer).
Another handy website for child friendly and baby friendly holidays which we have used a few years in a row for farm staycations when our older two were smaller. They don't necessarily promote design as a big thing, it's more about making family holidays easier, but nevertheless, it is full of lovely, unfussy yet cosy homes and cottages.
All the properties share a very soothing, contemporary-cottage-luxury aesthetic - incredibly calming. It's a little pricier than some of the other sites I've listed here. We used this more when it was just the two of us, for anniversary trips and birthdays, but I do still like to check here first whenever we're planning a staycations or weekend away.
I love using this website for glamping/ more simple, outdoorsy trips. There's plenty of affordable options for when you just want to escape for a weekend and reconnect with nature a little bit (while still having a lovely environment to sleep in).
I've used Air BnB for years and years ever since it first started, but the sheer volume of properties listed means it can take a long time to find the nicest places. Enter Air BnB Plus, a curated selection of homes with outstanding reviews for all budgets - no more trawling or wasting precious time to find what you really want.
Gorgeous estate agents The Modern House used to have a holiday rental service and it was a dream of mine to stay in one of their carefully curated holiday homes. But sadly, the holiday service no longer exists. This website came to my attention through an article about architecturally-designed holiday homes and while I've never booked through it, it certainly seems to have a lot of thoughtful treasures at all sorts of price ranges. Just look at this, for instance.