Isn't it curious how sometimes holidays can take on an almost unreal dream-like quality in the weeks that follow, even though the memories remain so clear and vivid? I've been looking back on these photos and can scarcely believe that they belong to me. Did we really do that, was that really us up there above the clouds???! Did I actually manage to persuade the whole family to climb into a plane and fly twelve hundred miles across land and sea so that we could spend a hot sunny week on a Spanish island? Why yes, I do believe this was Real Life and not just a dream inside my crazy, colourful mind, haha!!!!
So those of you who know a little about my family life during the past decade will know that we have always holidayed in the UK, favouring simple holidays either caravanning*, youth hostelling, staying with family or renting a holiday cottage. We don't generally do hotels (too tricky with 5 of us), and we don't do foreign travel either. This year we broke out of our UK based holiday history and ventured across the sea on a ferry to Bruges in April. It was a short trip, but we so enjoyed it and ever since then I've been consistently campaigning for more travel. The Teen was a tad unenthusiastic (his default setting), but Little Lady and Little B seemed excited about the idea of taking off to holiday abroad for the first time. J on the other hand was dead set against the whole idea right from the start. He hates flying, dislikes travel in general and is happiest when his feet are on Yorkshire soil.
It took months and months to get to the point where J gave in we all reached an agreement on the Holiday Abroad idea, and even more time to narrow down our options on where to go and how to go about finding something suitable for all five of us. Never has the age gap between our children been more difficult (they are 8, 14 and 16), but after much discussion we ended up with something of a checklist to work with. Short flights from our local airport, somewhere warm and sunny but affordable, enough beds to sleep in (harder than you'd think for a family of 5), self catering, preferably with a private swimming pool (this was my own personal tick box), WiFi (how can Teens even breathe without it?), a quiet resort with beach, shops and restaurants all within walking distance of our accommodation (we didn't want to drive whilst on holiday). So....lots to consider. It took a huuuuuuuuge amount of time and effort to search and search for our holiday, and Dorset began to look more and more appealing to be honest. But finally, after a determined last ditch effort and some creative online searching, I managed to co-ordinate affordable, well timed local flights with a modest 3 bedroom villa, and with less then three weeks to go I took a leap of faith and booked it.
So at the start of August we flew to the Spanish Balearic island of Menorca, somewhere we'd never been to before but it sounded in theory like a good place for us to spend a week relaxing in the sun. The small resort where we stayed was very sleepy and quiet despite being a popular tourist destination, and I couldn't believe how little traffic there was on the roads. We arrived in the early afternoon in crazy-hot blazing sunshine, and as we meandered about the small town finding our bearings we suddenly came upon this...................
............our first view of the local beach. Wow, just.....WOW!! The colour of the sea was breathtaking and even more beautiful in real life than it had looked on my computer screen. The resort is called Cala en Porter and although it seemed a little old fashioned in some ways, it was great for the type of relaxed, low-key holiday we were after.
It was 3pm by the time we were able to access our villa, and I don't think we've ever been so grateful to see a pool of cool water. As you probably know, the weather here in the UK at the start of the summer delivered record temperatures, but nothing had prepared us for the slamming heat of a Spanish island experiencing a heatwave. It was H-O-T and humid in a way that we just don't ever get to experience here in England, around 36 C (97F) on the day we arrived wearing our English clothes. However, with a week stretching ahead and nothing better to do than lounge about the place dipping in and out of the pool, I was optimistic that we would all adjust to the heat pretty well.
Our villa was a single storey white washed home with a colourful, light-filled relaxed holiday vibe and I liked it the moment I stepped inside.
The main living area and kitchen were spacious and open plan with a high vaulted ceiling, tiled floors and huge doors which opened to the outside at the front and back. There were three bedrooms which meant that we were able to give our eldest Teen his own space, with the other two quite happy to share (Little Lady is generally very easy going about these kinds of things). There was also reliable WiFi and satellite TV (which had UK children's TV, a godsend for Little B during those scorching hot afternoons), and with the luxury of having our own private pool, everyone was really very happy with their leisure prospects.
The only major downside was the lack of air conditioning, which made sleeping at night pretty difficult. The temperature and humidity remained very high at night, and although we kept the rooms shuttered during the day and had portable fans in the bedrooms, it was almost impossible to cool down enough to sleep properly. It left us feeling very low in energy during the day, which wasn't too bad for the most part (we were mainly lounging around which requires very little energy), but J definitely suffered the most. He was like a bear with a sore head and as the week progressed, he became increasingly grumpy with his lack of quality shut eye. With hindsight, we would most definitely add air conditioning to our checklist next time!
Early mornings were my most favourite time of day by far, and I absolutely loved being up and about outside at 6am as the sun was starting to rise.
The temperature at this time of day was absolute perfection. I would sit at the end of the pool with my feet dipped in the water, sipping a mug of hot coffee and listening to the gentle sound of the bees buzzing around the flowers.
The garden at the villa was fabulous, and probably the best part about the whole place. It was a large, private space with different seating areas including a large table and chairs for eating, five sun loungers and the above shaded area which became Little Lady's place to chill out during the heat of the afternoon. The villa was situated right on the very edge of the resort (about 15 minutes walk from the centre) and as a result it was extremely quiet. I appreciated the tranquility very much, especially in the evenings.
Every morning a sprinkler system turned on automatically so that all of the beautiful plants and flowers were watered in the hot dry weather. The garden was so lovely!
It's one of the things I really enjoy about being abroad, seeing all the different flowers that would only grow inside a heated conservatory or greenhouse here. Delicate blue plumbago......
....and bright pinky red hibiscus. Beautiful.
But the star of the show was undoubtedly the swimming pool, which was pretty much in constant use from early morning until it got dark at night. When we were thinking about our holiday and making a checklist of must-haves, a private pool was at the top of my list. I've never stayed in a villa abroad before - the idea of having our own private space seemed like such a massive luxury to me, and something that I was keen to experience if we could find something affordable. I wanted to be able to relax beside the water knowing that my Little People were safe, and for them to have the freedom to be in and out of the water as they pleased.
On our first day we bought a couple of inflatable rings, a lilo and a ball from the local supermarket, and they provided endless entertainment for us all. In the late afternoon once we had rested in the shade/indoors for a while, we would all go into the water together to play. I would set up a makeshift pool-side bar (cans of Coke for the Little People, and cans of Spanish beer for J and I) and it was often the highlight of my day. I looked forward to my four o'clock beer and playtime very much!
As the heat was so intense for much of our week in Menorca, Little B found that he wasn't easily able to sit outside during the day. He would be absolutely fine if he was in the swimming pool, but the sun was simply too much for him to handle. Luckily I'd thought to pack a box of surprise Lego for him which he was really delighted with. Each day he would make one of the models, then at the end of the day I would break it all apart ready for him to build something else (3 in 1 Lego is fantastic!). He also took to playing patience/solitaire by himself as well as reading his book or playing on his tablet, or watching children's TV. He never once said that he was bored (although he often said how hot he was), and I was so thankful for that. In fact, all of the Little People were remarkably happy loafing about and existing in their own little bubbles whilst we were away - the Teens connecting to the world wide web, chatting to their friends or playing games on their phones. The times during the day when we all came together as a family to eat meals or play in the pool were the times that I enjoyed the most, and I have some truly precious memories stored away in my mental photo album.
Cala en Porter resort is a mixture of small hotels and apartments mixed in with lots of private villas, and with the majority of the buildings being low and whitewashed with lots of trees and flowers growing in abundance, it was a lovely place.
As you can see, the beach is situated within a deep rocky inlet which makes the sea very shallow and very calm. I was sooooo looking forward to a dip in that cool turquoise water, and I was genuinely surprised when nobody else really shared my enthusiasm....eh????!!!!! I think that the very hot mile long walk from the villa (which included a steep descent down a huge flight of steps), followed by a dip in the super-salty water and a towel laid down on hot sandy-sand did not hold much appeal compared with the ease of poolside life.
But I worked my best persuasive skillz on the Fam and we did make a couple trips down to the beach during the week to swim amongst the fishes. One evening, just Little Lady and I went down to swim - it had been an especially hot day, and after our evening meal I had a sudden urge to throw myself into the sea, so off we went. It was around 7pm I think, with very few people still in the water (the beach was in full shade by that time of day), but I loved being able to float around gently in the water and gaze at the sea and sky - all that blueness was intoxicating for my sea-loving soul!
So....that steep descent down the huge flight of steps that I mentioned? Ah yes, well what goes down must also come up and the return ascent was an absolute beast!! I am not very fit I have to say, and my legs resembled jelly by the time I got to the top huffing and puffing and sweating buckets. It's funny, but looking at the above photo there is really no evidence of the heat whatsoever. The whole stone-filled image looks surprisingly cool in fact, but please do not be deceived. We climbed these steps several times in the blistering heat and it was no easy thing.
But the steps were very pretty, surrounded by lush greenery and rambling flowers and I was able to make frequent stops to catch my breath, rest the jelly legs and admire the morning glory growing wild all over the rocks.
One the very best things about staying in the villa was the fact that there was a full kitchen, complete with a ginormous fridge and freezer. It made a massive difference to the overall relaxation of our holiday, and was also very budget friendly. Cala en Porter is a small resort, but due to the high number of self catering villas there are four supermarkets right in the centre. The supermarkets weren't huge, but they were fantastic for the type of food and drink that suited us - lots of fresh fruit and salad, a mouthwatering selection of cured meats and local cheese, bags of salty snacks (amazing nuts!), Spanish chocolate and magdalenas (we ate loads of these!), and of course drinks. We kept the freezer stocked with ice cubes and ice lollies, and the fridge stocked with lots and lots of water. Fizzy drinks and lollies were saved for our afternoon pool-side treat and the Little People were fine with this. We also got through a large volume of watermelon - so refreshing in the very hot weather to snack on ice cold slices of this fruit.
I was more than happy to do the catering while we were away as I love creating family meals and didn't really feel the need to take a break from that just because I was on holiday. I have friends who will only ever go to hotels where they have all inclusive access to food all day so that they don't have to cook or go shopping, but this isn't for us. Many of our meals were non-cook anyway, so it was more a case of just slicing things up and arranging stuff on plates. I wish I had taken some photos to show you, I created some very impressive mixed platters of meats, cheeses, olives and salad (oh those Spanish tomatoes were divine), and with pretty much every meal there was the most delicious fresh bread. I don't think I've ever eaten quite so much bread in one week!
The nearest supermarket to our villa opened at 8am, and J took on the daily job of walking down to forage for breakfast. Within the supermarket there was the most amazing bakery - it was tiny with just a small serving counter, but every morning J would come back with a couple of still warm rustic baguettes and brown paper bags of croissants. They were utterly delicious I have to say, and made breakfast a real treat. Being British, of course we had packed our own beverage bags in our suitcase to bring to Spain - Yorkshire teabags, and a new discovery for me - Coffee Bags! They were really pretty good actually, not quite as good as fresh ground coffee, but they made a decent mug for me to savour with my croissant each morning.
We did eat out a few times during the week, a couple of times we went out for breakfast (Spanish milky coffee is really blinkin' good) and we ate two evening meals out. I enjoyed the luxury of those meals out very much, but found the intense heat really knocked my appetite off kilter. On our last evening we had a fabulous meal in a Tapas restaurant which we all loved - it was great to see the Little People's enthusiasm for trying so many different types of foods (Little B took a real liking to calamari, much to my surprise), and it was a great end to our time in Menorca.
One of the nicest things about being on this type of holiday is the almost total loss of time awareness. We didn't have any schedules to keep to, or any place to be other than right where we were staying, so we were free to go with the flow as the days unfolded. Due to the extreme heat, we decided early on (like the very first day) that it wouldn't matter too much if we didn't venture out to explore. The whole point of the week was for us to spend family time together and for us enjoy total, sun-filled relaxation, and I think we managed that in spades.
My second favourite time of the day after the early morning was the gentle lull in the late afternoon after a day full of sun and swimming and before I needed to make food happen. We discovered sparkling rosé wine in the supermarket for around €2.75 a bottle which was absolutely scrumptious - light, fruity and refreshing and it was my favourite thing to drink towards the end of the day. I loved the fact that we didn't need to dress for dinner either - we always ate outside and often the Little People would come to the table straight from the pool with just a t-shirt thrown on over the swimwear. The laid back nature of our picnic-style dinners, and the slow, leisurely way our days and evenings rolled by was a joy, and one of the things I most treasured about our time away.
It surprised me a little that we didn't feel the need to head into the resort in the evenings, as in the past when we holidayed Before Children, the night life was always something we really looked forward to. We knew the resort had music bars and various entertainment acts happening every night, and yet we were more than happy to stay put at our quiet, peaceful villa. I think the Teens might have enjoyed a bit of nightlife, but they never seemed to mind the quiet way we did things. We took to all sitting outside as the night descended, waiting for the stars to pop out one by one - Menorca is known to be excellent for star gazing due to the very low light pollution and very clear skies. J and Little B had great fun using a "star walk" app on the tablet, which enabled them to identify and name the stars we could see. Isn't technology amazing?
With all the leisure time at our disposal, you would be correct in thinking that I did not set out on holiday without some crochet to hand. I took my woolly felting yarn, as with only 7 x 50g of yarn it squished down quite small. The days were way too hot to even think about holding a strand of wool in my hands, but during the early morning and in the evening while it was still light, I really enjoyed settling down onto a sun lounger to hook up some rings of colour. I read a lot on my kindle during the week too, some light hearted, fluffy, happy-ending romances which are my secret guilty pleasure. Books kept J happy too - he is a voracious reader and managed to get through two humongous paperback novels during the week.
I know for me personally, I never for one moment felt bored with the huge amount of sunny hours at my disposal, but then I am very, very adept at idling. I can drift and daydream and be perfectly content gazing at the sky or the flowers, or floating around in the cool water dreaming up future projects (I had crazy-exciting big creative ideas hatch inside my mind whilst I was away!). I was also exceptionally tired in the weeks running up to our holiday when I was working on the Yarndale Butterfly project, as well as producing content for the Yarndale brochure and a couple of other small design commissions. I was SO grateful for the type of holiday which allowed me to fully rest and recharge at a time when I really desperately needed it.
As for the rest of the family, well I'm not too sure to be honest. I know J frequently told me he was bored and missed home, and I know the lack of sleep really did affect him especially towards the end of the week. He questioned the money we had spent on the holiday and whether it was truly worth it (I felt like it was, but I'm pretty sure he would say otherwise). The Little People all seemed to enjoy the week, and it certainly was wonderful to watch them at play in the water and with each other.
We've had a lot of family discussion since we came home about the holiday, and whether we would do something similar again in the future. I would jump at the chance as I genuinely had a wonderful time and came home feeling beautifully relaxed and rested (but there must be air con next time!). J thinks we should think about a different type of holiday with less lounging and more "doing", in a climate which is less of an endurance test.....he could be onto something there, and possibly we might look at some European travel which doesn't involve being up in the air. I can honestly say I would pretty much go anywhere, via any mode of transport as I love to experience new things and new places......it's exciting just thinking about the possibilities. But then again, we'll probably just book a cottage in Northumberland next year :)
For now though, it's enough that our Little People had the chance to visit a different country and swim in a warm turquoise sea - I hope the memories will stay with them long after their childhood years have come to a close.
*I wanted to tell you about Connievan - for various reasons we needed to let her go earlier this year and I had a lot of difficulty coming to terms with the loss. Silly I know, but I dearly loved that battered old caravan and we had such good, good holidays with her over the years....she is missed! x