Autumnal Lake Bled
Slovenia is cooling down in October, but it is a spectacular time to see Lake Bled’s woody fringes burst into flames of colour. Hilltop Bled Castle towers over its northern shore, and children will love the cruise to the fairytale island in the middle of the lake, as well as the Indiana-Jones-style walkway at sheer-sided Bled Gorge. Families can stay at River Camping Bled, where simple alpine cottages come with heating, private bathrooms and kitchens. From this rural base, visitors can kayak on the River Sava or cycle the 3km to the lakeshore.
From £128 a night for five adults and two under-12s
Sicily enjoys average highs of 22C and similarly balmy sea temperatures in October. The island’s south-east corner is packed with sights – a succession of baroque towns so beautiful they’ll make you gasp, and an obsession with sweet treats that will delight the kids. Take a tour of Noto, Syracuse, Ragusa and Cefalù, cities that are dripping with architectural gems, on the hunt for granita, cream-stuffed cannoli, and gelato ladled into brioche buns, and visit Modica for its ancient chocolate-making traditions.
Close to a pocket-sized urban beach, Casa a Ortigia in Syracuse sleeps four and costs £159 a night (minimum four nights)
Val de Bagnes, Swiss Alps
Pre-ski season, Switzerland shows a different side to mountain life. It’s a short distance from Geneva to pretty Lausanne on the shores of Lake Geneva, and above, in the Val de Bagnes, 4,000-metre peaks cradle villages in the clouds. Older children will get a lot out of the activities available in the small resort of Verbier, including yoga, mountain biking and a spectacular suspension bridge walk over the Bisse du Torrent Neuf. Lots of activities are included with the free Verbier Infinite Playground Pass, which also offers unlimited cable car rides.
Book a chalet through Interhome, such as the two-bed Apartment Haimavati (£905 a week) with an open fire and huge glass windows
Cruising the Canal du Midi
Running for 240km through the Languedoc from Toulouse to the Med, France’s celebrated Canal du Midi is far enough south for daytime temperatures to average about 21C in October – perfect for taking to the water. Hire company Le Boat has a handful of vessels and easy-to-follow itinerary suggestions for October half-term. Hit the sandy beach at Portiragnes, try watersports at Lac de Jouarres in Homps and marvel at the medieval splendour of Carcassonne and Béziers. The canal locks, tunnels, aqueducts and bridges alone offer simple pleasures for would-be sailors.
Seven-night hire from £649 for a vessel sleeping four, leboat.co.uk
Half an hour from Faro is Tavira, arguably the prettiest town in the Algarve. Its sea of terracotta roofs climbing to a castle, with riverside cafes sluicing through its centre, is utterly charming. And because it’s a major town, Tavira’s restaurants and cafes stay open year-round. Nearby, the islands of the Ria Formosa natural park include Ilha de Tavira, popular with picnicking families for its sublime sands and shallow, child-friendly waters. Stay at a rural quinta, such as the Quinta do Marco, which has 18 hectares of gardens and a pool, near Tavira.
Family rooms are available from £113 B&B in October half-term week at hotelquintadomarco.com
Designed as a conservation project to preserve a handful of Romania’s old rural village houses, Palaga Lodge offers families the chance to truly unplug and get back to nature. The location near little-known Maramures Mountains natural park, right on the Ukraine border, is remote. Accommodation consists of five traditional dwellings converted into spacious holiday cottages, lovingly decorated with French antiques. Hiking, fishing and horse riding are the main activities, and days end around an open fire. If you’re lucky, you might spot wolves and bears.
Seven nights at Palaga Lodge from £720 for four
With about 300 days of sunshine a year and October averages of 24C, the Greek island of Rhodes has miles of sandy beaches to enjoy in autumn. There are also sun-baked ancient ruins and a medieval harbour capital, and autumn is a cooler time for nature walks such as the Valley of the Butterflies. New to the UK market this year, the family-run Amada Colossos Resort has vast pools, family zones and the option of all-inclusive – the priciest sea-view family room with partitioned sleeping spaces is still a bargain for half-term.
From £233 a night B&B at the Amada Colossos for two adults and two children up to age 12, with seven nights for the price of six
Trains, boats, trees, Hamburg
The lively port city of Hamburg has lots to offer families, from Miniatur Wunderland, the world’s biggest miniature railway, to boat trips on the harbour and lakes. Older kids might like the Wälderhaus forest science centre, which highlights the influence of forests on Earth, while in hills to the south sits the Schwarze Berge wildlife park. Appartements an der Elphilharmonie, in the old town, has flats for five available in half-term. Two-bedroom apartment from £691 for three nights, booking.com
For families that can’t sit still, it’s hard to beat Amsterdam for entertainment. There are evening pizza cruises on the canals, or tourists can help clean up the urban waterways on an educational plastic-fishing trip. Older kids will be bowled over by Straat, the larger-than-life 8,000-sq-metre street art and graffiti museum that opened at the old NDSM shipyard last October. In the same vein, there’s also the permanent Banksy exhibition at Moco modern art museum. Fewer tourists this autumn will also make it a good time to visit the Anne Frank House Museum, too.
Riverside luxe-hostel Clink Noord (from £80pn) is a bargain for families, with en suite quad rooms and kids’ activity packs
The Orne region of Normandy offers quiet countryside, with forests, rivers and half-timbered villages – great for an active rural break. Haras du Gazon, in Neuvy au Houlme, is an 18th-century stud farm with self-catering accommodation. Guests can see the horses in training and enjoy the expansive grounds with tennis courts, formal gardens, a covered swimming pool and a games room. Away from the farm there are kayaks on the Orne river, local markets, walking and cycling in peaceful country lanes and trips further afield to medieval Bayeux or bustling Caen.
A week in an apartment sleeping eight from £720 in half-term, sawdays.co.uk