Relaxing holidays with young children. Is that even a thing? The last time we ventured abroad, I spent most of the time on high alert manically hovering over an 18-month-old whose idea of fun was walking round the edge of the pool without armbands, precariously dipping a toe in now and again. Now the boys are older, it will be a doddle, we think to ourselves.
So, off to the sun we head, and after a five-hour flight with Jet2 during which my children surprised even themselves by being generally well-behaved – barring an early seat-kicking incident – we arrived on mountainous, sandy and windswept Fuerteventura.
One of the most easterly Canary Islands, just south of Lanzarote, the island was declared a biosphere reserve by Unesco in 2009, and it certainly has some spectacular scenery. The interior landscape is brutally beautiful – imagine the Cuillins of Skye without any rain – while the long beaches and dunes are dusted with sand carried on the wind from the Sahara.
The Barcelo Jandia Mar is situated just outside the town of Morro Jable, about as far south-west on the island as you can go. The complex is on hilly land and accommodation is on an all-inclusive basis.
Our flight times meant we arrived at the hotel after the dinner service had finished, but the thoughtful hotel staff prepared a great selection of cold meats, cheeses, sandwiches and salads in our rooms, along with some sweet treats to follow.
Accommodation was in one of the newly refurbished Barcy Family Suites (Barcy is the Barcelo kids club mascot). The two rooms were adjoining with interconnecting doors. The children had a triple bunk-bed combo, and their en-suite had a double walk-in shower, meaning that two boys could be hosed down at once. In the adult room, the super-king bed provided a relaxing base, and both rooms opened on to a vast shared balcony with views to the sea and beyond.
The first real experience of all-inclusive was at breakfast the next morning when we were faced by a huge buffet offering selections from all round the world, from churros to rye bread and Coco Pops to anchovies.
There is a definite difference between seasoned buffet-goers and newbies like us. The range of food was overwhelming and some serious strategy was developed in order to get two adults and three children fed and watered in an efficient manner. We got better at it towards the end of our week, but those first buffet meals were a bit of a blur.
And, while the buffet food was good, the hotel also has an à la carte restaurant with most packages over seven days allowing guests to eat here once within their all-inclusive plan. It gets booked up quickly so unfortunately we weren’t able to try it out.
The Jandia Mar is primarily geared up for families. With that in mind there are lots of activities to keep the children occupied while you work on your tan. As well as two large pools and one small, shallow one outdoors, there is also an indoor pool housed within the spa. Children are permitted into this inside pool only at certain points during the day. There is also small playpark, which offers a safe and shady area for running around.
For adults, the spa is peaceful and relaxing (outwith the children permitted times), and the steam room and well-quipped gym were a welcome slice of tranquillity. The spa also offers a wide range of beauty treatments, from massages to facials, which need to be booked in advance.
There’s also a sports pitch, mini golf course and table tennis to keep you active.
The kids club is open every day, and the sessions, which run morning, afternoon and evening, are themed around learning about different aspects of the world, from natural science and conservation to music and art. The friendly staff are ever-enthusiastic, and the children all enjoyed themselves, despite some language issues.
As well as the kids club, which is included in the cost of your stay, there are additional activities which can be booked and paid for on site. The children chose to try out the “Chef for the Day” which involved them making various dishes including a pizza, which they cooked and ate. The team also offers Princess or Pirate packages throughout the week.
It is easy to spend all your time in a hotel like the Jandia Mar, but out of the hotel we had to go. The beautiful beach is a huge expanse of white sand, but between it and the promenade lies a strip of nature reserve which you are only permitted to cross on designated pathways. The hotel runs a bus service to the beach at regular times throughout the day, and this would be recommended if you don’t fancy a big walk.
We also took a day trip to the nearby Oasis Park (www.fuerteventuraoasispark.com). The park originally started out in 1985 as a plant nursery, but today is home to all the animals you’d want in an ark, from elephants and giraffes to monkeys and parrots. The park certainly feels like an oasis as the huge programme of planting adds a welcome shot of greenery and shade into the landscape. The park is big, but well laid out and easy to navigate, with animal food on sale throughout so you can feed the exhibits as well as view them. Highlights included a camel ride and being able to feed the giraffes.
Having tried it once, we’d certainly go for the all-inclusive option again, and while it wasn’t quite the doddle we had imagined, the Barcelo Jandia Mar provided everything we needed to keep the whole family happy.