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Planning Retirement Online

Villa Holiday


We took a Villa, the family and a guitar

   by Helen Franks

Helen Franks offers advice on arranging a three-generation holiday  

   Going on holiday in August is something sane people want to avoid once their children have flown the nest.  Sea and sand, buckets and spades - most adults get to an age when they can thankfully put away such childish things and choose grown-up vacations at grown-up times of the year. Until, that is, the grandchildren come along. 

Villa.jpg (10034 bytes)Suddenly, a summer holiday in a villa with our daughters, their partners and their offspring seemed a delightful idea, even though it meant sea and sand and August.

There were a few basic requisites.  Hot weather, we all agreed.   A pool.  At least two bathrooms (there would be ten of us, ranging in age from sixty- something to six months). Dishwasher and  washing machine. Must be near the sea and sandy beaches.

We settled on Spain and found our villa through Vintage Spain.  It was in the

southwest near Conil de la Frontera.  Officially it slept eight (four bed-rooms), with room for two cots for the smallest children for which we had to pay extra. 

There was one bedroom and a bathroom on the first floor in splendid isolation, which we immediately reserved for ourselves.  Three young children and babies keep antisocial hours in the morning and we felt we had earned the right to lend a deaf ear.

  As for the guitar...  It was my younger daughter 's idea.  Three adults in the group can play, and she envisaged nights singing under the stars accompanied by said instrument.

 Who would carry it? asked my older daughter. Us of course.  GWEBs (Grandparents Without Excess Baggage), though we did somehow end up with a share of disposable nappies, toys and baby equipment too.

'We'll look like ageing hippies,' I protested and was told to think 'classical guitarist', as if that helped.  My husband bought a soft carrying case and practised with it slung on his back like a rucksack.  We had to hand it over as we boarded the 'plane and it was handed back as we got off.   No big deal.

If you're lucky, it's only the small things that go wrong on holidays.  We were lucky and they did.   But forewarned is forearmed, so here's your chance to learn from our mistakes…

The first hiccup was to get our shopping list wrong.  The local agents, we were told, would give us a 'starter pack' which I vaguely assumed would consist of salt and pepper, olive oil, toilet paper, detergent.   So we didn't buy any of those.

What we got when we arrived was a mini snack meal for two plus a bottle of wine.   We should have checked in advance.

We planned to arrive first, and had to go into the town to get the keys and address. Parking in small holiday beach resorts in August is a nightmare, but when we found a place we also found that the offices were shut till later in the day. 

The lesson here is to have an out-of-hours contact telephone number so you can let them know your time of arrival.

For this you need a mobile telephone, not only because most holiday villas don't have a telephone, but because it helps you to know the whereabouts of the people you are meeting up with.   Since none of the party had one, this was another case of better-to-be-forewarned.  Mobile 'phones could have saved our children the hassle of getting into town, checking for keys, getting lost on the 8 kilometre journey from the town and the final confusing  route on an unmade track.   (It would have been useful to get  this information in  advance from the agents.)

The villa, when we arrived, looked delectable.  Bouganvillias round the cast iron gates, fields with sheaves of wheat on two sides, a glimpse of the sea from the first floor balcony. To our relief there were secure gates and fencing round the property, so that small children couldn't wander off.  And the swimming pool was fenced, also had a secure gate and a shallow end.  We had asked about the pool when we booked, and had received a noncommital reply. 

On our arrival we realised that fencing round the pool was vital.

The brochure informed that the sea was 800 metres away, which we could walk in twenty minutes, but it turned out to be along a narrow dirt track ending in a climb down a cliff.  Not so good for a family with three young children and their gear. Fortunately we knew through earlier enquiry that it took a maximum of ten minutes to drive to the sea.

Other potential misjudgements worth checking beforehand:

if you are hiring cots, do you get cot linen?   In this case no, but fortunately my daughter thought to ask in advance. 

We might have asked about three sets of keys though we managed on the two sets they gave us.  

The description in the brochure stated clearly than linen and towels were provided, but was vague about other essential domestic items.  We found just one washing up cloth, no dishcloths, no cleaning detergents despite the presence of a floormop and buckets.

Where can you get fresh milk?   You need to know which shops to go to.  In Spain and possibly other Mediterranean countries, most of the milk is long-life, tolerable for adults but less so for children with their excessively sensitive taste buds. And don't forget the tin opener unless you have the knack of using a Spanish one designed for campers - very difficult, very primitive. Where is the nearest supermarket?  There were several small ones within a ten-minute drive, but the nearest large one was an hour's drive away.  How near is the nearest town?  We didn't realise we would have a ten-minute drive into Conil and that a car was essential.

Correct that.  Not one car, but three. For mobility and freedom of movement, a car per family was essential.  It meant any of us could get away from the rest when we felt like it.  The family with the older children could go to the beach in the morning.  The couple with the baby could drive into town for lunch.   We could go off for the day to look at a Roman site. 

In the evenings, we took turns to stay in or go out. We ate our meals on the terrace, watched the sun go down spectacularly, had a couple of barbecues and of course sang accompanied by guitar under the stars.


Questions to ask in advance

        Is the pool fenced off?

        Does it have a shallow end for small children?

        Does the garden have fencing and secure gates?

        Is linen provided, including linen for cots?

        Is there a  good-size freezer?  Dishwasher, washing machine?

        Is there a telephone?  Ideally take portables anyway

        Get the address and clear driving instructions in advance if possible

        Ask for an out-of-hours telephone number

       If the agent offers a starter pack, what is likely to be in it? 

       Check which household items are supplied

       How many front door keys do you get?

       Do you need a car to get to shops and supermarkets?

       How long to drive to the beach?

       Is there air-conditioning?  Few villas have this and ours didn't.   It was hot at night, especially as we were advised to keep the shutters closed against mosquitoes


Vintage Spain   Telephone  01954 261431 

Email:    Website:

Our villa cost around 2,400 for a fortnight in August.



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