The road to vacation relaxation doesn't always lead to the beach—even when traveling with toddlers. Read on for all the reasons we love a family city break, and where to go on your next urban adventure.Read More
Dispatches from around the world
Passported's Monique Thofte is the office expert on Southern Italy, and we're all regularly asking her advice on everything from where to eat in Positano to where to stay on Capri. She recently visited Puglia's Borgo Egnazia (one of the best spots to book this summer) and shared her tips on what to see in the area and where to eat while exploring this special part of Italy.Read More
A 30-minute drive from the South Beach scene, and close to all the luxe shops in Bal Harbor, Four Seasons opened its newest Florida hotel in the Surf Club estate in March 2017. Five years in the making, the property now has five Richard Meier–designed glass towers housing the 77 hotel rooms and separate private residences. Unchanged, although meticulously renovated, is the 1920s clubhouse and its famed loggia known as Peacock Alley—now the setting for Le Sirenuse Miami, the first outpost of the Positano original. Passported’s Monique Thofte got a sneak peek of the property in the spring and raved about the huge bedrooms, elegant spa, and “chic” (really! check out the pics) kids’ club.Read More
Whistler regular, Passported contributor and mom-of-two Cathy Fedoruk recently snuck in a stay at Vancouver's stylish Hotel Georgia en route to her mountain retreat. She shares what to know (and love) about this Rosewood property, and why she'll be returning.Read More
Family travel begins with the babymoon—a chance to slow down before the baby arrives, squeeze in a dream trip before more complicated travel logistics, or just lounge in an adults-only infinity pool while you can. Read on for some of our favorite babymoon destinations, whether you want a far-flung escape in France or brain-off staycation in NYCRead More
Tips on navigating Florida's most famous theme park with kids plus a bun in the oven.Read More
Leave the heels at home, forget your make-up and tell the office not to call. Families looking for a true escape from city life are skipping the scene at the Hamptons, Nantucket and Malibu and succumbing to the lure of the American West. But it’s not just the drop-dead landscapes and pristine wilderness that are pushing the cowboy life to the top of everyone’s wish list.Read More
June in New York is all about outdoor eats, rooftop drinks, festivals in the streets and movie nights with a view. Read on for our pick of city events to celebrate the start of summer… with and without the kids.Read More
Last week we shared some of the best hotels for plotting a romantic escape to Italy. This week, we're focused on where to feed your love. In other words, these are the best spots to binge on fresh pastas, fish straight from the sea, and just about every other delicious delicacy that brings us back to Italy year after year. Bring the kids, book a sitter, do whatever it takes to live la dolce vita to the hilt (and worry about the diet later).Read More
London is shrugging off its annus horribilis and rolling out the red carpet to visitors with a glut of luxury hotel openings from city veterans like Four Seasons and Soho House to newbies including the teams behind the Experimental Cocktail Club and NYC’s Gansevoort Hotel. The trends? The City (aka London's financial heart) is no longer just for business travelers, Shoreditch is still drawing the cool crowds, and Londoners love a members club. Read on for the new arrivals topping our London lust list.Read More
Whether you're getting hitched or celebrating a few (or more) years of surviving marriage, few spots top Italy's Amalfi Coast for its combo of romantic hotels, drop-dead views and fantastic food. And though this Mediterranean paradise may be booked to capacity already for much of the summer, we're still squeezing in couples sneaking away for that perfect Italian escape. Here's how to do it up right.Read More
Kitesurfing isn’t a new sport, but we’ve never seen so many requests for family trips that include kites, and not the fly-in-the-park variety. The follow-up question to where to kite surf is often: is there a kids’ club? Which makes sense, since the parent left in charge of the kids while the partner is off pursuing his or her passion is usually looking for a little downtime of their own. To help you fanatics out, we’ve mapped out our favorite resorts that have kitesurfing from their own beach, as well as a few others with the sport nearby.Read More
An NYC native, journalist Mara Hoberman lives in Paris with her husband and adorable toddler, already an experienced world traveler. Mara is also expecting her second child soon, so for a final family adventure, she and her brood skipped down to Country Kids, a picturesque French farm resort near Montpellier in the Languedoc-Roussillon region. Read on to see why the Passported team is now pining for some clean country living.
What We Wanted
Having lived in France for nearly five years, I had heard from friends and colleagues about “agritourisme” (farm-stays), where you can holiday at a working farm. Although I do not personally find the concept of being woken at dawn by roosters or learning how to milk a cow particularly appealing or relaxing, it all sounded like heaven for my animal-obsessed two-and-a-half-year old son. So, with spring break coming up, I decided to look at possibilities in this vacation sub-genre that just might please us all. At seven months pregnant, I was not willing to even attempt roughing it, so I wishfully Googled: “luxury-farm-stay-France.” The first hit that came up, Country Kids, seemed almost too good to be true.
Had I stumbled upon the Club Med of farms? My fantasy morphed into reality as I read more about this all-inclusive resort-style country farm claiming to be “a paradise for kids, a holiday for you.” On its website, Country Kids describes an on-site daycare for the wee ones (3 months–4 years,) a kid’s club for ages 5–12, a spa, a private chef, daily housekeeping, and acres of farmland to explore. Miracle of miracles, this renovated 19th century Roquefort dairy in the south of France (bonjour, wine country!) seemed to tick all the boxes for our ideal family getaway.
Before We Arrived
As soon as I contacted Country Kids, I knew my family would be in good hands. Sylvain, who bought the property in 2015 and runs it with his wife, Laure, answered all of my questions promptly and in perfect English. (English, in fact, is the official language of Country Kids, and most of the front-of-house staff are Brits, as were the original owners.) “Farmer Syl,” as we came to call him, described the accommodations and the amenities and promised a relaxing time for all. As he put it, “You will not have to lift a finger.”
With four 3-bedroom apartments and one 2-bedroom apartment in the Old Dairy, a 5-bedroom Farm House (perfect for a family reunion or friends traveling together), and a 2-bedroom cottage, Country Kids is the size of a boutique hotel and can accommodate 16–18 adults and 18–20 children. On-site activities for kiddos include mini-golf, a heated pool with waterslide, tennis, a mini soccer field, a zip line, a trampoline, and of course the farm animals (goats, pigs, sheep, chickens, bunnies, donkeys, and a horse, are just a 5 minute tractor ride away and the kids go with Sylvain to feed them every morning.) For the adults, there is an on-site wine cellar that hosts wine tastings from local vineyards, yoga, a spa, an adults-only pool, and excellent childcare at the crèche or kids club from 10am-5pm. We booked the 2-bedroom apartment in the “Old Dairy” and started to count down the days till our vacation.
Thanks to a simple pre-arrival form, I was able to let Country Kid’s private chef know about our family’s various diet restrictions (mostly my own pregnancy-related ones) and was assured that substitutions would not be a problem. Given that we would be arriving in the late afternoon, Sylvain proposed stocking our fridge and freezer with gourmet foods, so we wouldn’t have to run to the supermarket.
Meandering over to the side of the windy road as we made our way up into the beautiful hills of Languedoc region, a friendly and inquisitive heard of donkeys were first to welcome us to Country Kids. Five minutes further down the road, past the barn and a picture perfect blue and orange tractor, the farmer and his wife greeted us at the entry gate. My husband and I took in the beautiful landscape of olive trees and fragrant jasmine while enjoying refreshments while Julian, our son, immediately ran off to play on the pétanque court with Laure and Sylvain’s children, under supervision of their English-speaking nanny.
Right from the start, everyone was warm, welcoming, and relaxed. Unlike other upscale resorts in France, the vibe at Country Kids is refreshingly casual. There is no “Madame” and “Monsieur” pretentiousness and, in fact, all of the guests’ first names were written on a chalkboard next to the bar/general store, which serves as a hub where guests can always get hot and cold drinks, snacks, frozen meals, and information from staff. We toasted the start of our vacation with some of the other arriving guests and then checked into our spacious two-bedroom apartment. My husband and I were excited to see the large Jacuzzi bathtub with a view over a blossoming chestnut tree, while Julian immediately got to work inventorying the chest of toys in his room.
The next morning we were visited by Country Kids’ concierge, Alice, who had great suggestions for activities to keep us entertained, well-fed, pampered, and relaxed on- and off-site. We booked a pony ride for Julian, a spa treatment for mama, and chose two restaurants for date nights (during which Country Kids provides complimentary babysitters.) Then, it was off to the crèche to introduce Julian to the staff and other kids. I must say, I was skeptical whether he would be willing to leave us much during the vacation, but once he saw the soft play area and child-size tractor, he could barely be bothered to wave good-bye. “Go enjoy lunch by the farm house,” said one of the crèche staffers, “We’ll play, feed him here, and then have a nice nap.” I winced, thinking about how my husband and I struggle to get Julian to sleep—especially in a new place, filled with new faces and excitement—but decided to go with the flow. Later, as we were tucking into a delicious cassoulet prepared by chef David and served en plein air in front of the Old Farmhouse overlooking the swimming pool and verdant grounds, an envoy from the crèche came by to discretely let us know that Julian had eaten well and fallen fast asleep. I felt myself relax deeply. This just might work!
And work it did. For me, our week at Country Kids was the most relaxing vacation I’ve experienced as a mother. The childcare staff and facilities are top rate and Julian was happy going off to crèche everyday from about 10–4:30, when a happy hour/snack is served to all guests. Each time I dropped him off, I told him he could always ask for Mama and Papa to come get him. He never did. Between BBQ picnic lunches, bike (er, trike) riding, the sandbox, the jungle gym, animal grooming, the soft-play ball pit, and small “hikes,” he was having the time of his life. The added bonus: my husband and I had time to read, swim, spa, relax, and reconnect. When it was time to get Julian after crèche we were refreshed and excited to hear what fun activities he had been up to that day.
A week at Country Kids can include as much or as little activity as you like. Most guests stay one week, though the lucky ones book for two. In the low season (April–June and September–October), everything is à la carte from activities to meals (childcare is always included.) Lunch can be ordered from the chef and served anywhere on the property and at dinner you can order chef-prepared frozen meals or self-cater using food from the small, but well-stocked on-site market. For those who enjoy cooking, I highly recommend going to the weekly marché in nearby Clermont-l'Hérault (Wednesday mornings.) We came back with delicious produce, cheeses, and meats that lasted us for most of our stay.
For those who have never visited this region of France before, a trip to Country Kids during the low season has the advantage of leaving you feeling free to take some excursions off the farm. (During the high season the package is truly all-inclusive and you may not want to venture off-site since you are paying for all meals and activities.) Within easy driving distance you will find charming villages, like medieval town (and UNESCO world heritage site) Saint-Guilhem le Désert, and many natural attractions (Lac du Salagou for swimming, paddle boats, sailing, etc; the Hérault river for summing and boating; and Mediterranean beaches where Country Kids can book you access to a private beach club, if so desired.) There are more than a few Michelin-starred restaurants in the region and oyster lovers won’t want to miss a meal in the picturesque port of Meze. One of the best meals we had was at the unassuming restaurant La Palombe, which happens to be within walking distance of the farm, in the tiny town of Octon.
During the busy and coveted summer season, Country Kids, kicks into high gear and becomes an all-inclusive resort with all food, wine, spa treatments, and more built into a week-long package. High season (July and August) rates are about twice as expensive as during the low season, but for those who don’t want to budge during vacation, this period is best. Wine-lovers, for example, won’t have to venture off site in order to sample the region’s vintages. Sylvain’s cave, stocked with local wines (except for champagne, mais bien sûr), is open 24/7 and one evening per week, Country Kids hosts a wine tasting and tapas party.
Pros and Cons
Here’s what made Country Kids a great family vacation for us:
- The talented, friendly, and knowledgeable staff was attuned to the needs and desires of guests of all ages.
- Finally, we were able to travel light! Country Kids’ baby-proofed apartments come ready with whatever gear you might need. Check in with Laure in advance and everything from a baby bath, crib, and high chair to a shelf full of English books and an age/gender appropriate toy chest will be ready for you at check-in.
- The pool house is stocked with swimmies, kickboards, hula-hoops, beach balls, swim diapers and (shhhh) ice cream!
- The kids pajama party on the Friday before we left meant that crèche staff came to pick up Julian at 7am, while we enjoyed a leisurely morning. (This was the first time I slept past 9am in over two-years!)
- Julian absolutely loved “driving” Famer Syl’s tractor down to feed the animals each morning. He proudly took a bucket of our food scraps (each apartment is equipped with such a bucket) to feed to the pigs, sheep, and goats. Another exciting morning ritual for the kids was collecting fresh eggs from the chicken coop—we had the best omelets ever during our week at Country Kids.
Some food for thought:
- With so many return guests, Country Kids books up far in advance. Many families book a year in advance, or more, to be sure to they get a spot in the high season. Sylvain is already taking bookings for 2018, so don’t delay!
- Coming from Paris, Brussels, or the UK, travel to Country Kids is relatively easy by air or train to Montpellier or Carcassonne where you will want to rent a car for the week. Those coming from the US may find that connecting flights and trains, make for a more complicated arrival and departure. Think about combining a week at Country Kids with some time in London or Paris on either end of the trip.
- Country Kids encourages socializing among guests (adults and kids alike) with group activities and meals planned throughout the week. Though it is possible to keep to yourself if you wish (there’s always a quiet nook to read a book or catch a nap), families who definitely do not want to mix and mingle while on vacation may not enjoy the tous ensemble ambiance.
- Country Kids may be the size of a boutique hotel, but the décor inside the apartments and houses is not super chic. If interior design is an important factor in your vacation happiness, think twice before booking as the furnishings are comfortable, but certainly not the main focus of the resort. The vibe is country cute and comfy, not shabby chic or chateau luxe.
Favorite Finds Nearby
DINNER: La Palombe
We were surprised and delighted by the sophisticated menu at this quiet, beautiful spot with indoor and outdoor seating. Leave the kiddos at home and book this romantic restaurant for one of Country Kids’ babysitter nights (two are included as part of your one week stay.)
DAYTRIP: Saint-Guilhem le Désert
This well-preserved medieval village is along the pilgrim route to Santiago de Compostela in Spain and is classified as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. Kids will love exploring the car-free cobble stone streets and racing France’s largest plane tree, which graces the central square (a charming spot to enjoy a crêpe or ice cream.) New Yorkers will be interested to know that part of the cloister from Saint-Guilhem le Désert’s gorgeous monastery was moved to the Cloisters Museum in 2009.
SHOPPING: Weekly Markets
The weekly local markets in Lodève (Saturdays) and Clermont-l'Hérault (Wednesdays) are great places to stock up on farm-fresh produce and regional delicacies as well as souvenirs like woven baskets, local pottery, herbs de Provence, lavender soaps, and Camargue salts.
Passported contributor Elisa Carbone Brown is a bit of a hero around these parts. She travels well, has a nose for sussing out the best guides, sends back reports of amazing restaurants, and often she does it all while wrangling her three kids solo. Seriously, she rocks. She recently shared some of her Napa Valley tips, which is a place everyone in the office is dreaming about now that spring has finally sprung. Read on to get Elisa's tips on where to stay, what to sip, and more.Read More
The St. Barth's season extends far beyond the winter. In fact, one of our favorite times to visit is spring and summer, when prices on the legendarily expensive hotels drop to more reasonable levels. This year, the island welcomes a new crop of stunners, from beachfront resorts to chic hilltop hideaways. Here are the places to scope out on your next getaway.
We've always said that St. Barth's is more South of France than Caribbean, and the arrival of the Sibuet Group's Villa Marie pretty much seals the deal. That signature Sibuet style transitions perfectly from St. Tropez and the Luberon to the hilltops of Colombier in this 18-room charmer, a quaint collection of bungalows and small villas.
Although Le Toiny isn't new to the island, its beachy redesign, larger villas and private beach club are, so we're calling this a must-see—and a must-stay. Every suite has a private pool plus plenty of space to fit a family, if you decide to bring the kids. Us personally, we're fantasizing about a responsibility-free getaway here stat.
Kitesurfers, take note. St. Barth's Grand Cul de Sac Bay is one of the best spots (we recently talked about some others), putting this beachfront resort square center on every kiter's wish list. But with a pool as photogenic as neighboring Le Sereno and a La Mer spa, you might not make it beyond a lounge chair.
We're often asked for our favorite spots to grab a meal in Jackson Hole. These are the standouts, from date night to family apres.Read More
A New York family with two young children (and another on the way) recently returned from a stay at two of Oahu's most kid-friendly resorts, the new Four Seasons Oahu and Aulani, a Disney resort. And lucky for us, they were willing to share their feedback with the entire Passported community! Read on to see what to love about Hawaii's newest Four Seasons, and maybe find some inspiration for your next family getaway.Read More
You only get 18 summers with your kids. Make them count. Passported partner Paws Up is offering a special summer promotion for our readers. So pack up those cowboy boots and let's plan a trip to the ultimate dude ranch.Read More
For years, we’ve been praying for a decent hotel to open up at one of New York's nearby ski mountains. Scribner’s has come to the rescue. Read on to see what why we’re making repeat trips to Hunter this year.Read More
In light of this East Coast whopper of a storm, we're sharing some photos of a place we'd rather be: Anguilla! Photographer Michael Edwards, whose credits include Sports Illustrated, Glamour and Vogue, recently spent time on the island while shooting supermodel Ashley Graham. He shared snaps from his stay at one of our favorite hotels, Malliouhana, and it's pretty much all we want to think about today.Read More