Holidays & Travel

Can you have an active holiday with a toddler in tow?

Lauren Taylor heads to the Greek Island of Rhodes to find excellent cycling routes, water sports and childcare.

Explore the beauty of Rhodes by bike on a Greek activity holiday
A group of road cyclists Explore the beauty of Rhodes by bike on a Greek activity holiday (Jay HAYSEY)

It’s easy to assume having children completely changes the way you’ll have to travel, and to some extent it’s true. There are a thousand more practical considerations once you have a little one in the mix, and – depending on their age – there are limitations on what they can do.

I used to love long hikes, epic scenery and generally being as active as possible while abroad, but my three-year-old daughter’s idea of a substantial walk is about 15 minutes.

So, I didn’t imagine I’d be able to do a 50km road bike ride on my first solo parenting trip with my child – yet here I am, having corralled myself a 432-metre single climb to the Rhodes village of Profilia, with around 20 other riders, taking in the cascading hills, olive trees and little white villages of the largest of the Dodecanese islands of Greece. All the while, my daughter is being expertly looked after in a childcare setting back at my hotel.

With sustained 10% inclines, this is the steepest single climb on the road cycling programme at Mark Warner’s Kamari Beach Resort, and for those last few twists and turns, legs burning, the cheerleading from lead cyclist, retired professional Eleni Tsavari – who just so happens to be a 27-time Greek champion, European and World Champion in track and road before she retired three years ago – was appreciated.

“Five hundred metres to go! You got this!” she calls as she rides just ahead, and with legs like jelly in dry heat, I can finally enjoy an iced coffee at the top.

Eleni is a Rhodes native and out of all the Greek islands (Crete is famous for its cycling routes too) she believes here offers the most on two wheels.

“Honestly, it’s not because I’m from here, I think this is best. We have perfect weather – even in winter it’s 15 or 16 degrees, or at worst, six to eight degrees but still nice. We have a lot of uphill. We have good quality of tarmac and when you get out of the centre of the towns, it’s totally empty [on the roads]. In the winter there’s no cars at all, only the local people live here so it’s perfect.”

Every year, she says, Rhodes is becoming a more famous cycling destination, rivalling the likes of Mallorca, and the Greek national team train and race here. “This is not luck,” she quips. “It’s my dream to see Rhodes island full of cyclists.”

My descent from Profilia is a perfect example; no cars, smooth tarmac, allowing the bike to glide curve to curve along the roads. An unlucky puncture slows me down but Eleni insists I ride her (very pro) bike back to Kamari Beach, where my hotel is located on the east coast of the island, while she fixes it.

Along some parts of the coastal path, the remains of charred black trees can be seen – a lasting memory of the devastating wildfires in Rhodes of July 2023, during the hottest month ever recorded.

For keen road cyclists, the hotel’s programme of rides is suitably challenging in the mornings, ranging from 25km to Lindos to a 75km ride to Kattavia and even a hilly 100km into forests on the other side of the island. Cannondale bikes are provided to us. There are also gentle mountain bike rides to local (lower-altitude) villages and beaches nearby every afternoon (the golden sands of Lee Beach are worth a visit).

lauren Taylor/PA)
lauren Taylor/PA)

For the many parents who undertake these rides, or the many other activities and tuition included in the half-board holiday price (like group tuition for tennis, padel, sailing and windsurfing – at anywhere from beginner to return customers perfecting their skills each year), it’s only possible because they feel confident leaving their children in the childcare setting – knowing they’ll have a great time too.

As a UK company, the early years carers (babies and toddlers) have similar qualifications that you would expect back home, with NYQ childcare level 3, but with even better ratios. In the baby club (four-12 months), one carer will look after two babies, for one-year-olds it’s 1:3, for two-year-olds 1:4, and for my daughter’s age group it’s 1:6 (although there happen to only be three children in her group this week, looked after by the lovely Annabel). The service goes up to the age of 17, should you need it.

During my 3.5 hour cycle, my daughter Sacha has done crafts, built sandcastles and even been kayaking in the shallow water (in a lifejacket with two carers in the boat). During the week, she’s made new friends, played mini tennis, splashed around in the toddler swimming pool, painted, sung songs, played games – and I’m a better mother after the break too.

Either morning or afternoon sessions are included in the half-board price, which gives a nice balance to a family holiday (although extras can be added) as well as evening sessions from 7:30 -10pm where children watch a film, sweetly from individual camp beds and sleeping bags lined up on the floor – while parents can have dinner child-free should they so wish, and carry a sleepy child to bed whenever they’re done.

A hotel could have all the plush interiors and excellent service, but for me, childcare on holiday feels like a true luxury; a few hours to lie on a sun lounger, a chance to swim freely in the crystal-clear sea, visit the spa, or just have a cup of tea uninterrupted (parents of young kids, you know).

Early one morning, I open the curtains of our spacious sea-view family room (with more than enough space for four), which looks onto the huge pool (with a lot of shallow water perfect for young children), to a mass of still sea beyond that. Usually the conditions of the bay are ideal for improver and intermediate (and sometimes advanced) windsurfers, but today, without a shred of wind, I have to forgo my plans to take a board and sail out, and after dropping my child off, I head to the beach, sign out a paddleboard to take advantage of the still waters.

St Paul’s Bay is a great beach for children
St Paul’s Bay is a great beach for children

As I paddle further from the bay, there’s a morning mist that makes the blue-grey sky and sea almost blend together ahead of me. I breathe deeply and lie down on my board, losing track of time, and feeling completely in the moment. I don’t get many of these with a toddler at home.

Between the packed schedule of activities, many guests don’t leave the hotel, but the nearby area is worth exploring on two feet as well as two wheels. The small village of Lardos has a splattering cafes and restaurants, but take the local bus for 20 minutes north along the coastal road and you’ll spot the spectacular Lindos Acropolis, 116 metres up, with Lindos village – with weaving walkways curving through low whitewashed buildings below.

They overlook the picture-postcard St Paul’s Bay, with a small white chapel flagging one curve, and pristine yellow sand sweeping around to sophisticated restaurant Tambakio. It feels like a special find, as we swim and play in the perfect shallow waters for the afternoon. Entry to be beach is free and the Bali beds cost 40 euros to hire – but it could be worth it for a family for a whole day at this beautiful spot.

Mark Warner (0845 322 5037) offers a week at Kamari Beach Resort from £699 per adult and £199 per child based on three sharing. Includes return flights from London Gatwick, seven nights half-board accommodation and transfers, activities and tuition, plus six mornings or afternoons of childcare.