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Saturday 18 August 2018

Cut Costa by going North

A bargain Spanish package holiday is an absolute no-brainer for a busy family

Travel writers can be sniffy about package holidays.

Trekking the Himalayas sounds so much cooler than lolling on a beach on one of the Costas. But the package holiday is still the mainstay of the travel trade, and a firm favourite with Irish families.

It’s easy to see why — it offers far more peace of mind than a DIY holiday. But fewer seats are knocking around, so deals are hard to come by. That’s why I jumped at the chance to see one of the Costa del Sol’s premier hotel resorts. And, travelling during school break peak time, I bagged a bargain — merely by flying out of Belfast, rather than Dublin.

Easy

There’s a lot to be said for taking the 120-mile trip up North. Spare holiday seats are easier to come by, the airport’s small, has easy parking and, unlike Dublin, doesn’t get packed at peak times. We stayed overnight in the airport’s hotel, the Park Plaza (www.parkplazabelfast.com). You can leave the car there for the week, check in for your flight and nip back across for breakfast (it’s only 100 metres from the departures building).

Indeed, its one-week park-and-fly package is good value at £99 (€115), not much more than you’d pay for leaving the car at Dublin Airport short-term car park for the same period.

We had peace of mind, knowing that our hotel — just outside Benalmadena, on the Costa del Sol — was highly rated, while we were travelling with a good operator in Falcon Holidays.

The transfer time from the newly refurbished Malaga Airport is just 40 minutes and, before you know it, you’re lying by the pool.

The Holiday World resort consists of four hotels, and we stayed at the Holiday Village, an impressive, sprawling modern building. Our room was a surprise too — spacious, clean and modern.

Although the resort mainly caters for all-inclusive holidays, you can, as we did, go self-catering. All-in families enjoyed knowing that they wouldn’t have to put their hands in their pocket at the resort, with meals and drinks (both soft and alcoholic) all included in the price.

Massive

With views over the Med, and bus access to the nearby resorts of Benalmadena and Torremolinos, getting around is easy. But many families simply stayed on site — and it’s easy to see why.

The main pool is gigantic, easily accommodating the number of guests staying, while across the road is a massive pool, slides and sports complex.

But our fondest memories weren’t of the facilities, but of the staff themselves. If you want a nobrainer break, with all the kids’ fun taken care of, look no further. The Falcon/First Choice Kids club reps are simply fantastic. Young and eager, they lay on entertainment for kids of all ages.

By day, our nine-year-old son enjoyed raft races across the pool, messy chocolate parties, DJmixing parties and a variety of sports. With dodge ball, rounders, and daredevil climbing up 50-foot poles before leaping onto a hanging bar — he had a ball.

The adults had a blast too — our Irish team won the overall table quiz (despite the questions being heavily leaned in favour of guests from the UK) and we were tops at a couple of poolside quizzes, too.

With the kids kept occupied it’s easy to unwind but it’s worth tearing yourself away from the resort for at least a day and heading to Malaga.

The local high-speed train stop is 15 minutes’ walk away, however, we decided to hire a small car and took the short trip up the coast.

Construction of the awe-inspiring Malaga Cathedral began in 1528, but it hasn’t been completed to this day. It’s a magnificent testament to the craft of Medieval builders.

Even earlier history surrounds you in Alcazaba, the city’s Arabic fortress. Moorish gardens, Roman ruins and layer upon layer of evidence of the peoples who have lived and conquered the city are under your feet.

The city itself is a hive of small streets pulsating with tapas bars and restaurants. Worth visiting is the historic El Pimpi, on Calle De Granada (www.bodegabarelpimpi. com), a traditional haunt of poets, dancers and writers. Malaga is also proud of Pablo Picasso, and his family home is preserved in the city, while you can see a collection of his works and learn more about him at the modern Picasso Museum (www.museopicassomalaga. org).

If that’s a bit highbrow, try the Malaga FC stadium tour and museum (www.malagacf.es) or get tickets to a Primera Liga match. It’s a varied holiday, with more than sun and sea. And, once the kids are happy and it’s not breaking the bank, who needs the Himalayas?

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