More fun in Dorset, this time with two children, and in the seaside town of Poole! (April 2006)

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What  could be better than throwing back the curtains and looking directly onto a gloriously sandy beach?

For my four-year-old daughter, the simple answer (when you discount ice cream, chocolate and strawberry yoghurt) is nothing. For her, Poole was the perfect holiday destination. And for us too.

Widely regarded as Britain’s answer to the Cote D’Azur, Poole really is beautiful, with stunning beaches and lots to see and do. We were even blessed with sun for the five days we were away – you really can’t beat that.

Although less well-known than its neighbour Bournemouth (about 20 minutes away by car), Poole has become highly fashionable in recent summers. There’s a newly refurbished quay plus a variety of restaurants and shops, as well as the aforementioned beaches -particularly Sandbanks, proud owner of a Blue Flag.

Parts of Poole are very exclusive and it’s fun to look at the beautiful houses, some owned by Premiership footballers, and to imagine living in one.

When you come back to reality, you can take a trip to one of the many attractions on offer, from the beautiful gardens of Compton Acres to the animals on show at Falmer Palmer’s farm – particularly good for young children.

We also went on a trip to Brownsea Island which was extremely pretty and had stunning views. The ride took around 15 minutes and we were welcomed by some glorious peacocks.

The history of the island is fascinating, but there isn’t much for children to do. It may also be wise to take a picnic – the restaurant is charming, but small – and to inform children in advance that the red squirrels aren’t that easy to spot. We didn’t see any and were most disappointed.

When it came to where to stay, our holiday really was one of two halves. We started off in a caravan at Rockley Park, which overlooks Poole harbour with views to Brownsea island. It has direct access to its own small Blue Flag award-winning beach and is just two minutes’ drive from the centre of Poole.

We are not experienced caravanners, which is probably why the size of the caravans at Rockley Park didn’t help us feel relaxed. It all felt a little bit like a cabin on a ship and we were always squeezing past each other.

That’s not to say Rockley Park wasn’t plenty of fun. My daughter loved the novelty of the caravan and it was nice to be able to relax in the pleasantly-sized living room in the evening. There is also food and plenty of entertainment on tap.

While Rockley Park boasts a family-friendly policy with good facilities for small children – high chairs and bottle warming are readily available in food outlets and there are buggy friendly ramps into public areas – it was a bit tricky managing a baby in the caravan. There was nowhere to bath our 11-month-old son as it only had a small shower.

Rockley Park must be great fun for older children. The entertainment available includes pantomimes and talent shows, as well as swimming lessons, tennis and football coaching, and even aqua jet racing. There are also indoor and outdoor swimming pools, crazy golf, an arcade and an all-weather bowling green.

The site is well set up for families with its own supermarket and restaurant.

Its benefits were pretty much lost on our baby, but our daughter did enjoy the small soft play area near the restaurant and simply being surrounded by other children.

After two nights at Rockley Park, we moved to the Sandbanks Hotel, far more expensive but more enjoyable. I didn’t even mind all four of us sleeping in the same bedroom!

The Sandbanks is situated on the beach and is a truly lovely hotel. It has direct beach access, great facilities – including an indoor ball pond and outside pirate ship, see-saw and climbing frame – and genuinely friendly staff.

In fact, the staff were so helpful that after I mentioned to there was no fridge in which to store our baby’s medicine, one quickly arrived in the room.

The staff who worked with the children were also brilliant. My daughter was thrilled to get her face painted and she loved playing, drawing and painting in the Activity Shack downstairs. The entertainers worked well into the evenings, allowing parents to relax and eat their supper knowing their little ones were being well looked after.

Our children were asleep, although I have to say I was a bit worried about the baby listening service offered. It is entirely reliant on the parent checking the room via a hotel phone. We have stayed in hotels in which the phone is patched through to reception, where someone listens in every 15 minutes or so to check that everything is OK.

The food, incidentally, was great. The breakfasts were delicious (my daughter couldn’t get over the array of delights on offer) and I was also very happy with the effort put into the children’s meals. Each evening my daughter had a freshly cooked supper in the children’s restaurant, while we enjoyed two dinners in the main restaurant and one in the brasserie, which boasts an AA rosette.

This holiday was a welcome break and Poole a gracious host. It offers families a great holiday, whatever their budget.

We visited Poole in 2006 and wrote about this for the Press Association (which syndicated the article to regional and local papers).

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