Every year it is always a struggle to pick a holiday that will suit all ages and have something to keep everyone happy.
This summer I found just the spot — Forte Village on the Italian island of Sardinia.
My son Matthew has always wanted to play for a Premier League club and now he can say he has — thanks to the Chelsea Soccer School which the club’s billionaire owner Roman Abramovich himself helped set up.
With a Chelsea Soccer School run by coaches from Stamford Bridge this ticked the box for my 12-year-old football mad son Matthew while the beach, pool spa and restaurants sorted our week’s holiday for the rest of the family.
Every one of us agreed that Forte Village was one of the best and most relaxing holidays we had ever been on.
Forte Village is a vast complex of eight hotels, both four star and five star, and various suites and villas set in more than 100 acres of beautifully landscaped gardens with its own network of little roads, its own beach, leisure park, sports academies and no less than 21 restaurants and bars.
It is like an enclosed little town that has everything you want and where children can roam reasonably free, you can hire bicycles to help you nip around the little laneways.
Its 1,000 staff cater for 1,600 guests at the height of every season, with VIP guests in recent years having included David and Victoria Beckham, Elton John, Sting and Tina Turner.
As a family of four, we stayed at the Royal Pineta in a balcony room which offered views of the resort across lines of manicured pine trees and other shrubs.
It usually takes me a few days to unwind from work on holiday but I was fully relaxed within a few hours of arriving at Forte Village. It really is that kind of place.
You can spend your days relaxing with a book at the white sandy beach or one of the pools, including a heated pool for those who hate taking a dip in cool water, and a pool complete with waterslides for the young and the young at heart.
With 21 restaurants and bars to choose from, you'll be spoiled for choice. Whether you want steakhouse, pizza, Brazilian, Indian or Italian, Forte offers them all and more!
There are fine dining gourmet restaurants such as a Gordon Ramsay one if you want to leave the children with a babysitter for the evening. At
the other end of the scale, Aquarium is an eatery just for kids.
Most of the restaurants are very family friendly though and the other restaurants were so good we didn’t feel the need to try elsewhere.
Every day Forte Village’s 100 chefs use 350kg of fresh fish, 60kg of lobster and crab along with 100kg of fresh pasta. A wine cellar containing 12,500 bottles also has selections from 250 wine makers.
At the Cavalieri buffet restaurant you could (and will) dine like a king. Quite simply it offered the best standard of food I have ever seen served at a buffet. Unfortunately there are still so many hotels who seem to think that just because it is a buffet the food served can be sub-standard.
The starters alone ranged in the dozens, from various salads, soups and seafood dishes to fresh cold meats and cheeses.
For mains, if you could manage to get that far, there is an array of meat and vegetarian dishes. You can also get the spaghetti guy to make you a fresh pasta dish or the steak and fish guy to cook you sea bass, swordfish or sirloin. Or as I found myself doing, just ordering all of that. If you can’t on holiday when can you?
We also tried the Brazilian Restaurant (just in case we get the opportunity to go to the next Olympics) and had every possible meat you can think of cooked on giant skewers over a flaming grill.
If you do feel guilty eating so much there is no shortage of exercise opportunities. Sportswise, the resort offers children the chance to be coached by former stars from the worlds of rugby, tennis, golf and football. there are a range of facilities including a high-tech gym, nine-hole golf putting green, football fields, 12 tennis courts, basketball courts and volleyball courts.
While the rugby and cricket academies are staffed by former England players and golfers get the best tuition from PGA professionals from Wentworth in
Surrey, tennis stars who have taken that academy have included Pat Cash but for the Breen family it was the Chelsea Soccer School which ticked all the boxes.
The coaches for the week we were there, Tony Clark and Brannon O’Neill, live and breathe football. I heard some parents who had holidayed at the resort before remark how they were the best coaches that had ever taken the school in recent years. As well as holding training and playing sessions in the morning and afternoon we regularly spotted them having a kickabout with kids around the resort, even late into the evening.
For kids, playing beneath huge Chelsea Academy banners with guidance from proper Chelsea coaches is almost as good as knocking a ball around Stamford Bridge with David Luiz.
The Academy, which is paid for by Chelsea, operates under strict health and safety lines, so training is confined to the one-hour morning match, a full 90-minute session of coaching in the cooler afternoon and an hour-long kickabout after supper.
The course covers team building, technique, individual training and matches. Apart from new skills, everyone who takes part receives a personalised Chelsea T-shirt, shorts and rucksack.
At the end of the week there is a medal presentation ceremony which makes all the children feel as if they are collecting a World Cup medal.
Chelsea’s links to the soccer school began when Chelsea owner, Roman Abramovich, decided to take a look at Forte Village while cruising the Mediterranean in one of his yachts. He then decided to go into partnership with the resort.
He perhaps already knew it regularly hosted football teams from across the world. The Inter Milan and AC Milan team have been regulars and the England squad used it ahead of Euro 2004. Several Chelsea footballers have been known to visit the academy during their holidays and when we were there at the end of June we spotted a number of Spanish and Italian footballers on the beach.
For the grown-ups the resort spa is a must for complete rest and relaxation. Set in a tropical garden, Thaermae del Forte has a circuit of six salt-water treatment pools ranging from 25C to 35C, all with different salt concentrations to detox the body.
The circuit begins with a dip in a 35C high-density saline pool which has a higher buoyancy level than the Dead Sea and gives a strange sensation as you float in the warm, oily water (due to a strong concentration of magnesium oil). It is an incredible experience that takes more than an hour and finishes with a relaxing whirlpool massage.
I certainly found it the perfect end to a day in the sun — my skin was definitely softer — and I was nicely relaxed.
Each evening at Forte Village there is musical entertainment in the Piazza Maria Luigia where guests congregate for a drink. Late night shopping is available in a host of designer shops and the resort’s dedicated Leisureland complex offers a bowling alley, go-kart track, trampolines, climbing wall and a Nintendo entertainment area.
Sardinia is of course a beautiful island and there are lots of historic sights to see but we, like most guests it seems, didn’t leave Forte Village until our car arrived to take us to the airport.
When you get to Forte Village you just don’t want to leave. When I heard Gordon Ramsay was arriving the day I left to cook for guests, I was sorely tempted to stay on for another night.
As I said there is something for everyone at Forte Village and something to suit most budgets as well — all under one big blue sky.
*Forte Village Resort, Sardinia, offers 7 nights at Il Villaggio from £4,638 per family based on two adults and 1 child sharing a Superior Bungalow at Il Villaggio on a half board basis (excluding drinks)
Participation in the Chelsea Football Academy costs €350 per week per child. For further information on Forte Village please visit www.fortevillageresort.com
* easyJet, Northern Ireland’s largest airline, flies to four London airports from Belfast International Airport and offers great access to the city and a fantastic choice of connections to more than 600 routes across easyJet’s network.
Fares from Belfast International Airport to London Stansted from £22.99 and from Stansted to Cagliari (Sardinia) from £23.99 (fares one way, including taxes and charges).
* Stay overnight at the Radisson Blu Stansted Airport, just a few minutes walk from the terminal. Check out www.radissonblu.com
* To pass the time in style during your wait at Stansted Aiport check into one of their airport lounges, situated at Gates 16 and 49, run by No.1 Traveller. Book at www.No1Traveller.com or passengers can make their way to the reception of the airport lounge on the day. Facilities include a bar, bistro area serving complimentary snacks, complimentary newspapers, magazines and internet access. Entry is £22.50 per adult at reception, for up to three hours access (children £17.50 each), £17.50 if booked in advance (children £15).