Schools all over Europe have closed up for the summer, there are traffic jams on all major motorways at the weekends and the internet is awash with tips on how to entertain your offspring. It is most definitely summer holiday season.
Thanks to my childhood, and now as a mother, I have become a seasoned self-caterer. Whether we are taking a chance on the weather in the west of Ireland or playing it safe in Italy, we primarly go on self-cating holidays.
Quite apart from the cost question, I find self-catering easier with children. They have separate bedrooms. There is a living space. There’s often even a patio or balcony to retreat to for a quiet coffe or g&t.
Yes, there is also a kitchen you have to cook in and there’s no one to take away dirty towels and bring fresh ones. But also, there is no one interrupting your day, turfing you out of your room or offering you a limited range of meals your children might not eat.
To me, self-catering is like being at home, just somewhere else. I find that it is up to me to make a holiday of it – to forget the housework and the routine and to remember to relax and get outdoors and start enjoying ourselves.
Some hosts will think of everything, play great attention to detail and be available locally to ensure you get the most out of your stay in their rental property. Others are completely absent. If the property isn’t quite as homey and you thought it would be, it can be hard not to get your holiday off to a bad start.
You have to play the cards you are dealt.
With that in mind, I have, over the last few years, put together a mental list of things to do to make my self-catering house more of a true holiday home for the duration of our stay.
As I pack our clothes, I also start to put together a box of bits and bobs to add a homey feel to our accommodation. When travelling by car, that box gets stowed away in the boot along with the cases. If we are flying, the contents of the box get packed carefully in among the clothes.
So what goes into the box? Top of the list – candles. Tealights are best. A generous handful come with me on holidays to dot around the patio table in the evening or brighten up the living room on a dull day. I don’t bother bringing holders. A glass or even a jam jar will suffice and is bound to be available at our holiday home.
Pretty paper napkins rank fairly high on the list. They are lightweight, unbreakable and don’t take up much space, but they do add a touch of holiday feeling to our table setting.
A tea towel or two usually make their way into the box too. Several times I have arrived in my holiday kitchen only to find it equipped with one solitary tea towel and no dishwasher. A couple of extra tea towels save me some annoyance. They also double as padding for wine or breakable sovenirs on the journey home as well as being handy to bring along for impromptu picnics on holiday days out.
A recent addition to my list is good soap. Whether it is a fresh bottle of liquid hand soap or a nice old-fashioned bar, I like to have something floral and frothy with me (actaully, that goes for prosecco too, but it is easier to pick that up locally!).
A self-catering house is no substitute for a spa break, but when I think of it I throw my home manicure / pedicure / facial cosmetics into my case too. While I am ignoring the housework, I can file my nails, soak my feet and put on a face mask in an effort to come home with a refreshed holiday glow, especially if the sun isn’t putting in much of an appearance.
Finally, there’s the home entertainment package. As well as a book or two, a pack of cards, an activity pack for the children and some item or other of my hobby equipment generally get added to the box. Sometimes I’ll bring crochet, another time my mini watercolour set and pad. The Bavarian inevitably brings something fishing- or hunting-related to occupy his spare time.
Once we arrive and settle into our holiday home, I root out a vase, or failing that, a glass or jug to repurpose. On our first walk I’ll gather some flowers and pop them into water when we get back.
With candlelight, a few blooms, my feet soaking and a book in my hand, it is hard not to relax and feel at home, even in the least welcoming self-catering house and with the worst weather outside.