Although our Ciao Bambino team is constantly scouting and road-testing accommodations all over the world, our favorite feedback on the best family hotels comes from our clients. We help hundreds of families each year plan trips of a lifetime, including hotels and resorts that not only satisfy the needs of little travelers but are destination-worthy in their own right. And when those families come back to us with glowing reviews of their stay … we take note! Here are the accommodations that drew raves in 2017.
The Athenaeum, London. Large family rooms, suites and even apartments with several bedrooms make this property an unusual find in central London. Families have plenty of space to spread out and relax — some of our clients have mentioned that it feels more like a private house than a hotel. The best part? It combines this roomy accommodation style with first-rate service, including a dedicated children’s concierge.
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Grand Hotel Villa Cora, Florence. For families who want an opulent home base just outside Florence, with easy access to the Tuscan countryside and major sights, Villa Cora is a perfect match. The gorgeous grounds and pool (a lifesaver in the summer heat) appeal to travelers who enjoy the kinds of resort facilities you won’t find in city-center hotels. Among the standout features is a beautiful garden where kids can run and play.
One&Only Wolgan Valley, Australia. Tucked between a pair of national parks in the Blue Mountains, just 2 hours outside Sydney, Wolgan Valley is an absolute gem. Its small size — just 40 freestanding suites — preserves the sense of peace and privacy. Wildlife is literally on your doorstep; kangaroos and other creatures happen by as guests sip morning coffee on private verandas. Even better, though, are the one-of-a-kind signature activities, such as a horseback tour and a nocturnal wildlife spotlighting and stargazing tour.
The Upper House, Hong Kong. More like a private residence than a hotel, the luxurious Upper House feels a world away from the bustle of the city. This aerie has just 117 rooms, including one-bedroom and penthouse suites that are well suited for families. The feng shui-inspired design is sleek and restful. While the property is kid-friendly rather than kid-oriented, with a lack of children’s amenities other than basic equipment like cribs, families are warmly welcomed.
Schloss Elmau, Bavaria. This historic castle-turned-luxury resort, surrounded by the majestic Bavarian Alps, is beloved for its flawless service and thoughtful extras. Summer fun includes hiking, mountain biking (with child seats!), sailing, swimming, tennis and golf; in winter, choose from sledding, skiing, ice skating and other cold-weather pursuits. Inviting common areas stocked with tempting sweets and snacks, a heavenly spa, first-class dining at six different restaurants, and excursions to attractions like Neuschwanstein Castle — via the resort’s private luxury cars — make Schloss Elmau an all-around treat.
Cliveden House, Berkshire, England. A “super highlight” is how clients have described this countryside manor, and we have to agree. The estate — just 20 minutes from Heathrow Airport — feels like a slice of Downton Abbey brought to life, with its old-fashioned elegance and warm, thoughtful staff. Rooms and suites are uniquely decorated to reflect Cliveden House’s history and illustrious list of past guests. Kids will enjoy trying their hand at croquet on the lawn, savoring a traditional English tea or taking a sunset cruise on one of the two restored vintage boats.
Inkaterra Machu Picchu Pueblo Hotel, Peru. This delightful property is tucked amid 12 acres in a cloud forest just a short ride from Machu Picchu. Its individual cottages and villas get an Andean sense of place from details like locally woven textiles and wood-beamed ceilings. Accommodations, which range from Superior Rooms to luxe villas, include amenities like fireplaces and, in some cases, private plunge pools. Special children’s activities include Explorer Kits with maps, magnifying glasses, and art supplies; treasure hunts for ages 5 to 12; and the chance to be a guide assistant for a day.
Relais Christine, Paris. A converted 13th-century abbey with an incredible location in the atmospheric St.-Germain des Pres district, Relais Christine routinely gets rave reviews from Ciao Bambino clients. The neighborhood is perfect for the Parisian art of flâner, or strolling, with charming shops and exquisite bistros at every turn. Smaller families will love the two-floor Junior Suite, with a queen bed on the upper level and a single sofa bed on the main; parents traveling with younger kids might opt for one of the rooms that opens to a secluded garden.
Carmel Valley Ranch, California. Families have endless opportunities to relax and play together at Carmel Valley Ranch. Amenities and activities are tailor-made for kids, especially the River Ranch area and its swimming pool, hot tub, toddler pool with splash pad, tree swings, bocce ball, basketball courts and more. The standout is the beekeeper-for-a-day program — kids will never forget having the chance to work amid the hives. After dinner at the casual yet upscale dining facilities onsite, everyone can gather around the fire pits for s’mores.
Fairmont Empress, Victoria, B.C. We adore the Fairmont brand with kids, and the newly renovated Fairmont Empress is an outstanding example. As soon as you glimpse the grand structure presiding over Victoria’s Inner Harbour, you know that a special stay is in store. Suites, Junior Suites and Family Rooms, all done in subtly opulent style, can be configured for families of all sizes. Parents will gravitate to the onsite spa, but kids will be captivated by pursuits just for them: a scavenger hunt, a “prince and princess” afternoon tea, marmot- and bee-spotting, and more.
Borgo Pignano, Tuscany. One of the things our clients love most about this Tuscan retreat is that it offers so many opportunities for kids to meet and play with other kids from all over the world. Idyllic, laid-back and wonderfully authentic, it’s the kind of property where families return year after year. The views and grounds are beautiful and, unlike many Tuscan agriturismos, Borgo Pignano has horses and other animals onsite (something many families with young children ask for). Choose a standalone maisonette or cottage for maximum privacy and room to spread out.
Calcot Manor, Cotswolds, England. In a fabulous location in the center of the Cotswolds, cozy Calcot Manor is the perfect home base for day trips throughout the English countryside — but guests might be tempted never to leave the property. With its scenic location, comfortable family accommodations, great restaurant, indoor pool and playroom, there’s enough here to fill an entire holiday. Its small size (just 35 rooms) creates an intimate feel and allows guests to mingle easily if they choose. Among the highlights for kids: the supervised play zone for toddlers and up.
The Resort at Paws Up, Montana. Paws Up not only pioneered the idea of glamping, they still set the standard for it. This isn’t camping as you know it — tents come with private butlers, cloud-soft beds, bathrooms with heated floors and plenty of other luxuries. Activities here are all about the outdoors, and the vast menu includes cattle drives, horseback riding, paintball, go-karts, an aerial adventure course, river rafting, fly fishing … the list goes on. Kids get special treatment, with dedicated and thoughtfully planned programming for ages 3 to 12.
Belmond Villa Sant’Andrea, Sicily. One of our well-traveled clients tells us this is the best hotel she’s ever stayed in — high praise indeed! This coastal escape, surrounded by gardens, comes with its own private beach and dramatic views of the ocean. Taormina, the nearest town, is just a quick cable car ride away, or take an excursion to Mt. Etna or a private boat trip on the waves. Although it feels romantic enough for a parents-only escape, Belmond Villa Sant’Andrea caters to its littlest guests as well, with kids’ welcome amenities, a kids’ club in high season, beach toys and other niceties.
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This is a challenging time for our clients given the uncertainty around the spread of coronavirus, particularly for those with near-term travel plans in impacted areas. We’re working with our suppliers on being flexible with their booking conditions, and enabling families to postpone travel to a later date without a penalty, when possible. Likewise, given the unpredictability around destinations that may be impacted in the future, we’re helping clients planning new trips and understand ways that they can protect themselves until the situation improves. We are ready to help our clients work through questions and concerns.