The Sunday Times - February 2006

A family from the country fancy a trip to the big smoke. Somebody call the Doc…
Muddy footprints all over the surgery carpet this morning, as in from the Trossachs traipse the Carroll family. “We live right out in the Scottish wilds,” explains Victoria, “so what we’re after this Easter is a city break.”

Hotel? Apartment? “Definitely an apartment,” says Victoria. “We’ve stayed in flats in Paris and Copenhagen, and with a young family, it’s just so much more relaxing — not to mention affordable.”

Any city in particular? “Somewhere the children have heard about,” says Victoria.

“In Paris, they couldn’t wait to see the Eiffel Tower and Notre Dame — so somewhere with famous landmarks.”

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“Public transport is a real plus for us, too,” adds Chris. “And staying centrally would be a bonus.”

THE CARROLLS

Chris, 42, and Victoria, 37, run their own chalet-rental business on the Lake of Menteith, in the Trossachs. Their three children are Bunty, aged 8, Cooper, 6, and Pippin, 3.

Last CD bought
Chris: Trouble by Ray Lamontagne
Victoria: Relations by Kathyrn Williams

Last book read
Chris: Flower of Scotland? by Archie Macpherson
Victoria: Memories of My Melancholy Whores by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Favourite food
Chris: Chinese
Victoria: bacon butty

Favourite tipple
Chris: diet Irn-Bru
Victoria: Kir royale

The Carrolls want to go away for a week and have a budget of £1,250. I hit the internet. Top of the online agency crop are www.holiday-rentals.com and www.homelidays.com, which give you access to the owners of more than 27,000 rental properties across Europe.

I’m a bit worried about the budget: booking this late seriously restricts the no-frills options — especially flying from Scotland. If they’d come to me a month ago, I could have saved them £250.

PRESCRIPTION ONE

Ice creams and icons, Rome

The Vatican, the Colosseum, the Spanish Steps — if the Carroll kids don’t like that lot, Chris and Victoria can toss them in the Trevi Fountain. Throw in a Metro system and the best gelati known to man, and Rome is a fabulous bright-lights break for our country mice. It’s not the cheapest European city for holiday flats, but if they base themselves somewhere central but affordable, such as Trastevere, the Carrolls will be within walking distance of most of the Roman icons.

With more than 17,000 properties worldwide, including 255 in Rome, Homelidays (www.homelidays.com) is a good place to start, with two-bedroom flats in Trastevere (sleeping five) from £580 per week. Alternatively, the Italian self-catering holiday-let specialist Italy Accom (00 39 06 3600 1394, www.italy-accom.com) has more than 200 flats in Rome, including Apartment Grande Natale, a two-bedroom flat (sleeping five) right in the heart of Trastevere, with a kitchen, a balcony and a spacious living room. Easter prices start at £100 per night. Ryanair (www.ryanair.com) has flights from Glasgow and Prestwick to Rome; £677 for the family over Easter. Total cost: £1,257 for flights and seven nights, self-catering, in a Homelidays flat in Trastevere.

PRESCRIPTION TWO

Canal plus, Amsterdam

KLM flights from Edinburgh to a city centre small enough for little legs, but buzzy enough for hungry minds — Amsterdam is an excellent choice, even before I sprinkle a wonder drug on top — in the shape of an 85ft Dutch Tjalk houseboat.

Moored on the Raamgracht canal, just a minute away from Waterlooplein Metro station and the Rembrandt House, the two-bedroom houseboat couldn’t be more centrally located, and is a relative snip, as Dutch rental properties go, costing £676 over Easter. The houseboat, which has a log fire, central heating, cable TV and a well-equipped kitchen, with a dishwasher and a washer/drier, is one of 3,000 European properties available through Holiday Lettings (www.holidaylettings.co.uk; property no6159), but can also be rented direct from the helpful, English-speaking owner, Pieter Van Den Hoek (00 31 624 265749).

Alternatively, StayAmsterdam (00 353 1 874 7791, www.stayamsterdam.com) has more than 50 flats on site, starting at about £80 per night. KLM (0870 507 4074, www.klm.com) has flights from Edinburgh to Amsterdam, with prices starting at £360 for the family over Easter. Total cost: £1,045 for flights and seven nights, self-catering, on Pieter Van Den Hoek’s houseboat.

PRESCRIPTION THREE

Ramblas return, Barcelona

Almost gaudy with Gaudi, and laced with magical, winding lanes, Barcelona is fabulously pedestrian-friendly, and by April the city’s tapas bars are just beginning to spill back out into the squares. In summer, I’d send our family to the Villa Olimpica — it’s two Metro stops from the centre and right on the beach — but in spring, the old town is still quiet and cool. With 63 apartments in Barcelona (and 15,800 worldwide), www.holiday-rentals.com is a good place to look for accommodation: it has a three-bedroom flat in Gracia (property 51364), 10 minutes’ walk from the Sagrada Familia, just off the top of Las Ramblas. For the first Easter-holiday week, the flat — with a piano, a patio, two bathrooms, a kitchen and a fabulous dining terrace, worth the journey alone — costs £81 per night (£94.80 if they use the third bedroom), rising to £94.80 per night from April 10 (£108.36 with the third bedroom).

EasyJet (www.easyjet.com) has flights from Glasgow to Barcelona, via Luton, from £618.90 for the family. Total cost: £1,185.90 for flights and seven nights, self-catering, in the Gracia flat.

As an alternative, www.ownersdirect.co.uk offers more than 3,000 apartments in Europe, including 42 in Barcelona.