Francesca Syz is the travel editor on Sainsbury’s Magazine and writes a weekly travel page in the Telegraph Magazine. She also contributes to a fleet of glossy titles from Conde Nast Traveller to High Life.
Q: What is your first childhood memory of travel?
When I was really little in the early 1970s, our family car was a ridiculous 1953 Bentley my dad had bought ‘as a project,’ which was covered in rust and broke down all the time. So I think my first travel memory was lying with my brother in our sleeping bags in a field of long grass and buttercups besides a motorway on the way down to Devon for what seemed like forever, while mum and dad tried to fix the car. Another early one is shucking and then eating the most deliciously sweet and fresh corn on the cob imaginable with lots of butter, barefoot on the back porch of my grandparents’ house on Cape Cod (my parents are both American).
Q: Where have you had your best holiday to date?
Going on safari to Londolozi in South Africa had a huge impact on me. It was about six years ago and the amazing Varty Family who own and run it had just returned after a ten-year break when I visited, and they were more fired up and passionate about the place than ever. It was my first insight into genuine, thoughtful, intelligent conservation tourism and I found it incredibly exciting. They are also really great with kids and I can’t wait for Eva to be old enough to take her there.
Q: Where was the first place you went with a little one in tow? How did it go?
The Martinhal on Portugal’s Western Algarve. My husband and I don’t really ‘do’ resorts, so this was a big departure for us and I was quite anxious about whether we’d made the right decision as, with an eight month old baby in tow, we were both exhausted and in serious need of a break. The holiday was a great success. Our spacious Ocean House was surprisingly stylish, close to the beach and restaurants and really well equipped with everything from cots and high chairs to plastic tableware. There was also an excellent on-site deli selling great food and wine, a lovely sandy beach where we’d walk at dusk with Eva in the sling wearing a big sun hat, multiple pools with shaded sun loungers and an excellent spa. It’s also a gloriously rustic, unspoilt but easily-explorable corner of the Algarve.
Q: How do you find the experience of travelling with children generally?
Eva is three and has been hugely active and outgoing since she could walk (in fact she took her first steps at 13 months on a weekend in Florence) so, if I’m completely honest, so far travelling with her hasn’t been particularly relaxing. For added fun and games, she also gets car sick so we’ve had to be quite creative about our holiday choices, to minimize the amount of time we have to spend in a car. Weirdly, planes, trains and boats are all fine.
Q. Do you ever travel with your daughter for work?
I’m actually yet to leave Eva for a night – she has come along on every hotel review with me. This does mean I’ve pretty much stopped doing long haul for the time being – apart from trips to the States to see family – but it’s actually quite nice to keep things local for a while as there are so many amazing places to visit in the UK and Europe. Having Eva with me is a great gauge of service at a hotel, because even if they don’t sell themselves as child-friendly, any hotel worth its salt will be a tight enough ship to be able to ‘deal’ with children and make them feel welcome.
Q: Where was your best holiday with your child?
We spent a fantastic weekend in Paris last autumn, staying at a really great flat just below Sacré-Coeur in Montmartre, which we booked through onefinestay. Madeline is one of Eva’s favourite books so she recognized the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame and other key sites straight away and felt really excited about her book coming to life. My husband was on a mission to try the lobster Croque Monsieurs he’d read about from this very chic restaurant called Jeanne B. We were a bit apprehensive about attempting a sit down meal with Eva in a cool Parisian restaurant but, the minute we arrived, she fell asleep in her pram so we managed to have a pre-children-esque grown up lunch of oysters and lobster Croque Monsieurs, with a chilled bottle of the most delicious Rosé. It was heaven.
Q: And your worst?
We took my dad away to West Wittering in Sussex for his birthday when Eva was about 18 months old to stay in an idyllic cottage. But we got terribly behind doing things like fitting a brand new child seat in the car and ended up leaving London far too late on the Friday afternoon. A two-hour journey became a seven-hour journey. Eva screamed non-stop for at least half of that time and we all spent the weekend trying to soothe our jangling nerves. We will never again leave London in a car for the weekend on a Friday later than 10am.
Q: What is your must-have travel accessory when away with children?
Hate to say it but the Philips IPX4 Portable DVD player (a bright pink thing you can actually pour an entire glass of water over without phasing it) has been a godsend both for train and plane journeys – and those crushingly early morning wake ups, in general.
Q: And top tips for travel with kids
Baby wipes, baby wipes, baby wipes. You should also bring multiple savoury snacks, not sweets, to avoid sugar rush, a couple of changes of clothes for kids, another for yourself, a handful of stocking filler-type toys, each individually wrapped like a present, to be dispensed, good behaviour pending, one at a time, every hour of the journey. I also always travel with a soft, large, pashmina-like scarf, for that seasoned traveller – Lawrence of Arabia look and, of course, for keeping your kids warm on a cold flight. On a flight to New York, on advice from friends, we also brought a sarong and gaffer tape to create a dark, tent-like space over the bassinet.