Each summer, I pack my laptop and take the East Coast Main Line from London to Yorkshire for my annual seven-day insight into my mother’s exhausting life. My mum, Anne, 71, is a carer for her husband, John, whom she first dated as a teenager in the 1960s. They reunited when she was 50 and she returned to her childhood village in heather-cloaked Holme Valley, West Yorkshire.
When my mum and John were in their early 60s, a few days before their planned later-life marriage, John suffered a severe right hemisphere stroke, leaving him paralysed down his left-hand side, barely mobile and with a host of secondary health conditions, including epilepsy.
On that day in 2011, all of my mum and John’s retirement travel plans – the dream trip to Canada (a big-sky country that amateur photographer John adored); the return visit to see the colourful Thai temples my mum fell for during their 2002 trip to Bangkok – were shelved, as my mum embarked on a gruelling 24-hour job as an unpaid carer. In the intervening years, my annual pilgrimages to take over the reins up north – to cook John’s meals, help him dress and get in and out of bed – have been Mum’s only real break.
On the first trip, in 2012, she went to Dorset with her old college friend Angie, and for the next she spent a memorable week on the Cornish coast, pottering around semi-tropical gardens and sandy beaches. She returned with a wrist full of shell bangles, a light tan and a spring in her step.
As is the case for many carers, a proper break from her responsibilities is a necessary tonic for my mum, giving her respite for the body and mind. She enjoys the change of scene and a chance for a little physical R&R. Spa retreats, beach holidays and activity-focused city breaks are high on the list of yearned-for escapes by carers, with 50 per cent using their well-earned break to catch up on sleep.
Over seven million Britons are supplying unpaid care to a loved one or friend and a 2019 study by Carers UK, the carers membership association, found that only eight per cent feel that they are able to take sufficient breaks from their caring role. The pandemic has made matters worse, with 74 per cent of carers – three in five of whom are aged 50 or over, according to a 2021 follow-up study by Carers UK – having had no breaks at all since the pandemic began. Many carers cite “guilt” as a reason for not feeling they can take a holiday from their caring role.
The arrival of my son in 2016, and the pandemic four years later, have sadly made these week-long family respites trickier to arrange. My stepfather is also more prone to falls, meaning my mum feels lengthy holidays far from home are too much of a risk.
For my mum, a solution has come in the guise, and rise, of the UK microbreak. Next month she will be enjoying an overnight “DBBB” (dinner, bed, breakfast and bubbles) with her friend Beverley at a spa hotel, a 20-minute drive from home (making it easy to nip back should my stepfather fall), and in April she will take a two-night break at a hotel on the Lancashire coast through Carefree, a social enterprise that is plugging the gap in holiday respite opportunities for carers.
Carefree takes advantage of vacant hotel capacity at partner hotels across the UK (and, from next year, mainland Europe), to offer free stays to carers up to 60 days ahead. This allows time to organise interim care, with Carefree helping carers to arrange cover where necessary.
Meanwhile local authorities across the UK offer grants for carers’ breaks through the Better Care Fund, while Carers Trust UK, a network of local caring charities, has awarded holiday grants to 800 unpaid family carers since the pandemic began.
Also improving prospects for carers is a new generation of accessible holiday companies which understand that a holiday for a carer accompanied by the cared-for adult or child is no kind of break unless full-time care is provided on location.
With a variety of breaks across the UK and Europe, Revitalise and Limitless Travel offer a roster of accompanying professional care options (including one-on-one provision), so carers can kick back and have a proper rest.
Data from Carefree shows that carers who take a holiday are twice as likely to say they are able to cope with the demands of their lives after they return home, its CEO Charlotte Newman told Telegraph Travel.
My mum is looking forward to a large ice cream and a dose of coastal air. “For carers it takes a lot to give yourself permission to go away,” she told me. “But seeing friends and family, escaping the tiring demands of caring, seeing a beach and the sea… there’s nothing like it to put a smile back on your face.”
If you’re a carer, or know someone who would benefit from a discounted or hassle-free holiday, here are 10 amazing breaks for carers.
Spa and soak within easy reach of home
A solo break in Essex
Lifehouse Spa & Hotel claims its flying solo break has been carefully curated for unadulterated “me time” – something carers on call 24/7 desperately crave. The package includes a massage, the choice of a meditation or fitness class, a facial (with therapists trained to treat clients suffering bereavement and familial stress) and a two-course dinner by chef Ugo Simonelli. There are heritage gardens and the nearby town of Frinton-on-Sea to explore once you’ve unwound.
The details: A night in a double room on a Flying Solo Break (01255 860050; spabreaks.com) costs from £249pp.
Serenity in Sterling
Also friendly to solo spa-goers, Inglewood House & Spa is a homely boutique spa offering all the usual treatments (its Inner Calm massage gets top billing), an outdoor hot tub and a choice of house or woodland cabin accommodation. Unusually for such a rural spot, the phone reception is good, so you can easily reach home if needed.
The details: Inglewood’s two-night Relaxation package (01259 216156; inglewoodhouseandspa.co.uk) costs from £250 for a solo traveller; £199pp if travelling with a friend. Includes breakfast, a choice of 25-minute spa treatments, two-course lunch or afternoon tea and full use of spa facilities.
Flexi-booking relief in Greece
Worried that a last-minute need to stay home will leave you out of pocket? Kuoni’s Flex + policy allows you to cancel and get a refund up to 10 days before departure (21 for European destinations) for any reason. Sunshine deals for 2022 include seven nights at Ionian sea-view hotel Angsana Corfu, which is three miles from the airport and features four restaurants as well as indoor and outdoor pools, including an infinity pool with a clifftop view.
The details: A seven-night stay at Angsana Corfu with Kuoni (0800 092 4444; kuoni.co.uk) costs from £1,599pp, including breakfast, flights from Heathrow and a guaranteed suite upgrade.
To enter Greece you’ll need a passenger locator form, and either proof of at least two doses of an approved vaccine, or a certificate of recovery. Unvaccinated travellers must show a certificate of recovery or a negative PCR or LFT.
Easy springtime sun in Spain
With 24 flights a day from London, Marbella is a good choice for an overseas getaway if you need to be able to get home at speed. Set in lush landscaped gardens, Anantara Villa Padierna Palace is a friendly sun-blessed resort just a 45-minute drive from the airport. It promises a top-notch spa and access to the nearby beaches – though there is all the sangria and sunshine you will need on-site.
The details: Anantara Villa Padierna Palace Resort (00 34 952 88 9150; anantara.com) offers double rooms from £242, including breakfast. A two-day Luxury Taste escape starts at £349pp and includes a Salt & Oil body scrub, signature massage, Thai massage and a facial. Excludes flights.
An online health form (spth.gob.es) must be submitted before departure. Fully vaccinated tourists and children under 12 can enter without testing – but at present, unvaccinated adults aren’t permitted to visit.
Find new friends on an escorted tour
An admin-free Iberian adventure
Group escorted tours are a great option for carers, offering company plus a break from travel admin. An Iberian adventure with Rabbies takes in the dazzling Alhambra Palace, the rugged landscapes of the Sierra Nevada, the picturesque plazas of clifftop Ronda and the famous tipples of Jerez, travelling in a luxurious mini coach with a charismatic guide.
The details: A six-day South of Spain & the Treasures of Andalucía tour (0131 226 3133; rabbies.com) costs from £992pp, including transport and stays in four-star hotels; excludes flights; maximum group size of 16.
To travel to Spain, an online health form (spth.gob.es) must be submitted before departure. Fully vaccinated tourists and children under 12 can enter without testing – but at present, unvaccinated adults aren’t permitted to visit. Portugal requires proof of full vaccination or recovery, or an antigen test. Pre-departure PCR test for mainland Portugal but not Madeira or the Azores. Under-12s exempt. All tourists must register in advance (madeirasafe.com).
Discounts for carers in France
Travel Department, an operator specialising in escorted tours for those aged over 50, offers a friendly welcome as well as discounts for carers. Its Cannes & the Côte d’Azur tour is jam-packed with Gallic highlights, including the tranquil alpine village of Saint-Paul-de-Vence, the elegant Rothschild Villa & Gardens in Monaco, and the glorious coastlines of Antibes and Nice, lapped by cobalt blue waters.
The details: The seven-day escorted Cannes & the Cote d’Azur tour (020 7099 9665; traveldepartment.com) costs from £819pp, including flights, transfers, breakfast and four-star accommodation. Discounts for Carers offers £50 off (discountsforcarers.com).
For France, all arrivals over 12 must present proof of full vaccination and complete a “sworn statement” (déclaration sur l’honneur) stating that they are symptom-free.
Explore the Prosecco Hills in Italy
Travel through the foothills of the Dolomites with Exodus to explore the Prosecco Hills and sample the region’s heavenly food and fizz. Helpfully for carers, Exodus allows you to transfer your date or destination for any reason up to 21 days before departure.
The details: A seven-night Walking the Prosecco Hills tour (020 3733 5788; exodus.co.uk) costs from £1,299pp, including airport transfers, four-star accommodation, breakfast, some meals and two wine tastings; excludes flights.
All arrivals in Italy must complete a passenger locator form and provide proof of a negative PCR test taken within 48 hours of entry or a negative antigen test taken within 24 hours. There are restrictions on travel within Italy for those without proof of full vaccination.
Let off some steam…
Shepherd chic, Somerset
Tucked away in the Quantock Hills, Lamb’s Tale Shepherd’s Hut is a dog-friendly glamping hut set in its own paddock and kitted out with a memory-foam mattress, a wood-burning stove, two-hob cooker and shower room. Kick back with a book and enjoy views, or ramble along pathways into surrounding moor and woodland before enjoying a soak in your own private hot tub.
The details: Seven nights in Lamb’s Tale Shepherd’s Hut, which sleeps two, plus one in a cot, costs from £383 (01326 555555; classic.co.uk). Classic Cottages will soon offer a batch of cottages to Carefree (020 3137 2578; carefreespace.org/take-a-break), who provide free holidays for carers.
Take on the Tyrol, Austria
Tyrol with a high-octane long weekend break from Contiki. It includes white-water rafting on the River Inn, a guided trek around wildflower-dotted Hopfgarten and scenic mountain biking. Accommodation is at cosy Haus Schoneck, where you can revive yourself with the obligatory schnapps.
The details: A four-day Austrian mini adventure (020 8290 6777; contiki.com) costs from £455pp, including most meals, all activities and accommodation; excludes flights. Discounts for Carers offers £50 off (discountsforcarers.com).
Proof of full vaccination plus evidence of either a booster or a negative PCR test no more than 72 hours old. Unvaccinated travellers without proof of recovery cannot enter.
Take them with you
City and sand, Portugal
Breathtaking natural beauty, lapping Atlantic waves, moreish vinho verde, delicious pastel de nata and a postcard-perfect capital that captures the heart… In Portugal, Limitless Travel makes possible a city and beach break that is often out of the reach of disabled travellers. With accompanying professional carers, it is all doable and, best of all, the carer gets a proper break (including visits to accessible vineyards and beaches).
The details: Limitless Travel’s (0800 711 7232; limitlesstravel.org) seven-day Portuguese and Lisbon Sunshine Travel Tour costs from £1,699pp on a half-board basis (increasing with the requirements for accompanying care); excludes flights. Accommodation is in an accessible four-star Hotel Sado in Setúbal, a coastal town a short drive from Lisbon
Portugal requires proof of full vaccination or recovery, or an antigen test. Pre-departure PCR test for mainland Portugal but not Madeira or the Azores. Under-12s exempt. All tourists must register in advance (madeirasafe.com).
A sibling escape in Paris
I was 22 months old when I met my sister, just 12 hours after she was born. “This is your sister Charlotte,” Mum said, “and, whatever happens, you two must always look after each other.”
It’s a mantra that we have lived by ever since, particularly when it comes to travel. Once we left home, holidays became the best chance for us to spend time together. I taught Charlotte to ski when I lived in the Alps and we went on a road trip around Florida when she was teaching in the Caribbean. The most significant journey that we have taken together was to India, where we immersed our dad’s ashes in the River Ganges as part of a Hindu ritual.
Over the past two years, we haven’t spent much time together. With Dad gone, we helped our mum through chemotherapy and surgery for ovarian cancer. Charlotte moved back home and I was just a short train ride away. One of us was always with Mum, but we spent little time alone. So while Mum was between treatments and enjoying a spell of feeling better, we decided to have a short sibling holiday.
We settled on a weekend in Paris in order to have the adventure of going abroad, while not being too far away from home, should we need to get back quickly. It also meant we could fulfil our childhood dream of going to Disneyland – if you are going to regress, you might as well do it properly.
Opting for the Eurostar (we both love train journeys), we arrived two hours faster – and significantly less stressed – than if we had travelled by air. We checked into Le Bristol, a Parisian institution near the Élysée Palace, and spent the afternoon ordering delicious cocktails to the rooftop swimming pool.
The next morning, as excited as if it were Christmas, we walked through the entrance of Disneyland Park and Mickey Mouse appeared on a balcony to wave to us. It sounds silly, but after a year of lockdowns and hospital visits, seeing a person dressed as a cartoon character actually felt magical. I don’t think I could have let myself do it, had I not been with my sister, but from the moment I waved back, I surrendered myself to a day of childish escapism.
We started by racing through the rides, aided by queue-jumping guides. We played hide-and-seek around Skull Rock, and then went for a meet-and-greet with Marvel’s Avengers. I was sceptical, and presumed that this was just going to be a photo op, but the actors were great and made the whole thing playfully interactive.
We got back to Paris in time for sunset, and headed up to Sacré-Cœur for the view. It was magnificent. As evening fell, we headed down the back of Montmartre, deep into the 18th arrondissement, staying late into the night, drinking cocktails and building memories, which we will talk about for ever.
As we climbed aboard the Eurostar and headed home, my sister grabbed me for a hug, with tears in her eyes.
“Thank you, brother,” she said, “that was just what we needed.”
That weekend didn’t change the reality of Mum’s illness, but it gave me and Charlotte a break from the continuous tension of caring, allowing us to reconnect and have fun. Taking time to enjoy good things also gave us the energy to cope with harder things. We had a very special final few months with Mum when she was in the hospice, and, like on our trip, my sister and I will continue to “always look after each other” now that Mum has gone – just as she hoped we would.
The details: Double rooms with breakfast at Le Bristol (00 331 5343 4325; oetkercollection.com) cost from £1,278 per night. London to Paris on the Eurostar (03432 186 186; eurostar.com) costs from £78 return. A day ticket to Disneyland Park & Walt Disney Studios Paris (00 33 825 30 05 00; disneylandparis.com) costs from £65 for adults; £63 for children aged three-11.
By Ashwin Bhardwaj