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Why Pembrokshire is on par with world’s wildest holiday hotspots

IT sounded like an exotic location in a distant land on paper. Paddling in crystal clear waters, exploring miles of unspoilt sandy beaches, sampling the local cuisine and even whale and dolphin spo…

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IT sounded like an exotic location in a distant land on paper.

Paddling in crystal clear waters, exploring miles of unspoilt sandy beaches, sampling the local cuisine and even whale and dolphin spotting.

 A flooded slate mine, Blue Lagoon near Abereiddy is now a popular swimming and diving spotGetty – Contributor A flooded slate mine, Blue Lagoon near Abereiddy is now a popular swimming and diving spot

But amazingly, to experience all this we didn’t even have to board a plane.

Instead, a road trip along the M4 delivered us to some of the most beautiful natural landscapes the world has to offer.

No passports required. Glorious Pembrokeshire in west Wales is a magnet for walkers, wildlife lovers, foodies and families.

The tourist attractions are many… amazing nature reserves, quaint coastal villages and award-winning beaches.

To see why so many visitors flock here year upon year, we acquainted ourselves with the region on a blustery walk along the Wales Coastal Path.

Wales is the only place in the world to have a path that spans the entire length of its coast.

 With a population under 2,000, St Davids is the smallest city in the UKGetty – Contributor With a population under 2,000, St Davids is the smallest city in the UK

We were at one of the most picturesque sections, setting off from Abereiddy, a pretty hamlet with a history in slate mining, and had our eyes peeled for dolphins and porpoises.

Visitors are greeted by candy-coloured cottages in a picture-postcard scene and a blue-flag beach but the hamlet would once have had a community far more geared for miners instead of tourists.

Its former slate quarry is now famous as the Blue Lagoon, formed in the ruins that have been flooded by the sea breaking in.

 Twr y Felin’s Blas restaurant uses local and foraged ingredients Twr y Felin’s Blas restaurant uses local and foraged ingredients

The turquoise pool is a popular spot for divers and fossil hunters but we decided to just enjoy the view and keep our feet dry.

Afterwards, it was a treat to check into the gorgeous Wolfscastle Country Hotel which has TLC on tap. The hotel is run by husband and wife Andrew and Mandy Stirling, who have owned it for 40 years.

 St David’s lifeboat stations on the coastal pathGetty – Contributor St David’s lifeboat stations on the coastal path

After a great value pampering session in the spa and dinner in the restaurant, it wasn’t hard to see why the place has enjoyed such longevity.

Located just 15 minutes from Haverfordwest in the heart of the Pembrokeshire countryside, only nine miles from the coast, it was a great spot for numerous foodie delights.

For a relaxed drink the cosy Wolfe Inn pub is five minutes’ walk away and offers a great selection of local ales.

 The stylish modern interior of Twr y Felin’s Blas restaurant The stylish modern interior of Twr y Felin’s Blas restaurant

We also enjoyed a fabulous Sunday lunch at the two-rosette Blas restaurant in Twr y Felin. Blas means “taste” in Welsh and the menu is packed with local ingredients.

Expect to enjoy Pembrokeshire produce such as Welsh lamb and duck alongside fish from the surrounding seas.

Traditional ingredients such as samphire and laver (seaweed) are foraged from the coastline and cheese comes courtesy of cows grazing in nearby St Brides Bay.

Before leaving we just had time to visit the seaside city of St David’s with its famous cathedral and rows of independent shops and galleries.

With a population under 2,000, it’s the smallest city in the UK but it made a big impression on us, just like the rest of this exotic Welsh county.

We can see why so many return to the region. And we will be happy to join them.

GO: PEMBROKSHIRE

GETTING/STAYING THERE: Well linked by rail, check thetrainline.com. For car hire visit avis.co.uk. Rooms at Wolfscastle Country Hotel start from £65 a night. See wolfscastle.com.

OUT AND ABOUT: For info on activities and attractions, see visitwales.com.

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It’s not just the kids who will love these three family-friendly mini-breaks

The Welsh National Park Writer Rachel Brislane, husband Dave and kids Annabelle, four, and Jack, two, checked into Bluestone National Park Resort in Pembrokeshire. The pad: Set within 500 acres of …

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The Welsh National Park

Writer Rachel Brislane, husband Dave and kids Annabelle, four, and Jack, two, checked into Bluestone National Park Resort in Pembrokeshire.

The pad: Set within 500 acres of woodland and with the choice of either romantic pastel-painted cottages or spacious timber-clad lodges, this haven is perfect for families holidaying together.

 It's hard to resist the stunning natural beauty of the Pembrokeshire coast It’s hard to resist the stunning natural beauty of the Pembrokeshire coast

Since my parents and sister’s family joined us, we took advantage of the interconnecting Tenby lodges that come with a well-equipped kitchen, two bathrooms, two doubles and a twin each, plus a large living area ideal for hangouts.

Stair gates, a travel cot and high chair were on hand, too.

On-site Cycle along the nature trails and head down to Camp Smokey, looking out for fairy doors hidden in walls and toadstools along the way.

 Annabelle, four, had fun making friends with the locals in Wales Annabelle, four, had fun making friends with the locals in Wales

Once there, sip a hot drink and toast marshmallows over the open fire.

Feeling energetic? Zip wires, high ropes and climbing can be found at the Steep Ravine, from £14.

While the indoor Adventure Centre has soft play, mini golf, a bouncy castle, diggers, climbing frames and Lego.

Don’t forget to visit the Blue Lagoon Waterpark either, with its indoor beach, wave machine, flumes, lazy river and wet play, which our two loved.

 Even the youngest of tots, like two-year-old Jack, will have a whale of a time in Wales Even the youngest of tots, like two-year-old Jack, will have a whale of a time in Wales

Refuel: The Village, at the resort’s heart, has a pub, shops, bakery, restaurants and more play areas.

Try tasty pizza or pasta from the Oak Tree restaurant – a yummy Welsh beef lasagne is £14.

Or there’s the Farmhouse Grill, with soft play inside for restless little ones.

Fancy a takeaway? The Chippy is the place to go.

Don’t miss: Get wildlife spotting! Bunnies hang around the lodges, and you may spy ducklings at the lake. Plus, Tenby beach is just 25 minutes away.

Book it: Three-night self-catered breaks start from £239 for a family of four (Bluestonewales.com).

The Parisian countryside

Fabulous Beauty Editor Lauren Ezekiel, fiancé Steve and daughter Millie, 22 months, had a woodland adventure at Villages Nature Paris, Marne-la-Vallée.

The pad: From your cosy cabin in the peaceful woods, you’d never guess that Disneyland Paris is just a 15-minute bus ride away.

But with Villages Nature’s on-site aqua park, charming farm and family-friendly food, chances are you might not even be tempted to leave this bolt-hole for its noisier neighbour.

 From the idyllic woodland of Villages Nature you'd never guess that Disneyland Paris is just 15 minutes away From the idyllic woodland of Villages Nature you’d never guess that Disneyland Paris is just 15 minutes away

As you’d expect from the brains behind Center Parcs, the cottages are top-notch.

The spacious two-bed, two-bathroom pads are playfully decorated with tree murals, have fast WiFi and even a dishwasher (yay!).

The only thing likely to disturb your glass of vino on the front deck? Wild hares hopping by.

On-site: Grab your cossie – Villages Nature’s water park Aqualagon has mammoth slides to keep bigger kids screaming for more, and the heated outdoor lazy river is a must.

Millie loved the children’s pool complete with sand pit and splash park.

Be sure to hire a bike (with handy kid’s carriage), too – it’s the best way to get around.

 Make a splash at the pool whatever your age - with mammoth slides to keep bigger kids screaming for more Make a splash at the pool whatever your age – with mammoth slides to keep bigger kids screaming for more

Refuel: Les Délices de la Ferme at the BelleVie Farm (a must-visit, with its interactive animal shows, horses and cute bunnies) has one of the best soft play areas we’ve ever seen.

The cheese selection with local Brie is to die for, and you’ll find yourself eating dessert without so much as a “Mummy?” – perfect!

Meanwhile, Millie devoured the spag Bol at Italian favourite Vapiano, where mains start from £6.50.

 After working up an appetite in the driving seat, Millie was ready to tuck into spag Bol at Italian favourite Vapiano After working up an appetite in the driving seat, Millie was ready to tuck into spag Bol at Italian favourite Vapiano

Don’t miss: Weekend brunch at Pur Etc, £28, is yummy.

Feast on local meats and home-made cakes – chocolate scone anyone? – while the kids dive into yet another play area with a kitchen, colouring pens and books.

Book it: Two nights self-catering start from £216 for four people (Villagesnatureparis.co.uk).

Trains from London St Pancras International to Disneyland Paris start from £38 one-way for adults and £27 one-way for children aged four to 11. Under-fours go free (Eurostar.com).

The Spanish theme park

Fabulous Editor Sinead McIntyre visited PortAventura World in Salou, Spain, with husband Alistair and twins Riley and Harris, six.

The pad: Just a 90-minute drive south-west from Barcelona, you don’t expect to find yourself in the Wild West.

 Wannabe cowboys and girls will love Hotel Gold River at PortAventura World in Salou, Spain Wannabe cowboys and girls will love Hotel Gold River at PortAventura World in Salou, Spain

Yet arriving at PortAventura World’s American-themed Hotel Gold River, it’s like stepping on to the set of Little House on The Prairie.

In the Deluxe Callaghan rooms, expect two huge king-size beds and a massive bathroom.

Plus, every evening holiday-makers gather in the main square for drinks and a kids’ disco.

On-site: It’s a short walk to the theme park, which is divided into six themed lands including China and Mediterránia.

 A short walk to the theme park will make for an adrenaline-packed holiday A short walk to the theme park will make for an adrenaline-packed holiday

Daredevil Riley adored the El Diablo wooden rollercoaster in México, and both twins couldn’t get enough of the Silver River Flume in the Far West area, which was the overall family favourite.

One day we rode it four times, ending up totally soaked!

Refuel: Styled like an old fishing village, our favourite restaurant was Raco de Mar in Mediterránia, which serves melt-in-the-mouth calamari and succulent mussels in tomato sauce.

 The twins definitely had fun watching the birdie The twins definitely had fun watching the birdie

At American diner The Iron Horse, we tucked into New York strip steak with chips.

Each restaurant has a kids’ two-course menu at £11.50, with favourites like pasta, pizza and chicken and chips.

Come the evening, we loved the Grand Hall buffet, which costs £22 for adults, £10 for children.

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Mickey and pals lead the way for festive theme park magic at Disneyland Paris

IN the run-up to my Christmas break at  Disneyland Paris, I had a serious case of the Scrooges. Before December arrives, the sight of a poinsettia in a tea shop window or the sound of a carol in JJ…

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IN the run-up to my Christmas break at  Disneyland Paris, I had a serious case of the Scrooges.

Before December arrives, the sight of a poinsettia in a tea shop window or the sound of a carol in JJB Sports tends to bring me out in a rash.

 King of the swingers . . . Mickey’s Christmas Big Band perform at Disneyland ParisValentin Desjardins King of the swingers . . . Mickey’s Christmas Big Band perform at Disneyland Paris

Yet within minutes of entering Mickey Mouse country, the spirit of Christmas was coursing through my veins — and my icy heart reduced to a rainbow puddle.

My winter grump was no match for the park’s yuletide magic, which is so powerful that realistic “snow”  spontaneously  falls on Main Street. Take that, British drizzle!

Our Enchanted Christmas adventure began on the Eurostar in Standard Premierclass, which took us from London’s St Pancras to the gates of the park in just three hours.

Once inside, we grabbed a crepe and caught an astonishing night-time show — Goofy’s Incredible Christmas in the Walt Disney Studios Park — which features a mind-bending combination of projections and lasers to transport audiences to the North Pole.

 Mickey’s drumming up the fun this ChristmasValentin Desjardins Mickey’s drumming up the fun this Christmas

Equally impressive daytime spectaculars included Mickey’s Christmas Big Band, a sing-along Frozen show and A Merry Stitchmas — but in my opinion, you can’t beat a parade.

The stand-outs were the Stars On Parade, featuring jaw-dropping floats with special effects plus all your fave characters, and the legendary Christmas Parade.

Then came the rides which, like Santa’s sleigh, delivered the goods.

The day before we arrived, the immersive Star Wars simulator ride — Star Tours — had been given a major update, bringing it in line with the latest sequels.

 Show time . . . Disneyland Paris really does make a song and dance about everything Show time . . . Disneyland Paris really does make a song and dance about everything

Other rides that did it for us were The Twilight Zone Tower Of Terror, the reliably thrilling Big Thunder Mountain and  Hyperspace Mountain — now linked to Star Wars —  which rockets you into space at break-neck speed. When we weren’t spinning vertically, we were gorging ourselves silly — and the food at the 55 onsite restaurants blew us away.

There were also two restaurants at our hotel, Sequoia Lodge, which was a short walk from the park  and staffed by the friendliest people on Earth. If you fancy letting your hair down,  Disney Village has a surprisingly decent array of nightlife to enjoy.

We danced into the small hours at Billy Bob’s, a saloon-style bar with a stage for live music.

 The stunning festive illuminationsValentin Desjardins The stunning festive illuminations

But the unforgettable climax of our trip had to be the Disney Illuminations at Sleeping Beauty Castle.

It involved an emotional montage of Disney flicks being projected in eye-popping detail on to the castle and painstakingly synced with flames, water and fireworks, all set to some classic tunes. It’s fair to say there wasn’t a dry eye in the crowd — or on the station platform when it was time to head home. Back to reality? Bah humbug!

 Olivia, right, and her winter grump were no match for the park’s yuletide magic Olivia, right, and her winter grump were no match for the park’s yuletide magic

Eurostar has daily direct services to Disneyland Paris from London St Pancras, Ashford International and Ebbsfleet International.

Prices are from £43 one-way for adults and £31 for children aged four to 11. Children under four travel free.

To book, see eurostar.com or call 03432 186 186.

Disney’s Enchanted Christmas runs until January 7.

A two-night/three-day package is from £705 in total, based on two adults and two children aged three to 11 sharing a room at Disney’s Hotel Santa Fe with three-day park hopper tickets.

For more information, see disneylandparis.com or call  08448 008 111.

EUROPEAN ALTERNATIVES YULE ENJOY

WHILE Disney may dominate when it comes to festive adventures for kids, the House of Mouse isn’t your only option this Christmas.

Both Holland’s Efteling theme park and Spain’s Port Aventura offer a very different take on traditional  winter fun and are a great bet if you’ve already done Disney.

Efteling in the south of Holland is a fantasy-themed park – think  fairytales, fables, myths and  more  –  and come December, it is transformed with twinkling lights, bonfires and snow-covered pine trees.

Take to the ice in the indoor rink or don a pair of skis and try its 400m cross country track.

The park’s Fairytale Forest also takes on a frosty festive atmosphere and the Fairytale Tree will give a special winter performance.

British Airways has a package holiday to Efteling including return flights from Gatwick to Amsterdam, a two-night B&B stay at the Efteling Hotel and park tickets from £263 per person. See britishairways.com or efteling.com

Alternatively, for a little sunshine with your Christmas fun, Port Aventura on Spain’s Costa Dorada is perfect.

Until January 7 the theme park will feature life-size decorations, garlands, bells and an 8m-high Christmas tree in the new Ferrari Land.

There’s also an ice-rink in the Mexico area of the park as well as special Christmas-themed shows and parades.

Watch out for   firework displays over the Mediterrania Lake to herald the arrival of the Three Wise Men and Santa’s Grotto in China land, too.

OnTheBeach has a  four-night half-board break staying at the 4H PortAventura Hotel El Paso, which offers guests free access to the park from £294 per person. Price includes return flights from Gatwick on December 27. To book, see onthebeach.co.uk or call  0871 474 3000.

LISA MINOT

Harry puts Ho-Ho-Ho in Hogwarts

 The spellbinding Hogwarts Castle The spellbinding Hogwarts Castle

HARRY Potter has cast many a spell in his time, but he has come up with a new feat at Universal Orlando this festive season – he has enchanted Christmas itself.

The Universal theme park world has just unveiled its biggest ever Christmas programme, and the boy wizard completely steals the show from Santa and co.

It’s a major achievement, as Father Christmas is the star of the all-new  Universal Holiday Parade featuring Macy’s, a superb source of seasonal cheer in itself.

To start with, both the Hogsmeade Village and Diagon Alley areas will be dressed in festive finery for the very first time, with miles of garland, tinsel and fairy lights adding to the  bewitching look.

 The parade includes all your favourite characters©2017 Universal Orlando Resort. All rights reserved. The parade includes all your favourite characters

The live entertainment has been given a full  makeover for the season too, with both the Hogwarts Frog Choir and the show-stopping Celestina Warbeck offering specially-themed songs  – including the hilarious My Baby Gave Me A Hippogriff For Christmas).

It can all  be enjoyed with  a delicious hot Butterbeer.

But the truly epic moment  comes with a stunning light-and-sound show projected on to the massive edifice of Hogwarts Castle several times each night.

Using a state-of-the-art projection mapping system, Universal and the creative folks from Potter film gurus Warner Bros have produced a seven-minute wonder that dazzles the  senses with its awe-inspiring imagery.

 Shrek and Fiona were there, too©2017 Universal Orlando Resort. All rights reserved. Shrek and Fiona were there, too

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Forget hotels – this festive season you can sleep inside the Coca-Cola Christmas TRUCK

FOR some, the realisation Christmas has arrived is hearing a festive tune on the radio – for others, it’s when they see the Coca Cola truck advert on TV for the first time. But this yea…

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FOR some, the realisation Christmas has arrived is hearing a festive tune on the radio – for others, it’s when they see the Coca Cola truck advert on TV for the first time.

But this year, the drinks company is going one better – letting two people live out a childhood fantasy by spending a night in the Coca-Cola truck.

 The Coca-Cola truck is opening its doors for the first time ever The Coca-Cola truck is opening its doors for the first time ever  Guests get their very own Christmas presents to open at the bottom of the tree Guests get their very own Christmas presents to open at the bottom of the tree

For the first time ever, the beverage manufacturer is giving fans the chance to see inside the world-famous truck and enjoy the ultimate festive sleepover.

The giant red lorry has travelled more than 730,000 miles in its seven-year history spreading Christmas cheer to countries all around the globe.

But people rarely get a peek inside the famous lorry.

Instead of being filled wall-to-wall with fizzy Coke, this year the lorry has been decked out like a festive living room and bedroom.

 Two twin beds sit under a winter feature wall for guests during their sleepover Two twin beds sit under a winter feature wall for guests during their sleepover  The truck is filled with 8,772 fairy lights, and plenty of Christmas decorations The truck is filled with 8,772 fairy lights, and plenty of Christmas decorations

As well as some pretty hefty Coca-Cola branding, there a woodland snow scene, flickering festive fireplace and a Christmas tree.

Guests can get their hands on festive music playlists and Christmas films on demand, as well as a Christmas smorgasbord delivered to their door.

They will even get to open presents left for them in stockings hanging by the fireplace while relaxing in luxury.

They also get as much ice-cold Coca-Cola or Coca-Cola Zero Sugar they can drink.

 Guests will get to enjoy as much Coca-Cola as they like Guests will get to enjoy as much Coca-Cola as they like Christmas ads: Coca Cola 1990

The experience doesn’t end there, with breakfast  included, as well as complimentary tickets to the Coca-Cola London Eye.

The truck itself comes with two twin beds, and is decorated to mimic a cosy, festive winter cottage.

To be in with a chance of staying in the Coca-Cola truck, go to Laterooms.com, find the listing and explain why you are the ultimate Christmas fan.

 

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