as a family we have always enjoyed travelling by train. at the beginning of the summer holidays we used to take an early morning train from london to paris, then a taxi across paris to leave our luggage at austerlitz station for the day. it was such a fun and relaxing way to travel, we packed board games and craft kits for the journey and felt like we were on holiday from the moment we left our front door. and as an added bonus it gave us a day to spend in paris before taking the night train on to barcelona.
i remember as a child seeing the 1963 film charade, starring audrey hepburn and cary grant. full of romance and suspense, it’s set in paris, and in it there’s a scene when audrey and cary are watching the vrai guignolet theatre. so one year we decided to go on a quest to the champs elysees to find it. we were in luck! we found it, exactly the way it was in the film, with the same faded red curtain and just as much charm.
we also discovered a traditional puppet show, known as a ‘guignol’, in the jardin du luxembourg, one of our favourite spots in paris. it was founded in 1933 and is now housed in a comfortable and modern theatre, with performances all the way through the year. the shows are designed for children aged 2-6 but are a delight for all ages, even adults. there’s also a marvellous old merry-go-round with ride-on wild animals, and an area with vintage toy sailing boats to rent. this is an old tradition which dates back to 1927 when a monsieur and madame paudeau rented handmade wooden boats with hand-stitched fabric sails to visiting children.
another perennial favourite is the natural history museum in paris. it's got an amazing zoological park and a gallery of evolution which is so well done - a state of the art renovated museum packed full of real life-size stuffed animals.
these are our happiest memories of paris. we like to think of it as our secret paris for families.
for more information see:
one of our favourite things to do on holiday is to paint pebbles. there’s something just so irresistible about beachcombing or wading in shallow river water for weathered stones and pebbles, filling pockets and buckets and then sorting them out later at home. fat ones, thin ones, smooth or rough ones, long ones and skinny ones, spotted or plain, red, grey, blue, green, orange or pale – they all have potential to be transformed with a few simple strokes of a paintbrush.
we decorate ours with words, faces, or just paint them with patterns. somehow we nearly always end up with fish – just add a shard of beach-worn glass or china for a tail and a fin, a few strokes with a brush and some paint and the humble stone is transformed into a fabulous fish. a coat of clear varnish seals them forever. we can never bear to give ours away, but they make wonderful presents. we keep a collection of our favourites stuck in an old wooden cigar box that belonged to my grandfather.
this is a fun holiday activity for all ages. it’s so important to nurture children’s creativity. as picasso said ‘every child is an artist. the problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up’.
speaking of picasso... hedgehog recommends:
museu picasso in barcelona
picasso museum in paris
my daughter has always loved to carry baskets. even when she was tiny she would use baskets for her teddies and toys. being catalan, we’ve always had lots of baskets around the home so there are plenty to chose from. my mother was the same, she too could never resist a woven basket, that obsession passed on to me... weaving is an art form that’s been practiced all through civilisation. it’s in our heritage, it’s part of our culture, and something we instinctively appreciate.
in spain there’s a strong tradition of weaving baskets from palm. baskets are hand-woven using the traditional technique passed down from generation to generation. because each basket is handmade they are all slightly different and unique, and these variations add to their appeal. they are strong and hard-wearing, and completely natural and bio-degradable.
we have baskets in all sorts of shapes and sizes dotted round the house - in the kitchen, for storage and laundry, for sorting clothes and shoes – and we never leave home without one. we have big ones for everyday shopping, going to the market and days out at the beach, medium ones for foraging trips, nipping out to the post office or to pick up a pint of milk, little ones for our children and mini ones for their teddies and dolls. we have shoulder baskets with longer leather straps, which can be used on a bicycle, and baskets with colourful handles so everyone in the family can choose their favourite.
this summer hedgehog has travelled further and we’ve introduced some vibrant coloured woven baskets from asia. made from recycled plastic strapping, they are very resilient and strong. we keep one in our car for muddy or sandy shoes and hose it down to clean it, and because they’re a more structured shape, they’re great for carrying drinks and glasses to picnics.
whatever shape, size or colour, baskets are essential summer kit for the family. there are plenty in our shop to choose from... don’t leave home without yours!
the cowboy party we had for our son’s 6th birthday was so much fun. there is plenty of iconic wild west symbolism that can bring atmosphere and set the scene for a legendary party for heroes, outlaws, gunslingers, sheriffs, bandits and brave pioneers.
i designed invitations with a wild west font that i found online, printed them on brown paper, rolled and tied each one up with a rope. guests love a good invitation, it gets excitement building ahead and encourages dressing up, which always brings a good vibe to a party.
we used straw bales for seating and chose a colour palette of red, blue and brown. we decked the garden with handmade bunting coordinated with check blankets and gingham napkins. enamelware is a really good investment for children’s parties, it can be used time and time again and doesn't break. our enamel pots, jugs, mugs and plates looked great on the table alongside cactuses planted in small buckets.
it helps having a creative husband. he painted signs on old wooden wine cases and made a hoopla from kindling. i remembered party games from my childhood including apple bobbing and pin the tail on the donkey, and we turned the trampoline into a ‘jail’. live music from some folk jazz musicians we stumbled across in a market the week before helped settle the children when they arrived – by the end they were dancing merrily to country and western riffs!
we raided local charity shops for old plaid shirts which we cut up and used for bandannas, handkerchiefs and party bags. each one was individually labelled with the children’s names, using rubber stamps.
we had lots of fun designing themed party food, from mini hot dogs, to grilled corn-on-the-cob and sausages with little bowls of ketchup and american style mustard. finally I bought every child the coolest cowboy hat to take home when they left. these were dotted these round the room as decoration during the party.
I hope this inspires you to get creative at home.
even though st george probably never set foot in this country, he represents the admirable qualities of bravery and chivalry, and was made patron saint of england in the middle ages. the legend that he heroically slayed a dragon to rescue a princess, suggesting good overcoming evil, has made him a much loved popular icon.
st george is also patron saint of catalonia, and celebrated by the portuguese, romanians, maltese, georgians and the people of moscow. his emblem is a red cross on a white background, which is the england flag and part of the union jack. in england it is customary on st george’s day is to wear a single red rose in the lapel.
barcelona celebrates sant jordi on 23rd april with a festival of roses, books and lovers. it’s a combination of culture and romanticism, when sweethearts exchange gifts, and book and flower stalls spring up all around the city. 'a rose is for love and a book is forever'. street artists and musicians perform in public squares and ‘sardana’, the national dance of catalonia, is performed throughout the day.
it’s a perfect excuse for children to dress up in knight’s tunics, don a helmet and role play with swords and shields. as a symbol of my catalan heritage, wherever we are on st george’s day we love to visit to book shop and remember to give each other a red rose.
this week is national gardening week which was launched by the royal horticultural society six years ago and has grown into a nationwide celebration involving thousands of people, gardens, charities and cultural and heritage organisations.
all round the country there are events and activities to encourage new gardeners to get growing, and lots of ideas to get children involved and appreciate the natural world. even reluctant gardeners can be persuaded to help on a spring day when the sun is shining. it’s perfect timing over the Easter holidays to inspire children to create a haven for birds, bugs, butterflies, worms, toads and hedgehogs - and to get planting!
in london we only have a very small garden, but we always make sure there’s a space for the children to tend a patch. radishes are rewarding as they are very fast to grow, and nasturtium are brilliant as they produce an abundance of brightly coloured edible flowers. cress can be grown inside on a bed of cotton wool – all you need is a sunny windowsill, a packet of inexpensive seeds and a little pot or bowl, or even an old egg box will do. growing cress is fun as it only takes about seven days to germinate, it’s good to eat and you don’t even need a garden.
it’s fun to experiment with different types of decoration. in the past we have painted, drawn, sprayed, attached stickers, marbled them with old nail polish, dyed them with natural food dyes and even decoupaged them! There are plenty of techniques for all ages, and even the simplest colours or patterns by the youngest children look gorgeous. ours get more sophisticated each year as the children get older.
then we decorate our house with colourful eggs. we’ve got quite a collection now - some that we’ve decorated in previous years, some bought from markets and some from trips abroad. we dream of covering the branches of our ash tree in the garden with all our eggs…
in central germany, not far from leipzig, there is an easter tree which became world famous for 10,000 eggs. it all started in 1945 when volker kraft was a little boy and dreamed of having his very own easter tree. when he was married and had a family he began an annual tradition to decorate the garden tree with eggs every easter. he started in 1965 by decorating a sapling in his garden with eighteen coloured eggs, and with the help of children and then grandchildren the project grew and grew until 2012 when the tree had grown very big and the egg count reached 10,000. the tree attracted press and visitors from all round the world. volker’s dream had come true. 2015 was the final year for the easter egg tree…now it’s an inspirational story of how dreams can come true if you try hard enough.
spring is a time for birth and new life. whether you live in a city or the country, there’s nothing more delightful than to visit a farm with baby animals in the spring. watching a newborn lamb stand on its wobbly legs and gambol in the fields, or a tiny fluffy freshly hatched chick finding its feet are some of life’s irresistible pleasures, whether you’re two years old or eighty! it’s a lovely day out for all the family.
some of our happiest days out have been at daylesford. It’s a real, organic working farm where our children have enjoyed learning about farming and animals. most children love nature, and we like to encourage ours to learn about farming to help them to understand and appreciate where the food on our plates arrives from, and quite how much work has gone into it getting there. a visit to a farm with a guided tour can be an important lesson for children to understand the decisions and consequences we make about our diets. at daylesford we have seen lambs being born, emerging from their mothers and hitting the straw ready to start life. i believe it’s good for children to witness nature, from birth to death to understand that these events are entirely normal and nothing to be afraid of.
many farms across the country offer visits with a close-up experience of lambing. some allow visitors to bottle feed lambs and some offer tractor tours, which are especially loved by young children. farm visits are especially rewarding in the spring, but there’s lots to enjoy and learn all the way through spring and summer.
for visits and tours on lambing check:
although little known in the uk, carnival is an important festival celebrated in western christian countries, especially in areas with a large catholic population. it is thought to have evolved from a pagan festival - a time to drive out the winter spirits to make way for spring’s arrival. originally it was the last opportunity to feast on the remaining stores of winter food such as lard, butter and meat, ahead of the long wait for spring produce.
carnival is a time of fun and excess before lent. people dress up in costumes and masks, party and parade on the streets. it is a time to eat, dance, party, and go wild, before the observation of lent when fasting and sobriety takes over.
brazil celebrates carnival with its world famous ‘rio carnival’ - a massive colourful street parade with music and dancing, and venice is famous for its lavish parties and elaborate masks. in spain, schools allow children to dress up and families come out onto the streets, for parades and street parties. it is a very convivial time.
shrove tuesday, or ‘pancake day’, is the last day before lent and coincides with the end of carnival. traditionally pancakes are eaten to use up rich, indulgent foods such as milk and eggs before the forty days of lent.
this year shrove tuesday is february 28th and lent begins on march 1st. we like to make masks at home with the children and we eat a lot of pancakes for tea as we discuss what each of us is going to give up until easter. pancakes are so simple to make (best to prepare the mixture in advance) and everyone takes turns flipping their own. we try chocolate spread, jam and honey but in the end the favourite is usually the classic - lemon with a liberal sprinkling of sugar.
every year, when valentine's day comes, we try to do something loving for each other. it’s the perfect opportunity to craft special cards and bake something spoiling and delicious for the family to enjoy together. often we cook a meal and sometimes we go out to a favourite restaurant. one year my daughter made a thyme-scented, heart-shaped shortbread. she was only 10 years at the time - and it was easy to make, delicious and the best valentine’s present we could imagine! hedgehogshop sells non-stick heart shape moulds which are perfect for baking family treats on valentine’s day.