Undiscovered Mountains go on a family activity holiday with teenagers - here's what we learnt!

Posted 08-05-2024 by Sally

When the travel professionals go on holiday... 

In the name of research, the Undiscovered Mountains family; me (Sally, Undiscovered Mountains director), Bernard (Undiscovered Mountains head guide) and our teenagers (aged 18 and 14), decided to go on a family activity holiday to Sardinia. With both of us working in tourism and still tied to school holidays, family holidays for us are very rare. This will be our third in 18 years!  Objective of the trip: experience the whole process of going on a family holiday with teenagers from the planning to doing the washing at the end, in a place neither of us know, to see what it feels like to be a client! Oh and of course to have an amazing family adventure and create quality memories!

Here's what we learnt!

Planning the trip:

We chose Sardinia for several reasons:

  • At the end of April, beginning of May, when we had a window for a holiday, it was a good bet for climate 
  • We could get there by ferry from France so no need to fly 
  • Going by ferry meant we could take our own car and pack all our climbing and via ferrata kit and other equipment that would have been impossible if travelling by plane
  • There is the sea and all the associated water sports which the kids would love,
  • There are also well known cliffs and small mountains for climbing, via ferrata and trekking activities which we all love
  • It is Italian which Tommy is learning at school so there was an educational aspect too 

Despite having quality travel contacts in the area, I couldn't actually find a service like ours at Undiscovered Mountains to actually organise a tailor made activity holiday from A to Z using local contacts and knowledge, so I had to do this myself! This was a bit of a disappointment as I really didn't want to trawl through the internet searching for activity providers and work out the logistics of where they all were or worry about whether they were going to be friendly, properly qualified or professional outfits. I have worked in the industry long enough to know that on a blind internet search, despite all the reviews, articles and everything else, there is probably only a 50/50 chance that the experience you are buying actually is what you think it is!

Nor did I relish the thought of going through the same process for choosing an accommodation. Luckily for me, my lovely friend, Melina from Orosei Adventours who specialises in 4x4 and trekking holidays in the part of Sardinia we were keen to visit, helped me with finding two great hotels, one with an eco-label, so that was perfect. A few hours of internet searching saved! 

She also gave me some pointers for the activities, but didn't have the contacts in the types of activities we really wanted to do.

So I started searching like everybody else does with search terms on the internet. I searched for via ferrata in Sardinia, climbing in Sardinia, fishing in Sardinia, snorkelling in Sardinia, canyoning in Sardinia, kayaking in Sardinia... you get the picture! Of course Viator, Trip Advisor, Get my Guide were all there at the top of the search engines with beautiful pictures promising all kids of adventures, but when drilled down into, they were often in the wrong place and few options were available to book. I know how difficult it is for activity providers to keep online availability up to date on these types of platforms so I wasn't too put off by this and used the platforms to try to identify the names of the actual activity providers themselves to then contact them directly.  I did manage to discover the names of a few activity provider websites from this process and sent in enquiries but very few wrote back. One point I did note was that most of the activity provider actual websites were only in Italien, which is probably why they didn't show up in the initial searches.

I spent many hours, in fact probably days, researching, emailing, reading reviews, scouring maps and checking and reading around all the activities in the area around Orosei and Cala Gonone, where our hotels were.

One site, did get back to me and after much deliberation, I booked a UIAGM guide (the same high mountain guide qualification that Bernard has) through them for a via ferrata.  It would be a first for Bernard to be guided! That in itself would be a fun experience! I also booked kayak hire through a contact I got from Melina and decided that the rest would have to wait until we got there as it was just too time consuming, too risky and too frustrating trying to do it remotely!

The Holiday

We arrived at 7 in the morning at Porto Torres and drove directly to our first hotel in Cala Gonone, the fabulous and highly recommended Cala Luna hotel. They kept the breakfast bar open an extra half an hour to allow us to feast on their delicious and various local products for breakfast, which was very welcome. They then allowed us onto their rooftop bar, which we had all to ourselves, whilst we waited for our room to be ready. 

It was a lovely lazy first day with a short climbing expedition at the end on one of the local crags. I felt very lucky to have our own in-house climbing guide with us!

The first day was kayaking and as these were booked in advance we had a rendez-vous at 9h00. This meant the kids had to get out of bed and that we had to go. On hindsight this was excellent planning as it over-rode all the groans and moans about being tired, worries about the waves and other general teenage excuses for not going and staying in bed all morning! We ended up having an absolutely fantastic day kayaking out to a beautiful beach, jumping in the waves and an adventurous return kayaking through the waves back. Had we tried to organise this on the day with the family dynamics as they were,  it just wouldn't have happened! Chiara, at the kayak place also gave us a tip on where to eat and we ended up eating there for 3 nights, it was so good. The value of local knowledge reinforced!

Day two was with our guide, the wonderful Nicola, who we met in his home village before heading off to do the via ferrata di Plumare. Nicola informed us that he was one of only two high mountain guides on the island and we gained his insight into the world of fake guides and differing qualifications and standards in Sardinia. I was grateful for my insider's knowledge of guiding qualifications! Bernard and Nicola had much to share on the subject of mountaineering, routes, techniques and famous alpinists - they got on like a house on fire!

"You can either go to the supermarket and make your own dinner or you can go to a restaurant", I explained when Nicola asked why we had booked a guide when we had Bernard. It was a rare holiday for Bernard not to have to take full responsibility for our safety in what was a challenging route in vertical and precarious cliff faces. Nicola's knowledge was also really interesting and we learned about many things Sardinian, only a local guide would know. He also gave us advice on other via ferratas we could explore on our own, armed with his local knowledge and our in-house guide of course! It was another truly amazing adventure - this holiday was off to a flying start. Bonding with our teenagers - tick, lifelong memories - tick!

Day three was a lazy lie in and climbing in the afternoon and then on day four we moved hotels and tested out one of the via ferratas advised by Nicola on the way. This proved to be another incredible adventure. These two via ferratas in Sardinia were very different to the French via ferratas we are used to. Both involved tricky route finding to reach the access point in wild, challenging terrain with several exposed sections lacking protection. The actual via ferrata infrastructure was minimalist without bars for feet and sometimes only a rope for security over extensive steep drops.  The evolution of via ferratas as a way to get Italian troops across the mountains quickly and efficiently in the war (minimalist and cost efficient but scarier and higher risk) to a sport in their own right and for tourists to have fun on (fully equipped to minimalise risk but keeping the adventure element as per our French via ferratas) was plain to see! 

We then had dinner with Melina and Simone (her husband) who also invited along Antonio, who runs a water sports company and we proceeded to organise our next adventure, kite surfing with him. 

As our organised activities ran out it became more difficult to motivate the family to do anything and one of our teenagers managed to get away with an unhealthy amount of screen time on one of the days. The other one at least read books! 


We had a truly fabulous holiday with adventures, immersion in local culture, beautiful and comfortable accommodation and stunning views. We created family memories which we will keep forever - so precious when your teenagers are on the cusp of leaving the nest! We also felt that our impact on the environment was minimised due to our choices of hotels, transport and activities which was an added bonus.

From a professional point of view it was an interesting experience and reinforced my conviction that what we do for our clients is actually quite rare and also very valuable. We wouldn't have had the same holiday without the local insight we had from Melina and our guide Nicola or without my knowledge of how platforms work or of guiding qualifications. We may have accidentally stumbled upon the same hotels but we got these without the risk or effort of searching. The reassurance of a word of mouth recommendation is worth its weight in gold. Having a trusted source to do all the research, filtering and organising is definitely worth paying for. 

From an organisational point of view, the benefit of having activities organised in advance was invaluable, especially for the beginning of the holiday. It gave structure to the holiday, motivated everyone and saved the family fall out over what to do each day. Keeping some room for downtime was also important for recovery and relaxing and made for a perfect balance.

Final tip - having a free day off work at the end of your holiday back at home to unpack, do the washing, give out presents and look at all the photos is imperative!

I would have really appreciated a company like ours to organise the holiday for us but in the absence of this we did pretty well with our local contacts and experience of holiday planning - it just took a lot more effort and time! If anyone reading this would like a tailor made teenager activity holiday in Sardinia, please do get in touch and I will be happy to pass on our experience and organise this for you using a combination of our Undiscovered Mountains tools and local contacts in Sardinia.

Alternatively, you can try our tried and tested summer multi activity holiday in the Southern French Alps where all the time and energy spent researching planning and organising is done by us on your behalf using our local knowledge and network of local contacts so you can just turn up and enjoy!


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