Family travel snap: Lonely Planet writer Nicola Williams

This month we’re talking to veteran Lonely Planet writer Nicola Williams, a British author who lives in France with her German husband. Travel has always been a big part of their life together – they met while living in the Baltics and now pad around the planet en famille with their three trilingual children, aged 5, 11 and 14.


What’s the story behind this photo?

Matterhorn selfie! It is summertime and we are in Zermatt, Switzerland. In this shot we have just climbed from Zermatt town up to 3089m – aboard the vintage Gornergratbahn I should add. This quaint, storybook train is Europe’s highest cogwheel railway and has lurched up the mountain since 1898. On the journey up the grown-ups swooned over the monumental Alpine views while the kids slid repeatedly off their seats, giggling incessantly. It is steep!

Then, we walked down. It took all day, with several stops to keep our five-year-old daughter sweet. But the hike was fabulous. Views of the Matterhorn were huge and cinematic, and a highlight was our lunchtime picnic by Riffelsee. The razor-sharp reflection of the Matterhorn on the lake was mesmerizing and when an itinerant female choir broke out in song on the mountainside we could not believe our eyes (or ears).

Kids’ perspective

‘The train was really old. I was a bit worried that it would suddenly fall down the mountain. At the top we made sandcastles with stones.’ (aged 5)

Nicola’s tips for travelling to Switzerland with kids

Mountains are big in our family – they inspire dreams. But if not everyone in your brood is a natural lover of heights, peaks and physical exertions, don’t let all those gigantic mountains deter you. Whatever the age of your kids, there is a way up and down to keep everyone happy:

1) Remember mountains are their own natural entertainment and provide a multitude of distractions to help the kids forget they are, shock horror, walking – like boulders to scramble over, wild goats to meet and peaks to identify.

2) Ski-mad teens (like our 14-year-old) will find there is nothing more tantalising than the unfathomable trigonometry of Matterhorn’s shark fin or the snow-white dome of Mont Blanc.

3) Younger children will love the mix-and-match choice of hiking trails, cable cars and mountain railways, often with a wonderful reward at the end of the trail (we once found a wooden raft waiting for kids to tug themselves across a lake).

Where’s next on your family travel bucket list?

The Peak District in October. I am particularly excited about this trip as I have lived outside of the UK for 15 years and rarely holiday there. The children feel they are abroad when we are there, while I love the childhood familiarity of tramping through wet fields to a rewarding pub lunch.

Lastly, complete the sentence:

When we shut the front door ready to go and travel as a family, we always…

Have an action plan of where we will eat that day.

Nicola tweets @tripalong – follow her for tips on France, Italy and Switzerland. Nicola is also Lonely Planet’s writer on the ground in Paris.

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