The Family: A Place to Leave the Kids

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Suppose there were hotels for children, where parents could park their offspring and take a day off, or a week in the country —or a round-the-world cruise —secure in the knowledge that the children would have expert care, careful supervision, and a wonderful time? Europe has had such hotels for years.

Soirées & Cocktail Hours. Most of them are more or less like year-round camps with an international accent. Pehaps the most famous is the Hans Brinker, at the seaside resort of Noordwijk, 30 miles from Amsterdam. Established twelve years ago, the Hans Brinker caters to the peanut-butter-and-jelly set from The Netherlands, Belgium, France, Britain, the U.S., the Arab world and several African nations at the rate of about 1,000 children a year, and at ages ranging from three months to twelve years.

Children can be left over a weekend, or a school vacation, or for as long as three months, and their disencumbered parents can travel, go skiing or sample Paris night life to their hearts' content, comfortable in the thought that the children are having a better time than if they had been taken along or left at home with nurses or baby sitters.

At 5 each afternoon there is a "cocktail hour" (milk, chocolate milk, fruit juices); on Wednesday evenings a "soirée" (plays put on by the children); the days are filled with horseback riding, shuffleboard, pingpong, and swimming in summer—part of the famous Noordwijk Beach is reserved for the hotel. Language barriers go down fast. A Swedish boy at Skansebo −one of Denmark's five children's hotels −learned fluent French and accentless Danish (very difficult for a Swede) on a single summer holiday.

Breakfast in Bed. There are at least 30 children's hotels in Britain, and in France one called La Botel (derived from "bébé" and "hotel") has just opened in the hamlet of Bérchereau, about five miles from Rambouillet, where tots have acres to romp in, and cars run two round trips to Paris every day.

But La Botel cannot compete with the holiday luxury of La Meridiana, three miles from Cortina d'Ampezzo, in the Italian Alps. There, 50 young guests are tended by a domestic staff of 20, sleep on Beautyrest mattresses, may opt for breakfast in bed, and at lunch and supper eat like the aristocrats many of them are. Says seven-year-old Count Vincenzo Balestrieri-Cosimelli: "La Meridiana's much more amusing than a grownups' hotel. I have more time to play and lots of snow to ski in during the winter, which even Daddy can't find for me in Rome."