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Six Ways to Plan a Family Holiday in Spain - and Avoid the Crowded Costas

25/02/2016 10:49 GMT | Updated 24/02/2017 10:12 GMT

Spain looks set to be the most popular destination for UK holidaymakers this year, with 12 million Britons heading for the Costas, Balearics and Canary Islands. Stunning beaches, heat and sunshine catapult Spain to the top of many holiday polls, but other factors such as its close proximity, apparent safety and strength of the pound against the euro are making it more attractive than ever this year. The potential downside, of course, is that Spain's tourist hotspots will be heaving. There are ways to escape the crowds, though, especially if you're looking for a family holiday that's a bit off the beaten track, or spiced with adventure...

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Another side to the Spanish Costas (Photo: Families Worldwide)

1. Get active in Catalonia

With its head in the pine-clad foothills of the Pyrenees and its toes in the Mediterranean waters of the Costa Brava, Catalonia offers a diverse range of activities, from whitewater rafting to exploring unspoilt fishing villages like Tamariu, Llafranc and Aigua Blava. A short drive from Girona airport, the medieval village of Castello D'Empuries makes an ideal base for canyoning on the River Fluvia, mountain biking through the forests of Vall de Nuria and sea kayaking along the Catalan coast at Cap de Creus.

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The 'natural waterpark' of the Spanish Pyrenees (Photo: Activities Abroad)

2. Take the high ground in the Pyrenees

If you're happy to shun the Spanish Costas altogether, Aiguestortes National Park in the Catalan Pyrenees offers a lofty alternative of peaks, forests, lakes and streams - ripe for adventure. The adrenaline capital of the region is the small town of Sort from where you can easily fill a week or more with activities like canyoning, whitewater rafting, hiking, kayaking, mountain biking and horse riding. The region is also renowned for its culture (there's a fiesta at the end of July) and excellent local cuisine - not to mention 300 days of sunshine each year.

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On a mountain high in northern Spain (Photo: Casas Cantabricas)

3. Head north to Cantabria

The Atlantic coast of northern Spain might not have the guaranteed heat and sunshine of the Mediterranean Costas, but that's a small price to pay, perhaps, for less crowded beaches and quieter resorts. Fringed by golden-sand beaches (particularly at Laredo and Santander) and backed by a spectacular mountainous hinterland, Cantabria has the best of northern Spain's scenery. As well as exploring some fascinating prehistoric caves, child-friendly highlights include mountain biking, whitewater rafting, horse riding and 4WD tours in the Picos de Europa.

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Taste of the good life in Andalucia (Photo: Villa Retreats)

4. Pick and mix in Andalucia

Andalucia is the paella of Spanish holidays - it's got a little bit of everything. Base yourself in a family villa in the quiet coastal hinterland and you're not only close enough to the beaches of the Costa del Sol, but also within easy range of the rugged Sierra Nevada and the cultural gems of Ronda and the Alhambra. Further west, Seville and the Coto Donana make a great city break/safari combo, while the Costa del Sol itself has several options for beach-free days, from exploring the caves at Nerja to whale and dolphin watching in the seas around Gibraltar.

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The secret side of Ibiza (Photo: Inntravel)

5. Hit the trail in Ibiza

In the Balearics, Menorca is often considered the most laid-back island for families but even Ibiza, with its reputation for hedonism and hangovers, has plenty of peaceful, secluded spots and family-friendly places to stay. One of the best ways to discover Ibiza's hidden charms is on a self-guided, hotel-to-hotel walking holiday with 'slow travel' specialists Inntravel. Everything's taken care of, from trip notes and luggage transport to family accommodation - leaving you to stroll the coastal paths, discovering ancient watchtowers and secret coves.

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Flamingos in Ebro Delta (Photo: Headwater)

6. Saddle up in southern Spain

One of the best ways to escape the crowds and get off the beaten track in Spain is on a cycling holiday. With the Montsia Mountains providing a spectacular backdrop, the Ebro Delta in Catalonia is riddled with traffic-free routes and riverside trails. Pedaling through peaceful nature reserves you'll spot a wealth of birdlife, including flamingos, egrets, kingfishers and bee-eaters, while the World Heritage Site of Tarragona adds an interesting Roman diversion. Headwater offers a seven-night cycling holiday in the Ebro Delta, setting off each day from a family-run boutique hotel with fabulous food and a swimming pool.

William Gray is the editor of 101 Family Holidays