x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Suncream for scholars

Now holidays have to be informational and educational, as well as enjoyable particularly so for family holidays. Jamaica was recommended to us as a destination for the thinking family.

Once, we'd go off with the kids, flop around, enjoy ourselves, have a bit of undirected fun and then just pile back onto the plane home, exhausted yet refreshed. But now holidays have to be informational and educational, as well as enjoyable. This is particularly so for family holidays. The pressure is on to use every moment we have with our children. We're no longer allowed to simply behave like good old-fashioned parents, but have to be pedagogues. We can't just all relax together; we have to learn together.

No parent is immune from this pressure. When we decide to go on a trip, we have to find a place that provides history and culture, as well as sea and sand. Once we tried the tiny island of Grand Bahama, and found there was nothing more stimulating than a few discarded conch shells to stir the brain cells. So we crossed the Caribbean off our list, declaring it would dumb us down. Then Jamaica was recommended to us as a destination for the thinking family.

We stayed just outside Falmouth, an atmospheric colonial town, where in 1834 the Declaration of Emancipation, ending slavery, was read out in a Baptist church. Falmouth is a living history lesson, so we could all feel enriched. Once a wealthy, thriving port from which puncheons of rum and hogsheads of wet sugar were exported, it had electricity long before New York. Now the town's main economic activity is the weekly bend-down market - so called because you have to stoop to the floor to inspect the goods laid out on the ground.

Beyond the marketplace, there's the grand Georgian courthouse, the old slave wharves and the early 19th-century church of St Peter the Apostle, financed by slavers and built by slaves. Falmouth was fuelled by the surrounding plantations, and many of the Great Houses, lavish late 18th-century villas built by the plantation owners, still line the road west to Montego Bay. We travelled around one estate in a jitney (an open carriage). At another, the twins learnt to balance a huge bunch of bananas on their heads.

The planters' opulence is still evident. At Greenwood Great House, the Barretts' personal bone china, made to order from Wedgewood, is displayed; the Barretts owned 2,000 slaves. Our teenager tried out the spiked mantrap, used for catching runaways, declaring it the best hands-on history lesson she'd ever had. Do you have family travel tips that you'd like to share? E-mail Dea at dbirkett@thenational.ae