Cen­ter of at­trac­tion

MARK LUNDRIGAN trav­els to France for a fam­ily hol­i­day at two Cen­ter Parcs re­sorts

Buckinghamshire Advertiser - - TRAVEL -

I didn’t even know they had Cen­ter Parcs abroad,’ said my ex­cited nine-yearold daugh­ter when I told her we would be head­ing to France for a week’s break.

There are in fact quite a few dot­ted through­out Bel­gium, France and Hol­land, where the first was built back in the 1960s, and as a fam­ily who are great fans of Cen­ter Parcs UK, the thought of try­ing out their fa­cil­i­ties over­seas was very at­trac­tive.

We were trav­el­ling by car through the Euro­tun­nel, so we thought it was best to pick the two sites in France near­est in dis­tance to home, in fear our age­ing Ford Fo­cus may not man­age a longer trip. We chose to stay for four nights each at Les Bois Francs and Lac D’Ailette, sit­u­ated east and west of Paris re­spec­tively.

Just six hours after leav­ing our Sur­rey home (and get­ting slightly lost in Rouen try­ing to take a short­cut) we were driv­ing in the fa­mil­iar wooded grounds of a Cen­ter Parcs. In fact, if I hadn’t been con­stantly re­minded to drive on the right and been men­tally pre­pared to ut­ter the first of many ‘par­lez vous Anglais’ at the check-in, you could have eas­ily been ap­proach­ing one of the UK parks.

Our cosy two-bed­room ex­ec­u­tive lodge in Les Bois Francs had an open plan liv­ing and kitchen area com­plete with TV (we were de­ter­mined not to use it, although with only French chan­nels that wouldn’t be dif­fi­cult) dish­washer and hob, although no main oven. The sofa and chairs in the liv­ing room were not the most com­fort­able but that is only a mi­nor quib­ble when you con­sider the stun­ning view of the woods from the French win­dows and the clean­li­ness of the ac­com­mo­da­tion.

As with all Cen­ter Parcs, the big draw for fam­i­lies is the swim­ming area, in France called the Aqua Mundo, and we were soon head­ing off there on our hired moun­tain bikes. You can also rent out golf bug­gies, but we de­cided on the healthy op­tion with a week of be­ing as ac­tive as pos­si­ble the main aim.

The gi­ant glass dome at the cen­tre of Les Bois Francs is a hive of ac­tiv­ity, with shops, restau­rants and the Aqua Mundo it­self sit­u­ated un­der its roof.

The swim­ming area is free for all and is open un­til 9pm, so it was packed as ex­pected, but there is so much to do here that queues for the slides were not very long at all.

There were a num­ber of pacy slides, but our favourite, as in the UK parks, was the rapids, which take you out­side the glass dome and back again with lit­tle bursts of speed – it’s great with the whole fam­ily go­ing down at the same time.

The rapids are best ex­pe­ri­enced in the evening – there is some­thing magical about zoom­ing down the rapids while it is lit up, the steam from the heated wa­ter giv­ing an oth­er­worldly feel.

We spent at least a cou­ple of hours a day in the Aqua Mundo, but there’s so much else to do across the park.

We tried out the minigolf, bowl­ing and ta­ble ten­nis, but there are also water­sports and a tree­top ad­ven­ture course among other

ac­tiv­i­ties. Un­like the Aqua Mundo, all of these are of ex­tra cost, but the fa­cil­i­ties are ex­cel­lent and all were great fam­ily fun.

We were mainly self-cater­ing through­out the break – there is a well-stocked stocked shop in the dome, or a cheaper In­ter­marche su­per­mar­ket a cou­ple of miles out of the park – but there are also restau­rants avail­able.

We tried one, Ma­campa, which fo­cussed its menu on pizza, pasta and crepes, which was great for us. We all had tasty thin piz­zas with chorizo and, of course, crepes for dessert. The price isn’t too bad and the food was good, but we de­cided on just one night eat­ing out, with the rest of our meals at our cosy lodge.

Four days later and we were head­ing off to our sec­ond re­sort at Lac d’Ailette, a four-hour drive from Les Bois Francs.

If Les Bois Francs had a re­as­sur­ing fa­mil­iar­ity about it, our sec­ond venue’s look was com­pletely un­ex­pected.

Nor­we­gian-style cot­tages were dot­ted around the park and in­stead of the usual uni­for­mity of ac­com­mo­da­tion, they were dif­fer­ent sizes and colours set in lit­tle clus­ters.

It looked spec­tac­u­lar and gave the whole area the feel of a mini vil­lage.

Our cot­tage, spread over two floors, was equally spec­tac­u­lar and the view from our ve­randa, over­look­ing a lake at the edge of the park, was beau­ti­ful.

Sit­ting out on the ve­randa with a beer as the sun set gave me the most re­lax­ing feel­ing I’ve had from a hol­i­day in a long time.

The in­te­rior of the lodge was well dec­o­rated and had sim­i­lar fa­cil­i­ties to Les Bois Francs (although this had a com­fier sofa and BBC HD chan­nels), while the up­stairs bed­rooms also gave a won­der­ful view of the lake.

Cy­cles and golf bug­gies are again avail­able to hire, but I ad­vise to get the for­mer as the scenery while gen­tly bik­ing through the park is stun­ning.

Cen­ter Parcs is great what­ever sea­son it is, but dur­ing our au­tum­nal visit the low ly­ing sun and red leaved trees made it a breath­tak­ing sight.

The heart of the park is home to the Aqua Mundo (and bril­liant, as ex­pected, slides and rapids), shops and restau­rants, with a patis­serie full of cakes to die for, and the help desk where you can book ac­tiv­i­ties, which was manned by English­s­peak­ing French peo­ple, help­ful to us with our small grasp of the French lan­guage.

Here we booked our paint­balling, bowl­ing and ten­nis, the for­mer be­ing par­tic­u­larly great fun.

We were on the fam­ily paint­balling ex­pe­ri­ence so the ‘bul­lets’ were not so hard (although there is the full ver­sion avail­able as well). It was ex­hil­a­rat­ing fun, all four of us and other team mates run­ning around woods try­ing to take out our op­po­nents while dressed like crime scene of­fi­cers.

There are plenty of other things to do in­clud­ing minigolf (out­door and in­door), pony rides, quad bik­ing, ten­nis and bad­minton, as well as ac­tiv­i­ties on the lake.

It is also worth men­tion­ing there are im­pres­sive-look­ing spas at both parks, but be­ing a fam­ily hol­i­day it was never go­ing to be an op­tion for us, even though a mas­sage would have been nice after a day fly­ing down the rapids.

After a week of fun ac­tiv­i­ties, stun­ning scenery and qual­ity fam­ily time we were ready to get back in our car and head to Calais with great mem­o­ries and re­newed vigour.

For a fam­ily hol­i­day abroad with a dif­fer­ence, Cen­ter Parcs is an amaz­ing ex­pe­ri­ence what­ever the weather.

n Cen­ter Parcs has sites across Hol­land, Bel­gium and France, as well as in the UK. For in­for­ma­tion on any of these sites, visit www. cen­ter­parcs.com.

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