On the first night of our Keycamp holiday we sat in the evening sunshine, on our decking, overlooking a lake, with a cold beer in hand. I said to Andy "This is the Life". It really is.
This was our first overseas family holiday. We had survived the drive to Dover, the ferry crossing and the 150 mile drive through the French countryside. All we had to do for a whole week was relax and have fun. Bliss.
Keycamp Holidays are self-catering specialists in Europe and the USA. They have 99 hand-picked parcs across ten countries in Eurpoe. They have something for everyone, whether you're looking for an action-packed holiday, full-on rest - or a bit of both - you're bound to find what you're looking for. Accommodation ranges from Supertents to fully equipped mobile homes via chalets, lodges and tree houses.
We were looking for a parc that was fairly close to Calais with plenty to keep the children occupied. The Keycamp website isn't perfect, but we managed to get most of the information we needed. We couldn't decide which parc to try. In the end Keycamp suggested La Croix du Vieux Pont, mainly for the Kids' Clubs. Although it was a little further than we wanted to drive, we decided to go for it. I'm glad we did. Driving in France is a whole other blog post, but I thoroughly recommend spending a few Euros on the (almost empty) toll roads.
La Croix du Vieux Pont, Berny Riviere
90 miles North East of Paris, close to the Compiegne forest and the pretty village of Vic-sur-Aisne is La Croix du Vieux Pont. This large parc is clean, well-maintained and covered in flowers and trees. In fact, my children collected 541 hazelnuts from just one tree on the parc. Yes, we counted them. Yes, we bought them home. Yes, we put them in the garden for the squirrels. Yes, the squirrels took them ALL. Yes, I'm expecting hazel saplings to appear in the garden next year.
On the parc there are three lakes; two for fishing and one for swimming. We paddled, dug holes, filled them with water, made streams for the water to return to the lake and built sandcastles at the man-made sandy beach by the swimming lake. The boys called this part of the holiday 'watery adventures'.
There is an enormous, spotlessly clean, swimming pool complex. The children loved the kids' pool and we were perfectly happy to splash about in there for a few hours. We said 'this is the life' to one another quite a few times in the pool.
There are many play areas with facilities for all ages. The boys loved the adventure playground. Presley learnt how to use a fireman's pole. This made him very happy.
There were electric cars, trampolines, a bouncy castle and canoes and pedalos that you had to pay for. We bought a pre-paid card and got 30 rides for the price of 20, otherwise it's 2 euros a pop.
The staff at the parc and the Keycamp couriers were great. I got to practice my French too. I was disappointed to see a few British holidaymakers not making any attempt to even say 'bonjour' or 'merci' to the local staff. Yes, they all speak English, but come on. Make. An. Effort.
There are two restaurants, both offering traditional French food. We went to the Farmhouse near the parc entrance. The food was perfectly fine, but nothing special. We also had a couple of meals from the on-site takeaway. The pizzas are excellent.
There are shops on the parc selling a range of groceries, alcohol and toys. The bakery was particularly fabulous. The prices are pretty reasonable, but the local Carrefour supermarket in Soissons is bigger and cheaper - especially if you're cooking for a family. I love mooching around supermakets on holiday. We found some brilliantly named beers. A Lord Darren, anyone?
Also at the parc, but not visited by us, was bike hire, a spa, a bar, a disco, tennis, table tennis, archery, mini-golf, football and a zip wire.
We stayed in a two-bedroom Villagrand mobile home. Our home from home was clean and had everything we needed, including a full size fridge-freezer, cooker, shower and bottle opener. There was plenty of storage space and the beds were comfortable.
We had our own decking with a table, parasol and chairs, and a garden with sun-loungers. We ate most of our meals al-fresco. There's nothing finer in life than baguettes and a cheese board (and butter and jam if you're five years old). Check me out with my designer Diet Coke and the beginnings of a tan. Ooh la la:
We were very lucky with the weather, but as August turned to September we needed the additional blankets that were provided as the temperature dropped at night.
Our children (who turned five and four while we were on holiday) would not have been comfortable being left in a kids' club. We saw a few groups of children being led around the parc or taking part in activites and they all looked happy, but it's not our thing.
What we absolutely loved though was the Mini Fun Station. Becky and Tommie ran both morning and afternoon sessions suitable for children aged from six months to five years. Parents stay as the children paint and stick, play in the sand pit or the ball pond, try to hula hoop, throw, catch, do jigsaw puzzles or collect hazelnuts (see above).
The best part of our holiday, without a shadow of a doubt, was the free Learn to Ride classes at the Mini Fun Station.
In the first session of the day children are taught how to ride balance bikes. The next session is pedals...
There are several major milestones in a child's life. One of the biggest is learning to ride a bike, without stabilisers. Both my children managed this at Keycamp. Becky and Tommie were excellent teachers. We were proud of the way our boys joined in with the Learn to Ride classes. They ran across the parc to get to the Mini Fun Station each morning. And they leaned to ride bikes. Happy days.
Around Berny Riviere
You can get a coach from the parc to Paris and Disneyland Paris. Tickets are also available from Reception if you want to drive to Disney (these tickets are cheaper than buying from the UK before you go). The French Parc Asterix is also nearby. We decided not to take a day out from our holiday to visit one of these as there was so much to do at our parc that didn't revolve around queuing.
We did spend a wonderful afternoon at Chateau du Pierrefonds, a short drive from the parc. This magnificent fairytale castle has to be seen to be believed, it looks computer generated. The BBC's Merlin is filmed there.
We loved the windows, the gargoyles and the creepy crypt. Don't blink (Doctor Who reference).
After we'd explored the castle we ambled around the beautiful town of Pierrefonds and stopped for an ice cream. Pierrefonds is well worth a visit.
We thoroughly enjoyed our Keycamp holiday. When all you have to do for a week is enjoy yourself, you quickly feel pretty chilled out. We were so relaxed that when, on our return journey, the ferry broke down and had to be towed into the port at Dover, we were happy to open a bag of crisps and watch the tugs at work.
Our holiday was excellent value for money and we would wholeheartedly recommend a Keycamp holiday. In fact, I've already been on their website looking at 2013 holidays.
Facts and Figures
Seven nights from 13 April 2013 for a family of two adults and up to four children staying in a two bedroom Villanova mobile home with decking at La Croix du Vieux Pont will cost from £301, including a return Dover to Calais ferry crossing – and a saving of £31. Fly-drive and alternative ferry packages can be arranged though Keycamp at a supplement.
For the latest deals, further information or to make a booking, visit www.keycamp.co.uk or call 0844 406 0319. Keycamp are also on Twitter and Facebook.
Disclosure: we were given a seven night break in a mobile home, including return ferry crossings, linen and towel hire. I write reviews based on my personal experience. I always think about the value of any activity as if I had paid for it myself, to determine whether I think it is good value for money.