Country Kids, France
Children and adults are equally well-catered for on a relaxing Country Kids holiday on a French farm.
Muddy Norfolk‘s editor Jo, found her holiday holy grail at Country Kids in France, with everything set up to please both adults and children. Here’s her review…
As a single parent of a five-year-old, I’m prepared to pay over the odds for a kids’ club when it comes to holidays – time spent lazing by a pool (book in one hand; beer in the other), isn’t just wonderful, its priceless. Just one afternoon off and I’m a better parent/writer/daughter… person, even.
But here’s the rub: kids’ clubs abroad are often small rooms where children are expected to spend all day doing arts and crafts . The only way to get my daughter into one of these things is to bribe her with pool time and ice-cream afterwards; even then, she looks unhappy as I drop her off [insert guilty conscious here]. And who can blame her; it’s her holiday too, isn’t it?
Then I heard about Country Kids – a different kind of holiday where the happiness of children is central to the whole experience. Happy kids = happy parents. It’s a winning formula.
Set high in the hills in the Languedoc Roussillon region of France (equidistant from Beziers (Ryanair from Stansted) and Montpellier (EasyJet from Gatwick, or Eurostar via Lille or Paris), the glorious views on the way up will distract you from the rapidly increasing metre (taxis are expensive in this area – hire a car if you can).
We’re warmly greeted by the owner Sylvain who runs Country Kids with his wife, Laure and has two small children. Sylvain shows us around the former dairy farm, with its modern accommodation housed in historic buildings and all the French charm you could wish for (original stonework, wooden shutters, olive trees, beamed ceilings…). It’s rustic, perfectly-sized and, most importantly, fenced off.
“Just let Lily-Jane explore, Jo; the whole place is safe,” he says. Within seconds, she’s off: up the wooden treehouse, around the playground, across the zip-wire and on the trampoline. “Er, bye then,” I say with a smile. Sylvain winks.
Country Kids has five apartments in The Old Dairy house plus two separate buildings: The Farmhouse, with five bedrooms, and The Chesnut, with two. Ours – apartment 3 – is a two-storey, three bedroom, spacious affair with everything you could wish for: humungous flat-screen, farmhouse oven, dishwasher and welcome basket.
In the oversized bathroom, there’s a round bath set into a piece of ancient stone and a separate walk-in shower with L’Occitane toiletries. Don’t bring bath toys for the kids – it’s all here.
The double room has a queen-size bed and antique furniture; the children’s room has twin beds, a bag of toys, stuffed animals on the bed and loads of children’s books. I needn’t have packed any of these things. Upstairs is another twin room for older children.
“We want you to feel like you’re at home here,” says Richard, the Assistant Manger later that day while I sip a cold beer in the shop-cum-bar-cum-restaurant. “Help yourself to fresh eggs, DVDs and soft drinks from the shop; each morning there will be warm, fresh pastries to buy, alongside fresh coffee which we can make for you to take to your apartment.
“The wine cellar next door is on an honesty system,” he continues as my eyes light up. “Just select a bottle and write it in the book. Most of the wines are local and we’ve got Champagne, rose, white and red to choose from.”
We quickly settle into a routine: fully rested after a peaceful night’s sleep, we pad down to the shop for warm croissants and coffee. Once dressed, Lily-Jane grabs the bio bucket from under the sink, pulls on her wellies and waits for Sylvain to ring the bell. Then we’re off – into a tractor to go and feed the animals on the farm.
Parents have to accompany children for this part of the day but I’m more than happy to watch Lily-Jane feed our leftover dinner to the goats, hay to the donkies and feed to the rabbits. Before leaving, we enter the chicken pen and grab warm eggs to take back with us.
After, the children run down the hill to the kids’ club where an array of well-thought-out activities are planned – from picnics in the forest to visiting the resident tortoises.
Parents can then choose what to do: head out for the day (yes, you can leave your kids and go off exploring); laze around by the heated pool, where lunch will be served to you on a comfy day bed (or help yourself to beers and ice creams from the fridge at the back – all on an honesty system); play tennis; head to the spa for a massage (my full body scrub and massage was expertly delivered); or drink endless cups of coffee in the bar.
One lunchtime, I order a simple ham sandwich for Lily-Jane and it arrives like this!
It’s October on our visit and each day the mercury reaches a very pleasant 24 degrees (the pool an equally-pleasant 29 degrees). While taking a leisurely swim, I marvel at the lush green mountains ahead.
There’s also an adults-only plunge pool and bubbly Jacuzzi next to the tennis court, as well as a small gym should you feel guilty about those daily pastries.
In the evenings we select pre-made meals from the shop to put in the oven (think lasagne, meatballs and chicken Tajine). Portions at Country Kids are large and everything is fresh and tasty. Then, we grab a movie from the extensive selection and head into the underground wine cellar to choose a bottle of plonk.
if you wish to be sociable there are chances to mingle with other guests. On Sunday, there’s a welcome cassoulet lunch with wine ; Wednesday nights is cheese toastie and cocktail night at the bar; on Fridays there’s a BBQ followed by a boules competition. When suggesting to Sylvain that I won’t be able to make cocktail night because of Lily-Jane, he looks at me as if I’m mad. “Plug the baby monitor in and come down,” he says. “That’s what it’s there for.”
On Tuesdays and Thursdays, each family gets a free babysitter for three hours so that they can leave Country Kids and go for dinner (have you ever heard of anything so civilised?). We wander down the hill to La Palombe, a modern restaurant in an ancient stone building serving seasonal, local cuisine. The sky is a burnt orange as we walk through the French countryside to the restaurant where a three-course a la carte meal costs just 39 euros each, and is Michelin-star quality. A starry sky guides us home.
Indulged a little too much? Sign your children up for the Friday morning pyjama club and enjoy a lie-in while they’re collected at 7.00am for breakfast. Definitely civilised. Alice, the lovely concierge, can organise a host of activities for you and the kids in the local area, too – from wine tasting to pony trekking (a highlight for Lily-Jane) and traditional markets to watery lunch spots.
Of course, Country Kids isn’t cheap but your children get a rare dose of outdoorsy, wholesome fun, while you eat fantastic food, drink local wine and… relax. Priceless. No wonder 60% of guests return time and time again.
Country Kids offers two price points: their Absolutely Everything Included package, which runs from May half-term to mid-September, and their self-catered package, which runs throughout April, May and the end of September. Prices start at Euro 3,950 for a week’s stay for a family of four.