THE roofbox was stuffed to breaking point and the bikes strapped securely on the back. As I coaxed the overloaded car into gear I mentally checked off my must-pack list.
Football. Cricket bat. Snorkel gear. Rugby ball. Table tennis bats. Puncture repair kit. Fishing tackle. Waterproofs and wellies. Favourite breakfast cereals, ketchup, marmite, tea bags. Washing powder. Body boards. Inflatable rowing boat and canoe. Life jackets. Six cycle helmets. Board games…..had I really managed to get all of that plus six people in our much-abused motor?
Meanwhile all was quiet on the backseats as the kids, headphones clamped tightly over their ears, immersed themselves in the latest films. Our summer break was about to start and we were all chilled…despite the fact we were about to embark on a Channel crossing and a journey behind the wheel on the wrong side of the road. There’s something about a self-drive holiday that I find very relaxing.
You just load and go…no worries about bag sizes and weights or what to keep with you in hand luggage. Much as I love travelling further afield and the glorious weather and amazing experiences it brings, I’m always going to miss something I wasn’t able to pack.
Which is why we were returning to a fantastic French parc called La Croix du Vieux Pont for the fifth time. It’s in a tiny village called Berny-Rivière, about 70 miles north east of Paris and just a two-and-a-half hour drive from Calais’s ferry and Eurotunnel terminals….easy to get to and easy to enjoy once you’re there.
Its biggest selling point is that there’s loads to do for everyone whatever the weather, so much so that our favourite times to visit are Easter or October half term when it’s quieter and cheaper. The focal point is its three beautiful lakes – one exclusively for fishing, another – surrounded by a soft white sandy beach – for swimming plus a third for pedalos and canoes.
The huge swimming pool complex kept us happy for hours. There’s a fantastic outdoor area with lazy rivers and whirlpools and inside a large pool perfect for games, a separate three-lane slide, a water chute and a kiddies’ zone. Don’t miss the fun pool parties held during the summer when you can dance the evening away in or out of the water to booming music under the stars.
Max and Harvey, armed with a campsite permit (9€ per half day adults, 5€ under 14s) and a rod, whiled away hours at the fishing lake trying to catch carp, giving Tim and I the chance to take Rosie and Freddie on the mini golf mini go karts (2€/ride), trampoline (2€/10mins) or stomach-churning bungee trampoline (6€/5mins).
We all enjoyed riding our bikes through the parc’s pretty woodland or canoeing down the lovely River Aisne which runs alongside. And a real highpoint is Tower Pursuits, the onsite activity centre. You can try archery there which is great fun for the whole family. Instructors Tim and Dougie kept sessions varied and engaging by incorporating different games – like a challenge to land an arrow in a small ring – and over time we all improved.
Rosie and I loved abseiling – I hate to admit it but she beat me down – while the three boys tested their nerves on a terrifying circus-style feat called trapeze, where you jump off a high ledge and attempt to catch a bar. You can also do climbing and a zip line. Sessions cost 11€ each (zip wire is 3€/go or two for 5€) although I recommend buying the great-value 20-session family package for 110€.
We were staying in one of outdoor specialist Eurocamp’s newest mobile homes, the Avant. My favourite bits about it were the large partly-covered decking, the good-sized fridge freezer, the gas BBQ and – wait for it – the dishwasher. These touches gave it a real home-from-home feel….and me a break from the washing up.
We had three bedrooms – essential when you’ve got four children and don’t want to be folding away sofa beds every day. The pitch was a good size and in a lovely quiet position just a stone’s throw from one of the lakes but close enough to the main facilities to prevent complaints from the kids.
Eurocamp’s own fantastic kids’ clubs are another reason why we love visiting La Croix du Vieux Pont. We’d happily spend the whole holiday with the children but Rosie and Freddie were keen to go…they enjoyed making new friends while tasting a bit of independence away from us.
Freddie joined in with Mac’s Fun Station for children aged six to nine and had a whale of a time at a chocolate party, playing sports and games, buying croissants for breakfast club and performing in a show.
Rosie went all (Lady) Ga-ga at the ‘Star Academy’ run by well-known British theatre school Razzamataz. She rehearsed a singing and dancing show with new pals, which they later performed to parents. Freddie joined in too and gave a touching rendition of ‘Doe, a deer, a female deer’ which brought tears to my eyes.
But Rosie’s favourite part was Razzamataz’s street dance sessions where she was taught a variety of exciting routines by teacher Sophie. I used to look forward to watching her new dances whenever I picked her up.
Click here for more ideas for fantastic trips out from La Croix du Vieux Pont in Berny-Rivière, including Disneyland Paris on the parc’s own bus shuttle.
La Croix du Vieux Pont opens in time for the Easter holidays and closes at the end of October half term; it’s worth bearing in mind that an off-peak stay costs a fraction of a summer one. If the weather’s too poor to enjoy the outdoor volleyball pitch, sports pitch and mini golf, there’s plenty to do inside.
Harvey and Max spent time getting to know other kids on the indoor football-cum-basketball pitch and playing table tennis while Rosie and Freddie would drag us to the pool. There’s a great outdoor play zone packed with trampolines and go karts too.
The whole family had fun at the bowling alley and there’s also an indoor soft play area and laser quest.
Now where did I pack that umbrella?
What’s the damage?
WHEN: The parc is open from Easter until the end of October. Because it’s so easy to get to it’s popular with Brits so most facilities are open during our school holidays.
STAY: A three-bedroomed one bathroom Avant mobile home costs from £539 for a week when the parc re-opens on 29 March 2018. To lighten the load hire bed linen and towels (£26 double pack, £16.50 single pack) and beach towels (£12.50 pair). Welcome, essentials and toiletries packs, from £4, help kick off the holiday before you’ve even unpacked. Eurocamp can also sort out good value ferry crossings or the Eurotunnel. www.eurocamp.co.uk, 01606 787125.
PS: For great, well-priced food and lovely warm service try the Chef Micheline restaurant nearby (tel. 33 (2) 23555125). It’s run by Micheline, who’s in her 70s, and her two sons Dominique and Didier. Steak and chips, mussels and kids meals available. Rosie and Freddie’s favourite is the frogs’ legs-in-garlic-sauce starter and we also love the snails. It’s small so book ahead.
RESEARCH IT: www.picardietourisme-acteurs.com.