J’adore Country Kids, France
Fun for kids, relaxation for parents. Mais oui, mais, oui.
Calling all frazzled parents — nose to the ground as per our Muddy Norfolk Ed, Jo Gardner, has found just the place.
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 – yawn. 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 somebody contacted me 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, and exactly what I’ve been looking for all these years.
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 keenly-priced in this area – hire a car if you can).
We’re warmly greeted by the owner Sylvain who bought Country Kids with his wife, Laure, two years’ ago. They have two small children. Sylvain shows us around the once dairy farm, with its modern accommodation housed in historic buildings and all the French charm you could muster (original stonework, wooden shutters, olive trees, beamed ceilings…). It’s rustic, quaint, 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.
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 shampoo and body wash. Don’t bring bath toys for the kids – it’s all here. There’s even ‘mummy’ and ‘daddy’ dressing gowns to snuggle into after a deep bath or powerful shower.
The double room has a queen-size bed and antique furniture; the children’s room 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 (there are two baby goats here that are just six days’ old), 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.
Once returned, 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 cold beers and ice creams from the fridge at the back – all on an honesty system); play a game of 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.
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.
Evenings are spent selecting 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), grabbing a movie from the extensive selection and heading into the underground wine cellar to choose a bottle of plonk.
One lunchtime, I order a ham sandwich for Lily-Jane (what is it with kids and food?) and it arrives like this – what’s not to love?
On Sunday, there’s a cassoulet lunch with wine to welcome guests; Wednesday nights is cheese toastie and cocktail night at the bar; on Fridays there’s a BBQ followed by a boules competition. Be as sociable or as quiet as you wish. 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 (the chef is only 23). A starry sky guides us home.
Indulged in too much local plonk? Sign your children up for the Friday morning pyjama club and enjoy a lie-in while they’re collected at 7am 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.
On the way back, we stop to skim stones across a gorgeous lake.
Our final day at Country Kids is utter bliss: warm croissants and coffee before feeding the animals, a game of tennis, lunch by the pool and dinner at La Palombe. Of course, Country Kids isn’t cheap (why would it be?) 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: all-inclusive holidays in the spring and summer; self-catering holidays in the autumn and winter. Prices start at Euro 4,340 for a week’s stay for a family of four.