Cycling, swimming and plenty of sun

The swimming complex at Center Parcs Bois-Francs.
The swimming complex at Center Parcs Bois-Francs.

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Children always say it best and they couldn’t have put it better as we reached our destination in France and a voice in the back of the car said: ‘It looks like Center Parcs . . . but with sunshine!’

My kids are used to dressing up in waterproofs and fleeces before we head out on bikes on our normal Center Parcs stay and it was strange to discover a new land where their favourite holiday park exists in glorious summer.

We’d wondered how similar Center Parcs abroad would be to the one back home as we drove through Normandy from the French ferry port at Dieppe.

The answer was that it was just like picking up the English Center Parcs holiday idyll and dropping it in a foreign land – that’s not to say we didn’t appreciate the authentic touches and nearly all of the other holidaymakers were French.

The beautiful woodland setting was topped off with an impressive French chateau at its entrance. The well-equipped luxury chalets were even better because the children had no interest in watching French TV and the swimming complex with its lazy river, tropical outside pool and rapids were equally good (but with sun loungers next to the pool to soak up all that sunshine).

Even the choice of on-site restaurants was not that different – we just had to remember to speak in French when we ordered our delicious croissants from the well-stocked patisserie in the morning.

Relaxation always comes in the form of outdoor living on our visits to Center Parcs and the choice of cycle routes from Les Bois-Francs holiday park was better than ever.

There are always great treks around any of Center Parcs’ holiday villages but as we ventured outside, we discovered a welcome choice of safe, marked cycle paths to the nearby village and stunning scenery around it.

Just remember not to make the same mistake as we did and cycle to Verneuil-sur-Avre on a Sunday.

It was like the Child Catcher scene from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, with everyone hiding behind closed shutters of the pretty timber-framed buildings, as we cycled around the deserted town centre with no chance of refreshments before our return journey.

Inside the park, a string of lakes were good for teenage off-road adventures. There were plenty of activities to keep the whole family entertained with an extensive high-wire Tree Trek course, complete with a zip wire across one of the lakes to an island.

That kept dad and the three older children happy as mum led the youngest member of the brood around the park on horseback.

Bowling, quad biking, paintball, pedalos, golf, archery, squash, badminton, tennis, volleyball and a spa – the list of possibilities was endless.

We also managed to cram in a train trip to Paris – a doable day trip away – before the end of our stay.

The memories of panoramic views from the very top of the Eiffel Tower will last forever.

A Center Parcs holiday can be what you want it to be, though it’s more of an action-packed break than a sitting-by-the-pool stay. But like any good holiday, the key to its success is making the most of what precious family time you have together.

TRAVEL FACTS

Center Parcs Bois-Francs is set in 310 hectares of Normandy forest. Accommodation in the Eden cottages comes with three luxury levels (Comfort, Premium and VIP) and is for four, six and eight people. For more information, go to centerparcs.com/EN/GB/villages/bois_francs.

DFDS Seaways sails twice a day between Portsmouth and Le Havre and up to four times a day between Newhaven and Dieppe. To find out more information, visit dfds.co.uk or call 0800 917 1201.