Our Head of Bookings Kate recently spent a blissful week at one of our favourite French family-friendly hideaways. With her husband and 2 young sons in tow (aged 4 and 1), she discovered that sometimes luxury is less about the infinity pool and more about reminding harried parents how to relax.
After the ordeal of getting 2 overtired adults and 2 hyper under 5s to the airport with the appropriate amount of luggage, passports and boarding cards, as well as enough stickers, snacks and superheroes to get us through the flight, we were sorely in need of a break.
On arrival in Toulouse we faced a long drive to Country Kids, but built-in sat-nav and excellent directions meant we got there in less than 3 hours (mostly motorway). At the very top of a very narrow road near the village of Brenas, owner Tracey, Manager Christophe and Assistant Manager Nancy were on hand to welcome us – and boy were we glad to arrive!
They led us to our apartment where the kids were shown their bedroom, complete with big toy chest, book box and various puzzles. The children also received a personalised envelope with colouring pencils and a Country Kids travel diary to fill out each day – a lovely touch. My 4-year-old was instantly under Christophe’s spell and couldn’t wait to play on the slide and run around the grounds.
The converted farm has endless play facilities, and each apartment is well-equipped with huge TVs, iPod docks, comfy beds and full kitchens. Guests self-cater during shoulder season, but in summer rates are all-inclusive. Either way, you essentially don’t have to lift a finger if you don’t want to. The staff-to-guest ratio is very high, the bar serves drinks all day long, there’s a little shop / wine cave for easy suppers, and everyone gets together for the sociable daily afternoon tea.
Day one and the kids were following Christophe to the farm for feeding time – the joy on their faces was a picture! They have donkeys, pygmy goats, chickens, rabbits, a horse and pigs. Kids are actively encouraged to get stuck in, helping to feed all the animals and collect eggs. Best of all, my eldest got to help Christophe drive the tractor! Afterwards, Kids Club welcomes them with open arms for daily activities. The boys loved ‘Pirates and Mermaids Day’, making pirate hats and mermaids crowns, baking cupcakes and doing treasure hunts.
Soon afterwards, we met Alice, the concierge, to ‘plan’ our stay. ‘Planning’ actually means deciding when you fancy a massage at the little spa, or what restaurant you want to book for babysitting night. In between such a rigorous schedule we relaxed by the adults-only pool and Jacuzzi (set well away from all the kids’ areas). Lying in the sun, I heard the boys charging past on their treasure hunt and just smiled before going back to my book, content that all of us were in our respective happy places!
And yes, there are heaven-sent complimentary twice-weekly babysitting evenings. Over anxious parents are gently ushered out the door while one of the lovely ladies from the crèche takes over for 3 hours. Just a 15-minute stroll away, we enjoyed a fantastic (and great value) supper at La Palombe restaurant. It was such a treat to be out together on a week night, safe in the knowledge that the kids were happy and secure with a babysitter.
Another brilliant idea is the Friday morning kids PJ party. Rebecca came to pick up the kids at a pre-agreed time (8am) and we got to go back to bed! AMAZING!!
There are also lots of additional activities on offer for the whole family, including pony rides, zip lining/climbing, and pedalos at the Lac du Salagou (20 minutes away). We took the opportunity to go wine tasting at a beautiful local chateau and visit Clemont L’Herault market (while the kids built a Frozen castle in Kids Club!). One of my favourite things that Country Kids provides are their laminated directions cards. Seriously, this is a godsend for people like us who almost always have a row on holiday after getting lost!
The beauty of Country Kids is that they really have thought of everything. Luxury is redefined here. It’s not about 300-thread-count Egyptian cotton sheets or someone to clean your sunglasses when you dive into the infinity pool. It’s more about gently cajoling harried parents into remembering how to relax. Christophe and his team make sure that the kids are happy and well looked after, and then us parents can start naturally to unwind, too.
I am sure we weren’t the first to arrive and, after a day or so, stand around wondering, “What do we do?” Our kids were off making friends at the kids club, there was no cleaning or tidying to be done, no dinner to cook, and no shopping to be purchased. It was an odd but very indulgent feeling.
Come Friday I definitely had the last-day blues, but the Country Kids team soon fixed that with a fabulous lunchtime barbecue. It felt like we had wandered into a Jamie Oliver show: a perfect setting under blooming wisteria, cold wine, great company and happy kids running amok. At 4.30pm the children performed a little show they had been preparing in kids club and then it was time to head off, most of us vowing to return. I am converted.