Late last September we decided to head to France for a few days for a bit of sun and adventure. We did not really get the sun, but we got fun and adventure in bucketloads. Read on, and I am going to tell you all about it.
I booked Ryanair flights from Dublin to Beauvais for a Monday morning. We left, at, now let’s be truthful, before the crack of the dawn. It was off the back of all the delays in Dublin airport and I was not taking any risk so I had us at the airport a good 2.5 hours before the flight ( ok, we were there 3 hours before the flight, not another soul only ourselves sitting at the dark and lonely gate waiting for it to open).
We were all excited and nervous and happy and tired….. you know what those red eyes are like with kids, but great. We chilled out, waiting for the gate to open, and as any seasoned travel mom knows, preparation is key. I packed a homemade breakfast picnic with tasty breakfast sandwiches, fruity pots, flapjacks, and power balls to keep us energised. And we’ve had our trusty reusable water bottles, I try to keep us as sustainable as possible when travelling.
We boarded the short little flight, and off we went. The kids each have their own backpacks loaded with their new Usborne and DK activity books, colours, iPads, and headphones to keep them entertained and a lollipop for take off and landing.
We landed in Beauvais, had the bags in minutes, and headed out the front door, through the carpark and off we went to the car rental place.
We paid €357 to rent a small manual hatchback type astra for the trip. Perfect. Got the car, got the boosters and finally got out of the little carpark ( it was trickier than it looked ) and off we went through a series of roundabouts and we were away down the motorway after 10am.
We went nowhere near the city of Paris, so it was all good. No major driving stress, the navigation was fine and the kids slept for most of the journey after the crazy early wake up call they called ( dunno who was responsible for that ).
After about an hour and half we were really close to our destination but we knew we could not check in until 4pm so we headed for something to eat. I did a little research and found this award winning boulangerie really close to where we had stopped. We had coffee, juices, pies, sandwiches and pastries and we were happy out living our best French lives.
The pastries were so good I picked up a box for the house. Then on to what can only be considered one of my favourite parts of any holiday…. The supermarket. I love, like literally love a supermarket on holiday.
We decided to self-cater as much as possible this trip so after ambling around the deli counter, the wine section and the foreign sweets and biscuits section we were loaded up the gills. Off we headed again.
In hindsight here, I think I would email the resort before you go and ask if you could use the pool at the resort before the late 4pm check in.
We arrived at Nature Valley Parc about 3pm but could not check in until 4pm. The lodges all have a keypad on the door that does not activate until 4pm check in, which, to be honest, was long and painful at that stage of the day when we just wanted to start the holiday and had such a long trip. It did not help that it was lashing out of the heavens, either.
Listen, we got there in the end, checked in, picked rooms, changed our clothes and headed out in the rain to explore. I think the tiredness got the better of us, so day one was an early delicious French inspired dinner and a snuggly early night.
One of the unique aspects of Villages Nature Paris is its unwavering commitment to sustainability and harmony with the environment. The BelleVie Farm, a working organic farm within the resort, provides the perfect opportunity for little adventurers to learn about the wonders of farm life, from petting friendly animals to discovering the joys of planting and harvesting crops.
We chose Villages Nature Paris because of this. There are huge greenhouses, educational classes, bread-making workshops, chocolate-making workshops, a pony club and the most stylish and well-maintained barns I have ever witnessed. You can book in to work as a farm hand for the day too, which looked like great fun. It is like a Disney/movie version of a farm. You definitely wouldn’t call it a working farm. It is gorgeous, though with lots of hands-on classes in planting and growing and food and pony rides.
You really know you are set in nature, as the resort is built on the forest of legends and almost all of the accommodation is built on the lakes. You will be reminded by the staff you are “in nature” and this is not Disney so do expect a little real life too. Villages Nature Paris is located in Marne de Valle, about a 10-minute drive from Disneyland. This was the other reason I chose this one
The rain cleared on day 2 and well …. When in Centre Parcs – we did the forest adventure playground, high up tree top trails, the electric jeep ride, the boat ride on the lake and lord only knows whatever else. The forest of legends has that outdoor gym fitness equipment which is really cool too and the archery is also located here. There is a bookable session available which is to book your own “build a hut session”. I think If I had to know about this, it would have been a cool one to do as we arrived on Monday. We also missed the live forest show.
As we wandered around and headed towards the central hub where the information reception is, there are bakeries, coffee shops, the supermarket and some restaurants. There is also a bike hire facility and a giant chess board which was a huge take with my gang.
After a morning of adventure and activity, we headed back to our house. I booked the VIP Cottage which was a 3-bed house with a ginormous spa bath tub, a fab vanity bathroom , a real stove and a dining table to seat 6. The other bedrooms were basic enough but what more did we need. There was also a terrace/patio with garden furniture off the kitchen diner. The weather was not good enough to use it but we did get entertainment from saying hello to all the wildlife that appeared each day.
We had some lunch, took a little chill out and then headed straight for the geothermal pool. The aquatic garden, the slides, the outdoor heated lagoon and lazy river, along with the baby pool , wave pool and rock climbing pool were all a huge hit. There are pool parties and wave parties, aqua gym and aqua bike sessions too, just to add to the high octane vibes of all the slides. ( the slides really are brilliant).
The pool is great, fab, fun, and everything a Centre Parcs pool should be. Even though it was pouring rain outside, the atmosphere was great. We spent hours here and loved it. Communal family changing rooms, lovely showers… all super.
Downstairs there is a wellness spa, relaxation area and a sauna. It is possible to book parent and child spa sessions which I just love. We didn’t get around to this, which I somewhat regret, but it looked lovely. All swimmed out of it, we headed up to our lodge, and snuggled up as it was a rainy evening, I cooked us a little dinner, we chatted, played, had a lovely glass of French wine ,and we all fell into bed wrecked at about 9.30 … day 3 was a big one….
Day 4 was another great day at Villages Nature…. The weather was significantly better, the rain had subsided and we were ready to explore the rest of the park. To be honest, at this stage, we felt like we had most things boxed off our list. I think if the weather had been lovely, we could have easily spent another day pottering and exploring or doing more of the outdoor activities or even sunbathing maybe.
One thing to be very wary of, the come down after Disney is real. The weariness, the tiredness… the dopamine and the adrenaline low are real. It is hard to get anything to top the overwhelming, immersive experience that Disney is for the first time. The down day was great and needed but just beware. I would not hit Disney at the start of a trip like this. We had a slower-paced day on Thursday.
We hit up the pool again for about 2.5 hours. We had a chocolate-making class booked but it was cancelled at the last minute as the tempering machine was not working. The guys loved the indoor play area and the restaurant and coffee shop here is gorgeous, the nicest onsite by far in my opinion. They also loved the theatre show, there was no spoken word and only two actors on stage but it was brilliant. We fed the animals and spent time in the greenhouse. That evening we had an early dinner and headed to the bowling alley, the souvenir shop and the arcade. The arcade was a real novelty for mine and they loved it.
Overall Villages Nature Paris promises an immersive escape, it is easy and all under one roof , so to speak. This week is a lovely chance for us to connect with nature and one another. There was plenty of experience and excitement and movement and nature and well, a modern take on what wellness is for us as a family.
The last day of our trip rolled around very quickly. We had resigned ourselves to not doing anything on-site that morning but just getting ready for check out and exploring some of the region. We had a late 9pm flight home so we had all day with no rush.
We headed to one of the top ten chocolate box towns of France, Gerberoy. It opens for a summer season, yes, the entire village opens and closes each season – from May 1st to September 31st. We got there on Sept 31st. It was a little surreal, but I cannot recommend enough visiting this sleepy, stuck-in-time little village. Stunning. A highlight was getting to wander through Les Jardin de Henri Le Sidaner. This artist transformed a neglected orchard into a stunning masterpiece of around 43,000 square feet. There are walkways, a tower, a pergola, statues, a pond and a rose garden that is magical, it is just sheer immersive beauty. His former barn studio still exists for a little peek in, and you can even peer in to check out the neighbour’s stunning garden too.
The other mesmerising place to visit on a trip to Gerberoy is Collegiate Church Saint-Pierre or St. Peter’s College church. It has a presence that is captivating. Donagh and Emilia fell into an awe/fear like silence. It was bizarre ( I was grateful of the silence for a little bit of this stage to be honest, so we may have lingered here a little longer than most. )
It is a combination of Romanesque and Gothic architecture and it was renovated back in 1997-1999 I think. It has a presence, that’s the only way I can describe it, like it should be still in operation as it transports you back in time. It was very cool to visit.
My final recommendation for Gerberoy is to have a little lunch here, it is so magical and picturesque, it is the picture-perfect postcard version of a trip to France.
After Gerberboy, we headed to Beauvais, a city that is much overlooked. We fly in, assuming there is nothing here because it is not the bright lights city of Paris. It was lovely. Beauvais is a very real working French town with a foodie market to die for and a breathtaking cathedral. It is a city that is well worth a few hours of a visit.
After a bite to eat, some nibbles from the market, crepes, hot chocolates, forage and any other French delicacies we could find, we bundled ourselves back into the car one last time. It was home time.
We needed to return the car and head for the flight home. Weary and tired and happy we got home late that night but what a jam-packed, trip complete fabulous memories to cherish.