Center Parcs De Kempervennen, The Netherlands
As the kids get older, it can be more of a challenge to think of family holidays that will keep them amused, let them have some freedom to roam and give parents a bit of peace. I’m not an organised-fun type of person, preferring instead to head off in search of a road less travelled. But I was willing to keep an open mind and give Center Parcs a go for a few days after hearing good things about De Kempervennen in The Netherlands.
I’ve always been put off by the sound of the UK outposts, with reports of extortionate prices, food halls packed full of screaming kids, the prospect of forced ‘forest’ fun and no chance of participating in any activity unless you’re organised enough to book them months in advance (I’m not). If we wanted to retreat to the forest, we’re much more likely to book a self catering cottage and head for the hills for a good old hike, like we did when we stayed at Caban Cader in Wales.
Center Parcs De Kempervennen
However, we threw caution to the wind and opted for a four-night stay with friends at Center Parcs De Kempervennen, 16km from Eindhoven. This worked well on a number of levels: we could drive there easily and cheaply travelling on the Eurotunnel, the kids had friends to hang out with, we had friends to drink beer with, we could combine it with a trip to Amsterdam, get to experience Center Parcs without remortgaging the house and ski at the Montana Snowcenter, which friends had told us was unmissable.
We stayed in a Premium Eden cottage with four bedrooms, two bathrooms, kitchen, outside terrace and bright, airy living room. Bedrooms were basic but beds were comfy, bathrooms were clean, the lounge was a great space to hang out in and the kitchen had everything we needed for a short stay. At around €1,000 for four nights, it was certainly cheaper than the UK alternative, although still not particularly cheap. Set in a peaceful location in the forest on the edge of the park, our cottage was a 20/25-minute walk from the main ‘marketplace’. So you need to hire a bike (€20-25 per day) or bring your own if you want to get anywhere quickly. Fine by us as we love cycling.
Rapids, slides & wave machines
In the ‘marketplace’ there’s a supermarket, gift shop, themed bars and restaurants, entertainment stage for younger children and Aqua Mundo, the ‘subtropical swimming paradise’. Take note: it’s not subtropical and it’s not paradise, but the swimming pool did have some brilliant rapids, slides, wave machine and the potential for some serious family fun. Choose your time to visit wisely though; it’s deeply unpleasant swimming with your face pressed against a mass of various body parts. Also, this is Holland, the most densely populated country in the EU, so it can feel really crowded at peak times.
The Montana Snowcenter is an indoor snow dome where you can ski and snowboard on real snow all year round. If you’ve skied before, you’ll probably tire of the facilities quickly – there’s only one main run and the dome is relatively small. But for beginners or intermediates, it’s a good spot to practice your technique, book in for a lesson and build confidence on the slopes. Prices per hour start at €21.50 for children up to 14 years old or €31.50 for the day. We chose not to ski, partly because we felt over €100 for a family was expensive, particularly if you compare it to some European ski resorts where you can be skiing in an alpine paradise for around the same price.
Explore The Netherlands by bike
Other activities we tried were family paint balling (great fun, plus you get to wear Breaking Bad style overalls), climbing on an excellent indoor wall, archery, badminton, Go Ape-style tree adventure, bowling, tennis, pool, darts, mini golf and football. There’s plenty to do here for kids of all ages, just make sure you book in advance for the more popular activities and bring your credit card. Yes, it’s cheaper than the UK parks, but you still need to pay to play. The kids loved the activities, but were probably happiest in the pool late at night and bombing around on their bikes.
And that was one of the best things about our trip – the bikes. Exploring the surrounding villages, forests and woodland trails is easy and highly recommended. Holland is flat and simple to navigate, mainly because of the incredible network of bike lanes all over the country. They’re safe and secure and you don’t often need to go near a main road risking life and limb like you do in the UK. There’s a great working windmill in Westerhoven, the village closest to the park. It’s run by friendly, enthusiastic volunteers who are keen to share their knowledge and history of the area. The village has a couple of brown cafes where you can enjoy a bierje and bitterballen, a Dutch speciality.
Would we go back? Possibly, but we probably wouldn’t hurry back. You can experience Holland in a similar way for half the price. Saying that, we still talk about the epic rapids and death-defying water slides, which were brilliant fun. And cycling around the lakeside path as the sun was setting, admiring the warm glow coming from the lodges dotted around the shoreline was pretty special. And the irony of that? It didn’t cost a penny.
Center Parcs De Kempervennen, Eindhoven, The Netherlands. Book here.