What happens when Disneyland meets Center Parcs? Laura and Olivia Lynott give a mum-and-daughter take on Villages Nature Paris.
As I run my fingers across an alluring array of petals, bathing in 23°C heat, the stress of city life just melts away. Villages Nature Paris opened last October as a nature discovery holiday resort. It's a collaboration between the companies behind Disneyland Paris and Center Parcs in Europe, so though just 40km from Paris, is a million miles from urbanity.
Standing here, I take in the smell of rosemary, the touch of dry soil between my fingers and surround-sound birdsong. At home, I barely volunteer to mow the lawn - yet here, during this vertical gardening class, taught by a patient and witty Parisian woman, I'm falling in love with horticulture. It's an undiscovered form of mindfulness and I'm determined to develop this affair in my own back garden.
Olivia (daughter, 19)
Memories of my childhood come flooding back at the sight of the farmyard animals, from chickens to donkeys, rabbits and horses, who've made BelleVie Farm their home at Villages Nature Paris. Young children delight in spending time at the farm and this family-friendly atmosphere only adds to my pleasure. I mill my way through a variety of animal enclosures and watch nature up close, totally uninterrupted. There's a solitary grey donkey looking for attention and he doesn't seem to want me to leave, so I stay and while away the moments with him. I've lost track of time. There's nowhere I need to be, at least not until lunch. I've stepped into a calmer time, far, far away from the call of social networks and mobile phones.
The Aqualagon, similar to the Subtropical Swimming Paradise at Center Parcs, is the star attraction for many visitors. It's one of the biggest waterparks in Europe and boasts a selection of adrenaline-pumping water slides. But if you want to chill out in the pool and leave the daredevils to it, be warned to get your morning swim in early before the children take over for the day.
Some staff are fluent in English; others barely speak a word - so perhaps come a little prepared with some French phrases for your trip. Breaking the language barrier even a little will ensure the trip runs smoothly. And download the Villages Nature Paris app to your phone, and plan the classes you want to book during your stay. There's a vast amount of activities, come rain or shine.
Just €10 for half-an-hour in a pedalo on the lake at Villages Nature provides enough fun to store in the memory banks for some time. I'm somewhat of a novice sailor and no matter how experienced at sailing your party might be, no one can be taken too seriously in a boat that has to be briskly peddled to make its way round the lake in time for lunch. But be warned, the tall, Gallic boat keeper will not be amused if any attempts are made to enter the water. Swimming is strictly forbidden here. Save that for the vast Aqualagon with its host of pools.
If, like me, you aren't skilled in the art of baking, it's still very much worth checking out the bread workshop at Le Fournil in BelleVie Farm. Here, I'm instructed by a thorough master baker, who, within an hour, has provided insight into this wonderful skill for just €8. The class really unites my party, some already well-versed bakers and others absolutely clueless. There's a real sense of achievement when the bread is baked and served up, still warm. I show my gratitude for my patient teacher with a heart-shaped pan that tastes not half bad.
Accommodation at Villages Nature Paris comes in the form of stylish, self-catering woodland apartments and it’s advisable to stay close to the shops and restaurants. The Country Premium apartments offer a private, woodland view, only metres away from Franprix supermarket. Here you’ll find fresh bread and coffee for breakfast, enjoyed best on the apartments’ pretty balcony areas. And remember, this is an eco resort — so clear all rubbish into a bin bag and drop off outside the apartments before leaving.
Don’t worry about hauling the luggage to your apartment or cottage because regular shuttle buses are available to drop you near your door, and lifts service each apartment. You can pick up a pizza to take away from as little as €8 if you stay near the shops and restaurants. Or, make a budget-friendly meal with the wide selection of food at the supermarket. If you stay in the two-bedroom Country Premium apartments, there are two single beds in one room and a king size in the other. More than enough room for guests.
Life can’t be perfect, not even in a heavenly woodland escape. Unfortunately, the self-service ‘fast’ system at Italian restaurant Vapiano doesn’t work. The staff seemed overburdened with too many tasks and as a result the service was neither smooth nor fast. And make sure to pack a first-aid kit and paracetamol, as these essentials can’t be found in the shops here!
The resort was practically faultless, but I’d advise a little more customer training for some staff, who need to be more patient and welcoming — though the majority of workers are extremely helpful and some stand out as going above and beyond. But if, like me, you lose your wristband — your key to the resort and your apartment — things can get uncomfortable pretty quickly. I encountered serious questioning by a somewhat overzealous security worker, when trying to drop luggage off at a baggage spot on my last day; staff should clearly explain what to do if you lose the wristband, to avoid this unnecessary fuss. I was left to deal with gruffness.
Laura and Olivia were guests of Villages Nature Paris (centerparcs.com/gb-en), where a mid-week self-catering stay for two nights starts at €221. A three-night self-catering stay in a Country Premium apartment for two is priced from €569 in August.
Prices include the use of The Aqualagon water park and pool but activities such as gardening, farming and exercise classes, must be booked and paid for.
Return flights from Dublin to Paris Orly are available with Transavia (transavia.com), or to alternative airports with Aer Lingus or Ryanair.
The nearest train station to Villages Nature Paris is Marne-La-Vallée (Disneyland Paris), from which guests can take a public bus (No 47) to the resort.
The older you get the harder it can be to let go, to let your imagination run free. We get so caught up in our everyday lives that precious moments can pass us by so quickly - often without us even noticing. Then, one day, we wake up and it's too late.