Did you know Center Parcs and Disneyland have opened a new resort?
PUBLISHED: 10:25 02 October 2018 | UPDATED: 10:26 02 October 2018
Is Villages Nature Paris any good? Charlotte Smith-Jarvis finds out.
We take the wrong turning on the way to Villages Nature Paris – a year-old collaboration between Center Parcs and Disneyland.
My complete mis-reading of the tiny map on my phone leads us to the gates of Disney itself. The children hold onto the edges of their open windows, staring up at the hot air balloon suspended in the sky and the fairytale castle beyond. Mr Jarvis sees the car park fee and promptly does an angry about turn, setting us off on the correct path.
Pulling up to the familiar entrance (all Center Parcs locations tend to have the same vibe) we’re each given a blue wristband not dissimilar to a watch. We’re told this acts not only as the key to our apartment for the weekend, but to the swimming pool and lockers.
“Ooh, that’s cool,” gadget-mad hubby smiles, driving deeper into the woods, while I can only think to myself “yes it’s handy, but the kids are going to lose theirs”. Naturally number two child misplaced his within half an hour. Thank goodness I’m an anal nag who insisted from that point onwards on popping them in my handbag just in case!
Emerging into the park it was clear this place was just nothing like any Center Parcs village we’d been to before. The collection of apartments and lodges, many of them with lakeside positions, had a Lost World vibe. There was a German utilitarianism about the exteriors, which were festooned with foliage – draping ferns and ivy, ‘living walls’, tiny trees – blending them into the landscape.
While the accommodation directly by the lake (the park’s hub) looked like it had been lifted from the pages of a Steampunk picture book. Truly extraordinary.
So – what was it like?
Our apartment was more like a mini penthouse. The interior wasn’t what we expected at all. It had a natural/nature-inspired Scandi vibe with a petite but well-equipped kitchen, mis-matched dining seats at a long table, comfy sofas, a sliding door to a double and twin bedroom, bathroom, shower room and separate loo (very handy for a family). The highlight was the view over to the Aqualagon and lake – illuminated purple and blue at night. Our only gripe was the pillows on the beds. They were square. I’ve never slept on a square pillow before – have you?
The important bit – how good is the pool?
Let me tell you, this was the crowning glory of Villages Nature. Once you’ve gotten over the fantastic idea of using your wristband to operate the locker, and have sauntered past the pleasingly clean showers, you enter a whole other world. “It’s the best pool I’ve ever been to,” my 12-year-old daughter squealed, jumping for joy and dragging me to the huge outdoor lagoon, heated to over 30C and packed with jets, a play area, and a gentle set of circular rapids. It was the dream, we were told by the director, to have a lagoon that mimicked the one in Iceland, to be enjoyed year-round. While this certainly doesn’t have the natural awe of the Blue Lagoon, it’s an impressive feat of engineering, and stayed open even in icy lows of -10C last winter.
Inside are fizzing Jacuzzis, a couple of youngster-friendly play areas, a large pool (with waves) and no fewer than seven flumes. Our favourites? The Racer (it does what it says on the tin – you race against one another). The Crater – which opens out to a cavern at the end of a drop, swooshing you up the wall in a breathtaking moment of anti-gravity. And Rocket – not for the faint-hearted as it drops you vertically through the floor!
There are single and double inflatables for many of the rides and it really was watery paradise. It got busy on the Saturday and Sunday as daytrippers (those with purple wristbands) were allowed access, making some annoying queues. However there are plans afoot to limit the amount of ‘outsiders’ who have access.
What else can you do there?
There isn’t a sports centre here, but you’ll still find plenty to keep you busy. There’s mini golf, Segway tours, electric boats to hire on the lake, bowling, an arcade room, pony rides, honey making, chocolate making and loads more to get stuck into. Close to the lakeside area is a garden themed around the four elements. There’s a farm with animals to visit. And an enchanted forest with a zip wire, funky slides and climbing equipment – almost like a mini version of Bewilderwood.
We took part in an outdoor ‘escape the room challenge’. There’s an indoor version (Prizoners) but for larger groups this outdoor adventure is completely thrilling, filled with scheming characters and believable props. The whole family got stuck into solving the puzzles and I’m pleased to report we came second – not bad considering my well-noted lack of logic.
What are the shops like?
You may find the onsite Franprix a tad pricey but it was really very well-stocked with everything you could need. I absolutely loved the fresh counter area, serving up cured meats, pates and cheeses to order. There was also a rotisserie. And – most important of all – a pump with wine on tap to bottle yourself. We spent a good while looking for bread – one of the most essentials of any trip to France and couldn’t find it. Soon we were directed to the bakery – an homage to pastry serving up slabs of sponge, madeleines, Nutella-filled brioche, tartlets and of course, loads of bread.
The site also has a sports store, gift shop and an artisan food and drink shop.
Is it worth eating there?
Yes. It’s the best selection and quality food we’ve had at this kind of place. At Les Cepages, where regional cuisine and natural wine is served (the priciest of the restaurants) we tucked into steak frites, tender boozy beef stew, and a platter of cured meats, roasted potatoes and melty Coulommiers cheese – produced just a few miles away.
Breakfast can be delivered to your door in the morning. We appreciated a lie-in and waking up to a bag filled with juice, coffee, hot chocolate, pastries, breads and preserves. Lovely.
Vapiano offered up freshly made pasta (you can see the machine in action) and thin crusted pizza which was popular all-round.
And the restaurant at the farm was beautiful, with a New England feel and extensive selection of snacks – as well as a crazy milk-themed indoor play area and cool outdoor lounging space complete with hammocks.
We also tried out Pur etc, which sells organic, fresh, healthy ‘pots’ of salad and hot food. Think jars of pasta salad and Basque-style chicken.
Should we go?
Mr Jarvis is running the Paris marathon next year and we’re already plotting our return to Villages Nature. They’ve really carefully thought about how to please every age group, with activities for tinies up to teens and beyond. Next time we’ll stay longer and perhaps let the children go to Disney before they get too old!