Paris, for some, is to be loved. A joy of a place brimming with architecture, culture, some of the best food in the world, sophistication and grungy surprise in equal measure. I can never visit enough, never tire of its energy, its thrall, from a hike up to the Sacre Coeur to gaze across its cityscape vista, to a lazy drink aboard the Petit Bain on the river.
Or so I thought, until it was to lead me down another unexpected path a mere half hour from the bright lights. A destination that isn’t so much a contrast, but instead an unbridled wonder for the overloaded senses. The clues are there as the traffic begins to thin, lanes of roads slowly replaced by vegetation and trees alongside until you take a turn to the right and voyage beyond the gates to find yourself in a world of natural calm.
Nothing really prepares you for Les Villages Nature. It is so close to the French capital, if you strained your eyes through a good quality telescope atop the Eiffel Tower you might very well expect to see it on a clear day if you knew where to look.
But here in Marne la Vallee is unexpected tranquillity. A place of forest and foliage that immerses you in fresh air. The contrast to what you left behind is startling, mesmerising. Reeds and wildflower meander like friends along the winding, traffic free paths taking you inside. Ahead, a scattering of cottages lined with woods along the water’s edge, each cleverly paired in harmony with its outside terrace to embrace this little corner of heaven. Further along, apartments of varying size, fronted by giant windows to the world bathing them in natural light as they stretch slowly skyward like some kind of architectural yoga, crested with plants, grass and trees as they blend in. You barely notice them because of the clever planting. Hard then to fathom that close to 900 of them exist in the 300-acre site.
Inside, the apartments are sublime. The VIP Cocoon cottages, for example, have energy efficient mood lighting and high end kitchens with giant beds and a jacuzzi bath. Relaxation, French style for sure.
Come morning, bicycles on hire are a staple. Children can zip along the pathways in safety. The only decision is to go left towards the Forest of the Legends, all climbing frames and trails, or right for the BelleVie Farm to meet the animals.
And here is Les Villages Nature’s greatest trick. Opened with eco-tourism in mind two years ago, there is utter calm among the clear enjoyment everyone around you is having. It is huge enough to provide space, but intimate enough for new young friendships to bloom amid the 100-plus activities on offer.
Pony trekking, electric jeeps, the action factory climbing and adventure world, arrow contact, escape room, chocolate making, honey workshops, being a farmhand for the day, make your own cuddly bear, boating, segwaying, bowling, treasure hunting, tree trails, mini golf, beach, ninja course, learn to be a lifeguard and much more.
For the active adult, running and workouts juxtaposition beside dancing nights and trails. Or indulge in the spa and treatments. The main event for all the family, though, is the award winning Aqua lagoon – the second largest in Europe with seven slides, pool after geothermal pool, technically designed to open even in winter, and with an army of lifeguards. Forget any swimming complex you have ever visited, this is truly remarkable from the intriguing design, to the smart wristbands and sheer, unbridled joy writ large across the faces of the children and adults at the inside and outdoor lagoons, heated to 30C through natural resource.
Afterwards, stop in any of the classy, plentiful restaurants and bars, Vapiano the Italian, Cepages the wine bar to name just two. Then remember. All this is done in a 50/50 in partnership with the team behind Disneyland Paris, 15-minutes away. There the parades, the rides, the world famous characters, the shops and stores, the restaurants, the excitement, simply takes your breath away. But after the final fireworks have fizzed and sleepy heads yawn, the comfort in knowing how close this little sanctuary of France is, the ease of getting there, is Les Villages Nature’s secret superpower.
How much during the summer holidays?
Clan Comfort accommodation in whimsical cottages with playful decor in the woods.
OFFER: A three-night self-catered stay, arriving costs from €819/£733 total (was €1,046 / £936 total – saving 22%) for a family of four (two adults and two children age 3-17).
In Country Premium accommodation, indoors and outdoors flow together to create a relaxing retreat inspired by English country living. These cottages and apartments can be found by the lake or in the woods.
OFFER: A three-night self-catered stay, costs from €949/£849 total (was €1,126/£1,008 total – saving 16%) for a family of four (two adults and two children age 3-17).
Cocoon VIP is designed with wellbeing in mind, creating a haven of serenity. Soft and elegantly decorated, Cocoon VIP is available as a cottage or apartment by the lake or in the village centre.
OFFER: A three-night self-catered stay, costs from €1,159/£1,037 total (was €1,295/ £1,159 total – saving 11%) for a family of four (two adults and two children age 3-17).
For more information about Les Villages Nature®Paris and to book, please call 0845 351 0820 or visit www.lesvillagesnature.com/gb-en
Try your hand at Arrow Contact
Awake the warrior inside and put aim, reflexes and athleticism to the test, with Archery Tag. Competitors will be given a bow, arrow (with safely tips) and mask (extra protection) and divided into two teams. Throughout play, each team will try and ‘tag’ as many ‘enemies’ as possible; if an arrow hits an enemy’s bow, then they will be ‘tagged’ and, therefore, out of the game. Team mates can save those who are out by shooting one of the spot targets in the arena, alternatively, if the ‘out’ team mate catches one of the arrows in mid-air, then they’re back in. The first team to get every member of the opposing side out wins the match. Archery tag costs from €15 pp/£13 (minimum age 12).
Learn how to be a lifeguard for a day
Supervised by a lifeguard, study the key lessons behind this very important job during an active workshop. Children will learn how to spot a swimmer who needs help, throw a rubber ring to aid them, get them out of the pool safely and some useful first-aid techniques, including the recovery position and the basics of CPR. During the training, there will be an opportunity to take part in a ‘real-life’ rescue, to put those new-found skills to the test. Learn how to be a lifeguard costs from €15/£13 per child (age 10-16).
Build your own terrarium
A terrarium is a glass container containing soil and plants that can either be open or closed. The concept was born 90 years ago, when Doctor Nathaniel Bagshaw Ward – one of many doctors deriving medicine from plants – observed how, after capturing a cocooned moth hanging from a twig in a jar, that it created its own tiny ecosystem. The plants inside an enclosed terrarium release moisture that condenses inside the vessel and trickles back into the soil. Recently, terrariums have become increasingly popular. A one-hour Terrarium Workshop costs from €20/£17 pp (age 4+).
Reach new heights at the Action Factory
This creative indoor space of 800 m² has been designed with the idea families can participate in numerous activities together. Featuring a wide range of thrills, kids (and big kids) can scramble up the 15 climbing blocks with three different levels, reach new heights with rope paths and secure monkey bridges, challenge themselves on the timed 35-metre Ninja Course and join teams for a game of laser quest in the dark. Prices vary depending on the activity.
KID’S VERDICT: JOSHUA MILNE, 9
COTTAGE: Where we stayed was really nice, the cottage even had a jacuzzi. It had a patio where we could sit outside and enjoy the breakfast that was delivered every morning. My favourite part was the croissant and chocolate spread. 5/5
AQUA LAGOON: This was really good. I loved the different sections of the pool, the wave river, big slides, different kinds of bubble makers, water cannons and lily pad obstacle course. 5/5
ELECTRIC JEEPS: I’ve wanted to drive for ages, and this was my chance. Only downside is they aren’t as fast as grown up cars or bikes, but it was really, really fun. I even managed to reverse park. 4/5
BICYCLES: These let us get around quicker than walking and had their own lights which came on when you cycled. 5/5
CHOCOLATE MAKING: This was a very fun experience. Not only did we get to learn how chocolate is made but we also got to eat it too. It did take a while though. Yum! 4/5
LEGENDS OF THE FOREST: The tree area and climbing frames were the first thing I tried, and they were great. Although be careful not to lose your shoe like I did. You get to see ducks and swans and other animals. 5/5
DISNEYLAND: My favourite ride was the Toy Story soldier parachute drop while my dad’s favourite ride was Star Tours. The parade was fun and at dinner you can actually meet the characters and get pictures with them. We got a picture with Tigger. The fireworks were awesome – my favourite was the sky of fire and the ones from the castle scene at the beginning of every Disney movie. 5/5