Charlotte Smith-Jarvis checks out De Kempervennen in The Netherlands.

Ipswich Star: Pralines from The Chocolate Line in Bruges. Picture: Charlotte Smith-JarvisPralines from The Chocolate Line in Bruges. Picture: Charlotte Smith-Jarvis (Image: Archant)

We've all heard the stories of the eye-watering price hikes levied by holiday companies during the school holidays. But, as we discovered, there's a cheaper way to get away from it all and that's to hop on a ferry or train over to Center Parcs in Europe. Close friends of ours have visited several of the overseas sites and come back full of the joys of spring. So – De Kempervennen in the Netherlands it was then for our Easter break.

How to get to Center Parcs De Kempervennen

We could have got the ferry from Harwich (in fact my dad rollocked us for not doing that) but a 35 minute hassle-free Eurotunnel crossing was more our style. It was cheaper, easy to use and we got to have a Leon sausage muffin in the terminal while we waited – what's not to love?

Ipswich Star: On the beach at De Kempervennen.On the beach at De Kempervennen. (Image: Archant)

With check-in not until mid-afternoon, we pencilled in a stop-off in Bruges (an hour from Calais) along the way. I totally recommend this. We scoffed on frites smothered in curry ketchup, walked around the pretty canals, and bought chocolate – lots of chocolate. I recommend The Chocolate Line - famous for its bean to bar confections in some of the most out-there flavours. We gave the cannabis scented ones wide berth but found the bacon praline strangely satisfying. If you're a chocolate purist Dumon, across the street, is a bit less 'rock n roll' and churns out exceptional truffles. An absolute must is The Old Chocolate House where they sell the best hot chocolate ever to have passed my lips – we're talking a face-sized mug of steaming milk, a huge chocolate cup filled with chocolate 'beans', oh and extra chocolate and biscuits on the side. The waffles are to die for too.

Parking in a multi-storey near Bruges' main train station for several hours was only 3 Euros and right on the doorstep of the historic city centre. A great way to start the holiday.

What's the accommodation like at De Kempervennen?

Ipswich Star: The children loved the farm at De Kempervennen. Picture: Charlotte Smith-JarvisThe children loved the farm at De Kempervennen. Picture: Charlotte Smith-Jarvis (Image: Archant)

I wouldn't want to stay in one of the Comfort villas (shudder) which looked like they needed a ruddy good hose down with a jet wash. 'I hope we're not staying in one of those,' hubby joked as we drove around trying to find number 722. Thankfully we were in a premium Eden villa which was modern, very clean, rammed with light-flooding picture windows and had everything we needed and even things we didn't (a jacuzzi bath with skylight for star-gazing). I was slightly jealous to find out VIP villas get free bread roll deliveries every morning, but who needs bread anyway…

What facilities are there?

OK, so if you've never 'done' Center Parcs before, you won't understand how important the swimming pool is. For children it is the pinnacle of the break. Nothing else matters to them and they'll have you in that Aqua Mundo dome at all hours of the day. Truly a Center Parcs pool is memory-making. This one looked smaller than others I've been to but revealed itself to be cavernous. You had your sloping main pool, two flumes, jacuzzis, a toddler area, waves, the famous wild rapids (I still have bruises) and an indoor/outdoor hot pool where it's pretty much the law to egg-on family members to jump in the icy plunge bath – whilst never attempting it yourself!

Ipswich Star: The pancake house up the road from De Kempervennen was very good indeed. Picture: Charlotte Smith-JarvisThe pancake house up the road from De Kempervennen was very good indeed. Picture: Charlotte Smith-Jarvis (Image: Archant)

A coup for this site is the Living Seas pool. Grab some provided goggles and dive down into the warm blue depths where, behind glass, you'll spot tropical fish including black tip sharks. Yeah it's a gimmick but we totally bought into it.

Beyond the pool, the other massive attraction is the Montana snow and skiing centre. There are lessons in both on the 'real' fake snow, or if you're proficient you can simply get a pass and head out to the slopes. It's 21 Euros for an hour or about 30 Euros for the day (the best bet money wise) and my husband had a whale of a time (and avoided swimming pool duty) in there. There's nowhere to spectate apart from upstairs in the bar, where they will expect you to buy drinks!

Other facilities include the sports centre, lake and small farm where we fell in love with the crazy little baby goats.

Ipswich Star: Montana ski and snowboarding centre at De Kempervennen, The Netherlands. Picture: Charlotte Smith-JarvisMontana ski and snowboarding centre at De Kempervennen, The Netherlands. Picture: Charlotte Smith-Jarvis (Image: Archant)

What are the activities like?

Where to start? You have to hire a bike or take your own if not to explore but to get around – because boy is this place big! We hired four bikes for three days and it would have come to 90 Euros if it weren't for the three free activity vouchers we were given when we booked, knocking it down to 63 Euros. Then there's adventure golf, Segway hire, archery tag, high wires, zip wires, and a fun-looking It's a Knockout type water thing on the lake. Honestly, you won't get bored and the prices were, we thought reasonable. We hired tennis courts, for example, for an hour at under 10 Euros for four of us.

How about the food?

Ipswich Star: A waffle in Bruges. Picture: Charlotte Smith-JarvisA waffle in Bruges. Picture: Charlotte Smith-Jarvis (Image: Archant)

For me, Center Parcs is always let down by its food offering – and that's across the board. Because, quite honestly, they have you in the palm of their hands, and with hungry kids in tow and no oven, where else are you going to eat? The market at De Kempervennen was well-stocked and reasonable in price for those who fancy having a crack at making dinner – we spent ages looking at all the incredible cookies and cakes (the Dutch are known for having a sweet tooth).

But if cooking's not on the agenda I'd recommend pizza and pasta at Nonna's which was actually quite nice, or one of the tasty sandwiches, frites and bitteballen at the Grand Café where you'll sit amidst tropical plants and ponds – with resident (and escapee) terrapins. I'd avoid the Grand Café in the evenings when it turns into something akin to Benidorm in peak season, having been trashed with detritus from early dining families, whose plates and empty glasses seemingly fill every table.

Evergreenz all you can eat appealed to the kids (I think it was the whippy ice cream machine and chocolate fountain that did it) but the food was OK at best and sloppy and weird at worst.

And Fuegos, the adventure restaurant, seemed like a good idea, but the grumpy staff dressed as extras from Jumanji, the sky high prices (20 Euros for a burger) and constant looped playing of the first part of the iconic Indiana Jones theme tune (just the first part, not the whole song) got my goat.

Ipswich Star: Ella and Ethan enjoying frites in central Bruges on the way to The Netherlands.Ella and Ethan enjoying frites in central Bruges on the way to The Netherlands. (Image: Archant)

The best eats were outside of the park, a mile's off-road cycling to De Suckyerbuck pancake house. From the outside it looks a bit weathered but venture in and you'll find the warmest staff, and absolutely cracking pancakes, waffles, schnitzel and more. Children are even given tokens to choose a free gift at the end of their meal.


De Kempervennan is a huge, clean, family-friendly site which more than met our expectations and we'd go back in a heartbeat. It was only 800 Euros for a Monday to Friday stay in peak time (Easter) and a little over £100 for our tunnel crossing, bringing travel and accommodation in at under £1,000. We can't wait to see what all the other European Center Parcs' have to offer.