Reviews in Stockport

Perfect family holiday at Votre Vacances in France

When Harrogate Mumbler were invited to try out a family friendly holiday at “Votre Vacances” in north-western France, they couldn’t believe their luck! 

“We were delighted to receive the invitation because on paper (and on-line) this lovely little campsite appeared to have it all and as a mum to two young girls; one aged 7 (going on 17!) and one aged 5, I am still looking for that elusive “perfect” family holiday.

You know the one, where we spend plenty of family time together (without being nagged to death by the kids) we get to have fun, there is enough on-site to entertain the children without feeling ‘forced’, there must be a bar (obvs!) the kids must be safe and it’s got to be totally family friendly- my kids cannon ball into the pool; I can’t deny that. Finally I don’t want to have to spend thousands of pounds to achieve this. It shouldn’t be that hard should it?

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I can honestly say that Votre Vacances ticked every box. Owned by a lovely lady called Sarah from Harrogate, Votre Vacances is an 8 chalet holiday business situated in the grounds of a beautiful 19th century french chateau, part of a larger campsite called Chateau la Foret. As well as Votre Vacances on-site, there are well known holiday names such as Eurocamp and Canvas holidays.

Chateau la Foret is just outside a lovely little village called St Julien-des-Landes in the Vendee region of France. It is a rural inland campsite, but at just 20 minutes drive from the stunning Atlantic coast and gorgeous beach resorts, you really can get the most out of your precious family holiday.

We visited Votre Vacances in the middle of August and were expecting the site to be heaving as it was the middle of both the French and British school holidays. On the contrary, this lovely little campsite felt peaceful and far from over-run, despite it being the middle of the high season. The site itself is set within 50 hectares of parkland surrounding the Chateau and so never feels cramped or overly busy.

We had flown into to Nantes (just over an hours drive away) and owner Sarah had e-mail us a week before our trip with useful last minute information including her personal phone number so that we could let her know our approximate arrival time. It was an easy drive from the airport and the route took us right next to a huge “Super-U” supermarket about 15 minutes before we arrived at the campsite where we could stock up on all the French holiday essentials (Vin and Fromage…)

Arrival and Accomodation

Upon our arrival, Sarah was waiting for us and was an excellent host right from the start. Understanding that travelling with young children is never easy, she was warm, welcoming and wasted no time getting us into our accommodation and giving us a good welcome brief about the accommodation, the site and the wider facilities in the area.

Our chalet style mobile home was modern, bright and immaculately clean. The lounge/kitchenette area was extremely spacious and airy and whilst the bedrooms were pretty small (as is usually the case with static caravans) the increased space in the living area was a huge bonus.

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Sarah had really thought of all the personal touches such as complimentary tea, coffee and sugar as well as dish clothes and sponges, washing-up liquid, balsamic vinegar and oil as well as salt and pepper. If you have never stayed in self-catering accommodation it may seem bizarre that I’m mentioning this, but those of you who have, will know what a difference these little touches make.

There was a kettle style BBQ outside with complimentary charcoal and lighters as well as a box of kids games (jenga, cards, dominos and connect 4) In the bathroom we found lovely toiletries for us to use- luxury H2K skincare products along with a superb power shower.

The campsite

Needless to say, my daughters were keen to get unpacked quickly and in the sweltering heat (it was 33ºc on the day we arrived) wanted to get into the pool as soon as possible. It was just a 3-4 minute walk from our mobile home to the first of fenced 2 pools, this one was the outside pool in front of the beautiful chateau, surrounded by a wooden deck and elegant sun loungers, it really did feel like a little bit of heaven.

On the second day we found the other swimming pool, an older style indoor pool around the other side of the chateau (although on the beautiful sunny days while we were there, it was mostly open sided and so didn’t get overly-hot) The outside pool was supposed to be more for adults (although it was full of families and children for the whole time we were there) and the inside pool, with baby pool area and 2 waterslides, was strictly speaking the family pool.

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After a full afternoon of swimming, none of us had the energy or inclination to cook or eat out, so we made the most of the on-site takeaway and ordered 3 different delicious pizzas to eat back at our home. As well as pizzas, the takeaway served kids meals, hot and cold sandwiches, burgers and chips.

On site, there were plenty of facilities to keep both the children and the adults entertained (mini farm, games room, bouncy castle, trampolines, play park, minigolf = happy kids: Beautiful courtyard bar = happy adults) All of the kids entertainment, other than the electronic games in the games room and the €1 charge for golf balls, was free which ensured that you didn’t end up spending a fortune keeping the kids happy.

There was also an action-packed timetable of activities each day which were free to join in, including a 2 hour kids club 10am-12pm each day- crafting, sports etc. Pool activities, yoga, sports, live music, kids disco, pub quiz and more.

There was an on-site restaurant and a lakeside cafe for those who didn’t want to self cater as well as a small shop which sold basic provisions and you could pre-order delicious bakery items such as croissants and pain-au-chocolate for collection each morning. If you kept forgetting to pre-order (like me) then it took less than 5 minutes to walk into the village, where you could stock up on delicious treats from the boulangerie (the cream cakes were something else!) or grab any essentials from the local pharmacy.

Right next to the campsite was a fabulous high wire/treetop nets adventure centre called Le Grand Delphi and I’d highly recommend that you make a visit during your stay at Votre Vacances. With courses for every level from 2 years old and  prices starting at around €10 per person for 3 hours it proved to be excellent value for money and both my daughters thoroughly enjoyed themselves. Make sure you go to the Chateau La Foret reception area to get your Grand Delphi discount voucher for preferable rates. The youngest children had their own course at around 1 meter above ground (so that parents can help them with the clips and cables) whilst teenagers and adults were whizzing around in the treetops, zip wiring across the lakes! Using the fairly measly excuse of only wearing flip-flops, I didn’t have a go myself, but I’ve promised my girls that if we go back I’ll don a harness and we’ll attempt the family circuit all together.

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The local area

In our accommodation Sarah had provided an amazingly thorough folder full of useful information about the site as well as the attractions and tourist information for the whole region. As we were only on site for 3 full days, we were barely able to scratch the surface, however we did manage to squeeze in a trip to the coast at Les Sables d’ Olonne. The trip was a bit of an adventure in itself as navigating a busy town on market day is never easy, however arriving at Le Grand Plage was well worth it. With beautiful golden sands and more rock pools then you could possible fish, my daughters were in absolute heaven. I’d highly recommend a visit (and take your nets and buckets!)

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Sarah’s visitors information folder contained so much information that a family would never be stuck for inspiration- from walks to zoo’s, theme parks, shopping, nature, geocaching and bike rides, there was something for everyone. Whilst we enjoyed lovely sunshine for our entire trip, there is also plenty to do in the area if the weather isn’t so kind.

About the Vendee

The Vendee is an area in the middle of France’s west (atlantic) coast and takes it name from the river that runs through it.  The beautiful countryside, charming towns and 140km of sandy beaches, together with the great summer weather, have helped to make the Vendee a popular holiday destination. Vendee is one of the sunniest places in France with nearly 2500 annual sunshine hours. Between June and September daily highs are regularly in the 20s. Days in peak summer enjoy an average of up to 9 sunshine hours. Rainfall levels are very low. June, July and August are the driest months with around 40mm average monthly rainfall (source www.holiday-weather.com/vendee/)

Overall

I have no hesitation in recommending Votre Vacances to any Mumbler who is looking for the ideal family holiday in France. It is small enough to feel safe and secure with enough going on to keep children of all ages happy. Sarah is a wonderful host and treads that fine balance between being available (should you need her) and ensuring you enjoy your holiday with minimal interference. I can’t wait to go back!

Contact information and special offer

If you would like to experience a truly family friendly holiday in one of Votre Vacance’s boutique style static caravans then make sure to use the discount code “Mumbler” when booking for a fabulous 15% discount on your 2016/17 holiday. Open from May to September.

For more information or to book you can visit the website http://votrevacances.com

Getting there

The Vendee is really accessible, with overnight ferries with Brittany Ferries:
Catch from Portsmouth/ Plymouth to:
St Malo, Caen, Le Havre, Roscoff

Fly drive is becoming a really popular alternative with flights to Nantes or La Rochelle from London, Birmingham, and Manchester. We flew from Birmingham to Nantes Monday to Friday at a cost of around £80 per person return. The cheapest hire car we could find was around £25 per day with Avis. Nantes airport is around 70minutes drive from Chateau la Foret, and La Rochelle is now more than a 2 hour drive.

If you don’t mind a longer drive you could do the Eurotunnel or Dover-Calais ferry (around a 6 hr drive from Calais to Chateau La Foret)

Disclosure: Votre Vacances did provide us with free accomodation for the purposes of this review. The opinion I’ve expressed here is my own and it’s a very easy place to love!”

Sally Haslewood, Harrogate Mumbler


Review: Family fun at Smithills Open Farm

Last summer we had a lovely time at a 4th birthday party at Smithills Open Farm, so we decided to brave the cold (!) last Sunday and head back for a family day out. I wasn’t 100% sure if it would be open to the public in January but was surprised to learn it’s open every day of the year other than  Christmas day, Boxing day and New Years day!

It was around 40 minutes drive from our house in Bramhall but could be more or less depending on your proximity to the M60.

There’s a big car park right next to the entrance, and we first headed to ‘pet’s corner’ where we were able to milk the lambs and get up close and stroke lots of cute animals, including puppies and piglets (there were more to follow but my mini Mumbler, aged 2.5, isn’t big on sitting still at the moment!), so we checked out the indoor play area. There were no less than 2 bouncy castles, around 5 slides of varying sizes, wendy houses and those little toddler cars (I can’t remember if they have a specific name – the red and yellow ones). Safe to say we were in there quite a while!

We visited the llamas, lambs and goats where we were able to use some of the animal food we’d bought at the entrance (half of it ended up on the floor, but we did try!). We also said hello to the pigs, ponies and horses while we were there.  Next – donkey rides! My daughter loved it and wanted to go ‘again’ (her favourite word at the moment!)

The three of us then headed off on a big tractor to feed the donkeys, which was lovely! In fact I was surprised at the range and frequency of activities given the time of year – tractor rides were every hour, as was pets corner (plus I think there were regular cow milking sessions but we didn’t get round to that!), and the donkey rides were running all day too.

As well as the indoor play area, there is great outdoor play area too, plus an undercover area where little ones can ride their own mini tractors!

What else did we see? Meerkats (my personal favourites), chicks, owls and there is even a reptile centre (home to the pythons, although fear not as they are very much enclosed!). No doubt there were more animals we missed!

We had lunch in the café, which was a pretty good size, a fairly varied and reasonably priced menu, good portion sizes served hot and fast service. No complaints! You can however take your own food and eat it in the undercover picnic area next to the indoor play area (perfectly placed but possible 5 minutes peace!), it’s really big too so shouldn’t be too difficult to grab a table in busier months!

What else can I tell you? The staff were lovely and lots of them around, and there are lots of handwashing stations too which you are strongly encouraged to do after touching the animals! There was also a really nice gift shop where I was pleasantly surprised at how reasonably priced everything was!

It was £8 each for my husband and I, and £7 for my daughter, plus £1 for a bag of food, £1 for a donkey ride and £3 for all of us to go on the tractor. A total of £28. Given the wide range of activities available, the number of staff on duty, the cost of keeping the farm and the fact you can bring a picnic, I think this is an excellent value day out!

I think the best thing about this as a day out is that it’s suitable for all ages – from little ones right through to adults (who doesn’t love cute animals?!). It certainly kept my mini Mumbler entertained for more than 3 hours so gets a definite thumbs up from me!

Highly recommended!

Click here for the Smithills Open Farm website.


Review – Messy Monkeys

wwMy daughter and I went to Jo’s Messy Monkeys class whilst I was on maternity leave and we both loved it, so I was sad when the time came to return to work and we could no longer go every week. Although attending the classes gave us lots of inspiration for activities to do at home thereafter, it has of course never been quite the same – not quite as messy (not intentionally anyway!) and not quite as much fun with me stressing over the status of the carpet and the ever-present risk of paint splattered curtains! So it’s safe to say I was delighted when class Jo invited us back to do a review of the class for Stockport Mumbler.

Upon arrival we we’re given a warm welcome by Jo and the other mums and dads at the class (many of whom who have been attending the classes for 2+ years!). There’s a cosy area where the little ones can settle in and get ready for the session to begin (most little ones were in a nappy and vest, but it’s a case of whatever they are most comfortable in!). There’s a padded floor as well as lots of monkeys (the soft toy variety!) and monkey-themed books to keep everyone company in preparation for the class.

The next thing to do is to sing the catchy Messy Monkeys welcome song “ooh ooh ooh Messy Monkeys, ooh ooh ohh Messy Monkeys, we love messy play!” (a welcome replacement to “hello my name is iggle piggle” which I can’t seem to get out of my head of late!). The little ones are then given a clipboard with a picture on to colour in with crayons as we sing the Messy Monkeys take on ‘Wheels on the Bus’. A different picture is used each week and there’s space to record your little ones name and age – this is not only a lovely thing to keep but a great way to see how their colouring changes month on month.

Then it’s time to get down to some serious MESSY business…

slides 3There’s a theme a each week, and this week it was Winter Wonderland: there was flour snow, penguins to be painted, ‘oat’ snow be shovelled and cleared, hats and gloves to keep us warm plus painting to be done and water to splash in! What’s not to love?

My mini Mumbler held back a little at first as she took everything in and then started making shapes from the play doh. I was super impressed to learn that the play doh was home-made! She then headed over to the blue water tubs to join the penguins, and before I knew it she was over at the painting wall getting seriously messy whilst exhibiting her artistic skills! The session is very much unstructured – little ones can dip in and out of each activity as they please and can very much explore at their own pace (and let’s face it, they love being in charge!). All the materials are safe to be used under supervision. It’s a very laid-back yet fun atmosphere which was great for us as it helped my daughter get involved very quickly without feeling overwhelmed.

So what about…the mess? Well fear not, Jo provides the little ones with a mini bath tub each, complete with warm bubbles to get clean ready for home time (not before singing the Messy Monkeys goodbye song, of course!). Then it’s time to get dry and dressed before heading home mess free after a fun-filled morning!

My favourite thing about this class (apart from the fact I don’t have to do the cleaning up, obviously!) is that it really allows little ones to discover things in their own way, use their imagination and express themselves creatively as they feel most comfortable doing: there’s no pressure to paint, gloop or squelch in a certain way! When you think of little ones doing ‘messy play’ it’s easy to conjure up images of utter chaos, but because they are given the freedom to investigate the various materials and activities for themselves, they are so focused on what they are uncovering and all the new textures, (and yes of course there is lots of mess – the more so the better at this class!) it’s not the complete mayhem you might envisage!

Jo is a brilliant class leader. Her relaxed and fun approach is infectious – not just for the children, but the parents too! It isn’t always easy walking into a new class where you don’t know anyone and you don’t know quite what to expect – and Jo puts you at ease instantly with her cheerful welcome and explanation of what happens at the class. It’s not difficult to see why many of the little ones have been with the class from the start 2 years ago! Definitely 5/5 stars from both my daughter and I!

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Jo tells us more about the philosophy behind Messy Monkeys…

“Messy Play helps babies and toddlers explore their developing senses and their blossoming creativity in a fun and safe environment. 

At Messy Monkeys we allow children to explore different materials and textures that helps them to learn about the mechanics of the world around them… it might just look like a bit of a giggle but for babies and toddlers messy play is serious learning!  

Not only do children develop an early understanding of arts and crafts from messy play they also gain an insight into the basics of science and maths; learning about gravity, cause and effect, the difference between liquids and solids and how different substances react in different situations.

At Messy Monkeys we concentrate on free and creative play as this is an essential part of a child’s learning process; messy play is a fabulous way of allowing young children to gain confidence in their own imagination rather than giving them structured, adult led activities.  By focusing on the ‘process’ rather than the ‘product’ children gain confidence in their own choices and ideas, rather than simply trying to do what they think adults want them to do.

People learn new things in different ways; some visually by watching others, some aurally by listening to information and others kinaesthetically by physically doing a task.  Messy Play appeals to the kinaesthetic learner who isn’t always happy sitting and listening, but would rather be getting stuck in. The vast majority of babies and toddlers are kinaesthetic learners, hence their enthusiasm for getting messy!

There is evidence to suggest that children who experience messy play from an early age are easier to wean onto solid foods, since if they are happy covering themselves with paint and glitter during their playtime they probably won’t mind being covered with spaghetti bolognaise at meal time!  Messy Play can reduce the fear of exploring new textures, which is part of the battle some parents face in getting their children to try new foods.

It is easy to see how plentiful the benefits of messy play are in terms of early child development and the great thing is that children love it too!” – Jo Wanless

Jo runs weekly sessions in Bramhall, Cheadle Hulme and Heaton Chapel, and also offers messy birthday parties! Find out more on the Messy Monkeys website here.

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Disclosure: Messy Monkeys Manchester South did provide us with a free class for the purposes of this review. The opinion I’ve expressed here is my own.