It seems a long time ago now, but there was a time we were on holiday at Center Parcs de Kempervennen, just a few kilometres into the Netherlands. It was a roasting hot day when we arrived, so we decided to go straight to the beach. It wasn’t a real beach – Kempervennen is a long way from the sea – but it was sandy and on a lake, so it was all you needed. And a swim in the lake was what I needed after many hot hours in the car.
What we probably didn’t need was an overly friendly goat trying to eat our sandwiches. Several overly friendly goats in fact:
They scored a half eaten sandwich that, at one point, had belonged to Eva and she wasn’t fussed on finishing. It had a kind of cured meat in it that I thought was chorizo, but I later found to be ossenworst – a raw beef sausage that’s something of a dutch delicacy. Probably why it wasn’t a big hit with Eva but let’s not dwell on the weirdness of goats eating raw cow. Suddenly Roo’s goat fear seems entirely justified.
The next morning didn’t seem like beach weather but luckily there was a great wet-weather alternative – the Aquamondo complex. For those who are unfamiliar with Centre Parks lingo – like we were – it’s a swimming pool with a wave machine, flumes, rapids slide, children’s activity pool, outdoor pool and jacuzzis. For those of you unfamiliar with Eva, she has a number of irrational phobias which now include rapids slides and jacuzzis. Sigh. But after Nathan took Roo on the rapids slide and Roo told me he’d “nearly drowned” I was quite glad that Eva didn’t want to go on it. I took Roo on the rapids slide too and it was hairy in parts but I hung on to him and his head generally stayed above the water. The compulsory Centre Parks lifejackets definitely helped the kids not to drown though. We went to the Aquamondo every day and by the end of the week, Roo was swimming on his own with the help of his jacket and even Eva was bobbing up and down in the outdoor pool without any support. She’s still scared of jacuzzis though. Sigh again.
It wasn’t like we did nothing but swim though. On the second day we took a pedalo out on the lake, with Eva whining and moaning for almost every second of it. Turns out she’s scared of swan-shaped pedalos too. Moaning aside, it was pleasant to be out there on the lake, watching the pond skaters ably skimming the water and the water skiiers not-so-ably skimming the water. We also did a spot of pirate-themed bowling and Roo really fuelled his taste for gun violence with what he called an “awesome” game of laser tag.
On the last day, I decided we needed to go out and see the countryside surrounding Kempervennen. Again, there was some complaining from the troops. They didn’t want to leave the safe confines of Centre Parks. And Centre Parks didn’t want us to leave, either. Google Maps had told us that there was a village a few minutes’ walk away where we could get an offsite coffee and be able to say that we’d actually taken the kids to The Netherlands, rather than just to International Centre Parks Land. But could we get to the village? No. There was a fence everywhere we tried and one very locked gate. The only way was to walk right round to our car park and drive out the official way. Which meant we might as well go to the nearest town, Valkenswaard.
Eva still wasn’t convinced that there was any point to this expedition and there was some some background grumbling as we wandered through a market and past some interesting churches. She perked up a little when we saw a jazz band playing near the sweetie stall but she probably needed some sugar to cheer her up. We’d spotted a cafe called “Brownies and Downies” but were a little unsure what – this being the Netherlands – those brownies might contain. At this point, Google intervened. “Are you at Brownies and Downies?” it asked, somewhat intrusively, and provided a number of user reviews, which both reassured me re the child-friendliness of the brownies and explained what “Downies” meant. Turned out the cafe had a policy of employing staff who were neuro-diverse and “Downies” was a slightly un-PC reference to the staff with Down Syndrome. Not what I’d call a cafe but you gotta applaud the concept.
And the brownies were damn good too. I had the caramel and sea salt and both the boys had the white chocolate blondies. Eva had an apple tart, which she obviously didn’t finish, but it had had the desired effect of perking her up. She loved the garden of the cafe and we went out to look at the fishes in the fish pond. The cafe was in what seemed to be a converted house, which gave it a lovely cosy vibe and I even managed to order in Dutch. With plentiful pointing. A successful outing.
Sadly, the next morning was our time to leave Kempervennen. We had a long journey, so fuelled up at the Evergreen restaurant’s all you can eat breakfast buffet. Reuben was overjoyed to have as much red meat and juice as he could handle, and Eva was thrilled to have a breakfast that contained both sausages and sprinkles. At 10Euro for adults and 7 Euro for kids, it wasn’t bad value either and meant we didn’t need to eat again till Calais.
Because yes, we made it back to Calais. Three hours driving straight through, with only a brief stop for petrol and a little snarly traffic around Antwerp. There were happy times, when the sun was shining and we were on fast, straight roads and there were unhappy times, when torrential rain all but blinded us and we crawled along between HGVs. But we made it with an hour to spare before we even needed to start queuing for the ferry. We celebrated with Coke and Pommes Frites and then I made the family walk out of the terminal to set foot on French soil, again just so that we could say we did. There was no time to actually explore Calais but we did walk round a roundabout a few times and walk as far as the bridge that marked the edge of the port. I know how to show my kids a good time.
And then, we were homeward bound. We weren’t so lucky on the British stretch of the journey, with a confusing few turns around Port of Dover before getting stuck for hours at Dartford. Not the best end to the holiday but it was a great adventure overall. Despite everything I’ve said about Eva complaining, she did enjoy the holiday and Centre Parks is well set up for families, with pretty much everything we needed onsite albeit at a price. Driving abroad was scary at times but it was fun too and saved us a ton on airfares. And it meant we could stop at the Marias too, which is always a bonus. If you fancy a similar break, have a look here for all the information you could ever want. Happy holidays!