18th August 2017- By David Atkinson
Landal Greenparks is perfect for a short family break and connecting with nature – without sacrificing the home comforts.
Best for: Multi-generational family groups
Worst for: Families with kids who like a busy, structured activity programme
“En garde!” Our instructor threw down the gauntlet and my two daughters, padded up like a couple of navy-blue ninjas, dashed to pick it up. A flash of foil here, a lunge there and dad was soon left huffing and puffing while Maya, 11, and Olivia, 7, ran rings around me with a couple of bendy swords.
Gina, our instructor, observed: “It’s just like a scene from Pirates of the Caribbean.” If so, I was definitely more Keith Richards than Orlando Bloom.
Fencing is just one of the timetabled activities at Landal. The Dutch-owned group opened its first British campuses at the start of this year, in the Peak District and Northumberland. The company pitches its family breaks, based a four-night midweek or three-night weekend holiday, squarely between Forest Holidays and Center Parcs. Think a range of pine-built lodges, on-site activities and some mobile-signal-free time in nature.
We were spending a busy spring bank holiday at Landal Darwin Forest, a wooded site in the rolling hills of the Peak District National Park. Unlike other holiday parks, Landal encourages visitors to stray beyond the front gate and explore the local area — hence discounted tickets at reception for nearby Chatsworth House and flyers for the food festival in the charming nearby town of Bakewell.
But, primarily, we were here for soe family quiet time. Like most of the visitors that weekend, we had driven within a three-hour radius of home but, we found, they were more savvy to the holiday park model: follow guests had pre-booked activities and dinner reservations, as well as stocking up on supplies en route to the park.
We were less well prepared, and ate primarily at Foresters Bar and Restaurant, which served decent pub-grub style food at pub prices, albeit with a slightly limited menu. The three options on the kids’ menu were quickly exhausted after a weekend of lunches and dinners.
Our accommodation for the weekend was an attractive, pine lodge with open-plan kitchen-living-dining area, a mix of twin and double bedrooms and a rustic decking area outside. The Chatsworth Elite lodge style was spacious, homely and warm on a chilly evening, sleeping up to eight people. Cheaper options offer less space, while top-of-the-range lodges come with outdoor hot tubs.
The park publishes a weekly timetable of activities, many based at the Evolution pool and health centre, and encourages visiting families to try offbeat sports. All these are charged as extra and are held at fixed times. So if you fancy hurling yourself around the grounds in a giant bubble, you must plan ahead for BodyZorbing (ages six plus, £8pp). My girls were disappointed that a WaterWalkerz session (ages five plus, £5pp) was cancelled on us at short notice due to lack of numbers.
Outside of timetabled activities, there’s a soft-play centre for toddlers and exercise classes for adults in the small on-site gym, the use of which, as with the pool, is free of charge.
I noticed during the weekend that many of the visitors were multi-generational groups and Landal is a good option for extended families. Not only can grandparents keep an eye on kids while parents catch a spa treatment, but it also offers parents the welcome prospect of sampling some of the excellent local microbrewery ales at a country pub one evening. With no organised childcare on site, the best I could manage was a short but welcome express back rub (£22) while the girls were engaged in an activity nearby.
Back at the fencing session, the girls perfected their swordplay. Captain Jack Sparrow better watch his back. There’s a couple of swashbuckling young ladies with newfound penchant for a parry on his trail.