You have got to love France – the weather, the architecture, the roads, the weather.
So a week with Family Adventure Holidays in a yurt in the grounds of a stunning Normandy chateau had to be a winner didn’t it?
And they lay on all sorts of adventures for the adults and kids.
And it is fully catered using local produce.
And they have invested in both solar and hydroelectric power.
And they like Star Wars. How can this be anything but epic? Well, it can’t, because it was, if you follow me…
The Chateau De La Baudonniere was built in 1850 to be a local farmers family home, but has changed hands many times over the following 150 years, including serving as a local headquarters for the Wermacht during the second world war.
In the 90’s it was bought by an English school head-teacher and converted to an immersive-language study base, a role that it continues to deliver to thousands of school children each year. But in the school holiday times they open it up to the likes of you and me to immerse ourselves in French culture, cuisine, language and, um, mud, but more on that later…
The “back-to-nature” philosophy of the Family Adventure Holiday offering should not be confused with a rural hippy retreat – the staff are extremely professional, though great fun, and the grounds are very well managed without disturbing the wildlife – a well fed family of water-voles (getting rare across Europe) can be spotted in the feeder ponds for the lake, and the woodland birdlife is abundant. As are the bats – more about that later too…
Families can stay together in large family rooms behind the chateau, or in the Woodland Village, which is a pleasant ten minute stroll from the chateau; this offers two Tree Houses, two Yurts and a Woodland Cabin. Our accommodation for the week was one of the beautifully furnished 8 metre yurts that easily accommodate 2 adults and 2 kids, about 30 seconds away from the shower block and breakfast area. The block also provides accommodation for a member of staff so you always have access despite it being around a kilometre from the Chateau. The yurt offered simple luxuries such as USB charging, LED night-lights and shelter, but as long as you involve yourself in the goings-on it also offered the perfect retreat to collapse and regroup – a feature I frequently took full advantage of.
The yurt looked cool from the outside to the in. I liked the yurt because it was comfy, warm and had everything I wanted – a bunk bed, charger, lights and a texture that was fresh. I also loved it because it made me happy.
The holiday goes a bit beyond all-inclusive; food and drink are provided at all hours, as are almost 20 staff members and virtually every activity is included too from orienteering to clay pigeon shooting. At significantly less than £500 per person excluding travel this is a tiny investment for what you take back with you. They also have frequent discount packages available HERE
The 100 acre grounds of “La Baudonniere” fill both sides of a gentle but picturesque valley with woodland, grassed fields and a lake in excess of an acre, as well as areas for archery, clay pigeons and other outdoor entertainment. All areas are linked with tracks and paths and it doesn’t take long to get your bearings, especially if you take part in the orienteering challenges. We brought our bikes along and this was definitely a good idea – the riding in these parts is hard to beat – although there are good quality mountain bikes available to visitors and guided rides in the area offering amazing views out across the bay to Le Mont St. Michel.
Upon our somewhat tardy arrival myself (46) and my eldest boys – Sam (14) and Morgan (10) were met by the team-leader – Jo, who fed and watered us and got us settled into our yurt ready for our first full day of immersion…
Sunday broke bright and early to sunshine, birdsong and a splendid buffet breakfast before we were sent to the canteen to arrange our day. The boys opted for the mini-farm and aero-ball (a game where young teenagers hurt each other and laugh a lot, and there is a ball.)
I, just like most people, had never played Aero-ball until now. For those that don’t know, it is a lot like netball, but played on trampolines!
I won two of the four matches I played, which I was happy with, although my team finished 3rd out of five. Afterwards we played a big game of basketball and the staff joined in, it was brilliant.
I decided to join the mountain bike ride on my ever-faithful BMX.
The guide was a local 18 year old lad by the name of Polo, he had a cheeky smile and the body of a gymnast – which should have been a warning – and off we went at a comfortable 12-15mph pace which back home I can manage all day. But this ain’t Northamptonshire, it has texture, and within 15 minutes we were intimate with gravity and the terrain. After two hours we were frazzled (except Polo) but riding an endorphin rush that took us back home with smiles at least as big as our thirst for cool beer. This
established the pattern for the week ahead –
- Frolicking about
- A little more frolicking
- Some more frolicking, just in case
- Medicinal alcohol
- Collapse and repeat
The afternoon entertainment took us onto the tranquil and picturesque lake – in canoes..After just a few minutes the tranquillity was replaced with chaos as 20 boats controlled with varying degrees of incompetence played assorted ball games; the main objective of which seemed to be to fall off your boat, or assist others to do so. It is amazing how much you can laugh while drowning, and in this way every waking hour of our holiday passed with another treasured memory stored for all time; and a bit more laundry.
Today (Monday) we got to walk across the bay of Mont St Michel. The ground there is different all over and mostly made of shells broken down into a kind of clay. You get to walk through the knee-deep river and play with quicksand, which is nothing like I expected it to be, it feels alive.
Within 36 hours of our arrival we had become a 60-strong group of guests that were now a community; in these conditions of rural seclusion, team spirit and combined endeavor an almost tribal vibe had developed.
Sometimes this spirit of community can have its drawbacks, as I discovered a little after 1am one morning. I awoke to muted screaming and calls of “Meesta Mark, help please!” so got decent and went out to find our woodland staff rep – Anne-Marie – in embarrassed distress having been woken by the fluttering’s of a visiting bat in her bedroom. Ever the hero; I spent the next hour coaxing it out of the window by use of a “Hello Kitty” nightie and a fairy-wand – don’t ask, I didn’t…
We all shared support and experiences, we all pulled
together and we all looked out for the kids. Nowhere was this more clearly demonstrated than during the end-of-week assault-course.
The key differences between this and a Hollywood Prisoner-of-War epic were that we had smiles, and our staff were more brutal. Success was measured by the kilograms of mud in your undergarments.
The FAH offering, as well as being a persuasive eco-destination, does not require you to be super-fit or a raging extrovert – I am a 46 year old overweight smoker and I got out of this so much more than I put in; in fact I think a rebranding would be in order – while “Chateau De La Baudonniere” sounds good, a more accurate name would be “The Memory Factory”, as it just keeps churning out unique and special experiences.
One of the greatest things about the experience was what you didn’t see – kids on tablets and phones – they just played together like real children!
All the activities left a great memory, staff and guests became great friends, and the bonding between my boys and I was priceless – my teenage son actually spoke to me.
words & pics – The Wolens Family.