By Angelina Villa-Clarke
When I heard the forecast for continual rain, I started to regret agreeing to a week in Wales. Then there was the thorny issue of staying in a holiday park. We were going away with extended family – my sister and husband and their four-year-old and baby. They were already aficionados of British holiday villages, but in my many years of travelling I had managed to avoid setting foot in one.
I’d been persuaded after being told about Bluestone Wales in Pembrokeshire, whose super-slick website boasts of spacious luxury lodges, on-site restaurants and masses to keep all ages entertained. If I was to be converted, this would probably be the place.
'While the dads took the boys off for a series of pre-booked activities (a 4x4 driving course and then mini-rangers), we headed off for some pampering in the Celtic sauna, herbal and marine steam rooms, outdoor hydrotherapy pool, dry salt room and relaxation area. My Detoxifying Algae Wrap felt a bit like I was being readied for an oven (I was rubbed down with salt, covered in mud and wrapped in foil), but after a head massage and shower, my skin was amazingly soft and rejuvenated.'
Arriving at lunchtime, ravenous and in a downpour, we weren’t thrilled to discover that check-in was not until 4pm. As the village is largely car-free, we had to trudge through the rain in search of the Tafarn pub in which we’d booked a table for lunch – not helped by a lack of signage. Still, after a tasty and authentic Welsh rarebit and salad, and fish and chips for the kids, we were all in better – if still damp – spirits. During our stay, we also tried out The Yard, another of the more relaxed eateries at Bluestone, where locally sourced steaks and seafood including lobster and lemon sole are the main attractions, along with a healthy kids’ menu with pastas, sausages, battered fish and plenty of veg.
Bluestone recommend that you book everything, including restaurants, in advance. If spontaneity is your thing, this is probably not the place for you, but with children we found that this pre-planning made for a stress-free, easy holiday – there was none of the indecisiveness that often comes with being away with family and friends (not wanting to upset anyone, trying to please all…) and no tetchy moments over what we were going to do each day. We had an itinerary of sorts – albeit a flexible one – with activities planned for various days and a few meals booked in, too. Yet the staff proved unflappable when we did change plans, such as times of meals and a few activities.
After lunch that first day, we headed to the Adventure Centre, a series of themed rooms with things for all ages. The cavernous main space is crammed with activities including crazy golf, softplay, mini-tractors and an impressive sky-trail for older kids. Then there’s a computer game room, with Wii and dance-mat games, a LEGO room and a baby sensory room. Alongside these are ‘bookable’ activities such as messy play, high ropes and toddler groups. This is one noisy place, so thank heavens for the café where parents can zone out over a cappuccino.
Before we knew it, it was past 4pm, so with promises to return the next day, we made our way to our lodge. There is a variety of accommodation to choose from at Bluestone Wales – quaint cottages, studios (best suited to couples) and larger lodges. We stayed in the Dinas Lodge with four bedrooms and two bathrooms. Bluestone comes into its own with its stylish décor, including double-height ceilings, leather sofas and wet rooms, and a well-thought-out layout – having two bedrooms at either end of the property, with their own bathrooms, means two families can share the space without compromising on privacy. There’s also free Wifi. And happily, Bluestone Wales is as environmentally-friendly as it is family-friendly, with solar energy and sustainable, natural and local produce used where possible. Continual innovations in this field have garnered it several awards.
Some great touches elevated our stay into something more luxurious than we expected – the take-out menus were just the thing for mums who want a night off but don’t want to take the kids out again to eat; bike hire means you don’t have to bring your own; and the fantastic bakery guarantees fresh bread for breakfast. Bluestone Wales’ Well Spa is also a welcome offering – while the dads took the boys off for a series of pre-booked activities (a 4x4 driving course and then mini-rangers), we headed off for some pampering in the Celtic sauna, herbal and marine steam rooms, outdoor hydrotherapy pool, dry salt room and relaxation area. My Detoxifying Algae Wrap felt a bit like I was being readied for an oven (I was rubbed down with salt, covered in mud and wrapped in foil), but after a head massage and shower, my skin was amazingly soft and rejuvenated.
Bluestone Wales is smack-bang in the heart of the stunning Pembrokeshire Coast National Park: pristine beaches, ancient castles and pretty villages are all on your doorstep to explore, and boat-tours to be had. But the kids were in charge on our first day, and mystic rolling hills can wait when there’s a waterpark to splash around in, with two enclosed flume rides, a wave machine, a baby pool, a Jacuzzi and a rapids river ride that takes you out around the building into the open air. Entry is free to Bluestone Wales guests; it’s worth going first thing before it opens to the public.
Tenby, a short hop away, is a wondrous expansive beach that was almost deserted out of season. Wellies and waterproofs on, and after several cricket matches, we strolled along the shore with the kids, nets in hand to explore the rock-pools, collecting shells and seaweed. Other nearby attractions are the award-winning Folly Farm Adventure Park and Zoo, impressive Carew Castle and the gloomier Norman Pembroke Castle. Narberth is great for its independent shops and charming high street, while Saundersfoot attracts foodies from all over for its restaurants serving seasonal Welsh produce and delicacies (check out its St Nicholas Christmas Market if visiting during the winter months for some lovely festive treats).
We left with our batteries recharged, our week in Wales having turned out to be, in the words of my oldest boy, “The best holiday we’ve ever had”. And that’s high praise indeed.
Read more about family holidays and breaks at Bluestone National Park Resort.