Successful family holidays usually involve some element of compromise. Hence, I initially viewed Country Kids’ claims of ‘total family rejuvenation’ in the Hérault area of Languedoc-Roussillon in southern France with a bit of scepticism. A luxury activity holiday that’s ‘heaven for parents’ and ‘paradise for kids’. Surely something’s got to give?
Well reader, I was right. I can report that at the time of our visit, Country Kids was sorely lacking… in shaving mirrors. Outrageous, eh? But –here’s the real shocker - that was the only thing wrong with the place. What I’d failed to appreciate is that Tracey and Stuart Scher, the London escapees behind Country Kids, don’t do compromise… And neither do their four kids.
‘Hi, I’m Jack. We are going to have so much fun this week.’
The grinning nine-year-old who greeted us at the estate’s gate didn’t seem prepared to take no for an answer. But Joe, our own nine-year-old, wasn’t about to complain. Like a collie who’d been cooped up in a 4x4 for too long, he was out with a bound and off at Jack’s heel. Meanwhile Tracey and Stuart shepherded my frazzled husband and me straight to the bar.
Once this was a Roquefort dairy. Now there are seven stunning self-catering apartments and cottages – each a ‘glamsual’ mix of vintage chic and hi-tech but also superbly equipped for young family life, as well as offering unexpected extra touches: a colossal basket of local delicacies and a grown-up goodie-bag of L’Occitane smellies.
And the treats just kept on coming. Our first full day saw the first of two communal feasts, the perfect opportunity to get to know our fellow guests – families from Britain, Germany and Ireland – and hosts better. Together we tucked in to platters of charcuterie, pâté and salads, an onion tart so light it should have had wings, and an obscenely good cassoulet and chocolate mousse. Cheese and liqueurs signalled that we were in for the long haul, but by that point the kids were revolting. Fortunately, Stuart took control.
‘An animal’s escaped. You must find it!’ he barked, and off the pack hared to hunt down a giant pink pig (assistant manager, Phil, in costume). Meanwhile, Tracey swooped on two clingy toddlers and whisked them off, without a murmur, to the crèche. It was like watching a corps de ballet trained by Supernanny.
Country Kids' family package features everything a demanding tribe could wish for, from trampolines to tractor rides, plus a huge pool, tennis courts, bike loan, and even a river and waterfall to splash in. For younger families, there’s unlimited use of a crèche for kids aged three months to six years, so there’s no faffing about pre-booking and paying for slots you may not use.
As for older kids, when we occasionally caught sight of them, they were having ‘the best time ever’. Transformed into an amorphous mass within minutes of meeting one another, they vanished for hours at a time into the vast but safe, and securely fenced grounds, surfacing like dishevelled Vikings only to mount raids on the honesty bar’s croissants and ice-creams, or join in one of the many supervised on-site activities.
Ranging from treasure hunts to mini-Olympics for the kids, and yoga and wine-tasting for the parents, these activities kicked off each morning with a visit to the petting farm. Our wake-up call quickly became the slam of the apartment door as Joe disappeared to help ‘Farmer’ Stuart feed the animals and harass the chickens for eggs. Sometimes we’d pull on wellies and join him, but sometimes we’d simply grab a cappucino from the honesty bar and schlep back to bed.
This is not to say Country Kids is a dump-your-kids (or your parents!) –and-run type of place. If you can find your offspring (tip: check the Scher’s house), there are countless opportunities to have fun, on site and out and about. Dragging Joe away from the estate took some doing, though, so it helped that two off-site activities of our choice were included – horse riding and mountain climbing. Country Kids is also well situated for day trips, whether it's local vineyards, olive groves, markets and clematis-dripping villages, Salagou lake or even the Med (less than an hour away), Carcassonne or La Couvertoirade, a fortified 12th-century Templar village that provided the perfect stage for Joe’s Robin Hood re-enactments.
To make life even easier, family meals (including the two communal feasts) are included in the package, along with breakfast delivered to your apartment each morning. Add to that Tracey’s sublime afternoon teas and two nights’ babysitting (when the Schers feed the kids for you), there’s hardly any need to pick up a saucepan. But if you do feel the urge, the bar is home to a small shop stocking essentials plus fresh-baked bread and superb home-cooked meals to reheat in your apartment.
‘It’s like they’ve surveyed a group of incredibly bloody-minded parents as to their perfect holiday then followed the results to the letter,’ mused my husband. ‘It feels like you’re staying with friends, but their attention to detail is incredible.’ Coming from a bloody-minded husband, this was praise indeed.
Country Kids is open year round, although winter sees a pared-down, less expensive package. A holiday here is far from cheap, but it’s telling that 70% of guests rebook for the following year. Our fellow guests didn’t drip diamonds – in fact, their only unifying trait was that, within 24 hours of arriving, they all oozed a laidback calm rarely seen in parents of young children.
Read more about family holidays at Country Kids, including any current special offers.