Top 20 family holidays in Europe this summer
The Guardian – Reviewed 24 January 2015 – Beverley Fearis
Lot,France. Near Cahors in south-west France, Pagel Gites goes the extra mile for families. It has three sites, all with large fenced gardens, heated pools, sand pits, trampolines, ride-on toys and climbing frames. The largest, Pagel, has seven child-friendly gites, each with two or three bedrooms, and two canvas lodges, all sharing a meadow maze, play barn and pirate ship. Two smaller sites have two gites each, one with a huge Old MacDonald’s play barn with driving track. Each gite comes with toys, books and dressing-up clothes. Your little treasures will even find a welcome gift on their pillow. Although you’re three hours from the seaside, there are plenty of child-friendly lake and riverside beaches within a short drive. pagel-france.com
Charlotte Watts Goes To Pagel
Play and Pleasure at Pagel – a truly imaginative kids’ paradise..
Our holiday at Pagel became a source of stress-relief from the baggage of modern parenting months before we left for the airport. An email listing all the things we wouldn’t need to pack (monitor, sleeping bag, plastic cutlery, books, toys et al) immediately lightened the suitcase list and the anticipation of travel stress. We were also reassured with several thorough and informative emails; all felt more manageable, highly important for parents taking their first holiday abroad with 14 month old Maisie. This was clearly a destination designed around creating the best time for children by also supporting the parents as much as possible.
We had chosen to stay in Goldilocks Cabin as we don’t have a garden at home and wanted to feel like we were in the woods. We arrived in the dark and were very excited to wake up to the wooden veranda overlooking the beautiful natural gardens with peaks of many exciting possibilities for Maisie to explore. The cabin was beautifully decked out and she was overjoyed with the giant teddy bear theme, both huge cuddly ones in the cabin and wooden statues guarding the outside. Everything was there that needed, in full working order and easy to find, along with the extras we had requested – buggy and bath from the extensive list of kids’ equipment available.
On exploring the grounds it took quite a while to discover the various slides, trampoline, swimming pool area (heated and saltwater by the way), play barns, oh and the Indian Village and 10 metre pirate ship with sandpit – a creation clearly of pure fun by the co-creator Mark Bishop. On speaking to his wife Lara Bishop, it soon became clear that Pagel has been a labour of love for them over the 8 years it has been evolving. From a few unhappy experiences with holidays claiming to be child-friendly and just chucking in a cot and a slide, the Bishops found a clear illustration of what not to do and set out to do exactly the opposite.
Listening to visiting parents and actively requesting suggestions for continual improvement has meant that they have really got it right. They have nurtured the 19th Century Stone farmhouse, stone Grange and Goldilocks cabin to create a completely child-safe enclosure. With room for seven families, there is plenty of freedom for the kids and adults to mingle when they want, but each apartment or cabin also has the room for personal space. I had a sneaky look around and these are all fitted and decorated with care and attention, clean, tasteful and well-equipped. Sad to say, but I particularly liked the separate laundry room with dryer. I have a penchant for taking a suitcase of clean clothes home.
The really unusual part of Pagel are the grounds though. These are the stuff of fantasy for children. A fully safe enclosure allows them to roam freely and explore the various play stations, but also take in the natural meadows, sweeping lawns and just be with nature. Maisie wasn’t quite ready to fully appreciate this but she was entranced by simply having long, languorous lengths of time to look at the trees, butterflies, take in the sun and even see a few deer in the bottom meadow.
Lara has a clear love of play and she has enhanced this magical environment by providing costumes and toys for kids to really explore their imaginations. There really is no end to the possibilities of play in all of the separate zones. I was amazed by the amount of good quality amount and range of toys. From play kitchens to cars to soft play areas, there really is no opportunity for a child to feel bored or uninspired.
We stayed at Pagel out of season so didn’t get to experience the full potential of having other families around and I can imagine the kids hanging about and getting totally engrossed in this world. Lara told me about the meals outdoors where parents get chance to eat a meal together, and I certainly fancied the evening chef service, massage and pedicure available on-site.
When we wanted to change pace a little from the soothing, peaceful environment, we drove to the nearest town Cahors, a really lovely French town with plenty of shops and brasseries to hang about in, as well as a weekend market, supermarket and everything else you might need. The people of Cahors were very friendly and accommodating for children, even with our embarrassingly bad French.
This is a unique self catering experience, a home-from-home with everything you need for babies and toddlers provided. Maisie got so much out of staying at Pagel and I know that going back when she is a more physically demanding toddler will be the best way for us to get a break too. Knowing she can play safely, outdoors and with other children is always important to us. The only trouble is, now we have to buy her a giant teddy bear!
Charlotte Watts, GMTV, Nutritionist www.charlottewattshealth.com