Arriving at the Domaine des Ormes in the heart of the countryside just 40km from the ferry port of St-Malo in Brittany is a bit like entering a themepark: there’s the same sense of parental panic and internal cries of ‘Where the hell do we start?’
For Les Ormes is a site like few others, both for the range of accommodation available and for the number of activities and facilities on offer. The first includes a campsite with both ready-set-up tents and mobile homes and pitches for tourers, plus cottages, wooden chalets, Russian-style datchas, nature lodges, treehouses, studios and apartments, and even a three-star golf hotel. (Not all are available with Eurocamp.)
As for activities, in addition to golf the Domaine offers pony- and horse-riding at its own stables, cycle hire, four swimming pools, some with slides and special features such as wave machines, a treetop adventure course, pedaloes, volleyball, tennis courts, football pitches, archery and more. There are also kids’ clubs for various ages and a range of entertainment for kids and adults. Like I said: where the hell do you start?
We arrived late one morning in early June, having ascertained that although you can’t check in for most types of accommodation until 3pm, you are allowed to arrive as early as you like on your first day to enjoy use of the Domaine’s facilities. You can also continue to use the facilities for the whole day even when you’ve checked out of your accommodation, so theoretically you could get two days of park fun for the price of a single night here. This is also great news for those who would otherwise find themselves killing time before taking a night ferry home (although there is a great deal to do in the St-Malo area, including an excellent aquarium).
Our first night was spent in one of Eurocamp's ready-set-up 'Classic' tent – a good, economical way of experiencing Les Ormes. This is definitely camping lite, since tents come complete with fridges, cookers, comfortable campbeds and electricity. For those who want to camp but who don’t have the space to bring all their clobber to the Continent, however, they’re ideal.
The next night my husband and I unveiled the surprise we’d worked hard to keep all holiday – we were so excited about it ourselves, we found it hard to keep schtum. We were glad we had – as soon as the boys spotted our treehouse nestled in the branches of a tree in a secluded part of the Domaine, near the golf-course, they could barely contain themselves.
Although treehouses have been growing in number in France and elsewhere over the past decade, the Domaine is quite rare in that it offers cabins suitable for kids as young as two. At a mere five metres from the ground, these are lower than the others, some of which are so high they can only be accessed by ropeladder and exited via zipwire. [Editor's note: they are no longer available with Eurocamp, but you can book them directly with the campsite, perhaps just before or just after your stay in a Eurocamp mobile home or tent.]
Our treehouse had two bedrooms, one with a double bed, the other with a double bed and two singles. Each was set around a sturdy treetrunk, and the two were joined by a bridge. There was absolutely no question in my mind (and I’m a vertigo sufferer) that the treehouse was solidly constructed and as safe as houses, although my toddler did need to have his hand held as he walked around, as seeing through the wooden slats to the ground below unnerved him.
The décor in the bedrooms was stylish in a whimsical and even quite romantic way, but this is absolutely not a luxury option – there’s a dry toilet in a wooden box behind a curtain in each room, which you have to empty when you leave (the waste is held by a removable biodegradable bag), and there are no electricity, running water or catering facilities. Hence, this is an option best suited to for a night or two, as something a little different for the kids (mine insisted on posing for lots of pictures that they could show their friends).
Not wanting to spend precious treehouse time going out to a restaurant, we bought bottles of local apple juice and cider from the Domaine’s mini-supermarket and some takeout pizzas from one of its restaurants and returned to sit out on our terrace among the branches. As the light fell and the small lake beside us glittered silver and gold by turn, we lit our lanterns, watched red squirrels leap around our heads, and listened to the birdlife in the trees. It was a rare moment of utter peace. Actually sleeping in a treehouse can be far from peaceful, however – not on a night when the wind has picked up and the branches are moving and creaking all around you. I say this, but the boys if not I all slept soundly.
Before we’d even left, the older boys were asking whether we could stay in a treehouse again, and for longer – and if we could stay in a higher one next time. Personally, our was quite high enough for me, although I was proud that my middle son Ripley enjoyed the experience, since he used to suffer from terrible vertigo too.
For my oldest son Ethan, the other highlight of the Domaine – and indeed our whole three weeks in Brittany – was the incredible high-level zipwire (or ‘death slide’, as my husband insisted on calling it), which starts from a 10m-high platform and takes you over a lake into the woods. He and Ripley were also happy to try out the Domaine’s children’s treetop adventure course, although Ethan – a growing adrenaline junkie – thought it a tad tame compared to one he’d experienced in Tuscany the previous year (there are other courses for older children and adults)
Otherwise, we thought the pony-riding was a bit overrated – unless your kids are experienced and can go out trekking (around the Domaine), you get a half-hour slot to lead your kids round yourself. Which would be fine, only the two ponies we were allocated just wanted to stop and munch grass the whole time. The pools were good but can get crowded – my sons particularly loved the wild rapids feature on the indoor pool.
The Domaine des Ormes won’t be everyone’s idea of the perfect holiday – we went out of the school holidays and I imagine it gets very hectic in the height of summer. But for a well-placed location and plenty of things to do for all the family, it’s hard to beat.
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