Poland comes to the rescue

This summer, due to soaring temperatures (hello global warming!) Sweden was suffering from an epidemic of wild fires and our Swedish firefighters were struggling to cope.  

In a show of solidarity lots of EU countries sent help. Norway, Denmark, Germany to name a few.  Poland sent the biggest fleet of 140 firefighters.  

And guess what? We saw them! Driving to my parents house from Arlanda airport in Sweden this August, we passed a long convoy of Polish fire engines. It was extraordinary. 

Along our route, we saw hoards of people standing on bridges with big posters saying thank you and waving. These fire engines were on their way home after spending weeks fighting fires in Sweden. 

Truly inspiring. And how beautiful to see European countries coming together in solidarity. 

That time I kissed a Moose and a travel review.

Moose

Moose. The symbol of Sweden.

They are Majestic. Regal.

Moose are absolutely huge. It’s extremely humbling when you happen to see one up close and personal. Moose weigh up to about 700 Kg and they’re about 2 meters tall. They are MASSIVE.

They truly are the Kings of the Scandinavian Woods. (And North America!)

Growing up in the Swedish countryside, surrounded by woods, I’ve always had respect for these gentle giants. You did not want to meet one at night driving your car. The impact is the same as hitting a train at full speed.

Once when I was about 17, I was in the kitchen making a cup of tea when I suddenly got that horrible feeling… My hair at the back of my neck stood up and my blood froze.

I had that feeling like someone was watching me. I turned to the window and there it was. A huge dark shadow, staring right at me.

It was early autumn and it had already started getting darker in the evenings so initially I couldn’t really make out what the shadow was. Trust me when I say that I was PETRIFIED.

However, I soon realised it was a huge Moose cow. And she was in our garden. Eating our apples.

Having Moose appear in your garden does happen on occasion so I wasn’t too bothered by that.

But something was odd… She was acting erratically.

Eating the apples but sort of dropping them and slobbering all over place. She couldn’t walk straight.

She looked… drunk.

Moose

We called the farmer next door and he informed us that yes – she was indeed drunk. She had eaten all the over ripe apple off our trees and she was wasted.

We had no choice but to wait her out. She ate some more apples and eventually wobbled back to whence she came. I thought of offering her a strong cup of coffee, *jordgubbssaft and a couple of paracetamol to help with the hangover but decided against it.

I promise you. You’ve not lived until you’ve seen a drunk Moose.

Moose are really abundant in that part of Sweden so there are lots of Moose road signs around. Growing up, the word was that the German tourists used to steal the “Beware, Moose!” signs of the road. I’m not sure if there’s any truth in this but they sure do love a Moose Safari.

And who can blame them?!

I was delightfully surprised by how much I enjoyed this outing to Virum Älgsafari.

Virum Moose Safari

We arrived early and I’m very happy that we did because we didn’t have to queue for the ride.

We jumped in one of the carriages, ready to meet the Moose.

The Rangers talked through the safety rules and explained not to get out of the carriage, stay seated and calm.

The Moose were all out in the paddock and they moved up to greet the tractor. They were absolutely huge up close. We’d all been given vegetables and greens to give the Moose.

The Rangers said that the Moose will give you a kiss if you lean out with a treat. There was no way in hell I was going to do this. But then when my 6 year nephew did it without hesitation I couldn’t really NOT try.

So that’s how it happened.

I kissed a Moose and I liked it.

I received a slobbery kiss from Albin the Moose and I can confirm that it was pleasant and not at all scary.

Our kids loved the ride and the whole outing in general. We had lunch near the playground and seeing the massive queues waiting for the next Safari I was really glad we’d been on the first ride.

There’s a cafe and a shop onsite too that sell the normal tourist paraphernalia. And a lot of Moose road signs – presumably for the German tourists.

Livermore’s Top Tips:

  1. Arrive early. Make sure you get on the first ride of the day. You can’t pre-book and the Safari gets really busy.
  1. Bring hand gel
  1. Bring a packed lunch. The cafe is lovely, but as with most things in Sweden, a bit pricey
  1. There’s only one customer toilet by the cafe and shop and so the queue was very long. There are toilets outside by the first barn on your left as your enter the Moose Park.
  2. Try the Zip Wire.

* Yes. It does work. (I swear by this hangover cure.)

How to make a Swedish Sandwich Cake

Any Swedish birthday party, christening or work do would not be the same without a luscious tasty smörgåstårta – the much loved sandwich cake.

Layers of bread with gorgeous filling in between each layer. Finished off with a savoury icing and decorations on top. (Yes. You can probably tell I like smörgåstårta.)

My husband and I met at Uni. We had not been going out for long and it was his birthday coming up. I wanted to surprise him and make him something really special for his birthday. Awesome girlfriend points and all that.

He came over to my house and I sang happy birthday and presented him with the cake. He looked confused:

“- Aw thank you… You’ve made me a… Er… Mega club sandwich?

⁃ No! Well, I guess it might look like a club sandwich to you… It’s a sandwich cake. A Swedish specialty.

⁃ Ah…. You said you made me a birthday cake?

⁃ Yes. This. Is. A. Cake. Ta da!

⁃ But… cakes are sweet. This is savoury? It’s a sandwich –

⁃ …Cake! See?”

He tried the cake, he loved it and married me.

I realise that the sound of a savoury cake might seem a bit strange. You know, a bit like Peter Kay and the Garlic Bread… (If you’ve not seen the clip I’m referring to then look it up – it’s hilarious!)

For my Swedish friends, however, smörgåstårta is as normal and traditional as meatballs and lingonsylt, IKEA and rain on Midsummer Night’s eve.

I’ve made a few of these through the years and they’re always very popular. For birthdays, school graduations and for our children’s christenings.

There are hundreds of recipes out there. You can use so many different fillings – tuna, bacon, ham, pate, egg, prawns and salmon – whatever takes your fancy.

My absolute favourite is the tuna mayo and prawn variety. I have a recipe I’ve used over the years. I’ve adapted it somewhat to suit my British family’s palates and I thought I’d share it with you here:

Jessica’s Swedish Sandwich Cake

(This cake will feed about 15 – 20 people)

A big tray covered with foil

Spatula

Chopping board

3 mixing bowls

Ingredients:

2 loaves of white (toast) bread (about 45 pieces). This depends on the size of the tray of course.

Filling 1, Tuna:

3 cans of tuna in water

2 dl mayonnaise

3 dl cremefraiche

1 tbl Dijon mustard

1/2 lemon juice

Dill, finely chopped

Salt & pepper to taste

Filling 2, Prawn:

300g peeled prawns

1/2 lemon juice

1 dl dill, finely chopped

2 dl mayonnaise

2 dl creme fraiche

For the “icing”

2 dl whipping cream

3 dl creme fraiche

0.5 dl mayonnaise

1 dl dill, finely chopped

1/2 lemon juice

For decorating the cake:

Hard-boil and peel 5 eggs then finely chop

Prawns (about 300 gr)

Cucumbers, very thinly sliced

Cherry tomatoes

Lemon slices, cut into triangles

Dill

Red or Black roe (optional)

Method:

Keep your fillings in two separate bowls. Drain the water from the tuna. Mix all the ingredients. Season with salt and pepper.

Do the same with your second mixture.

Put the fillings the fridge while you start on your “icing”.

Whip up your cream to just about the soft peak stage.

Fold in the creme fraiche and mix gently. Fold in the mayonnaise, dill and lemon juice and mix gently.

Leave in fridge to cool.

Get your bread ready by cutting off all the hard edges.

Lay the bread down to make an even first layer – 9 in total.

Get your fillings from the fridge.

Gently add some of the tuna filling to the first layer. Leave a little space at the edges or the filling will spill out at the sides.

Add a second layer of 9 bread slices on top of your tuna filling.

Now add your prawn filling and then repeat the process twice. (1 more layer of tuna, 1 more prawn)

You will end up with 2 layers of each filling in total.

Add a final layer of bread.

Get your icing out of the fridge and completely cover your cake with the icing. Use a spatula as it always end up a bit messy.

Once you’re done then wrap the cap carefully with clingfilm and leave in the fridge.

This cake will taste better if made ahead of your party, preferably the night before.

Party Time! Now comes the fun part – decorating the cake.

Add the chopped up egg to all sides of your cake and on top. Make a pretty patter using the prawns, tomatoes, dill and fishroe.

Add the thinly sliced cucumber to all sides of the cake.

Cut the lemon into tiny quarters and add to the top of the cake.

Enjoy!

Travelling with kids – Vimmerby

We spent a week in a beautiful house in the outskirts of Vimmerby in Småland during our Sweden trip this summer.

The house was an old missionary building from the 1800’s. It was beautiful, with lots of antiques and odd furniture and we all loved it!

There were three families in total and we all could fit comfortably. (Although there was only one toilet and shower!!)

We knew we wanted to explore the beautiful countryside. We wanted to go swimming. We had also planned for a day out at Astrid Lindgren’s World (ALV) and a Moose Safari.

The first day we headed to ALV and we all had a brilliant time (-see earlier post for more Info on ALV).

The house we had rented for the week was situated nearby Lönneberga Village – the village were Emil grew up – and so for our second day outing we headed to Katthult farm, Emil’s family farm.

Emil is a fictional character created by Astrid Lindgren. He’s sweet and cheeky little boy, and although he means well, he always somehow ends up in trouble! He lives on a farm with his mum and dad, little sister Ida, the farm hand Alfred and farm maid Lina.

Emil looks up to Alfred and considers him his best friend. He doesn’t care for Lina much, who’s constantly nagging Alfred, trying to get him to marry her. His mother Alma is kind and loving, but his father Anton on the other hand has a short temper – but is generally the one who suffers the most from Emil’s pranks!

This was such a lovely experience! The kids got to pet the horses, the cows, the chickens and the rabbits. The tried to collect water from the well, hide inside the earth cellar and even to walk on stilts!

The buildings were used for the Emil films and it was fascinating for the children to see how people lived at the end of the 1890’s. You can visit Snickerboa’, the little wood shop shed, where Emil used to hide from his father. Most of the Emil films were filmed around the property and so it all felt very familiar!

The Katthult house is a privately own property, and I can’t imagine what it must be like to have a stream of tourists wandering around your land every day! But hey, each to the own.

You have to pay to enter Katthult and there’a a cafe onsite, with buns and coffee/ tea and ice creams. There is also a great gift shop.

We headed further down the nostalgia route and visited Bullerbyn.

Entry to the village is free, you only need to pay for parking.

Essentially – it’s the three houses from the books and films, a barn for jumping in hay bales, a lovely cafe and a playground. We all had a brilliant time here!

Alla Barn I Bullerbyn is a collection of books written by Astrid Lindgren and is basically based on dad’s upbringing.

The books tells us about the lives of six children and their families living in a tiny village in Småland in the late 1930’s.

The village consists of three houses lined up next to each other with parents, farmhands and housekeepers, lots of barns and farmland.

The book is narrated by one of girls and the kids go on all sorts of adventures. They swim in lakes, jump in hay bales, and celebrate Lucia and Christmas.

We all loved this outing! We had to bribe our children in order to leave the hay bale jumping!

I really recommend the cafe onsite. Hands down, they were the best cinnamon buns I’ve had!

The following days we headed to some fantastic beaches at camping sites nearby Vimmerby.

The wonderful thing about Sweden, particularly if you’re near the coast, is that you’re never far from water – be it the sea, a lake or river.

Most beaches in Sweden will generally have a sandy beach, a water tower to jump from, a playground of some description and toilet facilities.

Sweden was experiencing a heat wave this summer so most beaches were very busy, but even so there was always plenty of space and we always found parking. The beaches are free to visit, though double check before you set off.

Here are the Livermore’s Top Tips:

⁃ Most camping sites will have a cafe onsite but bring packed lunch, just in case they’re closed for any reason. It’s also quite pricey!

⁃ On that note – invest in a food thermos and bring your own hot lunch! We put hot dogs (and added hot water obvs) in our thermos and brought the buns and condiments with us. A nice change from soggy sandwiches!

⁃ If you’re planning to go swimming, then just head online. There are loads of beaches and camping sites nearby and they’re free to visit.

⁃ Have a coffee and bun when you get to Bullerbyn. You’ll talk thank me later.

⁃ Don’t buy your carved Emil gifts at ALV. Save your pennies and get them from Katthult instead!

⁃ Invest in a good beach umbrella. It was SO hot during our visit and it was pretty tough on the little ones. We had a beach tent,which was great, but a good quality umbrella would have helped.

⁃ We are all different. We have different parenting styles, bed times and routines. We have different food tastes and whether your child is allowed on an iPad or not. We travelled with families that we know well and that we’ve been away on holiday with before. This helps immensely. If you’re going away as a group then my number one rule is to be FLEXIBLE. Go with the flow and expect to bend your rules a little bit. Be prepared to compromise and negotiate. You’ll end up having a lovely, stress free time.

Travelling with kids – Vimmerby and Astrid Lindgrens Värld

Give the children love, more love and still more love – and the common sense will come by itself.”

– Astrid Lindgren

I grew up reading Astrid Lindgren’s books. Pippi Longstocking, Emil i Lönneberga, Alla Barn i Bullerbyn to name but a few.

It’s linked with most Swedish kids’ childhoods – it’s happy memories and gorgeous summer holiday days.

I’ve tried to introduce the books to my kids with mild interest. Both kids like Pippi of course. She’s a rebel. She’s a kid who can take care of herself and say what she wants. She’s kind and good hearted and fair. And of course, the strongest girl in the world. My absolute favourite quote from Pippi Longstocking – and there are many to choose from – I think is very relevant today and as a mother of a strong willed, red-headed little girl:

He’s the strongest man in the world.’

‘Man, yes,’ said Pippi, ‘but I am the strongest girl in the world, remember that.

The books are truly wonderful. Astrid Lindgren was such an amazing story teller. Her characters are heroic and complex. Like Ronja – my personal favourite character growing up – the Robbers Daughter who is determined to go her own way and trust her heart.

She believes in what’s wrong or right, so much so that she defies her own father, the Robbers King in order to defend a friend. Then we have sweet Emil, who means so well but always end up in a pickle. The Brothers Lionheart, a story about two brothers that talks about death and grief in such a beautiful way.

We recently visited ALV, Astrid Lindgrens World during our stay in Sweden. Astrid Lindgren World, aka Astrid Lindgrens Värld, aka ALV is a huge theme park, built around all the different stories by the famous Swedish author.

Each show has its own “world” with fantastic sets and props, animals and characters – all making it look authentic and as if you’ve stepped into an Astrid Lindgren book.

Getting there was super easy. It’s clearly signposted throughout Vimmerby. We had hired a little house for the week near to Vimmerby town so we only had to drive for 15 minutes or so to get there. (More on this in my next blog post!)

There was however a looooong queue for the car park early on but the ALV team worked so fast to get everyone in and parked up that we didn’t actually have to wait very long.

As it was Maggie’s birthday she got to go in for FREE! Happy birthday Maggie!

We got ourselves a mini wagon to pull our picnic along with and for tired little feet at the end of the day. Definitely worth its weight in gold.

We headed to Pippi first as this show is always the most popular. It was jammed packed but we ended up with great seats at the front. In hindsight, with it being around 11am, we would have brought something to shade the baby with. The sun was blazing and it was tough to sit out there for 10 minutes.

The show was super short which was a bit disappointing. I guess they have to get through a lot of the Pippi stories during the day. The whole world is named after her after all.

After and before the show you can meet Pippi (and the supporting cast), Lilla Gubben (the horse), and walk around Pippi’s house.

After the show we walked through Vimmerby City Centre. Basically a replica of the city centre but in miniature – so sweet! Everything was tiny. The kids said that this must be what Giants experience every day.

We stopped by the sweet shop and the kids (and adults!) got their sweet fix.

We headed to Emil after as we knew we wanted to have our picnic by the Barn playground.

The Emil show was really excellent with some fantastic performances all round. Jackson and Maggie loved it and sat through the 20 minutes easily. Again it was jam packed but it didn’t really matter and we had great seats.

We found a great table by the Barn (just behind Lönneberga) and we ate and then the kids could do wild playing for a while.

We went to Ronja’s show – as always – fantastic and emotional. The robbers song is so beautifully and stirring, it just makes me cry every time.

Alfie and Maggie LOVED the miniature street, with houses the kids could play in/with. Maggie made some friends and were making cakes and buns inside the Bakers Shop. We spent a good 30 minutes here, having a coffee and ice cream.

We watched two performances of Brothers Lionheart and this show was by far our favourite. Absolutely fantastic performances, great actors, a great stage and set. Everything was well thought out. Special shout out to the Dragon… Even I got a little shiver down my spine when I saw her on top of the castle wall! Top marks and worth the trip to ALV alone. The show is a bit darker then the rest, but then so is the book. It also brought up some important questions about death and in particular where you go when you die. (In the story the brothers end up in a sort of purgatory to finally end up in heaven..)

Here are the Livermore’s Top Tips:

1. Overall – get to the shows you like to watch EARLY. Study that map and show times like your finals exams. This will guarantee good seats.

2. There is no way you could watch all the shows you like in one day. There isn’t enough time to enjoy it all and soak up the atmosphere, so choose your favourite shows beforehand.

3. Bring a picnic and coffee/tea. The food, although nice tasting is expensive and the queues are very long. The coffee was awful. Definitely one of the worst so bring it with you.

4. Buy a FOOD THERMOS. This was an eye opener for us. From now on, no more soggy sandwiches. Instead gorgeous hot food on the go. Genius. (We got ours from ICA, 129kr)

5. Self explanatory, but remember to bring water and something to block out sun if necessary. Hats are a must have. And brollies. The shows are outside and there is hardly any cover or shade.

6. If you bring a picnic, hire a mini wagon. It’s easy to bring along the park and it’s a godsend at the end of the day when the kids are tired from all the walking.

7. On that note – bring comfy shoes because you’ll be doing a lot of walking.

8. There are “child wristband” stalls before and inside ALV. You write down your name and phone number on wristbands for the kids. This place is so incredibly busy and so it’s easy to get lost. With the wristband, staff can easily get hold of the parents of a lost child. (This did actually happen when we were there. A little girl got separated from her dad. We called dad who was by her side within minutes!)

9. If you can, book two days. If you want to experience all of it, then I suggest you stay over and come back for more. It’s pricey, but it’s definitely worth it for the experience.

10. ENJOY IT. It’s a magical place. I loved it so much this time and so did our kids. They were completely mesmerised by all the stories and characters. And even though it’s all in Swedish, the actors act out the actions so well, so it was pretty clear anyway.

Foraging – a Scandinavian Art Form

Growing up in Sweden I spent a lot of time outdoors.

In the winter we’d go skiing and ice skating and in the summer it was all about the sea. Either on the island or heading to a beach near our house.

I’m very fortunate to have spent many summers on our family island in the beautiful Swedish archipelago, on the east coast, a few hours south of Stockholm.

My dad is a fisherman and so the island was always a part of my life. It’s been in the family for generations and I kind of always took it for granted until I moved away… It truly is a magical place and I’ll tell you more about the island in another blog post.

And as with so many other Swedes, and Scandinavians in general, another popular leisure activity is foraging.

We forage all year round, but mainly in August when the mushrooms come out of hiding.

Mum, my brother and I would venture into the woods in the morning, equipped with a picnic basket, a pocket knife and a pastry brush – for cleaning the mushrooms on the spot – and a thermos of hot chocolate. Mum taught us which mushrooms to pick and how to prepare, cook and preserve them.

I absolutely adore mushrooms. In particular the “gold

of the forest” – Chanterelles. Is there anything more tasty than some beautiful Chanterelles cooked simply in some butter on toasted Rye bread? If you’ve not tried this then you must give it a try. You can get Chanterelles from most supermarkets.

Picking mushrooms isn’t always easy. Sometimes you’d spend hours trying to find mushrooms and other times you’d stumble across a little meadow nestled amongst the trees and the ground would be covered by the little beautiful gold trinkets.

Funny thing: Ask any Swede and they will most likely have their own secret mushroom spot…

Disclaimer: they may not want to share the location of their secret mushroom spot!! First rule of the Mushroom spot. You don’t talk about the Mushroom spot.

We’d also pick blueberries and lingonberries (a berry similar to cranberry in taste). Wild strawberries, black berries and juniper berries. Strawberries, raspberries and rhubarb in the summer along with all the glorious herbs on offer.

I should probably also mention that in Sweden there’s a law called “Allemansrätten” – “The Right of Public Access.” It basically means you can roam freely anywhere (apart from on private land, 70 meters of a dwelling or cultivated land), and you’re allowed to put up a tent, swim and catch fish in lakes, pick up flowers, mushrooms and berries. It’s pretty awesome if you ask me.

I’m really looking forward to taking my husband and kids foraging. My kids adore going into the woods in search for the “forest gold”.

Once we’re back from the woods everyone gets involved with cooking the mushrooms. I make stews, soups, mushroom on toast, as a side with steak… I also dry some of the mushrooms too use later. Really, the possibilities are endless.

I miss this terribly. It feels so ingrained in the Swedish way somehow. It’s in our DNA. What about you where you come from? Do you have a tradition like this? Do you do any foraging? I’ve lived the UK for 17 years now and I’ve never been foraging here. Then again, maybe there’s a similar unspoken rule about “we don’t talk about our favourite blackberry spot!”

Simple recipe for you:

1. Clean the mushrooms properly and prepare for frying. They’re from the forest so there’ll always be some dirt and whatnot stuck to them.

2. Use a good quality butter and get a good sized blob in the pan.

3. Once it sizzles, throw the mushrooms in. There may be a bit of liquid initially as the mushrooms give off liquid.

4. Fry them until they’re beautifully golden brown and add a little bit of salt. Put on a plate with a piece of kitchen roll to remove any excess fat.

5. Butter (optional) your Rye-bread and then pile your mushrooms on top of the bread.

6. Dig in!

Travelling with kids – Center Parcs Woburn Review

Center Parcs was recently voted the best UK Family friendly place and it doesn’t surprise me one bit. Everything is set up with little ones in mind. I mean, everything. It’s a Parents Paradise.

We traveled midweek Monday – Friday. We arrived at about 6pm on the Monday due to work commitments and traffic. As we arrived a bit later there was no queue so it was a breeze. We drove up and check in was done in less than five. So easy and efficient.

I like to get places “on time”. As our family have grown, and inevitably there are more people to pack for, organise and look after, I’ve had to adapt and try to be more relaxed about it all. And never leave anything to the last minute – carful planning always from here on.

The park itself is lovely and the perfect size. Big enough to not feel on top of other people, but you can easily get everywhere on foot.

We stayed in an Executive Dog friendly lodge in the Oak area, close to the Aqua Sana.

We absolutely loved our lodge. The kids came through the door and went crazy for a few seconds:

⁃ Mum, there is it a black board!

⁃ Mum, I’ve got my own shower!

⁃ The bed is so comfy!

⁃ We have a DVD player!

⁃ The WiFi is really good in here!

Sign of the times.

The lodge was clean and fresh and it had all the amenities you could think of. Bring extra washing up liquid and dishwasher tablets though! They don’t give you enough initially. Also, if you’re staying a week, and is a coffee lover like us, then I suggest you bring some spare coffee pods for the Nespresso machine.

Our lodge was adapted for dogs but you’d never really know – it was really super clean and didn’t smell of dog at all. If you are a dog owner then you know what I mean.

The only concern here is that the lodge garden isn’t secure. We didn’t realise this and so once we got to the lodge and let Buddy out he ran round the house to make some new friends!! Luckily, the others staying in the area had dogs too so they didn’t seem to mind. Nevertheless, it’d be a good idea to bring a long lead to use in the garden next time.

We had a three bed lodge and it felt very spacious. Each room had an ensuite, two with showers and one with a bath. The two older kids had a room each and they loved it!

There’s an outside area with table and chairs and a BBQ as well as an outside shower and your very own sauna! I felt right at home!

The kitchen area was great too. Really clean and everything you need for cooking for the family.

The freezer is just a freezer compartment though – keep that in mind if you’re bringing food from home.

Not that you need to bring lots of food. I would say bring food for the first night (unless you’re planning to eat out every night) and then top up from the local Parc Market if necessary. It’s a great little shop and has a great variety of products.

Back to what I was saying about careful planning. I’d made a lasagne for us all to eat on the first night. To our absolute horror we realised that we’d left the lasagne out on the workbench in the kitchen rather in the cool bag!!

Honestly, Centre Parcs Woburn has so much to offer. There are loads of outside activities. Boating on the lake, riding your bike everywhere (Though bear in mind it’s quite hilly!), feed the ducks in the lake, crazy golf, go for a play in the numerous play areas or just go for a walk – you are spoilt for choice!!

We brought our bikes and it really worked well for us. Yes, it’s hilly, but our older kids really enjoyed the experience. For little tired feet at the end of the day a bike carriage could be a good idea for you. We had one for Alfie and Maggie to sit in and I’ll say it was a life saver at times.

You can pay to do activities too. Jackson and Brooks headed to the Falconry Centre for an hour with the big birds. It was an amazing experience; the bird handler was really knowledgable and took the time to explain and show how to handle the birds.

We also did Archery (awesome), Maggie tried Pony riding (she loved it) and a new favourite Aqua Jetting!! The kids also did Pottery (we all loved this one!) and the Teddy Bear making workshop.

But the main focus was the Subtropical Swimming Paradise. The kids, including Alfie, and grown ups loved it here.

There are different zones or splash areas depending on your age and something to suit everyone. Jackson loved the Rapids in particular and the wave pool.

Maggie loved the smaller splash area and grew more and more confident in the water each day. By the end she was swooshing down the water rides!

We hired a Cabana one of the days and it’s definitely worth it for a welcomed break in the day – particularly if you have a baby! There’s a fan, cold drinks (in your own fridge), comfy chairs and a TV. It’s like your very own little beach hut. A bit weird but still SUPER nice. We’ll be investing in a Cabana for our next stay again.

In terms of food and drink there’s a Starbucks inside. We did use it a few times to get coffees and snacks but the wristband system kept breaking down which was veeeeeery frustrating! The whole point with the wristbands is that you don’t have to bring the money with you inside the pool area!! It looked like they were building some kind of snack bar so that’ll be interesting to see next year!

Our only other critique is that the “main” pool is way too small for the footfall. At times it felt too crowded, and for that reason, a bit unsafe. I can’t even imagine what it will be like in peak time!

You also have nowhere to actually swim which is a shame really.

Nevertheless, we loved it and enjoyed our visits here.

We dined out a few times and were mostly happy with it all.

We had a MASSIVE issue with Cafe Rouge though. Basically they mucked up TWO birthday bookings in a row, a breakfast and dinner and the service was APPALLING. The worst bit was that he (the manager) did not care. It was the worst service we’ve ever encountered and we won’t be back anytime soon. I can’t even bear to think about it, it was that upsetting. Hucks saved that evening by making a great fuss and being super friendly and everything but the damage was done….

We complained straight away obviously and the ladies on reception were super helpful and arranged the other booking, thank goodness, and saved the day.

Aaaaaanyway….

Part from that palaver – we visited Strada, Hucks, Sports Cafe, Starbucks and they were all amazing and reasonably prized. Fantastic staff! So friendly, attentive and kind to our kids. Yes, perhaps a bit over high street prices, but it’s to be expected I think. Captive audience and all that…

The Star performer overall was Aqua Sana Spa. Brooks and I said it was easily the most relaxing three hours of our lives. WORTH. EVERY. DAMN. PENNY.

All those different rooms with different showers and scents and perfumes (when do you ever take that many showers in one go?!!). You leave the place feeling really refreshed and rejuvenated. Bliss.

All in all we had such a blast. Staff are fantastic, it’s all clean and shiny, and we felt really looked after. For us with a big family it really is a break away that suits everyone.

It’s all a bit magical, like you’re in a little bubble of Center Parc loveliness!

We’ve already booked to come back for our Easter holiday next year!