Travel review: Dutch Center Parcs and Amsterdam

Water skiing always seemed to me an incredibly glamorous pastime. Gliding elegantly behind a sleek speedboat; effortlessly riding those troublesome waves maybe a confident salute to good-looking friends on the beach. So when I eventually tried it many years ago and spent three long hours smacking my head into a cold sea, water shooting into highly sensitive areas and looking more like a demented frog than a watersports hunk, I decided it wasn t for me. But Center Parcs is all about experiences and my kids insisted I join them on a waterski session on one of the two pretty lakes that its Dutch resort of De Kempervennen is based around.

Informative instruction and as many goes as my arms could stand meant that by the end of our session we all had it cracked though I was still not up to giving that one-handed wave to my wife, relaxing on the lakeside beach. No speedboat is involved, just a clever pulley system that drags you around buoys in a circle around the lake. It seemed much easier than behind a boat and was tremendous fun.

1 Travel Review: Dutch Center Parcs And Amsterdam

But the fun on our midweek break at Center Parcs did not stop there and for an active family holiday, especially with livewire teenagers to keep entertained, De Kempervennen, is ideal beating English Center Parcs hands down. There is an indoor snow dome roughly three-quarters the size of Manchester s Chill Factore with real (fake!) snow.

Instruction is available and my son even swapped from skis to snowboard part way through our day on the slope. You can scuba in another lake at a fully-equipped dive centre that runs PADI courses, with a chance to swim alongside huge catfish, including 2.5m-long Big Mama. There are the usual Center Parcs activities too: indoor sports, crafty sessions, high ropes and, of course, the free subtropical swimming centre, Aqua Mundo. The complex has rapids, slides, wave machine and ingenious sunken aquariums where you watch the fish while snorkeling.

We have been to a number of UK Center Parcs (Sherwood Forest is my favourite) but Holland is the concept s spiritual home, established by Dutch entrepreneur Piet Derksen in the late sixties before coming to Britain in Nottinghamshire in 1987. The flatness of De Kempervennen, in forest 10 miles from Eindhoven, means it is ideal for the two-wheeled, relaxed, family theme Center Parcs is famous for, with cycle paths stretching beyond its boundaries into the countryside near the Belgian border. Accommodation is similar to our British resorts, comfortable chalets of all shapes and sizes, but there is the added continental twist of boathouses on the lake.

It is cheap, too. The favourable exchange rate means a stay costs less than UK Center Parcs, and more than half of the vehicles we spotted during our May half-term break had British plates. We flew from Manchester to Schiphol Airport and hired a car to drive the two hours to De Kempervennen, which meant we could also grab a few days in Amsterdam. Despite its reputation as a party capital, Amsterdam is a great family destination compact enough to walk around and stuffed full of interesting museums and galleries, including the Rijksmuseum, Anne Frank House and Van Gogh Museum.

2 Travel Review: Dutch Center Parcs And Amsterdam

It is well worth the queue for the former home of Jewish girl Anne, whose world-famous diary details life in hiding during World War Two. Numbers are controlled into 263 Prinsengracht so once through the secret doorway behind a moveable bookcase you can immerse yourself in the claustrophobic, light-starved world that Anne and seven others did not leave for two years. Also impressive is the sprawling Rijksmuseum, which highlights the huge contribution the Dutch have made to art, with masterpieces by Rembrandt, Vermeer and Frans Hals.

But my teenagers were happier in the less stuffy Van Gogh Museum, which houses Vincent s genius works and paints a vivid picture of the troubled man s life. Equally impressive is just to wander Amsterdam s cobbled streets, soaking up the cosmopolitan atmosphere it is easy to dodge the more sleazy areas. Better still, take a cruise on the 17th century canals, lined with beautifully converted warehouses, and watch the Amsterdammers weave deftly around each other and petrified pedestrians on their bikes, with a skill probably perfected at Center Parcs.

DINING OUT IN AMSTERDAM

Amsterdam has a huge number of dining destinations, from food trucks to pop-up restaurants, food market stalls and global chains. Near the Anne Frank House you come across another queue to get into the best pancake house in the city, Pancake Bakery (Prisengracht 191, www.pancake.nl3 ), inside a cellar-like 17th century canal house. Savoury, sweet, traditional, international, take your pick from a huge menu.

I had the Norwegian, filled with sour cream, salmon and cream cheese (14.95 euro) while my kids went for the sweet-tooth variety, one folded over apple, cinnamon ice cream, cinnamon liqueur and whipped cream (12.95 euro). Cafe In de Waag (Nieuwmarkt 4, www.indewaag.nl4 ) is a restaurant and bar in one of the city s most distinctive and historic buildings. Formerly a city gate and later weighing house, it is an candle-lit, architectural gem built in 1488, great to have a drink outside or eat in. I had a three-course asparagus menu (42.50 euro) which the Dutch regard as white gold and revere during its two months in season including with smoked salmon and herb salad and with roasted fillet of lamb and lamb sausages.

If you like beer, avoid the Heineken at the traditional brown cafes and seek out caf -restaurant Troost, which brews its own blonde, IPA and white beers, or Brouwerij T IJ, a microbrewery that does tours.

FACTFILE

De Kempervennen: Information at http://www.centerparcs.com/gb-en/netherlands/fp_KV_holiday-park-de-kempervennen5 . Diving information: www.divecompany.nl6 . Water skiing: 90mins, 28 euro/24.50 euro under 13. Snow dome: day pass, 33.50 euro/30 euro under 13. High ropes: 15 euro. Center Parcs 21 villages in Europe offer discounts for early booking and a family discount outside Discount Holidays © holiday times (see www.centreparcs.com/gb-en7 )

Amsterdam: Information at www.iamamsterdam.com8 . Iamsterdam City Card includes free entry to the city s major museums and attractions, includes a canal cruise, unlimited use of trams, buses and metros, and other discounts. Get it for 24 hours (49 euro), 48 hours (59 euro) or 72 hours (69 euros).

Paul Ogden stayed at NH Amsterdam Zuid (Van Leijenberghlaan 221, www.nh-hotels.nl/hotel/nh-amsterdam-zuid9 )

For general information on holidays in The Netherlands, go to: www.holland.com10

References

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