MY heart pounds as I run down a forest trail past a tranquil lake – taking in the expanse of woodland around me.
As I pass quaint wooden lodges and grazing farm animals on my morning jog, it’s hard to believe my home for the next few days is just miles from the French capital.
I’m in Les Villages Nature, an eco-friendly park three miles from Disneyland Paris and 18 miles from the Eiffel Tower.
Built on 300 acres of woodland in Marne-la-Vallée, the site was disused farmland until Center Parcs Europe teamed up with Disney to transform it.
The park has been open just two years but has settled seamlessly into the landscape.
On arrival, my friend Ruth and I were given an electronic wristband that gave us access to our apartment and all of the park amenities.
Even though there are more than 900 holiday cottages, we soon found our luxurious apartment — which had a spacious living area with a big comfy sofa to crash out on after a busy day.
There were also two decent-sized bedrooms with two bathrooms either side, and a snug but well-equipped kitchen.
After settling in, we soon set off to explore the five “immersive worlds” at Villages Nature — the Aqualagon, the Extraordinary Gardens, BelleVie Farm, Forest of Legends and the Lakeside Promenade.
We headed for the impressive Aqualagon, the resort’s centre-piece and one of Europe’s largest aqua parks. It’s a huge glassed-in building filled with bubbling whirlpools, a wave pool and river rapids, heated by geothermal energy to a cosy 30C.
Then we tried out each of the seven waterslides, including the thrilling Rocket.
You stand on a trap door in a Perspex tube and after a lifeguard counts down, the floor drops from under your feet and you whoosh through the tunnel to a pool below.
But if you just want to switch off and relax, the Deep Nature Spa next door, for anyone over the age of 12 to enjoy, has salt rooms, hammam, sauna and rejuvenating treatments.
After our busy morning, we headed to the quaint BelleVie Farm for a quick bite at the tea-room restaurant, Les Delices de la Ferme, before meeting some of the farm animals.
STICKY AND FULL OF CHOCOLATE
It is brimming with activities, including pony rides, bread-making, hut-making and a soft-play area.
We opted to try chocolate -making, which proved surprisingly therapeutic — even if we did leave feeling very sticky and full of delicious chocolate.
We were taught all the ins and outs of where chocolate comes from — down from smelling the dried seeds of the cacao tree to whipping up our own packet of leaf-shaped snacks. There was still so much more to explore with the Forest of Legends featuring a fabulous outdoor play area with rope bridges, tree houses and secret pathways. The Lakeside Promenade has a host of shops and restaurants plus a supermarket.
There is also a bowling alley with 12 lanes and a bar, escape room, mini-golf, Tree Trail obstacle course and basketball court if you fancy something different.
PROSPECT OF MEETING MINNIE WAS EXCITING
There’s nothing like winding down from a long day with a glass of wine — or six — as we learnt at our experience at the Cepages wine bar, which serves regional traditional dishes plus a host of wines.
The waiters talked us through (in English luckily!) each of the reds and whites we could sample before topping up our glasses with our favourites while we ate. Despite all the beverages the night before, the next morning we woke feeling refreshed and ready to take on Disneyland.
Every morning we had a delicious continental breakfast delivered to our doorstep.
With all the activities on offer at Villages Nature and its zen-like atmosphere it was hard to tear ourselves away — but as a Disney fan, the prospect of meeting Minnie Mouse was far too exciting.
We hopped on a minibus to the park, just 15 minutes away, with a map in hand.
After the obligatory selfie outside Sleeping Beauty’s Castle, we ramped up the magic on It’s A Small World.
Then with the song ringing in our ears, took a sail around Peter Pan’s flight and a peek round Alice’s Curious Labyrinth. A buffet lunch at Disneyland Hotel’s Inventions restaurant was buzzing with characters signing autographs and posing for snaps.
Next up was the Walt Disney Studios Park next door where you can see special effects, join a studio tour and catch stage shows.
We loved the Ratatouille 3D adventure ride, where you hurtle around Gusteau’s restaurant in mouse-shaped carriages.
MOST READ IN TRAVEL
After several more rides, we headed back to the main park for the Disney Illuminations Show — a dazzling nightly laser and firework display.
It was the perfect end to a whirlwind break and made us buzzing to return.
While Villages Nature Paris and Disneyland Paris are definitely havens for families, I had an amazing girly break with a best friend.
As they sing in Snow White: “You’re never too old to be young.”
GO: VILLAGES NATURE PARK
STAYING THERE: A three-night self-catering stay at Les Villages Nature Paris is from £132pp – or £526 in total – for a family of two adults and two children (age three to 17) staying in a two-bedroom Comfort Cottage.
For more information, call 0845 351 0820 or visit lesvillagesnature.com/gb-en.