You might be forgiven for thinking that Wales is an unglamorous holiday destination. Picturesque, yes; welcoming, undoubtedly. But probably without the pizazz that makes overseas breaks that little bit special.
However, Bluestone Wales, a five-star family resort set in 500 acres of the rolling Pembrokeshire wilds, holds a lot of the magic that is particular to Wales; and it’s cleverly reinterpreted, so both children and adults can unleash their inner Celt.
Here are some of the highlights of our mid-week break.
Nature and free-range fun
Bluestone is set in the Pembrokeshire Coast National Park, with ‘free range fun’ as one of its marketing slogans. With 300 different-sized self-catering lodges, cottages and apartments, you don’t feel as though you’re completely out in the wilds, but there is a calm, quiet air to the place. The roads are car-free (except for disabled and service vehicles), and we felt extremely safe while pedalling around on our hire bikes.
I’d advise anyone who visits to choose cycling as a way to get around the resort. There are golf buggies for hire, but it was an awful lot of fun whizzing around on wheels that weren’t motorised (having said that, the ascent from our lodge to the Blue Lagoon and Adventure Centre was a big thigh-trembler….). We hired a tag for Austin to ride on behind D, and a carriage for Gwen. Both were new experiences for them, and the excitement still hadn’t worn off by the end of our stay (‘Mummy! Daddy! Can we go out on our bikes yet?’ ‘*Groan* It’s only 6 o’clock in the morning….’).
Bluestone has reached Level 5 of the Green Dragon Environmental Standard, and the resort’s activities make the most of its natural life. Gwen spent a lovely hour with Grandma, beast hunting along a nature trail (a worm and beetle were found, but woodlice managed to evade capture).
For the kids
There was a lot to keep the children happy.
By day the resort’s entertainers played fairies, cowboys, elves and pirates; in the evening they could be seen entertaining the adults (we ran into a transformed cowgirl-turned-jazz-singer in the Knights Tafarn on our evening out).
Woodland creatures (a ladybird, bee, snail and hedgehog) met guests at designated times each day, to lead games of hide-and-seek, hokey-cokey, and counting to ten in Welsh.
The children’s activities were exemplary. The ‘adventures’, where children (in age-specific groups, starting at four years old) explored the resort’s wilds, were a nice take on childcare. We didn’t feel in the slightest bit guilty sending Austin off with rangers on the three-hour Mud Mystery, hunting for a dragon’s egg. There was also a creche, and activities for the under-fours (who had to be accompanied by an adult).
The Blue Lagoon water park was well-designed for people who enjoy a leisurely splash or a whizzy ride down chutes. Our favourites included the lazy river, which took you from one end of the pool; outside (surprisingly bearable given the March chill – the water was lovely and warm) and then back in the other side.
More for the kiddoes than us (I’ve overdosed on indoor play centres since becoming a parent), the Adventure Centre was an impressive space where the children could loaf around in ball pools, scale the multi-level climbing tower, jump around on the bouncy castle, get creative on the Lego wall, and play a game of mini golf. For the older children there were high ropes and a very high swing.
Bluestone catered for a wide range of tastes. After a relatively unpromising start at the Wildwood Cafe in the Adventure Centre (the customer service was excellent; the menu uninspired), we were pleased to discover Camp Smokey, a gorgeous cabin in the forest, which served real ale and barbequed food with an American flavour. You could even toast marshmallows over the fire.
On our final day we enjoyed good-quality bar food at the Knight’s Tafarn, but the culinary highlight was the Oak Tree Restaurant, which D and I visited on its opening evening. The food was Welsh-Italian fusion; I had a starter of grilled peppers and salt cod (bursting with flavour) followed by a Welsh beef bolognaise. This was incredible – unsurpassed by any bolognaise I’ve tasted, even in Italy. If you do visit Bluestone, and consider yourself anything of a food-lover, the Oak Tree is a must.
Our home for the four-night stay was a four-bedroom Dinas lodge in Forest View. This was near The Village (where the shops, spa and a few of the restaurants are housed); it was also, as the name suggests, on the edge of a wood, with a winding path that took you along one of the resort’s nature trails.
With a large dining/kitchen area as well as a lounge, the wooden lodge (all on one level) had enough space for two families of four. For us, it was perfect; Grandma and her partner (who live nearby) came to join us for one night, and there was plenty of space for moving people around when our two excited young children (five and three years old) had difficulties in dropping off to sleep.
Although the lodges were built recently (Bluestone opened in July 2008), the traditional dark wooden furniture gave a classic feel, and pictures showing local scenes (available to buy from the Village Central information centre) brightened up the spring-green walls.
Our lodge was well-equipped, with two fridges and a dishwasher; no washing machine, but Bluestone offers a laundry service. If I was quibbling, I’d say it would have been useful to have our own machine, given the amount of clothing changes needed for two small children. But, on the whole, we were delighted with our accommodation.
The history, spa and activities for adults
Dave and I both listed Terry John’s history walk as one of our favourite experiences; as for me, I came away from the Celtic Spa experience feeling as though I could wrestle tigers. These deserve their own post, which you can read here.
What do you look for in a family-friendly holiday in the UK?
Disclosure: we were given a four-night mid-week break at Bluestone Wales for the purpose of this review. All views are my own.
If you want to find out more about things to do in this part of Wales, check out my feature on things to do in Pembrokeshire.