Last month, just before the mayhem of the Christmas festivities ensued, the four of us set off for a short break at Darwin Forest and we had the most relaxing weekend we’ve had in a long time. Early nights, forest walks, fresh air in abundance, afternoon naps and quality time as a foursome meant that we really did switch off and recharge the batteries.
Tucked away between Matlock and Bakewell, Darwin Forest Country Park is set in 47 acres of mixed woodland and is considered to be one of the UK’s best holiday parks. Offering over 120 lodges in various shapes and sizes, Darwin Forest recently achieved a VisitEngland Silver Award for Excellence in 2016 and it’s really not hard to see why. The setting is idyllic, the lodges are comfortable and stylish and there are a whole host of family-friendly activities on site to keep the little ones entertained.
The Lodges //
The lodges at Darwin Forest Country Park all vary in shape, size and price ensuring that there really is something for everyone. From the traditional redwood Classic lodges with all the modern comforts you’d expect to The Meadow; an exclusive small development of three luxury lodges on their own private road that are just lovely!
We were lucky enough to stay in the 3 bedroomed Skyline, one of the three luxury lodges that make up ‘The Meadow’. I’ve stayed in a fair few lodges over the years and it’s fair to say that the Skyline is one of the nicest lodges we’ve stayed in.
Located down a private road, the Skyline lodge was spotlessly clean, beautifully furnished and despite being a world away from our home in look and feel, it had all the home comforts we could have asked for during our stay.
The Skyline lodge was deceptively spacious with plenty of space for the little ones to roam around and the open-plan living area offered a dining table with seating for 6, a lounge area with flat screen TV and a super efficient faux woodburner and a fully integrated kitchen that housed all the essentials including a dishwasher (with tablets), microwave, oven and fridge/freezer.
There was even a little utility/cloakroom that had plenty of space for coats and muddy boots and contained a washing machine that we found to be invaluable after our long roams in the woodland.
Along the hallway from the open-plan living area there was a stylish family bathroom with a separate shower and a super deep, freestanding bath that the kids had a hoot in!
Further along the hallway, there were two twin bedrooms, both with plenty of wardrobe space and flat screen TV’s (which delighted the littles!) and our master bedroom with its quirky wooden bedhead, spacious wardrobe and lovely en-suite shower room with a brilliantly powerful shower.
Thanks to the large windows in every room, the lodge was flooded with light all day long and throughout the lodge it was very apparent that only high quality, practical yet stylish fixtures, fittings and furnishings had been used.
Outside, there was a large verandah along the front and one side of the lodge with garden furniture for alfresco dining and one of the biggest highlights for the kids – a hot tub!
As you can see from the map below, Darwin Forest Country Park is pretty spacious yet none of the lodges are too far away from the on-site facilities which is essential when you have small children in tow.
The lodges are also well spaced within the forest, some more so than others, offering guests a peaceful stay no matter where you stay. This is essential for me as I do like my own space on holiday, so the more private the better.
Aside from the lovely lodges, Darwin Forest Country Park has plenty of family-friendly activities and facilities to suit the family come rain or shine.
Indoor heated swimming pool //
Despite the inclement weather, we enjoyed playing outside so much during our stay that we only made use of the on-site pool once but the kids loved it.
Located within ‘Evolution Health & Fitness‘, the pool is the ideal temperature for little people, spotlessly clean and the family changing rooms are great. There’s also a spa and gymnasium for grown ups and treatment rooms where you can take advantage of a range of beauty treatments and massages. Complimentary use of the indoor swimming pool is included in your holiday and over 16s are welcome to use the spa and gym facilities for a small charge (£3.75 each or £6 for both).
Little Monkeys Soft Play Centre //
Open from 10am to 6pm daily, Little Monkeys was a huge hit with Jack and Phoebs and Andy and I were really impressed too. It’s the perfect size and layout, ensuring you can keep an eye on your little ones at all times from the cafe area (if you’re lucky and not being asked to climb up with them!)
Little Monkeys is open to the general public and not just families staying at Darwin Forest, however they do offer discounts for guests staying on the holiday park and they are great at monitoring numbers ensuring it never gets too busy. You can also enjoy a drink or a bite to eat at the Explorers café which is open all day for breakfast, a light bite or lunch.
I didn’t take any photos inside Little Monkeys as there were obviously lots of other children around, but you can head on over to the Little Monkeys website to see it in all its glory.
For a free soft play option, you can head to the Activity Den that houses a complimentary soft play area for guests to use with children under 5 years of age. Although small, Phoebs loved it (especially as she had it all to herself most of the time!) and we had fun doing the short circuit whilst Andy and Jack made use of the other features in the Activity Den including pool tables, arcade games, air hockey and table tennis.
Outdoor play areas //
The Outdoor adventure playground wasn’t utilised as much as we’d hoped due to the rain, but we did have a short play one evening before dinner. With slides, fireman poles, ropes and climbing walls it was the perfect place to build up an appetite!
Woodland walks //
With an array of woodland walks on your doorstep at Darwin Forest, you really have no excuse not to head out and explore. We spent many an hour in the woods, splashing in muddy puddles, throwing leaves and having a giggle.
Other activities //
Other on-site activities include mini golf, tennis on the all-weather tennis court and Darwin Forest also offer a planned programme of activities aimed at older children and adults. This is the current timetable of activities on offer…
If you want to give yourself a break from cooking, I can highly recommend a meal at the Foresters bar and restaurant. We ate there both nights and the food was really delicious and very reasonably priced. The extensive menu offers fresh, locally sourced quality ingredients and there is a children’s menu that covers all the classics too. A takeaway menu is also available if you wish to dine in the comfort of your own lodge.
There is also an on-site convenience store, ‘The Woodland Store’, that sells all the food staples you might need plus a vast array of extras, including art supplies, balls and toys for all ages. It is worth mentioning however that it was quite limited on fresh produce (and expensive) so I would recommend either taking it with you if space allows or booking an online delivery from Tesco or Ocado to arrive once you have checked in.
All in all, we had a fantastic weekend at Darwin Forest Country Park. It was the perfect setting to relax and enjoy time as a family without the distractions of day-to-day life. The lodge was really lovely, more so than I expected, but above all it was functional and comfortable (the beds in particular!). The site itself was also immaculately maintained and had the perfect combination of family friendly facilities on offer to keep little people entertained.
Darwin Forest is also ideally situated, with a whole host of attractions and villages nearby if you can tear yourself away from the site including Matlock Farm Park and Bakewell. We also spent a lovely morning at Chatsworth House browsing the Christmas Markets and having fun in the adventure playground which is only a few miles away.
We had a truly brilliant stay, and will definitely be returning soon, so if you’re looking for child-friendly accommodation in the beautiful Derbyshire countryside, I can wholeheartedly recommend Darwin Forest Country Park.
Here’s a little video of our weekend…
Disclosure: We were very kindly invited by Darwin Forest Country Park to stay for the purpose of this review, however all opinions are my own.