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Europe by Bungalow

As soon as we step into our rented bungalow on the North Sea coast of the Netherlands, my 7-year-old son takes off through the house like a tornado, returning with shining eyes and a big grin.

“There’s toys in my room and puppets and rubber duckies in the bathtub, so can I take a bath now?” Ross asks. My husband Peter and I look at each other and smile. This will be a good vacation.

We’re in Park Zandvoort, a bungalow park about an hour west of Amsterdam. It’s the third time we’ve stayed in one of these European parks, and we’re convinced that they’re perfect for families who want a safe, comfortable place to vacation.

Also known as holiday villages, bungalow parks are similar to campgrounds in layout and ambience. Instead of tents and trailers, however, accommodations include spacious cottages and apartments. The parks offer lots of amenities as well, including indoor swimming pools, playgrounds, miniature golf, and planned activities, to name a few.

Bungalow parks are usually open year-round with summer and holidays the busiest times. Prices vary depending on the time of year, but can be quite reasonable. We often go during June, which is a bit cheaper than the high season of July and August.

For example, at Landgoed Aerwinkel, a Landal park near the German border, our three-bedroom chalet- style bungalow costs 505 euros (about $685) for a week in June — a real value compared with European hotel rooms in both cost and size. During the off-season, prices are even more affordable, dropping to as low as 250 euros ($340) per week. Most parks offer long weekend and midweek stays as well.

Bungalow parks provide much more than roominess and value. They promise peaceful settings with lots to do for children. Scott and Jasper, our older sons, love the sense of freedom and adventure in bungalow parks. They befriend Dutch children, play soccer, ride bikes and participate in organized activities, such as bingo and arts and crafts. All five of us enjoy peaceful hikes on nearby trails and quiet country roads, where pretty-as-a-picture scenes unfold around each bend.

Having a fully equipped kitchen is a boon for traveling families. You can learn much about a place by eating the local food. Just like the Dutch, we shop in the village markets every day. We crown our table with lovely fresh fruits and vegetables from the groentenwinkel, delicious breads from the bakker, meats from the slagerij, and colorful flowers from the bloemenwinkel.

Our cozy bungalow at Park Zandvoort, part of the Center Parcs chain, is surrounded by sand dunes and sea grasses. We’re staying in a Kindercottage, a bungalow that features everything a family with young children needs: cribs, baby bath tubs, high chair, and lots of toys. Ross can’t wait to plan a show in the puppet theater.

Another amenity he loves is Aqua Mundo, a huge tropical-themed indoor pool housed under a giant dome featuring palm trees, fountains, slides, a wave pool, and hours of fun for kids of all ages. You’ll find this signature amenity in most bungalow parks.

Also inside the climate-controlled dome at Park Zandvoort are a restaurant, a grocery store, a toy shop, and a snack bar. Entertainment is scheduled periodically each day on a stage in the center of the dome. Whether it’s swimming in the pool, watching a magic show, or listening to a trio play music, there’s a lot for families to do inside when the weather doesn’t cooperate.

In fact, during our four-day stay on the North Sea coast, the weather is decidedly uncooperative. Each morning we wake to cold wind and rain, not exactly what we expect in late June, but that’s what we get. Luckily, Park Zandvoort is close to a number of cozy towns where shopping and visiting museums offer an escape from the bad weather.

Cars are not allowed in most parks. Instead, everyone parks in a convenient lot and walks in. While some may find this rule difficult to accept, we find it contributes to the peaceful environment of the park. Not having cars rumble by every few minutes keeps things quiet and ensures the grounds are safer for children on bikes and on foot.

In fact, it’s the safe, serene feeling we experience that stands out the most from our bungalow park stays. And when you’re on vacation with kids, that’s a priceless experience, one to be savored.

Here are a few tips:

• Pay attention to the size of the bungalow. We’ve found that 100 square meters is very comfortable for our family of five.

• You’ll need to rent linen packs or bring your own sheets and towels.

• If you have a child younger than five, you’ll get what’s called a Young Family discount. If Grandpa and Grandma come along, a 55-plus discount is available.

• Plan your visit in the off-season for the best prices.

For more information:

• Landal GreenParks, an affiliate of Wyndham Vacation Rentals, has parks in Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Germany, the Netherlands, and Switzerland. Visit www.landal.com

• Center Parcs has parks in Belgium, France, Germany, and the Netherlands. Visit www.centerparcs.com

• For info. on our favorite park (see photo), visit www.vakantieparkroekenbosch.nl.

Peggy Sijswerda

Peggy Sijswerda is the editor and co-publisher of Tidewater Family and Tidewater Women magazines. She has an MFA in creative nonfiction from Old Dominion University and is the author of Still Life with Sierra, a travel memoir. Peggy also freelances for a variety of regional, national, and international magazines.

Website: www.peggysijswerda.com

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