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Cotswolds offer chocolate box charm
When you think of the Cotswolds, you probably conjure up images of quaint villages surrounded by a rolling rural landscape, rather than Sammy the Seahorse.
But while the quintessentially English destination is indeed a sight to behold, good old Sammy, the chirpy mascot at Hoburne Cotswold, was as much of a holiday must-see for my family as the honey-coloured limestone houses.
The modern holiday village is an excellent base for exploring all the region has to offer - with the lure of Sammy and a go on the park's great indoor pool flume to keep the kids going through mum and dad's sightseeing trips.
One of seven Hoburne holiday parks across the south and south west of England, features include a clubhouse surrounded by a spacious, green complex of modern lodges, chalets, caravans, and tent and caravan pitches.
Not being the hardy camping sort, we opted for a three-bedroom Carolina lodge, which was modern, spacious and a world away from a tent, thankfully. We had two bathrooms, a kitchen and dining area and a lounge with a TV and DVD, as well as a TV in our bedroom.
What's more, the lodge had patio doors leading to a balcony, which would be perfect for barbecuing in the summer as the kids enjoy the plentiful green space surrounding the lodges. Not that we had a great deal of time for playing out, as there was so much to do both inside and outside the park.
We spent a fair amount of time in the indoor pool, which has a huge shallow area and a big flume that the kids went down repeatedly and never tired of. And watch out if you sit down under the giant toadstool in the middle of the shallow end - a waterfall periodically explodes from the top. It caught me unawares and I got an unexpected drenching, which left the kids - and my husband - helpless with laughter.
The heated outdoor pool, which is surrounded by sunbeds, is clearly a popular spot in the summer too. Or you can hire rackets at reception and opt for a game of Wimbledon-inspired tennis.
There are several lakes on the site as well, where you can fish or go on a pedalo. One of them is surrounded by a nature trail, and the kids can take part in Sammy's Wildlife Challenge, where they're given a sheet of nature questions which they can answer en-route. Our two loved it. The eldest, Joel, seven, was eagerly scribbling the answers down as his little brother Cristian chased the ducks.
They won a lollipop for their efforts - although if the staff had known that Cristian's main effort was terrorising the park's wildfowl, I'm not sure he would have been rewarded!
The nature trail's educational worth did make us feel slightly less guilty about the other less worthwhile, but hugely entertaining pastimes the kids had also been indulging in at Hoburne. These included the amusement arcade, an adventure playground and a mini-bowling alley beside the main building's bar and restaurant, the Prickly Pike, which serves decent pub grub.
And if you have children that don't dwell long on their food (like mine), the beauty of the restaurant is that it's linked to the Lakeside Lounge, where our friend Sammy the Seahorse hangs out (so don't be surprised if he pops up as you eat your meal!).
The lounge where he and his eternally chipper Hoburne mates are singing, dancing and getting kids (and sometimes their reluctant parents) involved in on-stage antics is easily visible from the eating area.
After the kids are in bed, the usual holiday park-type entertainment prevails, but we were all too tired to indulge, because as well as cramming in all these fun activities, we'd also been racing round the glorious Cotswolds.
The park's in easy travelling distance of well-known spots Broadway, Bourton-on-the-Water, Stow-on-the-Wold and the impressively named Lower Slaughter.
The beauty of the quaint villages can sometimes be lost on little ones, so be sure to head to Bourton-on-the-Water's sweet little toy shop. Their new purchases gave us grown-ups more chance to savour places like Lower Slaughter's Copse Hill Road, the road voted The Most Romantic Street in Britain 2011 in a Google Street View poll, and the delightful centres of the pretty villages.
The price we paid for a little adult time was a visit to Bourton's Model Village - a price, to be honest, we were happy to pay, and not just for the fact that we look like giants in the photos we took there.
The Model Village is simply a well-crafted miniature version of Bourton, using authentic building materials depicting the village as it was in 1937, at one ninth scale. And the miniature version contains its own teeny-tiny model village, of course.
For those who need a little more adventure, the nearby Cotswold Water Park is perfect for canoeing, windsurfing and powerboating, while the Cotswold Wildlife Park near Burford boasts zebras, rhinos and wolves, to name but a few.
On most evenings, we ate at the Prickly Pike, but on the last night we ventured into nearby Cirencester, and happened upon a great Italian restaurant, Piazza Fontana. The waiters at this cosy little Italian were great with the kids - who left carrying all the balloons in the restaurant, having (unusually) eaten all their food.
It was a lovely way to finish what was a great, action-packed family break that's left us with memories as diverse as chocolate box village scenes and lumbering giant seahorses.
Key facts - Hoburne Cotswold
:: Best for: Families with young children.
:: Time to go: School holidays, and mid-May to mid-September, when the Hoburne outdoor pool's open.
:: Don't miss: The indoor pool flume.
:: Need to know: Many of the nearby Cotswold attractions aren't open out of school holidays.
:: Don't forget: Towels if you're staying in a lodge - they're not provided.
Lisa Salmon was a guest of Hoburne Cotswold, which offers seven-night self-catering breaks in a three-bedroom Carolina Lodge from £819.
Hoburne has seven parks in coastal and countryside settings, with accommodation ranging from fully-equipped luxurious timber lodges and caravan holiday homes to chalets.
Pitches for motor homes and caravans start from £126 for seven nights in a two bedroom caravan.