AS we settle back with a full cooked breakfast, the English Channel stretching before us, calm as a millpond, we briefly consider the more stressful trips we've taken that began in a plane or train.

But this time was different.

The ease with which we cleared customs at Dover, drove on to our ferry for our two-hour trip to Dunkirk and waved farewell to the "marshmallow cliffs" had got the holiday off to a good start, despite the early hour.

We're staying at Sunparks De Haan, a family holiday park that's an easy 45-minute drive up the coast from Dunkirk. It offers cottages with gardens, a lake and safe roads, once everyone has unloaded their luggage and deposited their cars in the separate car park. It's the perfect base to explore 42 miles of Belgian coastline on foot and by bike, with museums and theme parks thrown in.

One of the park's attractions is the Aquafun subtropical pool complex with three water slides, waves every 15 minutes and pools to suit any age. We spend our first afternoon happily shambling around the waterways before hitting the adjacent restaurants and huge outdoor deck for pizza and beer as the sun sets.

We're careful not to indulge too much though, because the other main draw card here is the cycling. We strap our youngest into a seat on the back of one bike while our five-year-old quickly comes to terms with a tandem. The evening is still blissfully warm so we set off for a ride around the lake.

Being Belgium, there are dedicated cycle paths criss-crossing the countryside, so we take to the bikes the next morning and set off for De Haan, the coastal town with its beautifully restored Belle Epoque neighbourhood, in search of sea and waffles.

IT'S an easy 15-minute cycle before we find ourselves amid exquisite homes and gardens.

In the elegant La Potiniere recreation park, we are surrounded by carousels and ice cream vendors before we stroll to the promenade and select a beach-side cafe where we order the best waffles we will ever eat.

De Haan is a 15-minute car trip from Bruges which, for all its world-class architecture, is a blast for children. Ours marvel at the street entertainers and steady procession of horses with their carriages full of tourists.

We eat mussels and frites at a reasonable price - by no means a given in Bruges - and top off our visit with another ice cream as we wander through the Markt square which has extraordinary buildings.

The trip home is no stress-filled journey back to reality either - we stop off at the Plopsaland theme park, named after the popular Belgian children's television character.

It's all Viking-themed swords and helmets across this lovely park, where queues for the rides for youngest children can be long, but those for older visitors can be practically non-existent if you time it right over lunchtime.

The newest section of the park features the 'Wickie the Battle' ride where all but the youngest children can board pirate ships and fire water guns at passing boats or at unsuspecting bystanders. Never was more fun had on the way home.

Josie Clarke and her family were guests of DFDS Seaways (; 0871 574 7235) who sail between Dover and France, with routes to Dunkirk and Calais. Prices start from £29 each way for a car and up to nine passengers. A mid-week stay (Mon-Fri) at Sunparks De Haan starts from 259 euros for up to four people; weekends (Fri-Sun) from 299 euros for up to four people. Based on September bookings.

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