So, this was it – our first proper family holiday in 13 years. It wasn’t without some degree of trepidation that we set off in the early hours of a Sunday morning in August for our much longed for holiday. It wasn’t quite the holiday of a lifetime – a tent on an island somewhere off the west coast of France and a few days with the children’s grandparents – but it was our holiday, at last.
People often ask us what it’s like to be looking after holidaymakers rather than being the holidaymakers ourselves. I tell the children that we don’t need to go on holiday: “Other families actually pay to stay in your house and you get to live here for free!” They don’t buy it. So, on holiday, did we eat out? Did Danny still do the cooking? Did we compare and contrast other places to our own? The answer to all of the above is, unsurprisingly, yes!
We started our break in the culinary gem that is McDonalds. Oh yes, we live the high life! Full up on syrup and sausage pancakes (yes, together!), a rocky crossing across the channel ensued and we soon arrived in Dieppe. Heading towards La Rochelle and knowing that Danny would have been working all day Saturday, driving through the night and then continuing our journey with no sleep in France, I had (after a considerable amount of nagging) managed to persuade him that we ought to book a hotel room to break the driving and get some rest. This turned out to be not quite what we expected. Using booking.com, I had booked a room for 5 in a hotel just outside Le Mans. What we actually got was a small wooden lodge on a campsite in deepest, darkest France down the narrowest, windiest lanes which could compete successfully with some of the local single track roads. If ever there was a reason for having SatNav, this was it! I haven’t yet had my phone bill showing my international date usage but I suspect the hour spent navigating on google maps will have dented the bank balance significantly. That said, the lodge was actually very well-equipped and suited us perfectly for a one-night stopover. I would love to be able to tell you that we had our first meal in France sitting outside, overlooking a beautiful valley, drinking a cold crisp white whilst the children played happily… Actually, we had warm beer and a couple of tins of Heinz soup with a few handfuls of rice thrown in to fill it out whilst the children squabbled about who had the most juice in their glasses. Family bliss!
After an early start the next morning, we set off towards Ile de Re. We didn’t really know what to expect but as soon as we crossed the arching road bridge from the mainland to the island we were blown away. This little Atlantic-coast island of dunes and pine forest has won our hearts! The leafy squares and vibrant villages are best accessed by bike – the island has 100km of dedicated cycle paths linking the villages with their narrow streets of green-shuttered, whitewashed houses.
Every village, park and beach has neat banks of bike racks, allowing you to park up and enjoy a coffee whilst soaking up the sunshine before continuing your ride, exploring backstreets lined with hollyhocks and winding through fields, salt marshes and oyster farms, all set against a fabulous Atlantic horizon.
The village we stayed in, Ars-en-Re, was chosen by Danny purely because of the comedy value he thought the name would provide for 3 young boys. As you can imagine, the joke wore thin! Our campsite was ideally placed with private access to the beach, a pool and most importantly for the boys, free wifi. We decided that having been outdoors and on their bikes all day they had earned their iPad time as much as we needed our grown-up wine time! After the first day’s stresses of erecting a tent in 38 degree heat whilst trying to contain 3 boys with cabin fever, having been cooped up for the best part of 36 hours, we learnt quickly. I’m sure we weren’t the only family on the site who tried to instil discipline in stage whispers for fear of being overheard by others who might question their unruly children!
The end of the first week saw us taking down the tent and moving on to my parents’ house near Bordeaux. This half of the holiday was slower-paced – less cycling and sightseeing and more swimming, sunbathing and snoozing.
We celebrated my mother’s birthday whilst we were there with a bottle of Bollinger and Lobster Thermidore – I recommend that everyone takes their own chef with them on holiday!
Four days, four adults and 21 bottles later we returned home. This may have been our first summer holiday but it isn’t the last. We will be back on Ile de Re in August next year. Will we return to Bordeaux? Well, that depends upon the contents of my parents’ wine cellar!
Where we stayed:
The best place for crepes in Ars (yes, the boys liked that one): http://augouterbreton.fr/