Our family holidays have largely fallen into two categories – travelling abroad to stay with far flung family or going somewhere that offers an all inclusive meal plan plus kids club so that my husband and I get a break from the 24/7 job of being a parent.
However, this Easter, we decided to go to a self-catering gîte in the French countryside. Ordinarily, I wouldn’t classify being in the countryside, cooking, cleaning and looking after children a holiday. It too closely resembles my everyday life.
But I really wanted to explore a bit more of France and figured that we’d probably have better weather there than at home and as long as it wasn’t hugely expensive, we could still have a ‘proper’ holiday in the summer holidays.
I have worked with child friendly holiday family specialists Tots to Travel for five years, but have yet to go on one of their holidays. But this year I decided it was high time I sampled what I'd been promoting for years (please note, I paid for this holiday, it wasn't a freebie so I'm reviewing this as a real customer).
After browsing the website, I found the perfect spot in Belle Gites, a cluster of five family friendly gîtes in Charente Maritime, where there would be other children to keep my two sons (7 and 5) entertained. And it offered home cooked meals, was near places I wanted to visit and was very affordable.
|The courtyard at Belle Gites|
We opted to go by ferry to Caen and drive the five hours to the Charente Maritime where the property was situated, rather than flying into La Rochelle which was the alternative. It was an easy journey on fast, mostly traffic free toll roads.
|Small boys enjoying pain au chocolat on the ferry|
|Just some of the kit available for us to use|
|The lovely pool - which we swam in despite it only being April|
|Full size football pitch and volleyball/tennis|
|Kids climbing frame and trampoline|
|Perfect for toddlers - sandpit and playhouses|
Our hosts Michelle and Paul were immediately welcoming and introduced their children Sol and Safia to our boys. We also met the one other family staying in one of the other gîtes with their three boys.
|Our lovely hosts|
|A game of goodies v baddies going on in the trees|
|On his way to the den in the woods with treasure|
We’d chosen the gîtes partly because of the location. Just a five minute bike ride to the local village for fresh bread and croissants, 10 minute drive to St Jean d’Angely, named as one of France’s 100 most beautiful villages, 10 minutes to Saintes with its ancient Roman ruins, 20 minutes from Cognac with fabulous tours of Cognac houses, 25 minutes to the beach and 45 minutes to La Rochelle with its cosmopolitan vibe.
|The harbour fort at La Rochelle|
|La Rochelle Port|
We were incredibly lucky with the weather, with a daily average of around 25C. Had the weather been less kind, there is plenty to do indoors nearby like visiting the Atlantys Swimming Complex or The Aquarium in La Rochelle.
Hosts Michelle and Paul offer BBQ evenings, giving the guests a chance to know each other while eating delicious home cooked food. They also hold weekly football games with the local French residents, and guests are invited to take part. If you want a night out, they offer babysitting, a mini kids club in which they do arts & crafts, video nights for children complete with popcorn, and while we were there, they put on a fantastic Easter egg hunt. On our last night, they even set up a tent in the grounds for our and their children to have a camp out.
|The Easter egg hunt (real and chocolate eggs were found!)|
|The football match with the locals|
|The kids got to camp out on the last night for added fun|
My preconceived notions about spending my entire holiday cooking and cleaning were unfounded. Meals in France need to be nothing more than a smorgasbord of cheese, hams, breads, olives and fresh tomatoes – no cooking required. While our children are slightly older, even parents of babies and toddlers could easily have a relaxing break thanks to the layout of the gîtes, the services on offer and the extensive kit provided.
I’m a complete convert. We all returned home relaxed, refreshed, sun-kissed and in love with France.
While not all self-catering options are created equal, all those on the Tots to Travel website have been personally visited and vetted to ensure that they are safe for children, relaxing for parents and generally fabulous. Our toughest decision is where to go next with them – France, Spain, Italy or Portugal.
FACTS AND TOP TIPS
- Cost of accommodation: in Easter £640 for a week. Goes up to £875 per week in summer.
- Travel: Brittany Ferries - £371 return trip. Alternatively fly to La Rochelle (45 minutes drive from the Gites) on FlyBe, Jet2 or EasyJet
- Tolls: Approximately €40 each way
- Cognac tours: Try Hennessey which includes a boat trip or Remy Martin which includes a train ride
- Saintes: visit the Roman amphitheatre with children – little boys in particular will enjoy pretending to be gladiators in the ring
- Travel tip: we stayed overnight in Caen on our return due to an early start with the ferry. It would also be possible to leave at 2am and drive overnight, letting children sleep and get to the ferry in time. Alternatively, if driving up a day in advance, stop at the war cemeteries and D-Day landing beaches for some history.