Since we got the caravan early last year we’ve been building up mentally to the big one. It’s very special for me to do a road trip like this with the children in the caravan because it bears an amazingly close resemblance to my own memories of the same in the mid 1970s. My dad would take us all down there over two days’ driving (on what was, presumably, less fast but less busy roads) and the days have lodged deeply in my memory.
Our plan was loosely based on the same because, simply put, I knew that it works as a holiday. The basic ingredients (foreign travel, over-land scenery, freedom of camping and campsites, hot Mediterranean weather, a bucket-full of culture change) meld together really nicely and, following on from what was ultimately a big test-trip to Scotland last year, we were off! We headed off to Dover through the night excited. And, err, full of fear that we were going to be hammered by ferry / port issues because of virtual blanket coverage in the media about thousands of hopeful would-be immigrants trying to storm the South East. Damn you, Daily Mail. There was not one ounce of delay nor any sign of trouble at Calais nor delay at Dover. We were off. (Properly).
Stopping off for the night just south of Dijon at the lovely town of Chalon-sur-Saône, I’d driven some 730 miles with only the real break for the Ferry crossing and for lunch / fuel stops. We were all a bit zapped to be honest, but that added to the surreal sense of We’re not in Helmshore any more.
The southward journey continued and the heat rose. Driving through Provence, it started to dawn on me how far we’d come and watching the outside air temperature climb was deeply satisfying. Past Mont Ventoux, round Aix-en-Provence and we could almost feel the Med. Ace.
The arrival at a new campsite is always a little bit unnerving – you can read reviews and view endless photos, but it’s safe to say we really got it right with our campsite (named somewhat confidently as Au Paradis des Campeurs) by a lovely beach – Le Plage de la Gaillard inbetween Saint-Aygulf and San Pierre on the coast near to Frejus. What followed there for the next nine days were blissful.
The girls are a good age still for this type of holiday… with Lily growing up fast but pre-teen and happy to play still. Both were great company and Katie and I managed to have a lot of fun, too. The hot weather knocks a few hours our of the day which I always find hard to deal with (as a never-stop go-getter / fidget type). On what should really have been siesta time, I cycled and ran in the Massif des Maures immediately behind the site. It was a joy to ride my mountain bike on such dusty yet fun singletrack and a far cry from even the driest Lancashire days
But it was hot… very hot, so my exercise soon got confined to early mornings. Just like home.
One big day trip to Aqualand, Frejus, was fun, but a bit of an Alton Towers-esque queuing fiasco. If the queues were 10 or 20% longer, we may have all perished in the heat, but our patience survived and watery fun was had.
A lovely but rather warm morning’s shopping / wandering round the market in Saint-Aygulf was nice too. A very chilled village and some really great stalls. Artisan’s nice, but some tapenade set me back about a week’s wages. Still… it was worth it. #nomnom etc.
Getting timings right is tricky with a family holiday. Moving on from the hot Med environment after 9 days there felt just about perfect. We were ready for a change but I will remain eternally thankful for my foresight in planning a great come-down from the holiday with two extended stopovers.
The first was in Clermont Ferrand (the home of, amongst other things, Michelin). Roughly 5 hours drive to our north and more central in France, the city was a great choice for a couple of nights. After chilling / tennis / swimming in the campsite located in Royat (to the west of the city), and a cheeky recce of the very hilly roads round there on my bike, we had a brilliant walk up the Puy de Dôme – only mildly spoiled by the cloud level being about 100 feet too low. It’d have been great to see the volcanoes but c’est la vie. We looked at postcards of them instead. A climb of 1800 feet in only a mile and a half is something to behold when you have little people. But we were made to feel very normal by the lots of other young families being dragged up the 45 minute climb, so all was well.
After our two night stopover, we headed north for just over three hours to a city called Paris. We arrived mid afternoon and, quite excited, we cycled from our campsite in the Bois de Boulogne an almost shockingly cycle safe route all the way to the Arc de Triomphe.
It’s been a while for Katie and I – we’ve both been there a couple of times together and a couple of times on our own, but it’s been a good 20 plus years for both of us. Still, it seemed familiar and, to be honest, a very welcoming city. More so than London, though it’s hard to say why. For the girls of course, it was an entirely new adventure. It was a good plan to book ‘queue jump’ tickets for the Eiffel tower in peak tourist season, but we weren’t to know that Lily was going to come down with a bit of a bug and, combined with it being 31°C, the tower trip culminated in her throwing up in a bag on the way down the steps. Not an ideal way for her to remember it. But certainly memorable.
… and home
With only around 730 miles left to drive, the rest was obviously a doddle. Broken up by the (on-time, immigrant-free, non-sensationalist) ferry we plodded up through a busy but surprisingly easy-to-drive leg. All safe. Lovely.
- Photos here on Flickr
- Ten minute video below