Camping holiday in France – our first time.

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Summer holidays? In November? Well this time last year we started planning our upcoming Summer holiday as we had heard that all of the good camping sites got booked up quickly. It was actually New Year’s Eve when we finally booked the holiday and we nearly divorced that night fighting over who had the laptop, dates of Ferry crossings and trying to get accommodation to match.

We had done a bit of research on Tripadvisor but it was word of mouth that we ended up going with in the end. Three families recommended the same site and we couldn’t ignore the coincidence. We finally booked La Garangeoire camping site in the Vendée region for 9 nights with a Ferry crossing either side.

We were due a baby in May so booked our holiday for August to allow for a passport to be organised and so that she wouldn’t be too small and delicate to travel. We figured that travelling with a breastfed three month old would be easy enough and we were more likely to have difficulty entertaining the bigger boys on the journey.

As it turned out, we were right. Thea was and still is a very chilled out baby and she managed the journey with no issues. The heat (28 – 35) degrees did result in her needing feeds more often however but that was fine as it allowed Mummy to eat chocolate and croissants guilt free as I needed the energy…

Regarding the Ferry crossing, we departed from Rosslare harbour to arrive in Roscoff the following morning.  The waiting time to board was approximately 45 minutes which, compared to the waiting around that we had experienced in airports in previous years, was very acceptable.

We were a bit unfortunate in where we ended up being parked on board the ferry however, in the lane furthest from the door.  Dragging two small children, a baby, a couple of bags and a buggy (which she slept in) was challenging and it was a bit of a free for all but we managed it in the end.  Again it was easier than any airport experience.

The Oscar Wilde Ferry was grand.  We are not talking five star hotel standard but it had everything we needed to comfortably travel.  The accommodation included two sets of bunk beds and a bathroom.  To be honest, we were all scared of the top bunks as they were so high so we ended up just using the two bottom bunks.  The two boys slept end to end in one bed and Mark and I slept in the other.  We were used to co-sleeping at home (often four to five in the bed) so were used to cramped conditions.

There was plenty to do on the Ferry with a full entertainment pack in the bar.  We popped up to the childrens’ entertainment in one of the bars and our children enjoyed a panto like show for about half an hour before their attention spans waned and we returned to our room.  There was a cinema and I can imagine that this would be a great way to spend the evening once the kids are older.  In our case, we settled down to bed early and Mark popped down to the bar to get a small bottle of wine which we shared in the dark while eating chocolate quietly.

We ate in the Left-Bank self-service restaurant on the Ferry.  There were other restaurants but with three small children, somewhere where they could be loud and leave their seats without bothering anyone seemed to be the most sensible option.  The offerings included full dinners, salads, hot dogs and chips and as soon as the boys saw the latter, they decided that they wanted them.  The bill was approximately €35 and many other families were using a restaurant voucher that we could have bought with our Ferry ticket which was probably better value.

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Travelling by Ferry was quite pleasant.  The motion of the ocean didn’t bother any of us and I actually found it quite soothing at night, as if I was being rocked to sleep.  We went to the self service restaurant again for breakfast where we had basic cereal and toast.  In retrospect, this was a bit overpriced and in future I think I would bring along some cereal and plastic bowls and just have breakfast in our room.

Disembarking from the Ferry took a while and we had a few wailing children in the back of the car.  In the end, I took Thea out and held her until we got the go ahead to move.  Once out of the Ferry though we flew through security and passport control.  Roscoff is a very pretty port town and I got the feeling straight away that we were on our holidays.

The temperature in France was unseasonably warm and as we travelled further south, the temperature climbed up to a maximum of 34 degrees.  The air conditioning in our 2007 Volkswagon Touran wasn’t up to it and I covered any exposed skin in water wipes at one point, just to cool down.  We stopped at McDonalds as it was easy and I would do this again as the kids played in the playground attached and got to stretch their legs.  The entire car journey down to St Julien Des Landes took about six hours with stops.  With young children, it was long enough and we couldn’t wait to get out of the car.

We booked our mobile home through Eurocamps and after a quick check in, a representative led our car to our mobile home on her bicycle.  We had booked a three bed, two bathroom mobile home and it was lovely.  I had brought along a lot of cleaning products to clean the place before we went in but there wasn’t much to do as it was spic and span.  We had a lovely area of decking outside where we ate most of our meals and we often spent the hottest parts of the afternoons playing lego on the floor of the living room with the doors open.

La Garangeoire is a beautiful campsite, situated rurally and adjacent to a beautiful wood and lake.  We spent most of our holiday outdoors and the walks around the forest were great to tire the boys out.  We took a pedal boat out onto the lake which was amazing as well.  There were kids clubs which we could have sent our eldest boy to but we decided not to last Summer as he was still a bit young.

The site has a few playgrounds also and the boys made most of their friends there.  The pool was pretty busy in August and we only went once preferring to spend our days at the Lagoon which was less hectic and where it was easier to keep an eye on them.

We did little sightseeing as journeys in the car were difficult given the heat.  We didn’t need to leave the campsite for entertainment so spent most of our holiday there.  We took two trips to the supermarket, one on the day that we arrived and one midway through.  If I were to go back again, I would bring more non-perishable items with me as it wasn’t pleasant dragging three hot children around a French supermarket.  Pasta is pasta.

The trip home was easier due to the cooler weather.  We got the Ferry back to Ireland from Cherbourg so the route was different.  Again we stopped in McDonald midway which was easy and convenient.  Security approaching the Paris area was very apparent given recent terrorist attacks but we had no difficulty travelling.

Cherbourg is very much a port town and was less aesthetically pleasing compared to Roscoff.  We had hoped to buy some wine before boarding but tragically ran out of time so returned home with NO WINE!!

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As holidays went, it was one of the most relaxing holidays that I have every been on with children.  Their needs were fully catered for so we could relax.  We have already booked a trip to France for three weeks this upcoming Summer.  We did find the journey to and from the campsite very long so we have decided to stay for longer this year!

Things I plan to differently this time:

  • Pack minimally for the Ferry (PJs, toiletries, toys and snacks)
  • Prebuy a meal voucher for the  Left Bank restaurant on the Ferry
  • Bring breakfast (non perishable milk or buy a bottle of milk from the cafe)
  • Bring some groceries to avoid having to do a full shop when we arrive.
  • Bring the childrens’ scooters

Things we did this time that were helpful:

  • Pack clothes in vaccuum bags (but don’t vacuum them) as they were easier to pack into the car and we could see what was in them (we had a swim bag for example with all swimming gear and everyone in the family had their own vacuum bag which helped when unpacking).
  • Bring cleaning products –  dettol wipes were particularly helpful.
  • Bring a wine opener!
  • Don’t bring fancy clothes/heels.  I do like to dress up when the occasion calls for it but for us, this holiday didn’t necessitate any dressing up.

Would I recommend this type of holiday to anyone?  Definitely.  I can see us going on camping holidays to France for many years to come.  I am even tempted to try actual camping in a tent.

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