Our most successful holiday so far has to be when I was pregnant with my third son and needed some serious R&R but also a trip with plenty to do for the older boys – three- and four-year-old bundles of mad, unfocussed energy.
We opted for a gîte complex in the Charente-Maritime in Poitou-Charentes – one so child-friendly that only bookings from families were taken, in fact. Self-catering was a no-brainer for us, as the boys were of an age when they quickly tire of eating out (as do we of restaurant bills and barely touched plates of food). But best of all was the fact that the gîtes were clustered around a communal garden full of things to do: chickens to feed, swings, games, a large sand-pit, a hammock… In the mornings we could just open the door and Ethan and Ripley would hurtle out to play with the friends they had quickly made, leaving us to enjoy a leisurely start to the day on our private terrace. Across the driveway, beyond two childproof gates, was a solar-heated pool with kids’ toys and loungers.
With playmates on tap (and the addition of one of the boys’ best friends from the UK, staying in a house just up the road), we were under no pressure to go out, although we were within about 45 minutes of the sea at La Rochelle with all its attractions, including a fantastic aquarium. A nearby provincial town had a good, child-friendly pizzeria, small shops and a supermarket, and Cognac, 20 minutes’ drive away, had a good base loisirs with bouncy castles, a paddling pool and a play-park (and a bar selling cold beers, carafes of wine and chips), plus a great market where we stocked up on spanking-fresh seafood to cook back at the gîte.
Given the ages of the kids, the degree of pre-holiday parental exhaustion and our limited budget, a stay in a gite complex worked out brilliantly for us. We spent a bit more money travelling down by train that we would have if we’d flown, largely in the spirit of environmental awareness, but that allowed us a couple of extra treats en route – the themepark of Futuroscope near Poitiers, and overnight stops in Paris, where we enjoyed, among other things, visits to the Picasso museum and the Eiffel Tower.