Sitting atop a river with deep and shallow swells, where children paddle and swim, and families picnic on the shingle beach, Roquebrun sur l’Orb in the Hérault area of Languedoc-Roussillon in southern France is the perfect place for a young family.
An exceptionally pretty little village with charming sand-coloured Georgian houses forming a higgledy-piggledy tower up into the sky, two village restaurants and a pizzeria, a café/bar, an excellent grocery, and two wine cellars selling the (good, cheap) local wine, it offers access to the river – popular with swimmers as well as those wanting to hire a canoe or kayak – from both sides. Our neighbour, who loaned us their family house in the village, is a strong swimmer and her four-year-old had learnt to swim there the previous year; my husband and I hoped our daughter might do the same.
As a teenager my friends and I spent much of the time we should have been at school at Hampstead Ponds, which made me excited at the prospect of wild swimming. But after arriving in Roquebrun, standing on the edge of the clear shallow waters in my jellies, watching those around us wade in, I recalled that I was always the one who sat at the edge of the murky water, hugging my knees as my bolder friends dived in, exhilarated, whatever the weather, goading me to join them.
Despite being a confident toddler who swam in the freezing Cornish sea in winter, something died in me in adolescence when it came to water. My mother put it down to her nearly drowning when she was a child; she thinks she passed her anxiety onto me.
Suddenly confronted with my responsibility to stop this cycle of fear and give my children the confidence I lacked, I was surprised by my feelings of trepidation as we stood by the water’s edge. As my children looked up at me with expectation, I wondered if I could muster the confidence to fake it. I stepped in, wincing at the slimy lashing of the weeds against my legs, imagining the fish biting but wading forcefully to the embankment in the middle, making enthusiastic noises as the kids stood bewildered at the water’s edge.
They weren’t too enamoured with the idea of getting wet: Dora squealed every time the water lapped her bare feet, while Arlo cried hysterically when I whooped and tried to dunk him into the water. It wasn’t going to plan.
But as the holiday progressed, the water warmed with the weather, which really was perfect: every day was sunny but not so hot as to burn young British skin. And then the French children came out, mostly in wetsuits, with goggles, snorkels and flippers, and I realised there was another way.
Dora and Arlo were much happier in wetsuits, and on day seven of our 10-day holiday, after a bottle of rosé over lunch, my husband Nick and I finally braved the waters too, wading to the central section in our jellies and building castles with the stones. Dora didn’t take a stroke but she did come to love being dunked in the water, and Arlo became more relaxed about getting wet when comforted by the warmth of the wetsuit (and whatever warm liquid was filling it).
Roquebrun is beautiful, unspoilt and a wonderful place to take the kids, but with the nearest beach about an hour’s drive away, you have to abandon yourself to the river to get the most out of holidaying here. We’ll do it next time. We’ll do it like the locals do.
Find out more about family holidays in Languedoc-Roussillon, including hand-picked child-friendly places to stay and things to do with kids.