We've just returned home from what has been our best holiday ever. We say that every year of course, and it usually takes a few months and a healthy dose of hindsight to admit that two weeks in a damp mobile home while it rained almost every day was not in fact the best holiday ever.
But this year, it really was our Best Holiday Ever. (Husband: Really? Better than the time we drove down the west coast of the States in an open top car? Me: No, of course not. Best holiday since we had kids)
The main factor was sun - we were away for the first two weeks of July during that wonderful heatwave that had Ireland running out of paddling pools and western France bathing in 30' non-stop sunshine.
|our lovely mobile home in Sequoia Parc near La Rochelle|
But it was also because we finally figured out how to holiday with kids, five years after we first tried it.
I have a theory that many parents find the first holiday with a first baby a little challenging. New parents still associate holidays with eating out and sleeping in, sunbathing, swimming and yet more sleeping.
They often come home saying "well yes it was lovely but it wasn't really a holiday - we didn't actually sunbathe or get a lie-in or stay out late or relax at all"
It took me a few years to stop packing heels, going-out-dresses and more than one book in my suitcase, but my expectations have evolved and now it's more about finding great activities to do with the kids.
If they enjoy it, we enjoy it. Simple formula, long-time working it out.
|happy kids = happy parents|
Of course, the trip we just had wasn't a perfect holiday - we had plenty of foot stomping and whining and squabbling; all the stuff that goes with the territory when you have small children.
And we had some bugs: the winged, buzzing, biting kind, and the stomach kind.
For the former, we invested in three types of mosquito spray, anti-histamines and green spiral things that you light which supposedly keep the mosquitoes at bay (jury still out on that one).
Of course we still sat out on the deck every night until midnight instead of staying indoors out of reach of the little bug(ger)s. But it was hot! And we're Irish! When would we ever again get to sit on a deck drinking wine at night?
With the other type of bug, my poor husband and five year old were laid low for a day, but this inadvertently resulted in one of the highlights of the holiday: in the late afternoon, the five of us were lying on loungers in the shade outside the mobile home - the patients were not well enough for the usual pool and beach trips or any kind of sunshine.
|this is not helping poor sick husband|
The kids asked if we could take turns telling stories, so we did. The girls told made-up stories mostly involving mermaids, fairies, and mermaids who were also fairies. The grown-ups were requested as usual to tell "real" stories, so we regaled them with (only slightly) embellished tales from our own childhood holidays. It was lovely to hear the stories the girls came up with, and to see their reaction to ours, and to hear a delighted "tell us another one!" after the simplest little anecdotes.
(In case you are now throwing up at this little snippet of Walton-like family bonding, let me assure you that it lasted about half an hour, and then arguments over space on loungers and who was having which Cornetto kicked in, so all back to normal)
Other highlights of the holiday:
I can't even begin to explain how wonderful it was to finally experience a sunshiney holiday with the kids. It needs it's own blog-post.
2. Red wine:
So inexpensive (I don't want to say cheap), so plentiful, so delicious. So brought some home.
3. Kids making friends:
And playing till late each evening with our neighbouring mobile-home dwellers. Finishing their dinner on the deck in five minutes flat so that they could get back out to play with their new best friends whom they had met the previous day and would never see again after the trip. But they loved it, and therefore so did we.
|playing outside at 10 at night in bare feet brings back childhood memories|
4. Pirate city - La Rochelle:
Such a beautiful city, and such a lovely day out. As all parents know, even the best-planned day-trips to the most amazing destinations can go wrong; with cranky children or hot weather or lack of suitable restaurants or difficulty finding parking. And actually all of those things happened us that day, but somehow we were lifted out of the crankiness and the footsore heat and had the best day-trip of our holiday.
|dungeon door (not really) - La Rochelle|
We had lunch in the Old Port, in a restaurant like all the others but chosen because the waiter told us they had a high-chair (often not available in France). The "high-chair" turned out to be a booster seat with no straps, so basically a sliding mechanism for Sam, my 18 month-old. We took turns taking him for walks while trying not to annoy the other customers, who were seated so close to us it felt like they were going to reach over and take a pomme frite.
But once that ordeal was over, we wandered around the lovely Old Port, then down to the towers that frame every La Rochelle postcard.
|there's pirates in them there towers - La Rochelle|
We took the kids up to one of the towers, which used to be a gaol for pirates and criminals, and then went for ice-cream and coffee in a lovely, shaded Glacier where the tables and therefore the customers weren't quite so bunched together.
The girls had a lot of questions about the gaol they'd just seen, so we explained about pirates (pirates are big in La Rochelle) and baddies in general and how prisons work. They started to ask how many years you'd get in prison for robbing a bank - twenty I thought. And how many for robbing a puppy? One I thought. Clara was very surprised to hear that robbing a bank was worse than robbing a puppy - a fair point in retrospect.
We bought some postcards, and much to husband's amusement I picked up an old Pears Soap framed poster which was heavy to carry and will not easily fit any wall in our house, but it was only 12 Euro! And the little girl in the ad reminds me of my little girl, so it came home with us.
The final lovely La Rochelle experience was of a most material nature - I found a shopping street and had my one and only tiny bout of retail-therapy for the holiday. Needs must.
Kids love swimming pools, there were seven pools on the campsite, and it was hot and sunny.
|I'll jump in and figure it out|
So unsurprisingly, this was their favourite part of the holiday.
We played mermaid games every day ("What colour is your tail? And what is your talent?").
We slid and we splashed
|she was very keen to swim|
and we swam,
down the lazy river,
we got sun.
In lieu of any actual sunbathing, hanging around in the kids' pools was a perfect alternative.
6. Disco kids:
There was a mini-disco every other night at 7pm - this was the full extent of our "night-life".
Sam, my 18 month old loves to dance. I remember my two girls dancing at the same age so I think it's pretty normal, but this boy really LOVES to dance. As soon as he hears music of any kind, the little arms go up and he starts to move in time to the beat, as though he's in a club in Ibiza. I don't know where this comes from (not from either of his parents) but it makes me burst inside every time I watch him. I have ten thousand videos of this if anyone is interested.
Emmie, my four-year-old is also a serious disco-dancer and raced ahead every night to join the other kids on front of the stage, following the reps' moves to the obscure French and German songs that are now playing over and over in my head. Ibiza here we come.
7. Mille Sabords:
This simple but lovely restaurant is on Ile d'Oleron just off the west coast of France - it sits in a snug row of similar "Moules" restaurants overlooking a small river.
It has a menu that is shorter and less varied than those of it's neighbours, but it has fresh flowers on every table, fairy lights strung on the rattan canopy above a blue-painted wooden front, and a sign saying "English spoken here" - we were smitten.
The food was great, but what helped to make this our most enjoyable eating-out experience in France (ever) was the attention of the lovely waitress (the English-speaker in residence)
|Mille Sabords on Ile d'Oleron|
She had worked in Kinsale for a summer, she explained the specials to us, she brought colouring pencils to the girls, then turned up the music and danced with Sam while we were waiting for our order.
We were all a little bit in love with Mille Sabords, and this lovely part of France where we finally got the holiday we'd always wanted.
So if you've read this far, thank you for staying with me during this excessively long post - I guess this is first and foremost a diary entry, so that I can tell the kids in the future about their best holiday ever. At least until we hit Ibiza next year.
Labels: camping, children, ferry, France, holidays, Ile d'Oleron, La Rochelle, Marennes, Mille Sabords, mosquitos, red wine, Sequoia Parc, swimming, The everyday family life posts, The parenting stuff & the kids