Our Fabulous French Family Holiday
The wonderful week we spent at Belair Gites in Cherente Maritime seems like a distant memory now. Even the wine we brought home in the back of the car is long gone. I don’t know what we were thinking when we only brought nine bottles back with us. The blistering sun must have rendered us temporarily insane for thinking it’d see us though until Christmas. We live and learn. Next time we will fill the boot, and believe me, we’re already thinking of next time.
Belair Gites is already up there in the top places we’ve been lucky enough to visit as a family. It was perfect. Our kids are 3, 5 and 6 and the whole holiday was just so easy. It had everything we could have wanted and then some. The Irish couple who own the gorgeous complex – located about an hour north of Bordeaux – have thought of everything when it comes to catering for families. I’ve already told my friend, who has kids the same age as ours, that we need to figure out a time when both of our families can go at the same time and spend two weeks there, enjoying everything the place and the local area has to offer.
Our French holiday started off with a ferry from Cork to Roscoff with Brittany Ferries. It was the first time we’d ever done the whole ferry experience and I honestly didn’t know what to expect. I grew up on an island off the coast of Donegal so I well and truly have my sea legs. But there’s a big difference between the 20 minute boat trip from the mainland to home and the overnight journey to France with three kids in tow. I needn’t have worried. The ferry was such a novelty for the kids and there was no time to get bored. They had everything from a soft play area, an observation deck, a cinema, live entertainment and a magic show to keep them occupied. There was even a swimming pool in the middle of one of the bars, if you fancied stripping down to your smalls with an audience. Our cabin was an outside cabin so we had a window, which was nice. There’s free wifi on the boat but it doesn’t work in the cabins. At least it didn’t for us. There were four beds in the form of two sets of bunk beds, which were surprisingly comfortable. The room was ensuite and had a decent shower, a toilet and a basin. There was only one towel, so if you’re all planning on showering, pack a couple of extra ones in your overnight bag. The bathroom also has a bar of soap and plenty of toilet paper, but you’ll need to bring your own toiletries.
Speaking of your overnight bag, it was only because a friend had mentioned it that I knew to pack one. Before that, it hadn’t even occurred to me – I didn’t realise that I wouldn’t be able to go back to the car for bits and bobs. So pack an overnight bag with whatever it is you’ll need. We brought PJs, a change of clothes, and I brought some snacks I picked up in the M&S food hall on the way – things like fruit salads, bread rolls and little mini cheeses and of course their yummy cookies from the bakery. We brought plenty of water as well, which was handy, as the queues in the restaurant were quite long. The food on the boat was decent. It wasn’t gourmet, by any stretch of the imagination, but what we had was definitely grand and the kids ate every morsel of theirs as well. The cocktails on board were €5.40 a pop and I had two cheeky mojitos. They definitely don’t skimp on the alcohol they put into them, that’s for sure! I half expected them to be more mixer than booze but they definitely had a good kick. The crossing itself was really smooth. We barely knew that we were on a boat. Friends of ours had gone on the same crossing a week previously and they were all sick as it had been fairly rough, so she had warned us to bring motion sickness pills. We didn’t need them though, but they’re definitely worth having just in case.
Once we arrived in France, we hit the road. It was brilliant to be able to drive our own car. I’d never driven on the ‘wrong’ side of the road before so it was good to be able to do it in a car that I was comfortable in. I also loved the fact that we had our own car seats. We’ve flown before and have needed taxis and transfers and all the rest and it always feels like the car seats are flimsy, ill fitting etc. We were all set having our own gear and our own bits and bobs and we didn’t have to worry about the weight of our luggage either. Another reason why going on the ferry was just so much handier than the chaos of an airport and flying. I did all the driving during our holiday. Apparently that’s unusual – every time it came up in conversation we got a ‘wow, fair play’ or an ‘oh, he let you drive?!’ But why not? The car we were in is my car and I’m a terrible backseat driver and I have an awful sense of direction. Himself makes a much better navigator than me and there are way less arguments when I’m behind the wheel. The drive to Belair Gites from Roscoff took 5.5 hours including a brief toilet stop. It was motorway pretty much all the way and honestly really easy. We are used to the trek from West Cork to Donegal, so this seemed like a piece of cake in comparison. Brilliant roads, proper motorway services – though we did have to fork out an eye-watering €21 on tolls, so be warned! The system is different over there in that you take a ticket at the first toll barrier and then when you come to the next one, it tells you what you owe when you’re getting off.
We arrived in Belair Gites at around 2pm local time and the sun was splitting the stones. We’ve been told the weather was unseasonably hot the week we were there – a blistering 38 degrees some days. When we walked through the doors of the gite we were instantly cooler thanks to its thick stone walls. It was a haven, really well kitted out and so relaxing. It was huge and had everything we needed to make our stay easy and comfortable. The kitchen was so well equipped – it was a lot better laid out than our kitchen at home, and had all the same amenities, so cooking for us was really easy. There was even a terrace area out the back that had a big BBQ and seating. We made use of that a few times and it was so nice to be able to just chill out and unwind with a glass of the local wine as the kids slept in the evenings. There were 3 big bedrooms upstairs (which had a stair gate, thank God!) as well, so plenty of room for us all, and then some. The bathroom had no bath but there were baby baths available if needed. Ours are old enough now to enjoy the shower, and this one was lovely with great water pressure and it always had plenty of hot water. There was another shower downstairs, plus a washing machine which we used before we went home. There’s nothing better than going home from holidays with a suitcase full of clean clothes and in true Irish mammy style, there was great drying out there so we made the most of it!
As well as being really lovely and comfortable accommodation wise, Belair Gites was superbly kitted out for our family. There’s an trampoline with a safety net, a mini playground, outdoor games and a massive play barn with every toy you could imagine, books, DVDs, a pool table, table soccer and table tennis. Given the scorching weather, it was great to have somewhere to retreat to when it got a big much to be outside. And the highlight of the place for the kids was of course the outdoor heated pool. It was clean, perfectly sized and the kids adored it, as did we. What I loved about it was that it was so child friendly with everything we could possibly need, but it was also relaxing. Some places that cater for kids are crowded and chaotic. This was completely the opposite. There are only a handful of gites so you will never have to compete for space or peace at the complex. It’s laid back, chilled and a real home away from home. We loved it.
The area itself is perfect for exploring. It’s only an hour from Bordeaux, although with just a week, we didn’t manage the trip. We did go to Saintes, which we loved for its old amphitheatre and we also visited the nearby zoo. Cognac is also close and we’ve heard there are amazing tours in the area. There are also water parks, aquariums, beaches and shopping close by, which is why we definitely want to return. It’s the kind of place that will always have something to offer, even as the kids grow older.
As for food and restaurants, we were there a week and we ate lots of pizza! In some parts of France, restaurants close for parts of the day, so unless you’re bang on time for lunch, you might be stuck without grub until around 7.30pm, which is when many places re-open for dinner service. There’s definitely a groove that you need to get into with meal times which we didn’t quite manage as we are notoriously disorganised! But it just meant lots of lovely food from bakeries, lots of ice creams and cooking at home on the BBQ. There’s a huge Super U just down the road from the gites so you won’t be stuck for a great selection of food for reasonable prices. There are also loads of local markets within about a 10 minute spin in each direction. Patricia and Paul, the owners of the gites, have done an amazing job putting together an information folder in all the cottages. It will tell you the best places to eat, shop, visit and any recommendation we tried from there lived up to our expectations. As well as this, they were always on hand to offer advice, directions or simply a friendly chat. They were brilliant hosts.
All in all, we had a fabulous time. The only complaint was that we should have booked two weeks instead of one. Next time, we’ll definitely go for a fortnight and as I said, my friend and her husband are looking into coming with their kids at the same time. Apparently families too often book out the entire resort for reunions, get togethers or birthday parties. I can see why. And 80% of Belair Gites guests are return bookings. That, in itself speaks volumes.
How to book your trip to Belair Gites:
Vist the website on www.Belairgites.com, where you’ll find all the info you need on how to book your trip.
For ferry bookings, visit www.BrittanyFerries.ie
You could also get flights to Bordeaux, which is an hour away. You will definitely need a car for your stay at Belair Gites though, so weigh up the pros and cons of flying and renting a car. We’d definitely go for the ferry again as it worked out much cheaper.
Things to pack:
I have a tendency to over pack but I made a conscious effort this time to pack lightly so that we’d have plenty of space in the boot to bring things back. I was thinking of wine or any nice little pieces of furniture that would look nice in our new house. So here’s what I’d recommend for a week’s trip if you have small kids:
- Swimming gear is a must. One set per person will do as by the time you use it again, even if it’s only a few hours later, they’ll be dry. We bought armbands in the Super U for a couple of euro each. Much cheaper than buying at home but if you have some already, you may as well bring them.
- 3 sun dresses/shorts and t-shirt combos. Hoodies x 2, light trousers such as leggings x 1, light rain coat just in case. Underwear. Sandals plus a pair of shoes suitable for long walks/hikes.
- A potty! It might sound strange but it was a life saver for us on many an occasion and it was a friend who’d recommended I bring one. Because a lot of places were closed at lunch time, we were often caught short whilst out and about, especially with the 3 year old. We brought a potty called My Carry Potty, which we got online. It has a lid and it is completely leak proof so we could keep it in the boot of the car with no hassle and just sorted it out when we got back. We were drinking loads of water because of the heat so they were running to the loo more often so it was handy knowing it was there in the boot if we needed it and couldn’t find a public toilet. We stopped on the side of the road more times than I can count!
- An iPad for the car is a life saver for lots of families. We have audio books on CD instead and soundtracks for their favourite movies such as Frozen or Song of the Sea.
- Snacks, snacks and more snacks for the car journey! Things like fruit pouches, cheese strings, bananas, apples, rice cakes travel quite well. And with the odd packet of chocolate buttons for bribery! We also brought stashes of kids magazines (you know the ones that come with stickers and tat!) on standby for when they got extra bored, and I surprised them with a fidget spinner each too. Small things, but it killed an hour or more on the journey.
And there you have it. Thanks to everyone who messaged me about the trip and who asked questions – hopefully this answered them for you. And let me know if you decide to go!