This summer we took ourselves off to France. Not the South of France, no. That would require getting on a plane, and since we'd worked to a tight budget this year we decided to go only as far as we could drive. So drive we did. All 600 miles. We decided to break up the trip there by driving only as far as the south coast of England one Saturday afternoon, and checking into a hotel, giving us a full Sunday to drive to Eurotunnel, drive our car onto the train (the children absolutely lurvvvedd that! Cheeky Monkey No. 2 (who is nearly 3yrs old) just couldn't quite get her head around a car being on a train), and then drove down past Paris.
Now I should say right here that this was a successful holiday. The resort, Les Alicourts, was great, the chalet we stayed in was clean, sufficiently kitted out, and had air conditioning ( a must, since the temperature reached 34 degrees Celsius).
However, I am only human, and English at that, so I will of course be starting off the review with the pitfalls!
Pitfall number 1. Driving around Paris. You can do it, and you can do it fairly stress free with two children in the car under the following conditions,
1) both children have recently been to the toilet and will be OK for a good half an hour before they need to go again.
2) you have an in car DVD player showing a film they've never seen before and will therefore keep them suitably entertained
3) you have an updated SatNav system.
I absolutely love my SatNav. The lady, who is so far unnamed, is calm and gets you to precisely where you need to go. OK so she sometimes has a slightly weird 'turn' and tries to get you to completely avoid a stretch of road for no apparent reason* and sometimes takes unnecessary detours, but she does get you there, and frankly, when you are circumnavigating a large city, on the wrong side of the road**, you need help and not a stressed passenger trying to read a map.
2. The chalet had bunk beds. It was a 6 person VIP Chalet with 3 bedrooms that could sleep up to 8 and we had my mum and dad there with us, which meant we could have put the children in one of the double bedrooms and my hubby and I could have slept on the convertible sofa in the lounge. But, due to the kindness of a good friend, we had borrowed a 'Readybed'*** and so our eldest had the bottom bunk and our youngest slept in the Readybed on the floor next to her. No-one was allowed on the top bunk. OK, so at 5 years old you might argue she's old enough, but we weren't convinced. And there was room, just, for our Readybed, so we used it.
3. The chalet had limited storage. My parents had the main bedroom with en-suite and had to hang clothes in a wardrobe cupboard situated weirdly in the lounge area. We had a smaller double room without en suite but with wardrobes so were OK. The bunk bed room had the smallest cupboard ever, and we ended up keeping clothes on the top bunk.
And so, on to the positives:
1. The resort has a man-made lakeside beach. This is great with small children as there's no tides or waves to worry about. And the sandcastles stay in tact!
2. The splash pool area for little ones got very full, so if you weren't there at opening time at 10am you were unlikely to get a sun lounger to sit on by the pool. Having said that, you only needed one lounger between 2 adults and 2 children, because frankly when do you sit down!?
3. The take away was fantastic. Not just pizza and chips, oh no! This is France after all. Gorgeous spit roasted chickens and dauphinoise potatoes with green beans all to take away at incredible prices.
4. The restaurant was equally brill. Just book the day before to get a table for 6pm when it opens.
5. 10 mins drive to nearby Lamotte Beurvon and you can get on the quietest, smoothest trains ever to Paris, changing at Orlean, in roughly 2 hours. If you can't be bothered, like us, you're in Orlean in about half an hour and it's a lovely french town with Joan of Arc heritage for those looking for history.
6. Everything was beautifully clean and well kept, from the gardens, to the chalets.
7. The drive was particularly easy once you hit the French toll roads. These, unlike equivalent motorways in the UK, have rest stops roughly every 10 minutes. As a minimum these allow you to pull over for a picnic, a large percentage include toilets, and others have petrol stations and cafes/shops of varying sizes. Additionally the French appear to hardly use them, creating the emptiest roads I've seen in a while. It cost us about £30 in tolls to get halfway down France, but it was worth every penny for the convenience and speed.
8. There's an indoor pool at the resort for those rainy days, which is great and also has a little slide in water only a few centimetres deep. Downside though - the pool is in the Spa complex so only accessible to families with children between the hours of 10.30 and 12.30 in the morning. We only needed to use it once and it was full. The children got a little fed up of not having much room, so we left after only about half an hour.
Overall Les Alicourts is a lovely resort. You can book with Eurocamp who have caravans on site, as do Keycamp and Thomson Alfresco. We booked direct with Les Alicourts online and got a better deal. They also have some new Tree houses for the adventurous (though suspect not suitable for young children!)
*for some reason she didn't want us on the M1 northbound on the way home past Luton. We ignored her, and hit no problems. She panicked and for half an hour desperately tried to get us to turn off the M1 and get back on it further up North.
** yes, wrong!
*** A blow up bed with built in cover and pillow shaping, meaning you literally need nothing.