I hate flying, not that I let that stop me from travelling but, given the choice, I’d rather drive or sail, so after an invitation from Canvas Holidays to go and stay with them, off we popped to France. The roads there are long, very well signposted, in excellent condition and were an absolute dream to navigate. To comply with French law we had to have a European Driving Kit (warning triangle, breathalyser kits, Eurolites, visibility vest etc.) in the car and NOT in the boot, and I had to remember to take change to pay for the tolls. There’s probably no need to mention it but please, if you decide to do a similar trip, make sure you have checked or purchased new tyres, given the car a service and purchased International Recovery, as much as I hated handing over £80 for a weeks worth of cover with the AA, it certainly eased the stress of the recurring ‘what if?’ that kept playing over and over in my mind.
From Calais to our destination was a 2 ½ hour trip with the toll costing €13.40. Unless you have arms like Inspector Gadget you’ll also need a passenger on the left side of the car though so that they can feed the money machine. We were headed to a campsite called La Croix du Vieux Pont in Berny Riviere however, if you put this into Google Maps it will take you to a final destination of a very bumpy, one car track with zilch at the end of it. Instead, if you put in the very next town of Vic Sur Aisne, it will take you straight to it.
Gorgeous roses, fully in bloom welcomed each visitor at the entrance to the site and signposts were well placed to direct us to our Canvas Holidays check in. We were greeted with a smile and were then asked to follow, in the car, a rep on a bike who swiftly took us to our home for the next week. We’d booked a 3 bedroom Select Plus, complete with deck and I’ve never seen the kids more excited! The rep didn’t hang around, he gave us the key and wished us a fabulous vacation but not before he had pointed to the bottle of red wine on the table. Nice touch Canvas, nice touch. Inside we had three bedrooms, bathroom with shower, kitchen/diner, full size fridge and a fireplace, just in case. Outside we had a deck with table and chairs, 2 sun loungers, a gas barbecue and space for one car, everything we needed to be comfortable during our French adventure.
If you’ve been somewhere before, the familiarity enables you to get on with your holiday shenanigans virtually straight away but I was a newbie and I felt a little daunted by the size of the site and would have liked a bit of a run through of where things were, what times things were open etc. All the information that I needed was actually on the notice boards in the Canvas office but still, a welcome meeting I would have found beneficial.
TAKING THE PLUNGE
It was early evening when we arrived and for weeks the kids had been talking about getting into the swimming pool, they were practically bursting to go and check it out. Roughly 4 minutes walk from our base we found the pool and were pleased to find out it didn’t close until 7.30pm (opens at 10am) There a was a fabulous outdoor pool, a bigger indoor pool which has a retractable roof and a large baby pool, literally something for everyone. I lost Scarlett to the water slide immediately and eventually had a go myself, the swimming costume wedgie is not a good look on me but the thrill of the slide ensured I had one again and again and again.
Sunday morning we had no food in at all so our first adventure was to find the local supermarket. There is a shop on site that sells the basics and fresh bread too and we used this for top ups during our stay but I wanted to get the food for the week and I also wanted a nosey at the area. After a bit of detective work we turned left out of the site and followed the signs for the Intermarche (about 2 minutes drive), it’s not the cheapest but you can get most of what you’ll need. Opening times are 9.30 – 12.30 on a Sunday and 8.30 – 7.30 during the week. If you want to do an amazing BIG shop and to bring stuff back to England too, head for the town of Soissons (about 20 minutes) and you’ll find the Hypermarket Cora there. Just WOW.
In the afternoon, after a lunch of croissants and white chocolate spread, we headed off to look at the other half of the site. What struck me most was the overall maintenance, perfectly manicured lawns and flower beds and not a scrap of litter anywhere. We passed lots of various pitches, we smelled lots of barbecue aromas, we saw some fabulous lodges, we heard lots of laughter and then my kids stopped dead as we turned down one of the avenues. There, before us, was a beach. A perfect area with a man-made lake and beautiful white sand set aside a beautiful clubhouse. I’m glad I had my book in my bag because the munchkins spent the next 5 HOURS in that water and then informed me that they wanted to forget their life in England and move to France. Oh, ok then. In the clubhouse there was a restaurant, bar, veranda and the holy grail of FREE WIFI. I know, I know, ‘You should switch off’ ‘Why do you need the internet?’ ‘Blah, blah, blah,’ but life still goes on beyond the vacation bubble and I needed my fix and also had to do a little work. Cue the disappointment, the wifi signal was shocking and in the end I had to laugh at about 5 of us huddled around the Gelato machine because someone had said that was the only place to pick up the signal. Anyway, that was soon forgotten when I had an ice cold beer served to me by a surfer dude vision of lovliness. Sometimes, being a single parent sucks and I don’t like to drink around my kids but I wasn’t driving, the sun was shining and, dammit, I deserved it.
VISIT A CHATEAU
If I can I like to plan our vacation days into a day of rest followed by a day of doing something and on Monday we headed to Chateau de Pierrefonds (20 minutes drive, €7 for me, kids FREE), a stunning castle which, incidently, featured in the English drama, Merlin. It was built in the 12th century and later bought by Napolean in 1810 who then commissioned a complete restoration by architect Viollet du Luc. We were the first people there and had the whole place to ourselves for about an hour. Make sure, if you visit, to venture into the catacombs, totally creepy, totally worth it. It truly was remarkable and so exciting for the kids as now, not only did they want to move to France, they wanted a Chateau as well. Looks like I have my work cut out.
GO TO DISNEYLAND
So much for a rest day next as we decided to use our Disney tickets on the Tuesday. The drive took about 1 hour 15 minutes and the toll was €2.10. The directions to Marne la Vallee were so easy and took us straight to the car park at Disneyland Paris (€15 euros to park for the day). Even though we were there on a ‘low season’ day, we still had to cue for up to an hour on some of the rides so use the Fast Pass option if you can. Thumbs up from the kids for Thunder Mountain, Haunted House, Buzz Lightyear, Star Tours. Thumbs down for Snow White, Pirates of the Carribean and Peter Pan. My advice is take snacks, take drinks, take a backpack to carry them, take sunhats, study the map before you go and talk to the people in the line. I met a fascinating family from New Zealand who had taken their kids out of school for 6 months to travel around Europe. What an adventure!
We wanted to also see the Walt Disney Studios next door to Disney so we made our way and hoped to catch the Lights, Motors, Action! Show. Not only was it a chance to sit down for an hour but the children were spellbound with the amazing stunts, explosions and a guest appearance from Lightening McQueen. Do not leave this park until you have been on the Ratatouille ride, it was fantastic! Our day finished with a fab meal at Planet Hollywood, located in the Disney village, followed by two fast asleep children on the drive home.
THE CITY OF PARIS
To be this close to Paris and not show the kids this wonderfully famous city would be mean and I couldn’t decide to take the bus trip from the site or to drive, but I also didn’t fancy trying to navigate the streets of Paris so, in the end, I had the brainwave of driving back to Disneyland, parking there for the day and getting the train into Paris from the station which is literally a stones throw from the Disneyland entrance. Genius! Buy tickets for the RER A (€30 return for 3 of us) and within half an hour you are experiencing the Parisian way of life. After much contemplation I decided we should get off at Les Halles, from there it was a short walk to Le Louvre and the fabulous architecture surrounding it. The kids weren’t bothered about seeing the Mona Lisa or any other art for that fact, so we decided not to join the HUGE line waiting to get in but we did take tons of pictures of the glass pyramids. We ambled through Jardin des Tuileries, taking in the sights and sounds, we stopped to watch baby ducks in the pond and then we headed to the Eiffel Tower. Even though we could see it, we never seemed to get any closer so in the end I rented a man with a bike who I managed to negotiate down from €60 to €20 (I may be English but I can still smell a rip off from a distance), it still would have been cheaper to get a taxi but, hey ho, YOLO. The tower did not disappoint and the kids were thrilled to finally see it with their own eyes. We had a meal, we talked about life in general and it was during this conversation that I realised just how grown up my children were getting and what a pleasure it was to be in their company and to see things I’d seen before but through their eyes. Paris was amazing and we certainly didn’t have enough time to experience a fraction of what it had to offer, we needed to get back home so we took a taxi back to Les Halles and arrived back at Disneyland shortly after. It was at this point that we all got our second wind so we had dinner and the biggest Candyflosses I have ever seen in the Disney Village. I then lost the contents of my purse in the giftshop. So many things to buy, so little room in the car.
LA CROIX DU VIEUX PONT
We could have easily not had to leave La Croix du Vieux Pont for the entire week if we were so inclined, there was so much to do: Trampoline Bungee, Pedalo Boats, Assault Course, Fishing, Swimming, Table Tennis, Bowling, Disco’s, Laser Quest, Pool, Football, Spa, Bouncy Castle, children’s playground (one near the beach, one near the tent pitches), Bicycle Hire. Some of these activities did incur a small charge but €6 to see my child being flung into the air on Bungee cords was worth it. We really did fall in love with the whole place but the one thing that could have been a bit better was the takeaway, Berny Burger. The food was great (pizza, burgers etc) but the waiting times were pretty bad. There was nowhere inside to wait so the people who were waiting outside weren’t sure if their order number had been called and kept interrupting the girl taking the orders. Chaos! This could have been simplified with an electronic board on the outside showing order numbers and therefore eliminating the scrum. My advice is to get there early, they open at 5.30, be there before that.
On day one I noticed an interaction between Violet and one of the kids from the pitch next door, it went exactly like this…
‘Hi, my name is Isla, I’m 6. Do you want to be my friend?’
…and, just like that, they became BFF’s. If only it was that easy to make friends as an adult! Isla had sisters and for the rest of the week my two and the 3 next door made daisy chains, played catch, swam together and just relished in each others company. The general feeling of the site was just so safe and I could thoroughly relax for the week.
WOULD I DO IT AGAIN?
I spoke to many families during our week and I wasn’t very surprised on how people positively gushed about La Croix du Vieux Pont. For most, it was a return journey, for some it was a new experience, and others had booked with Canvas Holidays for years but to their other destinations. They all, without exception, raved about Canvas and how excellent their campsites and facilities were. The location is quiet enough to get away from it all yet close enough to explore the cities surrounding this idyllic area. The drive is just about doable in a day (easy if you live in the South) With hindsight I should have taken two weeks to do what we did in a week but the kids are saying it was the ‘best holiday EVER!’ and that, dear readers, is truly what counts.Of course we’ll do it again but now the hard part is do we go back to the same place or try another of Canvas Holiday’s destinations? The kids want to stay in one of the Safari Tents next time, so that narrows it down a bit, check them out here.
DETAILS OF OUR TRIP
I love where I live but sometimes the thought crosses my mind to move down South. This thought is especially prevalent on a 7 hour journey from the Northwest of England to Essex, a journey which should have taken about 4 hours. Well, I did decide to travel to France on a bank holiday weekend. My bad!
For the great rate of £45, WITH breakfast for myself and the 2 kids, we stayed at Premier Inn in East Thurrock and from start to finish could not fault the facilities, location or food. I had to break the journey up with a night here as I didn’t fancy 9 hours driving in one day and early next morning we made the journey to Dover in about an hour to catch our P&O ferry to Calais. I am always super early and after a very friendly stop and search episode we were allowed to board on an earlier departure. I’d never been on a car ferry before but the process couldn’t have been simpler: show your passports, swap witty repartee, get given a lane number, drive to said numbered lane and wait to be guided in, spend 90 minutes not looking out of the windows (seasickness), have a meal in the restaurant, get escorted off, Bienvenue Francais!
Our campsite was booked through Canvas Holidays and was a very seamless and slick booking process. Their customer service cannot be faulted.
THINGS I WOULD HAVE DONE DIFFERENTLY
We would have loved to have stayed longer than a week. We did a LOT of what La Croix du Vieux Pont had to offer but there was so much more that we didn’t do too. You will never be bored!
Disney CANNOT be done in one day. Next time we will definitely stay in one of the Disney hotels for a night.
Instead of trying to show the kids the WHOLE of France I should have relaxed a little on excursions and just trusted that, with their new found friendships and the sun shining, they would have been just as happy to not go anywhere else and just chill.
I wouldn’t have taken the contents of our wardrobes. Just because we didn’t have to weigh the suitcases I went a bit nuts with the packing. Less is best.
In summary, we had a fantastic week and a few tears were shed upon leaving. Driving in France is easy, even on your own with two kids. I will definitely use Canvas Holiday’s again, they have completely changed my view about campsites and what to expect. Thank you for having us, you haven’t seen the last of us!
Click the links and go and make some memories of your own.
[stextbox id=”tmk-box”]To book your own European adventure check out the website http://www.canvasholidays.co.uk/ Happy 50th birthday Canvas Holidays! [/stextbox]
Think big and reach for the stars,
We received a press pass from Canvas Holidays and the words and images are my own.