We got back from an amazing two weeks in France over a week ago now, and I’ve finally had time to sort through all the photos.
Despite heading to the Charente-Maritime, the region of France with the highest number of annual hours of sunshine, we didn’t have the best weather. Our two-week break started with three days of glorious sunshine, but then it turned cool, cloudy and we even had rain!
Still, we made the most of the family time, exploring this beautiful region on France’s west coast.
I’ll be writing in more detail about the beautiful child-friendly gite we stayed in, as well as some of the family-friendly attractions in the region. In the meantime though, here are some snapshots from our holiday.
We weren’t there in an official reviewing capacity, we just wanted to share our experiences, in the hope it will be useful for other families planning on travelling to the region.
We travelled with Brittany Ferries overnight from Portsmouth to St Malo, leaving around 8pm. The sea looked so beautiful with the sun setting on it. It was my children’s very first ferry ride and they were really excited. We loved the on-board entertainment of a disco, singer and magician. They thought the cabin with two sets of bunk beds was brilliant fun… although there are five of us and only four beds so I shared with my wriggly three-year-old, Littlest Boy I, and got no sleep.
The drive across France
We got off the ferry at about 8am in the morning after our overnight sailing. Little Miss E, our seven-year-old eldest child, has been practicing speaking French and was super excited to order croissants for us all. We got five croissants so the lady obviously understood! We had a four hour drive across France from St Malo to the Charente Maritime region. Cardiff Daddy was happy to drive, thank goodness because I’m not sure I would have been brave enough driving on the other side of the road! The journey was beautiful – a lot of dual carriageways and motorways but through the scenic French countryside. At this point of our holiday, the sun was still shining!
La Grange Moulin child-friendly gites is perfect for families with young children. I’ll be writing more about it in another post, but here’s a sneak preview. It used to be farm buildings but was transformed into holiday gites by Wendy and Chris, an English couple, who now rent the cottages out to mostly British families with children aged eight and under. It was perfect for us – not as full on as a big campsite but more sociable than staying in a house on your own.
All the other families were so friendly, with the children running in and out of each other’s houses and playing together until 10pm most nights while the parents sat around drinking wine and chatting. We made some lovely friends. The views from the back of the gite, over the fields, were stunning.
The boulangerie and local market
The French have the right idea when it comes to bread – freshly baked, bought daily and so tasty. It’s made me vow to use our bread maker more. We used to use it loads… and then I had three kids and two jobs…
This one was next to the local market we visited in St-Jean d’Angley. Of course, we have markets back home but everything looks so much prettier with the sun shining down. We stocked up on fresh fruit and vegetables. Miss E loved these beautiful flowers, which looked so perfect in our rustic accommodation.
La Rochelle is the capital of the Charente Maritime region, and about an hour from our accommodation. We took a little boat across the port and had lunch in one of the waterside restaurants, even managing to find something with a reasonable vegetarian option for me. (France is not great for vegetarians.) We had the biggest ice creams in Ernest Le Glacier and then headed to the aquarium.
Saintes and the Roman ampitheatre
Little Man O, my five-year-old middle child, loves the Romans. He is lucky enough to have been to Rome earlier this year where we saw the Colosseum and the roman remains at Ostia Antica. This ampitheatre pre-dates the Colosseum by 40 years. Apparently it was in near perfect condition until the 17th century, when the stones were removed to build two local cathedrals. Saintes itself was beautiful; we had lunch alongside the river.
La Palmyre Zoo
I have mixed feelings on zoos. Part of me is sad to see animals living in captivity and not in the wild. But I also know what an important role zoos play in helping to protect endangered species, understanding more about animals so we can help them in the wild. La Palmyre is one of the best zoos we’ve been to; so much to see, lots of shaded areas, most of the animals had big enclosures (although some could have ben bigger). Before we went, I was reading on their website about the work they do in animal conservation. For example, they have a group of South African penguins, but they also fund the Southern African Foundation of Coastal Birds, which rescues underweight, ill or abandoned chicks, before releasing them back into their natural habitat. I’ll be including more on the zoo in my round-up post of family days out in Charente Maritime, coming soon.
The sunflower fields
Everywhere we went, we saw field after field of the most beautiful sunflowers. Naturally, we had to stop to take some photos of the kids in the sunflowers. They are at their best during early and mid July. By the end of our trip, we noticed a lot of the fields of flowers starting to wilt and lose their beautiful yellow colour.
Vallee des Singes / Monkey Valley
An hour and a quarter from where we were staying, we loved this place. All the different species of monkeys and primates roam free in large open areas, full of trees, plants and climbing structures. We found the best time to see the gorillas, chimpanzees and bonobos was at feeding time, when the lure of food enticed them out of their woodland. We couldn’t really understand what the keepers was saying, but watching the primates eat was fascinating. I’ll be including more on the monkey sanctuary in my round-up post of family days out in Charente Maritime, coming soon.
Just wow! The sunsets for the first few days were incredible. Not so good when the rubbish weather set in. I live in a city and tend to go more for seaside holidays, but a countryside sunset, with the fields glowing in the light, is beautiful.
Especially with a glass of wine in hand! I usually opt for Italian wines, but I had fun trying out a few French ones.
We’re from Wales… we’re used to going to the beach when it’s cold. And we even had a picnic on the sand!
Driving in the rain
Nope, not rural Wales. The sunniest region of France! Wendy and Chris, who owned the gite we were staying in, said they have never known a summer like it.
The D-Day beaches and museum at Utah Beach, Normandy
The final stop on our French adventure was the D-Day landing beaches and museum at Utah Beach, about 45 minutes from the ferry port at Cherbourg, from where we were sailing home. As I said to my children, it is probably one of the most important places they have ever visited, changing the course of the Second World War. They know a lot about the war because my Grandad, who died two years ago, was a co-pilot in the RAF during the war, so we were keen for them to understand more.
The museum was incredible, with so many artefacts, such as uniforms, weapons and utensils. Some of it was found on the beaches as recent as 10 years ago, when the museum was being built. We watched a moving documentary video in the museum, which really brought to life what it must have been like for the troops landing and battling the German soldiers. The beach is so tranquil now, it’s difficult to imagine such horrors. There are many monuments in memory of those who fought. I found it incredibly moving and it wasn’t long before the tears were flowing.
See more of our adventures in the Family Travel section of Cardiff Mummy Says