The week before we went away on our summer holiday, a friend couldn’t believe I was going. “You’re exhausted,” she said. “Why on earth are you going to self-cater in a caravan?” I knew exactly what she meant, but I had my reasons. It was the kids’ fault.
My daughter, in particular, had been going on and on about “staying in a caravan” and I had given in. But I wasn’t looking forward to it. After all, how relaxing could it be?
To my astonishment, the answer to that question turned out to be “very”. In fact, the entire holiday was a revelation, and in an extremely good way. Who’d have thought that I would become a spokesperson for caravan parks?
The holiday even began well as we flew to Nantes from City Airport, as opposed to Heathrow, Gatwick or Luton. It was a wonderfully unstressful way to go. The check-in time was just half an hour before departure and there was no sense of panic. The children – used to travelling by easyJet – couldn’t believe that with CityJet they were offered free chocolates and croissants by smiling stewards.
We then picked up a hire car and after about an hour and a half, arrived at our new home at Le Bois Dormant in the Vendee Region. For some reason I have hardly ever holidayed in France, so I didn’t even know where the Vendee Region was. It is actually in western France, along the Atlantic coast and south of the Loire. And it turns out to be a brilliant region to visit with kids.
Before we arrived, all I knew was that Le Bois Dormant was a caravan/holiday home park and that it was very near its bigger (and apparently louder) neighbour, Le Bois Masson. I was tentative as we drove up, but felt relieved as we made our way in. The park seemed very welcoming and there were lots of young families.
We made our way to lot 645 and were pleasantly surprised – our home for the next week was more than liveable. It consisted of two bedrooms, a twin one for the kids, and a double one for us, a shower room, separate toilet and kitchen/dining area. It was quiet, but very near the facilities, particularly the swimming pools. It also had a terrace.
The park itself had three swimming pools and some excellent water slides which were perfect for young-ish children (i.e. not thrill seeking teenagers). My two, aged 8 and 5, loved them. There were also a few little play areas, table tennis and kids’ clubs (which my son wasn’t crazy about, partly because the helpers spoke a lot in French). The children were welcome at the clubs at either of the holiday parks, as there were more children at Le Bois Masson. My eight-year-old, Jessica, soon made friends.
One of the best things about the park was the opportunity for bike-riding. The park felt so safe (cars were not to be driven over 5mph) and the roads were very straight. But I still couldn’t believe it when my daughter (who hadn’t had much luck riding her bike without stabilisers at home) suddenly found she could actually do it. From that moment on, she happily whizzed round and round. To be honest, the holiday would have been worth it for that alone.
Our days fell into a pattern, where we stayed around the park in the morning and went out in the afternoon and for supper. There was a lot to do nearby, and thanks to the excellent weather, we made the most of the beaches.
The nearest beaches were at St Jean de Monts (a short car ride away). These were lovely, as were all the beaches we visited, although because they were so wide there was often a very long walk down to the sea.
It was fabulous to do so many things outdoors. We walked through the woods near St Jean de Monts and found zip wires and swings hanging from the trees. And we also visited the local shops and restaurants, especially the many ice-cream stores.
We travelled a lot, so I would definitely recommend hiring a car (which was also very useful for picking up food from the local supermarkets). The island of Noirmutier was enjoyable as it had a carousel, lots of restaurants, a chateau and a 12th century abbey (good for getting in some culture). On the way back we stopped at the Parc de Loisiers du Gois where the children jumped on inflatables and trampolines and went mini boating and go karting.
On another afternoon, we visited St Gilles Croix de Vie, which is famed for its sardines, and extremely pretty. It also had a carousel and all manner of fairground rides.
Our longest drive was to Les Sables d’Olonne, which took around an hour and a half. It was rather longer than we bargained for, but when we arrived we were overwhelmed, not by the shops (we had been told it was brilliant for shopping, but that’s not so helpful when you have a five-year-old) but by the long, beautiful beach. It was absolutely packed, but still fabulous.
All in all, as you’ve probably guessed, we had a great holiday. I’m not sure if this was because I didn’t have high expectations of it, but I became so sold on the whole mobile home, hiring a car and going to France idea that I’m thinking of doing it again this year…
Need to know:
A seven-night holiday at Le Bois Dormant from 24 July starts from £991 for a family staying in a two-bedroom holiday home, including a discount of £104. A two-bedroom Excellence with terrace (which we stayed in) starts from £1,236, for seven nights from 24 July.
CityJet is the largest carrier operating at London City Airport, offering a choice of nearly 600 flights a week. Flights to Nantes from London City Airport start from £57 one way, including taxes.
Car hire by Europcar (08713 849847) offer 7 days car hire from around £190
This article first appeared in The Times online.