Well hello! How are you all? We have returned from a blissful holiday in France and are slowly easing ourselves back into normal life. It is all too tempting to show you Every Single Photo I took while we were away and I will try to spare you that - one chateau does begin to look a lot like another unless you visited them, despite their beauty - but I really want to share some of the best bits of our holiday with you because, my goodness, it really was a good holiday, probably the best one we've ever had as a family.
Here are some postcards, if you will. A lot of these photos were taken on my phone, largely for convenience and practicality. It was often too hot to have a heavy DSLR around your neck. If you follow me on Instagram you'll have already seen a few photos, posted when I could connect to the temperamental WiFi in the bar, so I've tried to choose different ones here.
The holiday began with the overnight ferry from Portsmouth to St Malo. Highlights: the epic sunset and harbour views as we left Portsmouth, and the children's excitement. Low points: a really rubbish night's sleep and the children's excitement.
We stayed in the Loire Valley in a campsite near the town of Saumur. My parents were already on the site in their caravan, and my sisters and their families also rented mobile homes on the site while we were there. This is the ideal extended family holiday: everyone suits themselves with the daily practicalities of travel, shopping, cooking, sleeping etc, but we all spent lots of time together. We'd meet up at the pool every afternoon, hang out at each other's mobile homes in the evening. The children would all cycle off to the campsite playground to meet up with their cousins, leaving us free to read and drink wine.... Lots of space, the secret to a happy family holiday.
Our days fell into a pattern of going out somewhere for the morning before it got too hot, to explore a town or chateau, sometimes stopping for coffee or ice cream.
This area is full of chateaux and we couldn't see them all, hard as I tried. Some are more like our stately homes than what I would call a castle, while others are heavily fortified. Our favourite was Breze, with it's scarily deep moat and underground tunnels.
We'd come home for a long lunch then spend some time relaxing (children do not seem to need to digest their food before running off to swim) before heading to the pool mid afternoon and staying there till maybe 6 pm. Then we would return for showers, start the barbecue, open the wine. We did have a couple of cooler days and on those we would go out all day, take a picnic with us. But the post lunch sit down was my absolute favourite time of day and it was just heaven sitting in the shade, stitching or reading.
We did a lot of eating and minimal amounts of cooking. Bread, cheese and salad for lunch, barbecue and salad in the evening. Wine. Lots of wine.
I love nothing more than exploring a foreign supermarket, looking at the different products and packaging. Highlights: the amazing selection of fresh, locally grown produce, the range of local wine, the patisserie, frozen macarons. We bought our daily bread in bakeries if we were out and about, or at the campsite shop if not. The bread, oh my goodness, so good.
Whether you take your own tent or hire a mobile home or cabin, I think campsite life is pretty ideally suited to families. We took our bikes on the back of the car and Bella and Angus cycled all over the campsite whenever they could, and with a freedom that they just wouldn't have at home. They cycled more in ten days then they have in months, and it was wonderful for them and us. We did have a family bike ride around the quiet French lanes, in amongst the sunflowers, but it was extremely hot.
It's such a pretty region, it's no wonder it's so popular. The old wooden doors, shuttered windows with their boxes filled with geraniums, the wrought iron balconies. I took a lot of photos of doors and windows.
I can't remember when I last felt so incredibly relaxed. deep down to the core relaxed. Part of that comes from having older children who don't need to be watched like hawks at the pool, who can swim and cycle well, read when they're bored, stay up later, sleep in later, and a lot of that is just the simple fact of being on holiday, but it was so good for us to have that family time together without the distractions of school, work, tv, internet.
Well done if you made it to the end. Sorry, lots of photos. I did warn you. ;-)