Jan 22nd
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Jaunts-France & Wales

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Jaunts around Europe

    One of the few advantages of living on the edge of Continental Europe, rather than in it, is that we have fewer invasions – and we get to keep our own currency, at least for the time being. Now that there are so many affordable ways to get across the English Channel, however, we may be open to more invasions, but we are also Jumping for joy on Brighton Pier,able to get across and visit all of those interesting countries a lot more easily. Trains run from London stations into the middle of Europe, airlines such as Easyjet offer cheap flight options, and the tunnel and ferries make driving there a breeze.

Encore France

    Once again, last summer, my husband and I, along with our two sons, opted to head over to France, mostly because we have friends to visit, but also because it’s such a fascinating country with so many different experiences. It’s also noticeably less expensive than the UK – and we can drive there.
    This time, we chose the southern Atlantic coast, and stayed at a small seaside town, Contis-Plage, about halfway between Bordeaux and the Spanish border. We took two days to drive down from England, with an almost-halfway stop to visit our French friends in La Fleche, on the Loir river (a tributary of the Loire). A highlight of the stop was an interesting discussion - in our very best Franglais - about why continental Europeans are so much more multilingual than the British (or, for that matter, the Americans). I guess it goes back to that invasion thing.

Let’s Go Surfin’Now

    The next morning, we left our La Fleche friends at noon and continued south. The seaside town of Contis-Plage is in an area called Les Landes, which has grown out of what is essentially reclaimed land. It’s a little-known area, and very surprising. Although the Landaise landscape is, like that of western Oregon, mostly evergreen trees, the architecture is a fascinating mix of Tudor and Disney kitsch, with most unusual houses Canoeing near Contis-Plage.popping up out of clearings in the forests.
    We reached Contis-Plage at around 6pm on Saturday (the usual check-in day in France), in time to check in at the Lous-Seurrots Campground, where we had booked a chalet, alongside the chalets of friends and family (www. The chalet, which sleeps six but was very comfortable for 4, cost us Euros 784 per week (peak-season rate). The campground was not a Eurocamp full of English people, but a French campground, with mostly French, Germans, and Dutch visitors. It’s exceptionally well run and we found continental Europeans to be great campers - very respectful of others.
    The campsite provided loads of activities  – exercise classes, tai chi, tennis, archery, volleyball, basketball, dance lessons, badminton, beach soccer, table tennis, and, of course, petanque. There were four swimming pools of varying depths, and two full-time lifeguards. The pools are popular in the full heat of day, so get there early if you want a good spot or a lounger. There’s a restaurant next to the swimming area, where you can get a good sit-down meal, or a big basket of hot frites when the children get the munchies after a couple of hours in the water.
    The campsite has chalets, mobile homes for rent, and a big tent area. There is a shop on site providing most essentials, including fresh bread and pastries all day.
    For less inflated grocery prices, there’s a Shopi in nearby St Julien en Born, and an Auchan in Lit et Mixe Playing chess on the porch of our chalet at Lous-Seurrots Campground.(about 7 miles away). While you’re at the supermarket, you might want to fill up your gas tank, as the prices seem significantly lower than anywhere else. It’s important to remember that most French gas stations are closed on Sundays (except motor-way stops), and all automated pumps take only French credit cards.
    Contis is basically a surfing town, with added extras. The long, sandy beaches are great for flying kites, surfing, or swimming – but the surf can get pretty rough, so watch out for safe-bathing markers. The town also offers canoeing (around Euros 30 for a four-person canoe), bike riding through the woods, and fishing. There’s also a miniature golf course as well as rather interesting outdoor bowling, where you pull up your own pins with a rope. The town also has a spectacular lighthouse, which you can tour.
    On Wednesdays and Saturdays, there’s a small market in Contis, but if you prefer something bigger, the market at Lit et Mixe is well worth a visit, and open most mornings. We also found a fabulous pottery store on the main road between St Julien en Born and the next big town, Mimizan – really cool stuff.
    Although most of our holiday was spent in Contis itself, there were plenty of day trip possibilities, including Lourdes, an outdoor ecomuseum at Marqueze (accessible only by special train); the Dune du Pilat (Europe’s highest sand dune – climb it if you have the energy); and Zoo du Bassin d’Arcachon (southwest of Bordeaux), a small, family-style zoo with the biggest bearpit in Europe. It’s also possible to drive down to Spain for the day. The town of Pamplona, where the bulls run, is within fairly easy reach.Duncan holds a falcon at the Manor House Wild Animal Park.
    One lunchtime, we drove to St Julien en Born, a couple of miles inland, and found a small restaurant on a lake, where you could hire pedalos for a couple of Euros per half hour. We had great fun paddling about and exploring the lake and, in fact, we were the only people on it. After our adventure, we stopped at the restaurant for an al fresco lunch. It was very peaceful.
    We stayed in Contis for two weeks where we had friendly hosts and mostly gorgeous weather (apart from one all-out thunder storm). Every lunch was eaten on the chalet patio, with warm bread and a cool breeze, followed by a little light reading and a nap. Then it was off to the beach and, on the way back, a stop for chocolate crepes. After a shower, back to town, for a plate of the area’s speciality, moules et frites (mussels and fries). It is a truly relaxing vacation spot.

Adieu France

    On the way back home, we stopped off in the northern part of the Dordogne, near Nontron, to see how our friends, the Gentrys were getting on with their renovations. The Gentrys are an Anglo-South African couple who sold their travel agency in Oregon and retired to rural France, where they bought an old farmhouse and barns. They are converting the buildings into a home for themselves and a gite for hire. As I write this, they are having a pool built, and hope to be up and running for business by June. The farmhouse is called Chez Gourjout and is within easy walking distance of the nearest town - and particularly the bakery. If you’re interested in finding out about accommodations at Chez Gourjout, you can contact the Gentrys by e-mail (susanrogerg@ or phone (5-53-5646 35)


    The year 2004 was, for us, a year of revisiting. In May, we had our second family trip to Wales – this time, further west, near the popular seaside town of Tenby. Everyone expects the Welsh weather to be foul in May, but we found it warm enough for a day on the beach.
    Together with my parents and an aunt and uncle – all visiting from South Africa – we rented a cottage called Bumblers, which we booked through FBM Holidays (www.fbmholi for around £800 for the week. Bumblers is located in the sleepy village of St Florence, less than 5 miles inland from Tenby. With four good-sized bedrooms, two-and-a-half bathrooms, a large garden, two sitting rooms, including one with a pool table and a working organ as well as a store just 20 feet from the front door. Bumblers is no longer available for rent, but FBM has plenty of other properties in the area.
    Once again, we found Wales to be remarkably child-friendly, and there were more places to visit than days in which to visit them. These included the Dinosaur Park (Tel. 01834-845272) with a small zoo, rides, and woodland full of model dinosaurs; the Manor House Wild Animal Park (, situated in the wooded grounds of an 18th Century manor house and featuring falconry displays; and the Silent World Aquarium and Reptile Collection (www.silent Monorbier, built inside a 19th century chapel and featuring local and exotic sea-life as well as a selection of reptiles and daily reptile-handling sessions.
    If you’re hankering for a day at the beach, Saundersfoot is just a few miles from Tenby and has cheap daily parking. There is a huge, child-friendly beach, plus some great little seaside stores. Because of the volume of visitors in the summer, the local police force is well prepared for lost children, with sniffer dogs and even helicopters at the ready. Very reassuring.
    Wales is spilling over with castles of all shapes and sizes. We visited two, the better-known Pembroke Castle, which dates back around 1000 years, and the truly spectacular, but well-hidden Manorbier Castle ( html). The whole of the castle can be rented and sleeps 10-12 people. What a treat! If you’re interested, look at
    The highlight of the week for us, though, was our trip out to Caldey Island (, a short boat ride from Tenby. The island is privately owned by the Reformed Cistercian Community, but can be visited between Easter and the end of October. The monks make their own perfumes and hand- made chocolates, when they’re not attending one of seven daily church services, or riding around on mopeds. There is a small café on the island, but other- wise you’re on your own to wander around, view the monastery from the outside, and explore the island and the bird and seal sanctuary on nearby St Margaret Island. We went to Caldey on a wet, blustery day and, as a really bad sailor, I was surprised to find the boat-ride more exhilarating than nauseating. It was a fascinating day’s excursion.

Brighton Rocks

    In late October, we nipped down to Brighton just for the weekend because my sister-in-law had raved so much about the fun they’d had there with their children. We stayed in their favourite hotel, the Royal Albion, which we found to be tired and had to change rooms before we found a spectacular view. You can book the hotel at www.britannia, although you should look at other websites for deals. We paid around £200 for the four of us for two nights, bed and breakfast – with an excellent breakfast.
    If the hotel was only passable, you may wonder why we bothered with it. The answer is definitely location, the Royal Albion is located on the beachfront, directly op-posite famous Brighton Pier (fun rides for all) and the Aquarium (better known for its Victorian architecture than its sea-life – which the boys loved), and just a ten-minute walk from the lavish Royal Pavilion (www.royalpavilion. and The Lanes shopping district, which is heaving with boutiques and antique jewelry.
    I wouldn’t want to spend a whole vacation in Brighton (I prefer my beaches sandy), but it’s a very trendy town and really great fun for a weekend.

Day Trips

    As usual, we’ve had day trips all over the local countryside, but the most outstanding have been
to Longleat Safari Park and Warwick Castle.
    Longleat ( is a combination of a fairly extensive wildlife park in the vast grounds of a manor house, which also features a bizarre mixture of mazes, adventure playgrounds, boat and train rides, a Duncan and Morgan in the stock at Warwick Castle.butterfly garden and much more. A day ticket, which includes almost all of these attractions, costs £16 per adult and £13 per child.
    There are plenty of places to eat at Longleat, but there are also some lovely picnic areas – although, once again, wasps were a big problem this summer. We always take our chances, though, because it’s such fun to bite into a Marmite sandwich while looking across acres of glorious countryside to
a great big manor house.
    Warwick Castle ( is surely everyone’s idea of a fairytale castle, and offers almost everything you associate with such a place – dungeons, ghosts, strolling players, archery and, during the summer, jousting tournaments. It’s worth checking the website to see what festivals are on, and then booking in advance. Prices vary according
to season. It’s a popular destination so you’ll want to get there early.
    With my parents coming to live permanently with us this year, and with plenty of building work to be done on their accommodation, we’ll probably have to restrict our travel fairly locally – but there’s always plenty to see and do, so stay tuned…


Where was Solomon born?

This is Solomon, a new born Humpback whale. He provided hours of entertainment for our group of whale watchers. Where was Solomon born? Click here to find out.

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