Posted on October 7th, 2016 - Fiona
Every year on our family holiday to France a day on the river and a day at the beach form two of the ‘must do’ activities of the week. Without exception the kids voted for the familiarity of Palavas beach; my yearning to explore somewhere new would have to wait again. It is over an hour’s drive from our cousin’s home in Uzes and much further than a beach trip at home, but it offers a very different experience and one the children look forward to each year.
No sooner had we placed our bags on the sand than the kids were in the sea. After Cornwall the Mediterranean feels so beautifully warm and it is a treat to be in the water without the palaver of a wetsuit. I briefly stalked everyone with my camera before following them into the water.
Acutely aware of the midday sun building, I reminded everyone coming out the water to put sun cream on before they tucked into the picnic bag.
I’m sure my parents always used to make me stay out of the water after eating in case of cramp. Since I had no idea if this was an old wives’ tale or not I let them head over to the road bridge over Palavas beach to see if they were still brave enough to jump in. Of course they were! Clio was especially proud as she lost the confidence to try last summer. Round and round they went, jumping, somersaulting and backwards jumping. Just for once they even encouraged me to film them then rushed round to watch themselves.
Farmer Nick is not a fan of beach sitting and so I knew he would want to go for a stroll round to the harbour. At the thought of some expensive yachts to admire Alistair decided to join us while the rest of the kids stayed on the beach and in the sea.
Just beyond the harbour I could see the cable cars we saw last year. Back then we had been exploring in swimwear with no money on us, this time we were more prepared and splashed out on the 3 euro return tickets to take us across the water.
On the other side we found ourselves in a pretty little tourist resort. I was in my element browsing the street shops. The boys on the other hand found it a very poor second to yacht dreaming!
By the time we caught up with the others we were more than ready to cool off with a swim. I don’t know how the hours slipped by so fast, it was already going to be a late supper again, but somehow on holiday, with no timetable to stick to, it really didn’t matter.
Tips for visiting Palavas Beach
- The toll motorway goes right down past Montpellier to within 10 minutes of the beach making it easy to find. Follow signs for Palavas-les-Flots
- Parking is free along the road, though parking spaces can be hard to find at peak times. There are beach car parks which you can pay for, these are fairly quiet due to the amount of street parking available.
- There are toilets along Palavas beach front at intervals but you will need a euro to use them and may need to walk as we have always found a few out of order.
- There are beach showers to rinse off sand and sea water.
- The sea is very gently shelving and sandy underfoot.
- Access is good for buggies and wheelchairs all along the promenade which runs right next to the beach.
- There are a few water sport activity points and pedalos to hire.
- Beachside bars and restaurants are within easy reach if you don’t fancy a picnic.
- This is primarily a family beach, although there is a nudist section much further along the beach away from the family attractions. With 7km of beach it is easy to find a spot that suits you.
Posted on September 30th, 2016 - Fiona
For the third in my series of posts from our holiday in France I’m sharing our Tree Top Adventure. We last tried this back in 2013. Back them, we had never been on, or seen anything like this before but it was so popular with everyone bar farmer Nick, we have been campaigning to return ever since.
3 years ago the triplets were just nine years old and too young to complete all the adult runs. This time at twelve they were just able to do the full set including the famous black run with its scary wire bridge across the canyon.
It was an hour’s drive from our cousin’s house in Uzes and so arriving at lunchtime, the first thing on the kid’s minds was food. We found a beautiful shady bench overlooking the river Gardon for our picnic.
Next to the picnic benches were some tightrope challenges. They just had to be tested and proved the perfect way to limber up and practice balance before our tree top adventure.
Replenished and loosened up after our drive we checked in with the guides. I was pleased to see the safety harnesses had improved since our last visit. Back then a forgotten clip could be serious; now the clips and harnesses had a safely feature to ensure while off the ground, you always had at least one of your safety ropes attached to an overhead wire. I was glad of the detailed explanation in English on how to use the equipment before we began.
Even after our briefing there was a trainer trail to complete before we could be let loose on the serious course. A chance for plenty of family banter for anyone finding themselves in a muddle!
Finally with our training complete we were ready to begin. The kids all put me last so I didn’t hold them up, cheeky I thought, but in fact they were quite right, I was the most nervous and scared of all and just thrilled to be joining them and not welching out to take the photos. Though it did mean balancing my phone precariously in my bum bag and trying not to shake as I risked letting go (harness attached) to grab the odd snap from up high. I was kicking myself for forgetting to charge the Go Pro after kayaking on the river the previous day.
The Red Run began at ground level so I was able to video a clip of the boys receiving their briefing and setting off.
By the time we finished I couldn’t have been more proud of my athletic kids and their tree top adventure. However my real star was Clio who hung back to encourage me not to quit when I really thought I couldn’t cling on. Together we completed the black run and wobbled over the final terrifying canyon to meet up with the boys.
All in all this was a huge success and a real highlight of our holiday, although it did leave some of us quite exhausted.
Our Tree Top Adventure on Video
Tips for attempting a Tree Top Adventure
- We went to Abracadabranch in the South of France
- Prices were around 20 euros each making it an expensive day for all of us.
- Take plenty of drinks, we ran out despite taking several litres of water and ended up investing in more there which thankfully was available to buy.
- At Abracadabranch there is only one loo and it is a composting toilet in a B&Q style shed – be warned!
- Road signs are pretty poor, we relied on our cousins for directions heading out of Ales, as you are almost there before you see any signs.
- Take off any rings a they will rub when you are hanging onto the ropes.
- I wish I’d taken cycling gloves. I ended up ripping the skin off my fingers clinging onto the wire ropes hauling myself up to ledges.
- Wear comfy flexible clothing. I wore my running gear. Shirts and T shirt are fine so long as you have good movement.
- You need a moderate level of fitness, my arm strength let me down and my shoulders ached the following day.
- Allow 3 hours to complete all the runs.
- If you are a little nervous try not to have a big crowd with you on the more tricky sections like the long wire bridge as it will make it more bendy and hard to keep your balance and grip. The boys thought this was hilarious, Clio and I crossed solo!
- Remember the harnesses will save you if you are in trouble so never panic or it will zap your strength. Just try and you might surprise yourself. I don’t have a great head for heights but still loved the adrenaline rush of completing each stage.
- Listen carefully to the safety briefing, it is quite straightforward when you get the hang of it but requires concentration.
- If you try this abroad make sure you are fluent in the language or choose a venue with English speaking guides as we did.
- Many of the UK Forestry Commission sites in the UK offer a similar tree top adventure with smaller courses for younger children too.
Posted on September 25th, 2016 - Fiona
I thought I was done with the emotional roller coaster of the first day of school. At age twelve to eighteen my children are all growing up and finding their independence. Their need for me and their Dad is reducing all the time and this independence is something I’ve always encouraged. However I failed to factor in just how emotional taking the first to University would be. Suddenly I felt like a parent taking my child to his first day at primary all over again; except worse, I wouldn’t be returning to collect him with a big hug in a few hours.
Off to Cardiff University
When Alistair secured his place at Cardiff University I was so happy for him, it was an exciting new world opening up. The days closed in and as we drove up I could feel the apprehension in the car. A cocktail of nervous excitement from Alistair and a quiet dread of saying goodbye from me. Thankfully it was a beautiful day and the bridge into Wales felt very welcoming.
Nick had driven up separately as Alistair was keeping his car with him. As we met at his new halls of residence it felt like time had stood still from 30 years ago and my own first day. That same smell, a cross between school and a hospital, the old fire doors, bike lock up and small rooms. However a friendly group of early arriving girls keenly welcomed Ally to the group on his floor and I felt things were going to work out at university. He even had a cracking view over the city and Cardiff bay from his 5th floor window.
We were blessed with the most amazing September weather and took Ally for brunch in Cardiff bay. I’m already looking forward to return trips and Nick is exploring the idea of hiring a boat to blast across from Padstow to Cardiff which he thinks would only take an hour.
With a big supermarket shop done there was no more need for us to be there. It was time for us to bid him Goodbye and let him find his feet alone. I was determined not to cry but as Nick pointed out the family photos he had secretly packed and pinned up on his notice board I almost cracked. I walked out with a huge lump in my throat, but reassured this little cuckoo was well set up for his new university life.
I had to wait a full 36 hours before I had my first Facebook message. He had been out to his first freshers party and it was “awesome” relief flooded through me. He is hopeless at staying in contact so I treasure the occasional message and I’m trying not to keep asking how he is. I don’t want to be an annoying parent, but it is so hard to just let go and not wonder how he is doing. I remember all too clearly blaming vandalised payphones when I forgot to ring home, though I guess the modern day equivalent would be ‘my phone was out of charge or credit’!
Ally has left a big gap in our family life but we are learning to adjust, it is every bit as hard as I feared and I think about him all the time. Whoever is on dinner time table laying duty is still setting out eight places instead of seven. I can’t believe I may have to do this 5 more times over the coming years. If you have a little one just started primary, watch out, the heartache at leaving them certainly doesn’t get easier as they get older. Once a parent, always a parent, even when they fly the nest.
Posted on September 23rd, 2016 - Fiona
Each year on our family holiday to France one of the highlights of the week is kayaking down the Gardon. This is our 4th year and I was worried it may have lost its appeal. I couldn’t have been more wrong, old rivalries and competitive family banter kept the day as fun filled as ever.
Let the adventure begin
Just to kayak the 8km from the start to the collection point would take 2.5 hours, however we always manage to spin it out into a full day trip.
Half the fun is in stopping to moor up and swim along the way, jump from the rocks and enjoy a picnic. Sometimes it feels like we have only just begun paddling again before someone spots another good stopping place. Every year their favourite jumping places beckon and the confidence of their jumping increases. It certainly makes jumping from the Coombe Mill Bridge look rather tame!
The picnic I make beforehand seems to vanish in minutes, but kayaking is hungry work!
Pont du Gard
One place we always make time to stop and swim is at the famous Pont du Gard. It is such an impressive site as you turn the corner and see the elaborate viaduct towering overhead. There is actually parking there and many day trippers are lining the banks too enjoying a family day, it takes all our best kayaking to navigate between the swimmers with much calls of “Attention, Pardon” as we skim by.
It’s all about winning!
After the Pont du Gard it is a long row along the open waters of the Gardon to the finishing line. By tradition we are always with ‘Kayak Vert’ which is the last stop. As usual it was a battle for the finishing line between us all with Team Ally, Clio and Jed winning.
While waiting for the bus to take us the 8k upstream back to the car we jumped in for one last swim together with much laughter at the funny moments of the day from a person overboard, a kayak with a paddle floating off, who became stuck in the reeds or beached by choosing the wrong course.
Our 4th visit certainly hadn’t lost its appeal and I’m sure we will be back for a new family challenge in 2017.
Tips for kayaking on the river Gardon
Wear swimwear as it always gets wet inside the boats.
Life jackets are issued though the river isn’t very deep in most places.
The trip is suitable for all ages from age 3 upwards.
There are waterproof barrels issued with each kayak for keeping valuables and clothes dry.
Take a picnic it is hungry work and plenty of water.
Going in a group makes it competitive and good fun.
Average fitness is fine, all my children managed and I had no issue with little arm strength, the current does half the work for you!
Coaches leave from Collias where there is a free car park and return you to your car at the end.
Prices are around 16 Euros each so it isn’t cheap but is a great day out for all the family.
The river section includes passing through the famous Pont du Gard.
Posted on September 16th, 2016 - Fiona
You know when you find a holiday that is right for you and your family and you just keep returning? Staying with family in Uzes in the south of France is that holiday for us. It isn’t the 750mile drive across France or the night of missed sleep on a ferry, it isn’t the 35 degree heat or the mosquito bites all of which I could live without. However it is the warm welcome we receive when we arrive, the way we instantly relax into holiday mode and watch 10 kids enjoy each other’s company picking up where they left off the year before.
Running a holiday business ourselves it is very hard to take holidays but with a lot of planning and Amber, our duty manager in charge back at Coombe Mill, we can enjoy a week away in the school holidays ourselves. This year was a special one for me, as I fear it may be the last time we all go away as a family. Alistair is off to University this weekend and who knows what his plans will be by next summer. I know neither Nick nor I were taking family holidays by his age and so this year was one for making the most of having my family together. We made full use of our time with some wonderful day trips and adventures I will share soon, however whatever we did by day there was always some favourite activities at our cousins’ house that brought us all together.
Ping Pong tournaments.
Despite having our own ping pong table at Coombe Mill, I swear we all play more games in a week in France than all year at home; it must be the freedom of time on holiday.
Pool side fun
With soaring temperatures this year the pool was always in use. The kids made up their own games which seemed to involve much dunking and throwing in of each other. It was lovely to watch them all frolicking around together with banter flying through the air.
Al fresco dining
Meal times are a social occasion with so many of us, from watching the sun rise over breakfast to setting over dinner, we all met for meal times soaking up the stunning view from the veranda. I wish we had more days in Cornwall where you could guarantee the warmth to eat al fresco sitting out till late.
My idea of relaxation
In my free time on holiday or at home I like to do something physical and sporty. We took a couple of bikes with us and I managed to pack in plenty of cycling with my eldest and enjoy my favourite running routes along the ancient route from Serves to Uzes passing sunflower fields, vineyards and fig trees should I need to refuel along the way!
It is only a 5 minute walk from our cousin’s house into the centre of Uzes and whether it is shopping in the market by day or walking the streets by night the charm of Uzes can’t fail to capture the heart. The imposing town castle is still the personal home of the Duke to this day.
This beautiful part of France is where I switch off and relax into holiday mode. It is my happy place and I now understand how people say this to me about holidays with us at Coombe Mill. It is all about finding somewhere you feel comfortable and able to really appreciate quality family time. I’m already planning our 5th visit and daring to hope that maybe all of my children will want to come just one more time.