Summer Holiday (because we may not be the Young Ones any more!)
Many wise words have been written regarding the period of parental transition that ensues when the offspring leaving home for university or a gap year. Rather less has been said about the time when nearly grown up children lose interest in the annual family holiday. Not so much an empty nest as an unnerving amount of space in a suitcase.
Parents of two late teens, my husband and I faced this dilemma this summer. For years, we'd enjoyed holidays on French campsites. We'd basked by Brittany bays, canyoned in the Cevennes, and dawdled on the Dordogne. This time both kids had other plans which didn't involve their olds.
Left to our own devices, we wondered about changing the mix. Problem was, our hearts weren't quite in it. Before you could utter bonjour, we'd booked a week at L'Etang de la Breche near Saumur in the heart of the Loire.
Not bound by term times and facing no arguments about whether hair straighteners constitute one of life's essentials, we realised that there are advantages to being nominally childless. Mindful of impending parental contributions to university overheads, we'd wanted a bargain break and we got it. During the first week of September, our comfortable two bedroom mobile home cost less than half the price in high season.
Our fears that we'd look slightly weird on a campsite without our usual two appendages proved unfounded. On the contrary, we soon realised that we'd joined a relaxed band of forty, fifty and sixty somethings who take advantage of the superb facilities at a wallet friendly price. Out of season, the campsite takes on an altogether different pace. There are no raucous ball games in the pool, no queue at the water slides, no bounce to the ping pong tables. There is, however, plenty of room to swim, ample sun loungers, a library of books and a delectable poolside bar.
Trip advisor reviewers had raved about the size of the pitches at l'Etang de la Breche, and our experience certainly lived up to expectations. French campsites always offer generous emplacements, but this Castels site is something else. There's acres of general open space on tap to explore and we spent a good few mesmerising hours watching the playful coypu by the fishing lake.
Without the familiar cries of "Mum, I'm bored", we were able to explore the Loire's stunning chateaux at our leisure. We pottered about local markets, hired canoes on the river, embraced cafe culture and even visited Richard the Lionheart's burial spot. I couldn't help a slightly sardonic smile as I pictured the curled lips that would have ensued at that particular suggestion.
At the end of a day's sightseeing, there is something magical about sitting out on private decking with a chilled glass of rosé, possibly matched only by coffee and a freshly baked pain au raisin at the start of the next.
A winning formula for families in school holidays, we concluded that French campsites offer couples and single people a relaxing, highly enjoyable break in low season. And an unforeseen bonus of our child-free break was the amount of reasonably priced beverages we could pack into our car on the drive home. Now how to get this little lot past the wine police (aka the disapproving teenagers) in da house?
It’s a long walk, but it’s well worth it when you get there.
Someone once said that a picture paints a thousand words, and that may well be right. But other times a picture asks more questions than answers. Like “How did the apple get there?” A lucky lob from an errant schoolchild or did some one climb 3 metres of spiked railings just to put an apple up there.