Exploring France on first family holiday
JAMES ROBSON packs up his not inconsiderable baby kit determined to have a great summer vacation...
REMEMBER when travelling was as easy as getting in your car and hitting the road?
When a city break could be done with little more than an overnight bag?
Those days were consigned to memory the moment Alfie was born.
Just 8lbs 5oz – albeit with a larger than average head, according to the midwife – when he entered the world, who could have known that something so small would require so much apparatus?
At last count my baby boy had gone through three beds, the same number of high chairs and two baths in less than a year.
Outfits have literally been worn for minutes before being vomited on and grown out of without even getting through a laundry cycle.
Parenthood meant that just leaving the house suddenly required an inventory check before locking the front door.
Dummy. Back-up dummy. Nappies, muslin cloths, sterilised bottles. That giraffe for teething. Formula! And that’s just for a trip to the supermarket. So when my wife suggested we go on our first family holiday, just months after Alfie was born, I was understandably reluctant.
I had visions of wrestling with a pram at the airport check-in.
The shop assistant had made it look like close-up magic during the in-store demonstration.
Throw in a screaming baby, a sudden downpour and car park ticket rapidly running out of time and the simple act of collapsing a pushchair feels like a challenge in The Cube.
Still, we wanted a holiday. And the British weather being what it is, we agreed it had to be abroad.
The compromise – we’re driving. And so, with the car resembling the opening titles of the Beverly Hillbillies, we set off for northern France – with its beautiful coastline and countryside.
With a variety of towns, villages and cities within easy reach, it would also give us the opportunity to explore.
Our Canvas Holidays comfort plus twobedroom mobile home with deck had more than enough room for the two of us and a baby – and could have comfortably fit a larger family.
The deck, complete with barbecue, was perfect for catching some sun while Alfie napped inside.
Facilities like the tennis courts, heated swimming pools – covered and outdoors – and activities like mini-golf and cycling are perfect for families.
In mornings we’d tuck into some French bread, smothered with brie – and in the evenings it would have been easy to throw fresh meat and fish from the local supermarket on to the barbecue for the entirety of our stay.
But while we had our moments relaxing on the deck, we also wanted to explore.
In the medieval village of Saint-Valery-surSomme, moules mariniere is a must at one of the waterfront restaurants – served up with lashings of creamy sauce.
It can be difficult to park down by the port, but there are free car parks within walking distance of the bars and restaurants.
Elsewhere, the seaside town of Le Touquet – a one-time favourite haunt of British high society in the early 1900s – is like taking a step back in time.
Its vintage feel, with art deco buildings and golden beach-lined seafront, whisks you back to another age when Noel Coward would holiday there.
The streets are lined with pretty houses, while moules-frites are on offer in the numerous cafes and restaurants in the bustling centre.
Buy a delicious ice cream from one of the many parlours and while away some hours gazing at the Cote d’Opale.
But before you leave, macaroons are also a must – with Arts Gourmands on Rue de Metz offering a dizzying array of colours and flavours.
The pretty port town of Le Crotoy is quieter than Le Touquet, but again offers a delightful setting for a spot of lunch, where again, fresh fish is the order of the day.
Alternatively patisseries along the street serve up crepes and pastries, while a peaceful boat trip can offer some wonderful views.
If cycling is more your speed, you can hire a bike or – as many families do – bring your own to explore the countryside on two wheels.
With Alfie, we’re still very much bound to car and decide to drive to Amiens, where the Zoological Parc offers a great photo opportunity.
There you can get up close to monkeys, elephants, wallabies, ostriches and more at the site set in attractive parkland.
While Alfie might not remember the first time he saw a monkey in the flesh, we’ll have the photos to remind him in the future.
The holiday was never really about him – rather a case of proving to ourselves that we could still travel – even with a baby on board. France proved the perfect trial run – and a place we will return to when he’s old enough to truly appreciate it.
●● Pools at Yelloh! Village la Vallee, above, and the mobile home, below right