OUR FAMILY HOLIDAY IN FRANCE

Posted on by Felicia da Costa

Summer holiday part II! Off to destination known: France. For a very special occasion…My brother’s wedding. Obviously, we wanted to be as close as possible to the wedding venue ( mostly because of the children and their naps/bedtime), so we booked way in advance (verrrry unlike us, but this was quite important this time!). And when my husband suggested to leave for France a few days before the wedding in order to have some quality time with our little family, I could not be happier.

As always (ok, most of the time) I let him do the searching for a good place to stay before and after the wedding, while I mainly focussed on the wedding preps, the weather forecast for France and all the different outfits we had to bring, both for ourselves and the kids. Especially since little Alba would be both flower girl and ring bearer…Great responsibilities ask for great outfits!
So after paying a huge amount for our obvious overweight (…) we left for France!

Getting there:

As the wedding would take place near Montélimar, we decided to fly to Marseille and spend a few days in that area before driving up to the wedding venue. Flying from Amsterdam to Marseille is easy to arrange and we chose KLM because of their timetable.  This flight left at noon, so we could easily finish packing and have breakfast before going to the airport. We boarded (KLM let you take your stroller all the way to the plane and has a ‘children first’ boarding system so that was a big help- and the crew was kind and helpful), the kids behaved well and we arrived within two hours. The airport is rather small, but the rental car area is basically unaccessible due to a major rebuilding…But we made it to the car and luckily it was big enough to take all our luggage as well.  And the weather, ladies and gentlemen, was FAB…

 Where to stay:

For those of you who read my blog about Summer holiday part I (Piemonte): my husband totally ROCKED this time. He managed to book us the most awesome place I have stayed at in a long, long time… As always, we were looking for a place that either offered some sort of apartment/studio with several bedrooms, or connecting rooms. As much as I love my kids, sleeping with one or both of them in the same room is not ideal. So, expensive as it might be, we prefer to either give both kids a separate room or at least one of them. My man managed to find us a place that ticked ALL of our boxes! A hotel that offered a studio with two bedrooms, a wonderful restaurant (for breakfast and dinner) that was within reach of our baby monitor, a huge garden for the kids to play in, a great pool with a separate restaurant for long, lazy lunches, a gym for my much needed exercise ánd within a five minute drive to a cute village.

We arrived at Chateau des Alpilles and immediately felt at home. Its beautiful grounds, ancient buildings and cute little chapel (I wish I could get married again..just to do it there) are incredibly charming, as is the staff. We were staying in le Lavoir, an old wash house, which offered two bedrooms, a living room and its own secluded terrace. Just a few meters from the main building, we could walk to all the different areas and still see our little ‘house’.
As we arrived in the afternoon, we dropped all our luggage and immediately went for drinks at the pool. The weather was amazing, Alba and George were loving the huge space to either run or crawl, and the faint smell of lavender made us dizzy and ever so happy. This was paradise!

Dinner was served underneath huge old trees, with little lights surrounding us, and after feeding George and putting him to bed, we enjoyed a long, cozy evening with our little daughter, great food and wonderful wine.
The three following days basically existed of the following steps:

Waking up-go for breakfast-put George to bed and lounge at the poolside-have lunch-relax-change into a nice outfit-go for drinks-feed George at our beautiful table on the terrace-enjoy a long evening underneath the stars-repeat.
We did not even visit the village of St Rémy de Provence.. Shame on us, but we were so happy in our little paradise that we just did not feel the need to move anywhere else. Three wonderful days went by way too fast, but luckily we had a great next destination: Wedding time!!!


Le Lavoir, Le Chateau des Alpilles

After a short drive we arrived at our second venue, located in Valaurie: La Croix du Grès. I had visited this place in May, when we were checking out the wedding venue with the bride and groom to be, and immediately fell in love. This cute little domaine offers a few beautiful gîtes and a pool, and is surrounded by lavender and orchards. Owner Noelle is a great host and a very cool person at that. As the wedding venue could literally be seen from here, we thought it a great idea to stay here during all festivities, because we would be able to put the kids to bed if they were tired, and should something happen, we were just around the corner. We were staying at the biggest house she offers, with three bedrooms, two bathrooms, a large dining room, a tv room and a little kitchen. Our patio and tiny garden overlooked the grounds and the swimming pool was just around the corner. We did need the extra bedroom as we had decided to let our regular babysitter stay with us during the wedding- something I am really, really happy about, as it meant I could fully focus on all the preparations and enjoy these days to the fullest. These were very intense, happy and emotional days so it was well worth it!
The domaine is perfectly located, as there are so many villages in the area and so many different restaurants to choose from. That being said, we did not visit many of them as we were so busy preparing for the big event and mainly cooked at home…
So our week here went by rather quickly, but we managed to squeeze in some quality time and got to spend precious time with my family from abroad. I went for a long run with my brother and mom every day (the orchards surrounding the domaine make for an excellent workout!) and when I was at the wedding venue to help getting everything ready, my kids and husband could literally hear us laugh and run around. So excellent choice!
The only ‘downside’ of this place is that I had not thought about the fact that the garden would be not as green and grassy as it had been in May. It had not rained for months when we arrived in September, so basically all vegetation was gone, it was dusty and you could literally not walk on the lawn as the remaining grass was dry and stingy. So no running around for the kids…  Mistake number two was little boy George- because of all the stairs in our gîte and the absence of grass, the poor boy could not crawl anywhere… we had to watch him like hawks and told him off so many times…poor little guy. I just did not think about the fact that he would be in this stage, as he was still quite a small baby when I chose this location.
That is why (after seeing his bloody little toes and preventing him from falling down the stairs for the zillionth time) we decided to cancel the reservation we had for the four days after the wedding and spent the remaining part of our holiday at a different place.
So, after rapidly looking for a nice lastminute offer in the area, we speed-packed ALL our bags (as easy as it sounds now, it was quite a challenge…), swung by lovely friends for lunch (they happened to be staying quite close to our initial venue) and drove to our final destination. Au revoir Valaurie!

After a two-hour drive we arrived at Hotel Baumanière, which is a super expensive hotel normally, but seeing our very lastminute booking, we were able to get a rather great price for a superior suite, which offered us a ground floor studio with two bedrooms, a large living room and a small terrace, while being just in front of one of the pools, which meant that we could put George down for his nap and take the baby monitor to the pool (and still see our front door) to play with Alba. Great! It is a rather big hotel with lots of rooms and apartments, but as these are all located in different parts of the grounds, it does not feel like a resort. We only ate at the regular restaurant (excellent food!) but they also offer a 2 Michelin-starred place (with stellar prices), and there are two pools you can choose from. Everything is within walking distance and the grounds are very well kept, so you pass many beautiful fountains, flowers, a huge vegetable garden and little ponds while on your way.
And so these last few days mainly consisted of long lazy lunches, some pool dipping, playing on the grounds and wonderful dinners outside, under the starry sky. This was exactly what we had been looking for! Normally we like to cook but as we were exhausted we could do with some pampering. Mission accomplished!

What to pack:

As for your toddler:
See ‘Getting there’ for the necessities during your flight.
The following (non exhaustive!) list of things proved very handy to us:

– Favorite toy and/or stuffed animal (if possible, take a second pair as these items easily get lost)
– At least two Sippy cups/bottles,and a few bottles if you have a little baby
– Your own formula if still needed. We tend to take enough for two or three days so that we have time to find a supermarket and check out the available brands there. Most of the time it is perfectly accepted by your kiddo but make sure to look up the different name so you won’t end up looking for a familiar name and not being able to find it. Same goes for porridge!
– At least three pacifiers if needed; attach them to the stroller/maxicosi/car seat and your own handbag; make sure to ‘mark’ which one belongs to the baby as you don’t want your toddler to play with it and subsequently put it in the baby’s mouth
– Enough diapers to get you through a few days- and nights! And follow the same directions as above-mentioned formula
– Optional: some bedsheets or large swaddles. I always use them to make the kids feel like they are at home while they sleep in the baby cots provided by the hotel. And they also come in very handy during the plane ride when it’s cold and at the pool to either sit on or use as a towel
– Sunscreen! We rub them in every morning; do not forget to use it every few hours.I use Naif and a great new find: Happy Sunshine. And some baby body lotion or bath oil to keep their skin hydrated after a long day outdoors.
– Medicines! You do not want to go looking for a drugstore should your toddler or baby get sick, catch a cold because of the air conditioning or get sun burnt. We brought aspirin, nose drops, suppositories, cough syrup and of course their daily vitamin D drops. And you might consider taking tablets against airsickness as well; Alba gets sick every time she sets foot in either airplane or car. We use Primatour (read the instructions!!)
– A (lightweight!) stroller for your toddler. So much easier to pack, travel with and store when not used. We have a Koelstra and it is perfect. You can take it with you until after the gate (do check that explicitly with your airline!! Some are very vague when it comes to taking them that far and you do not want to be surprised while checking in) and they bring it up again immediately after leaving the airport at your destination. You can take long strolls as they are smaller and more flexible and maneuverable for walks to the pool and they fit in every car you will rent. It is also useable during lunch and dinner, and for midday naps while you are on the move. We decided to leave the big pram at home, but we did take the bag (we have the Stokke PramPack) so we could stuff it with the maxi cosi, car seats and some other stuff
– Swim gear and some little toys. You can also buy them there, but I hate spending the first few days looking for stuff like that
– Optional: An inflatable little bathtub. Alba enjoys taking a shower now but we used our Mommy’s Helper inflatable Froggie baby bath for George
– A few warmer vests or sweaters, depending on the season. It turned out to be bloody hot during our stay, but we did use the vests during the last few evenings as it was quite windy.  We have this awesome hooded cashmere blanket by La Petite V  that comes in very handy during plane rides and trips.
– Baby care products. As I use Naif Quality Baby Care at home, I brought their Travel kit as it offers everything you need. I like using the amenities offered by the hotel, but these are definitely not gentle enough for your kid(s). Oh and look for local products! I love Mustela and found great new items in one of the many pharmacies…
– Baby monitor
– Car seats! You can rent these at most car rentals, but we prefer our own as we know for sure they are as safe as can be (we use Kiddy) and quite easily packed in our Stokke bag. Saves you money as well!
– Anti-insect spray. We always bring the ones by Care Plus as this brand offers a ‘natural’ range for small children without DEET
– A mini blender.. As George still refuses to chew on anything that resembles food, we depend on this device. Very easy to pack and brings great joys!
Best on-site purchase: Well, we did not really go shopping. But as I mentioned before, I like to check out new products for my babies and I bought this lovely skin freshener by Mustela. It is like the classic Evian water spray but it smells divine and is very helpful if you simply want to freshen up your kids’ bottom, face, hands, etc. Love it!

What to do:

Well, obviously we were mainly there for my brothers wedding. That being said, we could have gone on quite a few outings during our first few days- which we did not haha… we mainly had lunch and dinner at our hotel, but there are many possibilities.
However, we left those for our visit to Saint-Rémy-de-Provence during our last few days in Les Baux de Provence, so more on that in a minute.
The hotel also offers bikes so I would definitely suggest to take those and just bike around the area as it is so beautiful and typically French. Oh and make sure to play lots of tennis on the two courts! I cannot think of anything nicer than early matches, followed by a dip in the pool and an ice cream afterwards; reminds me of my own childhood holidays.
During our stay in Valaurie we mainly focussed on the upcoming wedding, but we did go on a few outings so I will share some suggestions:

-Do visit one or several markets! We went to a big one in Montélimar and it was great… From pottery to tablecloths (yes, I bought one), from fresh mushrooms to authentic cheeses, from organic pizzas to vintage cutlery: it is all there. Make sure to bring cash!

-Speaking of Montélimar: this is a great city and very much worth a visit. Wonderful traiteurs for delicacies, beautiful shops and it is located near a huge river with very nice views. Aix en Provence is quite a long drive but such a wonderful place as well. The streets and squares are lined with ancient trees, there are so many cute little boutiques and countless restaurants to choose from…It is great to just stroll around with your kid(s), have an ice cream and enjoy the city!

-There are many different (small) wineries to go for tastings; make sure to call in advance but you will not be sorry (you will be about not being able to bring home boxes of wonderful rosé); most of them have a garden so the kids can play without getting bored!

-As my family from abroad was there too, we wanted to have dinner and let all our little kids play together (nothing beats your cousins, right?), so we went to this nice place called Bistrot Sidoine in Saint Restitut. Nothing fancy, but they offer a pétanque court and lounge chairs so while the kids were having fun, we could chat and drink wine. They serve dinner outside and the kids meal is actually really good! Fresh french fries and a mean chicken. And the ‘adult’ dishes were really good as well! So definitely worth a visit. Oh and they offer high chairs, although not many. So bring your Sack ‘n Seat!

-We had dinner in this cute village called Grignan, which is very much worth a visit during the day as well. Cute little alleys, small flower shops and ancient fountains. Lovely! The restaurant, Le Clair de la Plume, has a Michelin star, but do not be put of by that fact, as the prices are very reasonable. The setting is superb, as you can (make reservations!!!) dine outside on their little courtyard, underneath the stars. It overlooks a beautiful ancient fountain which is lit during the night, and the food is really good. Service could be better, but it is still a nice place! You can also have lunch there, and kid(s) can join you!

Once we got to our final destination, Les Baux de Provence, we felt more like getting out of the hotel a few times, and so we did:

-Definitely visit Saint-Rémy-de-Provence! As petit as this village may sound, it is actually quite a big town with great areas… Every time you turn the corner you just find yourself in an even cuter part and it keeps coming. Nice restaurants, bars and cafés, ice cream parlors scattered around town (a must with kids, don’t you think?), wonderful shops and boutiques, countless pharmacies (I must admit, these are a guilty pleasure in my book-I LOVE browsing all their products and try them), and a great market on Saturday. The market consists of all the things that make a market worth while: food, clothing, wines, pottery, soaps made of honey and lavender, straw baskets, etc etc. We started with a huge ice cream, strolled around for a while and had to make a pitstop as little George was hangry– a man and his food… So while rapidly searching the area for a nice, authentic little place to crash, we came across this ‘Italian’ street and found Fratelli: a true gem. An all-Italian joint, with a crazy cool vibe and beautifully decorated (go check the bathroom! I want to live there…) and excellent food. Superb fresh pizzas and a wonderful staff. Luckily our little man dozed off in his stroller so we could take our time and enjoy our meal in the sunshine. Bliss!

-As the name suggests, Les Baux has a lot of beautiful things to offer. Our hotel was based at the feet of one of the most famous sightings, and there are many ancient Roman ruins in the area. Make sure to check http://www.lesbauxdeprovence.com/en for the latest events!

-As there are quite some wineries in the area, make sure to visit at least one (tasting).

 

Grown up fun:

Well, obviously this holiday was a family thing, so we did not have that much (almost none) time to ourselves. However, as we brought our babysitter with us for a few days, we managed to go out for dinner once (at the above mentioned Le Clair de la Plume, which was utterly romantic. Dinner beneath the stars, in the courtyard, with an excellent bottle of wine.)
I would certainly recommend (a series of) wine tastings, as there are so many vineyards in close proximity. We went to O&H Bour; the wine was great and the setting is supercute: an old building with a courtyard and so many colorful roses all around…
You should also definitely look into all the brocantes; they offer so many wonderful things that you may regret not traveling by car… (Check this website for dates and locations near Grignan: http://www.tousvoisins.fr/grignan)
My husband and I love to work out or jog during our holiday, to stay in shape but mainly just to feel healthy. So we went for a run every other day; La Croix du Gres is perfectly located for runs. Might not sound that romantic but we actually enjoy doing that together!

Personal Rating:

 The Drôme/Provence area on a whole:
We loved this region, although we have only seen a tiny bit! The wines, the small medieval villages and the endless fields of lavender and sunflowers are so, so charming. The weather proved even better than we had hoped for, but even on a grey day you will be amazed by all the beauty. We set out our own quest to find the best croissant and pain au chocolat, which was hard, because there are so many little boulangeries and patisseries to choose from.  Dining out is also great in this area; most restaurants offer high chairs and kids menus so that is easy!
I think that the nicest thing about this region is that fact that you can quite easily reach it by plane, it offers many places to stay (in all different price ranges), there are various markets and brocantes and tiny villages to visit, the weather is great and you can also combine a stay in the more coastal area with one in the rural area.
We will be back!

Hotels:

Chateau des Alpilles
Well, I am officially in love… The building is beautiful and charming, the grounds very well kept and the pool with its own restaurant is a big plus. The studio we booked was big enough for the four of us and it was really nice to have this tiny little house all to ourselves, even though it is right next to the main building. I just loved the fact that we did not have to go anywhere because they offer breakfast, lunch, ice creams, and dinner. Right there, on the spot. This hotel just has everything we love, especially now that we travel with small children. The staff is outstanding, the kids can run around and play, there are many different places to have tea, read a book or just relax. The gym is great too! And we did not even make use of the tennis courts…
It might not be cheap, but it exceeds all expectations and we really, really felt happy, cared for and at home. Need I say more?

La Croix du Gres
We still have not made up our minds about changing locations during our holidays. It is great if the first place turns out to be disappointing, but it sucks if you loved your first stay and have to leave (not to mention all the packing, unpacking etc). In this case, we did not have an option as we were there to attend my brothers wedding, and in retrospect I am still very happy I booked a gîte at this place. True, it proved to be not the ideal location when traveling with a crawling baby (due to all the stairs), nor had I thought about the lawns being quite arid. We wanted a place with at least three bedrooms, a pool, a garden and close to the wedding venue, and that is exactly what we found there. So us moving to a different hotel did not have anything to do with this place not being great. Noelle is a great hostess, firm but sweet, and she answers immediately to every question. I also love the fact that you can fill all the gites with your friends or family and just walk over whenever you feel like it, or have dinner together, or meet at the pool. So would I book this location again? Yes I would.

Hotel Baumanière
Spectacular in terms of building(s), location, the grounds, different pools and restaurants and the vegetable garden. Our suite was perfect for our family and the restaurant was amazing. However, I do not think I will go there again. First of all because it is such an expensive place. We were lucky to get a great last minute rate, but still. Secondly- and don’t get me wrong here because it might sound spoilt- I did not think very highly of the service. Especially if you look at the (regular) rates, I think the service should be outstanding, out of this world. It certainly was not. Room service ‘forgot’ to clean our room, and made a fuss when I asked them to please come before putting my kids to bed (‘why are your kids going to bed as early as 8PM’) to at least replace the towels. We had snacks and drinks at the poolside (as the end of the season was nearing they had closed down the bar on site already, and refused to bring our orders to the pool) and when we arrived at the same spot again the next morning, they had not removed nor cleaned the tables and loungers. Everything was dirty and sticky and just left like that for the entire day. The people at the front desk were either unavailable or not very friendly, and service at the restaurant was ok, but overall I really did not feel welcome nor at home. So, as posh and beautiful as this place might be, I prefer the wonderful Chateau des Alpilles big time!

Child friendliness:
Kids are welcome in this area, that is for sure-not the way people adore children in countries such as Italy, but good enough.  Every restaurant offers high chairs and kids menus if needed. There are numerous playgrounds and the vibe is rather low key, which is nice. This part of France is a hugely popular destination for families and almost all accommodations offer (gated) pools, baby cots, babysitter services and toys. All cities and villages we went to are easily accessible with strollers or prams, there are pharmacies everywhere so you are never out of diapers or formula, and ice cream parlors galore. I would definitely recommend you to visit this region!

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