Travel: Experiencing the Normandy beauty through fresh pair of family eyes...
But this year something is very different. This year we have a toddler, an 18-month-old bundle of madcap energy, and holidays will never be the same again.
As anyone who’s tried even to leave the house with a small child knows, everything takes 10 times longer than it did before with 100 times the packing and 1,000 times the level of forward planning. Nappies, wipes, snacks, drinks, books, stickers and umpteen outfits for every eventuality all have to be factored in before you even open the front door.
Going away on holiday for the first time with a toddler is, it turns out, just like leaving the house – but on an epic scale.
But that’s the beauty of going away to northern France. You can drive in your own car (no need to edit your packing to meet airline weight restrictions), it’s near enough that the travel-time is pretty much tantrum-proof and, for a small child wowed by everything, even the ferry crossing is an exciting element of the holiday itself.
We sailed with Brittany Ferries from Portsmouth to Caen and chose our crossing times to tally with naps. We drove through the night while our little girl slept, so missing most of the traffic, and arrived in Portsmouth just as she woke.
We boarded the ferry in time for breakfast, and passed an enjoyable few hours exploring the decks, admiring the sea view, and letting our toddler tire herself out in the soft play area with safe padded slides, tunnels and netting.
We’d chosen our campsite specifically to keep the drive-time low, and Domaine de Litteau, a rural four-star Siblu holiday park in the countryside close to Bayeux, was just 50 minutes from the ferry port in Caen.
We arrived in the afternoon in time to let our toddler stretch her legs with a walk round the site to meet the resident sheep, a play in the playground, and a takeaway pizza tea from the little pub-restaurant.
Our three bedroom holiday home on a quiet cul-de-sac, with shower room, separate loo, and decked terrace was a source of wide-eyed wonder to our little one. She loved investigating what lay behind each door and drawer, the thrill of a night-time shower instead of a bath, and settling to sleep – eventually – in her own little bedroom with the warm summer breeze wafting in gently from the farmer’s field beyond.
As with most things post-parenthood, we spent our week away at a slower pace than we would have done previously. Longer drives out to explore further-flung towns, rounded off with dinner and drinks, were replaced with one excursion a day to closer attractions – Bayeux, the seaside villages, and the WWII landing beaches and beautiful British and US military cemeteries.
But just that in itself enabled us to see a region we already knew through fresh eyes.
We spent longer on the beaches than we ever had before and spent ages two whole days in Arromanches – the Gold beach of D-Day - paddling in the sea, soaking up the sunshine, taking spins on the lovely vintage carousel and tucking into simple crepes and sugar-cone ice creams.
In Bayeux we visited the breathtaking 11th century 70m long tapestry while our little girl slept in her pushchair, then pottered round the cobbled streets, antiques shops, cafes, river and bridges once she woke. In the seaside town of Port-en-Bessin she loved the harbour with its bobbing boats, trinket shops and pavement cafes serving galettes with ham and cheese.
But perhaps our happiest days were spent in and around the campsite itself, wandering the country lanes, watching the wildlife on the fishing lakes, and swimming in the uncrowded indoor pool.
A shallow section just for toddlers with fun fountains and water spouts, and an exciting tube slide – ‘again Daddy, again!’ – kept our little girl entertained for hour upon hour.
- Charles travelled to Siblu’s Domaine de Litteau holiday village, where a seven-night stay from 17 June is priced at Â£364, based on a family of up to six sharing a two-bedroom Elegance holiday home. Visit www.siblu.com or call 0871 911 2288.
- Brittany Ferries operates the longer routes from Portsmouth, Poole and Plymouth direct to Brittany and Normandy. Travel overnight by luxury cruise-ferry in the comfort of your own cabin with en-suite facilities or be whisked across the Channel in as little as three hours. Charles travelled from Portsmouth to Caen. Fares start from Â£105 each way for a car and two passengers. Book at www.brittanyferries.com or call 0330 159 7000.