Writer and author, Gillian Harvey, mum of five young children, takes her brood to attempt an active holiday in a relaxing region of France - piles of fresh air and a pizza oven to the rescue!
Tim being very 'active'
The region of Poitou-Charente with its mild climate and unspoiled countryside may seem like the ideal location for a relaxing break – but perhaps not the foremost entertaining destination for those with young children. While the coastal city of La Rochelle offers everything from beautiful beaches to a well-stocked aquarium, inland areas with rolling fields and fresh air might not be the first choice for an active family in need of entertainment.
However, Lac de Maison, situated close to the small town of Benassay on the border of Deux-Sevres aims to offer lively infants and exhausted parents the best of both worlds. But is it really possible to relax with a young and very active family?
The gites at Lac de Maison
With two seasickness prone adults and five children under the age of seven in our party, we opted for the quick train ride under the sea: Eurotunnel. Lac de Maison is an eight-hour drive from Calais, however, and for those who prefer less time in the car, the ferry ports of St. Malo and Caen are just four hours’ drive away. Flying is also an affordable and straightforward option, with Poitiers airport just a 25-minute drive, and three other airports – Limoges, La Rochelle and Tours – within a two-hour radius.
With simple directions provided from owners Anna and Simon, Lac de Maison was easy to locate and we arrived in the mid-afternoon sunshine to a warm welcome from Honey, the family dog.
Room for all, at the gites
When deciding to open family-friendly accommodation, Anna and Simon realised that size really does matter. With three family gites set on a two-acre site, the couple are able to offer an intimate and safe facilities and plenty of space for children to run and play safely.
The three gites – Honeysuckle, Rose and Hollyhock – are well furnished and prepared for busy families, with fully-equipped kitchens and – essentially – both washing machines and dishwashers. Each gite also offers a selection of DVDs and games, a private garden space and safety equipment such as stairgates installed depending on your family’s needs. With the smallest gite sleeping five, and the largest eight, there is plenty of suitable accommodation.
Evie on the wobbly bridge
The main draw for our large family was the large and varied play options for young children. The outdoor area boasts a wooden pirate ship – complete with wobbly bridge and large slide – as well as swings, a seesaw, sandpit and tree-house.
For indoor play, the site also offers a play barn with dressing-up costumes, bouncy castle and a myriad of different toys and games. Upstairs in the barn, there is a games room for ‘grown-ups’ or older children, with snooker, table football and air hockey available, as well as a workspace and Wii, offering the option of fitness or Karaoke depending on taste.
There is also a lovely, heated pool – family friendly at 1m20cm in depth across its entire length – with an abundance of inflatable equipment and armbands for family fun. For peace of mind and safety, the pool is both gated and alarmed, set apart from the main garden on a raised, decking area – with reclining sunbeds for those who prefer to stay warm and dry.
The heated pool
WHAT WE ATE
There are several nearby restaurants, serving a variety of food from more traditional French cuisine to good old English bangers and mash. However, food is also available on-site from owners Anna and Simon – both award-winning chefs. This means that, delicious, hot meals – either for the entire family, or just for the grown-ups – can be delivered to your gite, offering the benefit of eating in the safety and comfort of your home-from-home (with no worry about restaurant behaviour) and taking advantage of the fact you don’t have to shop or cook for meals.
Once a week, the couple also hold a pizza night, where guests from all gites can commune in a central, covered dining area and enjoy a pizza cooked to order in an outside pizza oven. Toppings chosen ranged from a traditional cheese and mushroom for mum, to an adventurous pineapple, sweetcorn and bacon for one of my four-year-old twins. Served with garlic bread, green salad and sliced, locally sourced tomatoes with mozzarella, the evening was a real treat and offered the opportunity for mums and dads to mingle with other couples whilst the children played safely in the outdoor space.
All gites are self-catering and come with plenty of fridge space, so it’s easy to stock up from local supermarkets and enjoy breakfast and lunch in your rural retreat if preferred.
Children will love the two Shetland Ponies Filou and Tamara and are offered the opportunity to groom these placid, friendly animals during their stay. Honey, the family sheepdog, is docile and friendly – and made firm friends with my son Timmy during our stay. Anna and Simon also keep chickens, and families can opt to help with egg collection on request!
If animals are your thing, ‘The Valley of the Apes’ or Vallee de Singes is only a 45-minute drive away. There, children can mingle with the monkeys, roaming free in the extensive grounds.
THINGS TO DO
The futuristic leisure park Futurescope is a short drive away near Poitiers, and is a must for families, particularly those with older children. The park offers state of the art rides, shows and experiences.
The beautiful, seaside town of La Rochelle with its picturesque buildings and beautiful beaches is an hour and a half’s drive away and well worth the visit.
In addition, there are several inland lakes within a short distance, complete with their own beaches and set in the picturesque countryside. However, with our five children, we opted to spend most of our time on-site, taking advantage of the rare opportunity to have a well-earned break as the children played pirates or splashed in the pool.
Anna and Simon of Lac de Maison have created the ideal destination for toddlers and parents alike. Gites are hazard-free and come with a range of equipment suitable to the ages of your children. The fact that there are only three gites on site means that children can play safely and make friends without getting overwhelmed, and the abundance of hammocks and garden seats mean that parents can relax with a glass of wine and watch the kids expend their energy in a safe, clean and picturesque environment.
Those who require a little more stimulation can take advantage of the opportunity for family bike-rides or rural walks, explore picturesque French villages and towns or brave the rides at Futurescope.
For those on a budget, kitchens are fully equipped for a family to self-cater throughout, with the option of professionally prepared meals a great addition for those who require it.
A week’s stay ranges from £475 off-peak to £1675 at high-season, and special offers are often available. Visit www.lac-de-maison.com for more information, and to book
T: 0033 (0)549546959