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Retirement family holidays

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Family holidays in France. Sunshine, blue skies and ripening grapes - and those long shady roads through the French countryside.
Family holidays in France. Sunshine, blue skies and ripening grapes - and those long shady roads through the French countryside.

Retirement provides the flexibility to fit in with the holiday plans of the rest of the family without too much difficulty. So we’re just back from a short family holiday with two grandchildren and their parents in the Languedoc, South West France.

We travelled separately, but on the same flight. That way we the grandparents only had to worry about getting ourselves to the airport, so the responsibility for the grandchildren stayed firmly with their parents.  That doesn’t mean to say that we weren’t available to step in and help out if needed.

Old town Pezenas
Old town Pezenas

Small children adapt well to travelling, but it is still their parents’ responsibility to deal with any unexpected and messy problems. Coming back our 3 year old grandson flatly refused to go through the electronic security gate, and the security assistant would not let him be carried through by his Mum. By the time he (our grandson) was stamping his feet and howling at every attempt to get him through third party intervention was obviously necessary.  This was accomplished by the security guard simply picking him up and pushing him through.  By the time he realised what had happened he was cleared and on the other side, so had nothing left to complain about.  Peace descended once more!

On the other hand it took 15 minutes for French Immigration to clear my passport on their electronic reader.  So much for digital efficiency.

Herault River in Summer. A cool spot in the midday heat.
Herault River in Summer. A cool spot in the midday heat.

Of course it’s no fun having to get up at 3.30 for a Ryanair flight, but I have to say I was seriously impressed by the baggage drop and security arrangements at Stansted Airport. This was the morning after the Barcelona terrorist attack the previous evening so security was on maximum alert.  Even so there were more than enough staff on hand to shepherd us along and make sure that we passed through with as short a delay as possible. (Apart of course for the writer who had to undergo the full body x-ray and pat down!).

After Stansted, Beziers was very much more relaxed, apart from Immigration’s difficulties over reading my passport. The hire car office was only a stones’ throw from the arrivals area, so by mid-morning we were enjoying a late breakfast of croissants and freshly made coffee with the rest of the family.  We had decided to hire separate cars.  This way we were all more independent. Also there wouldn’t have been much room left for us what with childrens’ car seats and all their baggage and paraphernalia.

Our spacious holiday home was a converted and refurbished village house, with plenty of space and enough room for a covered terrace and swimming pool.  Like all swimming pools in France, this was fenced off so the grandchildren were well protected.  Needless to say their swimming abilities improved by leaps and bounds during our stay.

View from a sun lounger by the pool in the Languedoc, waking up from an after-lunch snooze!
View from a sun lounger by the pool in the Languedoc, waking up from an after-lunch snooze in the shade!

Languedoc is renowned for its wines, but very little else apart from sunshine and beaches. Crusaders came through in the 13th century at the behest of Pope Innocent III to eradicate the Cathars, leading to the brutal and indiscrimate massacre of many of its inhabitants.

All that's left of the Cathars are a few ruined and abandoned castles.
All that’s left of the Cathars are a few ruined and abandoned castles.

A century later the Black Prince was instructed by the English King Edward III to embark on an expedition of pillage, rape and plunder throughout the South of France.  In contrast the past 600 years have been relatively peaceful, apart from one or two minor hiccups such as the French Revolution and the huge influx of holiday visitors over the past 30 years.

The grandparents had plenty of opportunities to explore the area on our own.  A memorable day up in the hills of the Cevennes including lunch at the excellent Chateau du Rey, Pont d’Herault (Sorry no website to link to!). A cold starter and we both had the grilled swordfish to follow.  Deserts were spectacular – raspberry charlotte russe and mi-cuit chocolat, with a bottle of picpoul. Service a bit wayward, but with a table in the shade on the terrace and the temperature in the mid 30’s we weren’t in any particular hurry. Driving back after lunch we detoured through the hair-raising back roads leading through the deep gorges for which the area is renowned.

Deep gorges, steep hillsides and precipitous cliff edges make for a hair-raisng driving experience in the Cevennes.
Cevenne’s deep gorges, steep hillsides and precipitous cliff edges make for a hair-raising driving experience.

We also found time for a trip down to the coast on the one overcast day, and a seafood lunch at Le Nymphe at Bouzigues. One of many small seafood restaurants along the shore of this famous shellfish producing area, we enjoyed a lunch of oysters and moules gratinees, followed by grilled fish and desert to follow. All the other customers seemed to be French speaking, including a delightful couple from Lille at the table next to our own.

A small village near Sete, Bouzigues is renowned for the quality of the seafood taken from the Etang de Thau.
A small village near Sete, Bouzigues is renowned for the quality of the seafood taken from the Etang de Thau.

Family holidays can be a nightmare, particularly if there is any misunderstanding about what is expected from each generation. Whether by good luck or judgement everything went smoothly and everyone came back a little browner but very relaxed.

So, first trip to France since the Brexit referendum, and no noticeable changes. France has her own internal political and social problems that weigh more heavily on the French people. The exchange rate versus the euro a lot less favourable now, and food prices, whether in the restaurants, supermarkets or village markets have increased surprisingly, just as much for the French as for English visitors.

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