We have recently returned from one of the best family holidays in France, what a week we had in the Charente! We stayed with Dorte and Richard at their property La Garenne, 6 family gites with a shared pool, and everything you could think of to entertain the children. Dorte and Richard really do understand what a family holiday means.
We flew from Stanstead to La Rochelle, we thought an hour and a half on a plane with a 20month year old was manageable! We flew with Ryanair and checked in online- checking the bags off was fairly simple, we decided to take a car seat as we were hiring a car in France. Its free to take two items so we took our stroller and a car seat (Car hire charge you a price per day to hire one and you do not know the quality of the seat). Going through security was the only “blip” we had. As we had our little boy security kindly opened a new lane so we didn’t have to queue- Great! But as we walked through the scanner we beeped… trainers had to be taken off and a tap down search was needed- Rupert was not happy! “TRAINERS” with real tears and lots of shouting and NO! at the man trying to pat him down! This could have been very stressful but we tried to laugh it off and everyone around us were supporting or saying how silly it was to search a little one! Rupert got his trainers back and a packet of Pombears soon stopped the tears!
The flight we were most nervous about but it was great! So exciting, Rupert loved walking towards the plane, going up the “ladder”, the seat belt, windows, sound of the engine! He loved it all! And the staff were all really kind and said if we needed anything just shout.
We had prebooked a hire car with the company Sixt online which was super easy and the car and keys were ready when we landed at the airport. Our first time driving on the “wrong” side of the road was a little nervy at first but we soon got used to it after a few “Right.. Right .. RIGHT!” reminders.
Dorte had contacted us before we arrived to let us know they have a small selection of food and drinks available for when we arrived or recommended a supermarket for us to stop in on the way home which we chose to do.
Arriving was just so beautiful, we drove through some lovely quaint villages, sunflower fields and vinyards before arriving at La Garenne. Dorte and Richard welcomed us in and Rupert ran straight over to the ride on tracker in the garden.
The property is 6 beautifully renovated gites (Dorte kindly showed me round them all), each gite has an open plan kitchen and dining area, beautiful bathrooms with freestanding baths, private terrace gardens, all with BBQs looking into the shared garden and swimming pool. Each property is child friendly with stair gates, cots, highchairs, crockery etc and the entire place has a beautiful walled garden with gates so the children really can run around without you worrying.
Our first morning the weather was showing as on and off rain so we decided to go to the local town to visit the chateaux- Holiday Tots website recommends the Chateaux for a visit- it has walled gardens and games for the children so we thought this would be fun for Rupert and we could nip in and out of the rain. As we were leaving Dorte messaged to say the weather looked like it might rain all morning and recommended the Aquarium in La Rochelle so we changed our plans and went there.
Rupert LOVED it- he was free as he was under 3 and it was 17.50 per adult or 12.50 for 3–17-year-olds. We spent the whole morning in there. As we come out it was still pouring, I wish we’d got a photo because it really couldn’t have been raining any harder! We grabbed a drink and snack from the snack bar outside the aquarium and waited for the rain to lighten. We then ran across the harbour and into one of the restaurants. All had seating outside under cover and the weather was warm, (just wet!) so we were happy to sit outside. There was a row of about 5 restaurants all which had set or a la carte menus available.
The French really do love young children, the waiter brought over a highchair and started chatting to Rupert straight away. We brought a colouring book from the aquarium which gave us a little bit of breathing space while we ate!
Wednesdays and Saturdays the local town Saint Jean D’Angely (about 25mins in the car) have a market on so we visited there. The market was full of fresh food – lots of lovely fruit for Rupert to try as we wandered round. The historic town was so beautiful -One of the buildings was dated from the 1200, it was stunning and so French, cobbled streets and squares with markets and restaurants. We loved it. Dorte and Richard recommended a few restaurants, the tapas Le Pxwdetit Bouchon on the market square, Rum Runners a café bar or Le Bon Vivant both in another square in the town centre under trees and in a shaded area, we chose here and had the best steak and chips from Le Bon Vivant! Again, the staff were great with offering highchairs, booster seats and children’s menus. We tried to speak French but they could see we were struggling and said they speak English. Reasonably priced the meal cost 70 euros (2 x steak and chips, glass of wine and 2x deserts). We had brought some cheese and nice bread at the market so had that in the evening back at the gite.
We wanted a beach day at La Rochelle and a chance to walk around out of the rain so went back to La Rochelle on the Thursday. We brought a little beach set with us from home but Dorte and Richard had lots available to use so we hadn’t needed to! We should have spoken to them and asked their recommendations on the beaches but got up early that day and just left. We headed to Plage Chef de Baie (google had said this was best for families) when we arrived the beach was quite small and there was only one restaurant so naively we thought we would walk up to the next part of the beach… an hour later and 4.5k in we regretted this decision! However, we walked to the busier area with more choice of restaurants (and Rupert had a nice nap!). Being so close to the sea we wanted to enjoy a seafood restaurant and chose La Yole de Chris. It was stunning. I think we unintentionally stumbled across quite a high end restaurant so it wasn’t cheap but we loved the atmosphere; sitting on the terrace, glass of wine, looking over the sea it was perfect (and our colouring book from the aquarium was back out and in use!) Rupert had probably the best fish and chips of his life and was very relaxed! We spent the rest of the day on the beach enjoying the sunshine!
The rest of our days we spent at La Garenne, the garden was such a lovely space for Rupert to play, there is a climbing frame with a slide, a little wendy house, swings, a climbing wall, ride on toys, table tennis, a trampoline, football and goals, bikes, honestly everything you could think of and then on top of that there is a playroom for the little ones with a small selection of soft play. Rupert loved it in here, and the terrace outside meant we could watch him play while still enjoying the sunshine. The handprints on the wall are from children that have visited over the years. So cute!
Dorte also brought out a lovely blanket and toy box for Rupert full of additional toys such as cars, building blocks dominos etc. We were so grateful to be able to set ourselves up in the shade and let Rupert play.
During the summer periods Dorte puts on a children’s club giving the parents a break (as holidays can feel just like parenting in a different country at times!) Richard and Dorte are also trained triathletes so incredible swimmers – they put swimming lessons on for the children once a week.
They have a main pool and a toddler pool- both heated with lots of armbands, floats and toys! And sunbeds with umbrellas so the adults can enjoy a relax while watching the children play.
Our last evening we enjoyed another bbq at our gite and then had a glass of wine with Richard and Dorte in the garden. They really make you feel so welcome and that you and your family are an extension of their home. They are very knowledgeable of the area, in hindsight we should have asked them more questions but we enjoyed relaxing (as much as possible!) and having days were we didn’t really have any major plans! The joy of La Garenne is that it suits everyone- there are plenty of lovely walks and bike rides, beaches and lakes to visit if you want a busy day full of activities but equally if you want a quieter day letting the children play while you catch up on some rest that’s also very possible!
Our only complaint of the holiday is that we didn’t have anyone to share it with! It would be absolute perfect to go with friends or family as you would have your personal space but can all socialise and let the children play. Dorte and Richard said that they have some families who have become friends while staying at the same time and now rebook every year and we can absolutely see how that has happened and how lovely that would be! It really is a very special place which we cannot wait to go back and visit.