My daughter and I have just got back from a glorious week in Brittany. We stayed at Camping La Grande Metairie, in Southern Brittany.
This was our first time in this part of France, and I thought it was lovely – you're hard pushed to go anywhere and be more than a few minutes' drive from the sea, and there are countless long, sandy beaches to explore. We were blessed with a week of sunshine and 30 degrees heat, so we were able to really make the most of the trip. We travelled by ferry, from Plymouth to Roscoff.
In the past, I've had horrible experiences on ferries, but this time we took the overnight crossing over to France and a daytime crossing back, booking a cabin on both legs of the journey.
Travelling overnight with a cabin, which has beds, a shower and w/c, was nothing short of a revelation – the six hour crossing is so much less stressful when you can snooze through it, and our campsite was only a two and a half hour drive from Roscoff. For such a long journey, it felt very stress-free – and obviously my seven-year-old loved being on a big boat.
La Grande Metairie has a truly fantastic pool complex with water slides, an indoor, outdoor and covered swimming pool, two lazy rivers – my daughter could have spent entire days here just racing around.
The site is quite large so has lots of other facilities, from the usual (supermarket, bar, laundrette) to the slightly more unusual (a tree-top high-wire course, weekly circus and spa). I definitely felt there was plenty here to occupy children and there is of course the free Canvas kids club and Family Extra programme, which encourages families to get involved in sporting and other activities together.
During the week of our visit, there was an outbreak of a 24-hour vomiting bug and the Canvas rep brought us lots of antibacterial hand-wash, and advised us against using the clubs – eventually they were closed across the whole site so the staff could do a complete clean down. It's a shame because we were looking forward to trying out some of the activities – fortunately the weather was great, though, and we were able to find lots to do to entertain ourselves elsewhere.
Bugs aside, there's so much to like about this style of holiday. Going abroad with children can be stressful – dealing with hotels, wondering if the kids are having fun, are they too hot, too tired, do they need some time-out... with a Canvas holiday, you have proper home-from-home accommodation,with almost everything you need to prepare your own food and chill out.
There are playgrounds and activities for kids, as well as just open space for them to run around and ride bikes while you relax. I think that kind of downtime makes the other bits of the holiday – excursions and picnics and days out – so much more relaxed. And it's great to know you have somewhere comfortable to return to at the end of the day.
On this trip we stayed in a Comfort Plus mobile home with outside deck (two bedrooms, two bathrooms). Everything was spotlessly clean, reasonably spacious and comfortable, with an nice sized space for al fresco eating. I'd have liked air-conditioning, but apart from that we had everything we needed. Having two bathrooms was a real luxury, as it meant I could take a shower while Flea was in bed without waking her.
Flea thought the single best thing about the holiday was the water park, which was exceptional and well staffed with lifeguards. There's also a decent restaurant and takeaway, which we used a couple of evenings, and found reasonably priced.
One remark I would make about La Grande Metairie is that the pitches are not overly large and where a mobile home has decking, the pitch isn't necessarily any bigger than a standard pitch. This means it's not an easy task to park your car alongside the mobile home, as I found when I scraped one of my car's side bumpers by bumping it along the rocks marking the border of the next mobile home pitch. No major damage, fortunately, but I only have a mid-sized car and we saw other families with big Volvo estates struggling even more than us.
What we loved most of all about La Grande Metairie is that it's the perfect base for exploring Southern Brittany, which has glorious beaches, lovely woodland walks, seaside towns, great restaurants (there are more creperies than you can throw a beret at) and a better chance of sunshine than you'll get at home. Most days, we had a quick breakfast then headed out to explore, before returning for an hour or two in the pool.
So what did we find?
Top tips for things to do in Southern Brittany:
Carnac Grand Plage: The town of Carnac, split into Carnac Ville and Carnac Plage, is just a few minutes' drive from the campsite and is split into a pretty old town, and a more modern seaside town, which has not one, but FIVE beaches.
The main beach in Carnac Plage (Grand Plage) is sandy and has lovely shallow water, which Flea found great for swimming and paddling. You can also hire sea kayaks here.
Head further West along the beach for sailing and windsurfing. Carnac's Grand Plage also has two kids clubs where you can leave children from 15 minutes up to a whole day, and they can play on giant inflatables, trampolines and countless other toys with trained activity staff.
La Trinite Sur Le Mer: This is a pretty seaside port just a few minutes drive along the coast from Carnac. It's a great spot to stop for lunch, and walk along the harbour, and makes a great spot to head for the Plages Men Du and Beamer which lie between Carnac and La Trinite.
These are beautiful, sheltered beaches with shade and plenty of rock pools to explore – although don't stop here expecting lots of facilities because there's zilch. We had to drive into La Trinite to buy a bottle of water before heading on to this beach, which was gloriously empty in early July, and great for a spot of body boarding.
The Standing Stones: Britain has Stonehenge – Brittany has the Standing Stones. Outside the town of Carnac (and just across the road from our campsite) are fields containing around 2,000 standing stones. The alignements (as they're known to us fluent *cough* French speakers) are one of the most important pre-historic sites in Europe, pre-dating the Pyramids and Stonehenge.
Nobody is entirely sure why the stones are arranged as they are – one theory is that they were used to plot the movements of the moon. Although Flea's theory is that cavemen were playing a pre-historic version of World's Strongest Man.
Quiberon: To the South of Carnac lies the Quiberon peninsula, a narrow strip of land that incorporates Saint Pierre Quiberon in the North, and Quiberon in the South. At some points of the peninsula, you can stand in the road and see the ocean on both sides. The West coast is perfect for surfing, kite surfing and boarding of all kinds, with rock pools to explore.
The East side is more gentle, with long sandy beaches perfect for younger families. It's one of the most beautiful spots I think we've ever visited.
Quiberon itself is lively, with loads of bars and restaurants and its own beach, with a busy sea-front. Don't think you can park here, though – you might accidentally find yourself in the queue to get on a car ferry to Spain. Also, Quiberon is home to the world's best sardines. True fact.
Seven nights accommodation in a Comfort Plus two bed, two bathroom mobile home with decking costs from £700 for a family of four. Return crossings from Dover-Calais are included in the price of the holiday, although alternative crossings can be booked at a supplementary cost.