Crossing the channel

Last week was another milestone in the lives of Alex and Sophie – for the first time in their lives we left the UK on an international holiday!  We hadn’t booked anything for our two weeks annual leave, but on the spur of the moment decided to head over to France for a few days camping.  Some very quick online research found us a campsite called Domaine de Drancourt just over an hour from Calais near a little town called Saint-Valery-Sur-Somme, and I booked us a ferry ride over the Channel as I thought the kids would enjoy the adventure.

I regretted that decision as soon as we arrived in Dover to find horrendous delays on our P&O crossing.  The excitement of travelling by sea quickly became extreme boredom after sitting for an hour in the car and then two hours in a tiny terminal.  But we eventually boarded and things looked up.  After watching on the desk as we sailed away from the white cliffs, we discovered the kids club where Alex had his face painted for the first time in his life:

ferry

The drive to Saint-Valery was smooth and easy and we were delighted with what we found at the campsite.  We pitched our tent in our really good sized plot and found it close to the park amenities without being too noisy.  Here we are making the most of the fresh croissants and pain au chocolat that arrived every morning:

tent

Happy children getting to have chocolate every day for breakfast!

tent2

The site had loads of quiet, wide roads that were ideal for cycling, and the children seemed to really enjoy having a bit of freedom.

cycling

Best of all was the amazing, and free, swimming pool complex where we whiled away much of the holiday!

pools

Sophie was in her element in the toddler pool, exploring the pirate ship slide and flinging herself into the water constantly (a tad disappointed to see she is developing Alex’s photo smile…)

sophiepool

I just love her swimming costume!

SophiePool2

I barely got any photos of Alex as he didn’t really stop moving.  He and Matt explored the bigger slides in the main pool, but I did manage to capture the three of them in one spot.  Sophie is so tanned she’s starting to look Spanish!

family

And here are Alex and Sophie playing together – they are such water babies!

pool3

When we could drag them away from the water, Alex and Sophie were mostly running around the little site playground together (which was conveniently located next to the bar and pizzeria!):

playground

They’re getting so big!  Here they are deep in conversation one evening:

swings

Over the three day, we did leave the site to explore the area.  I hadn’t expected much from the coast of France near Calais, but was very pleasantly surprised.  We had a wonderful afternoon at one of the many local beaches.  I’m ashamed to say that I think this is one of the first times the children have actually played on a proper sandy beach, so we had great fun attempting to make sand castles and climbing on the rocks.  The tide was literally miles out so we could barely see the sea – very surreal!

beach

Here we are decorating the beach

beach2

We headed over to Boulogne for an afternoon to visit the famous aquarium – Nausicaa – there. Alex was super excited to see sharks – and it was unusual to see them from above as their fins sliced through the water.  Alex preferred the under water view though where he could see their teeth and marval at their size!  We had a nice time, but I’m not sure I’d recommend it – it was pretty expensive and not as big as I’d expected.  I think we’d have had as much fun rock-pooling by ourselves!

aquarium

We should have stayed in beautiful Saint-Valery.  As I said, I hadn’t really expected to be impressed by the location – but it really was lovely and I’d highly recommend it.  The town itself was picturesque and really easy to wander around.  I loved the old waterside buildings with colourful shutters and beautiful balconies.  The river estuary was packed with boats and birds, and we enjoyed a lovely picnic sitting down by the water.

SaintValerie

There was a lovely, flat boardwalk along the river which was perfect for little feet and bicycles:

boardwalk

I will definitely visit this part of France again – there was loads we didn’t see or do (even on the campsite which had horse riding, cycling and other sports available).

We had a wonderful trip – and most surprisingly of all, it really felt like a holiday.  Not a massive fan of camping, I hadn’t anticipated the break feeling like real downtime, but I read a book and a magazine, caught some sunshine, ate vast quantities of cheese and mussels, spent more time in a swimming costume than I’d ever imagined and even enjoyed a bit of a lie in from the kids!

I shall leave you with one of my abiding memories – seeing bright poppies everywhere.  Our visit coincided with the centenary of World War One, and it was really fitting to be on the Somme surrounded by poppies.

poppies

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