De-camping to Brittany with the kids

Looking for the perfect family holiday? Esther N McCarthy enjoys some quality time with the kids in Brittany.

They’re the words the Irish mammy dreads from her first born son and heir. “Can I go to a disco with my friend?”

“You’re six! You don’t have clean underwear on! You’re my baaaaby!” — is what I wanted to say. “Of course you can, darling” - is what I actually say, clutching the wine bottle — at least something around here is chilled — strangling the sobs.

This is day three of our camping holiday in La Grande Metairie, Carnac, Brittany. Husband is manfully barbecuing chicken skewers on the deck, the six and three years-old are cruising on their bikes with new friends and the four month old is slobbering a teething ring eyeing me solemnly as I beg him to never leave me for a disco diva he meets in Brittany.

I don’t have too much to worry about in the end, the disco is a group of kids on the terrace of the bar, following the moves of three energetic camp leaders doing their best with some frankly sub-par French pop music. My visions of femme fatales and smoky basement raves are way off.

Since we’ve starting delving into the family holiday model of vacationing, anyone who’s ever been camping has recommended it.

A big part of the appeal is the ferry trip.

It’s our first time and the lads are delirious with excitement — a swimming pool on the BOAT?!! is almost too much to comprehend. A short spin from home to Ringaskiddy to board the Pont Aven in our van (no worrying about baggage limits) gives it an advantage over flying with three smallies.

As I was breastfeeding, being able to repair to the privacy of a cabin was a bonus. The ferry was like a mini holiday.

The older boys love exploring the decks, blowing through an alarming amount of money in the arcade and seeing Home in the cinema with dad while baby and I stroll through the shopping areas, followed by coffee watching the sunset.

Once off the ferry, it’s a three hour drive to camp where we settle in immediately.

There’s a relaxed vibe with everything a family needs on site. We go swimming every day — there’s a fabulous complex, including a lazy river, waterslides and an indoor pool for when the weather goes a bit Irish on us.

Our mobile home has a large deck area, a kitchen with all mod cons, fine-sized bedrooms and bathroom. We hang out a lot here and it highlights the advantages of this type of holiday.

It’s nice to create and enforce habits we don’t always have time for with work and school. Simple things like helping set the table; the boys’ banter as they do the dishes; eating together at the same time; the kids joining in making the shopping list.

You know, the kind of things you don’t get on a hotel holiday and though I can hear the ghost of my grandmother (who raised 10 children, most without disposable nappies), snort as I type this — we have time to reconnect as a family.

De-camping to Brittany with the kids

Time for us grown ups to listen about Lego and Minecraft and favourite apps instead of constantly policing their screen time. A serious Plant V Zombies addiction later, and we’re all discussing tactics, and boy, how the kids revel in being the experts and teaching us.

Activities at camp make it easy to spend time together. Day four includes pony walks, a table tennis tournament and zip wiring. They fly through the canopy, an aerial wonderland where they spot the resident pets, the impossible rotund black pig (who the boys name, rather unimaginatively, Porky) the baby goats, the little shorn llama and the haughty swan and her duck underlings.

Off site, there’s a choice of beautiful beaches minutes away, a picturesque town centre, but what sets Carnac apart is the incredible collection of megalithic sites. There are 3,000 standing stones, erected between 5000 and 3500 BC, some of the most imposing guard the entrance to our camp.

My only experience of camping is a year with two of us in a one man tent, tinned food and African heat. It conjures up a big flashing NOT SUITABLE FOR CHILDREN sign in my head.

So as a total novice to the camping en famille phenomenon, we went to the pros to help us out. Booking with Eurocamp was straightforward and it was always easy to get in touch.

I had my own account online, accessible 24/7 and when I needed to amend extras like bed linen, it was simple to do, there’s also a Cork office number, if you prefer to talk to a real live human.

There was a personalised holiday guide with park and local area info that I downloaded as a PDF onto my iPad and it gave ideas for days out and local places to eat.

Speaking of... Cafe Baobab in Carnac is good for the kids, they have cool music playing, a nice kids’ menu and excellent desserts.

Take the time to browse the little shops nearby — Zalea, Artisanat d’Amerique Latine and ooh — Astaga has really nice espadrilles, all the colours of the rainbow.

De-camping to Brittany with the kids

Some days do bring rain. We go to the aquarium in Vannes, at €13 per adult, €8 for a child with under fours free, it’s good value for money. We spend happy hours exploring the cobbled port town and find a cool playground with a huge spider web climbing frame.

So I hereby declare my conversion to camping in France. Do it. I don’t recommend shopping though — their XXL is a Penneys size 14, way to make a femme feel fat, France. Merci for nothing.

* Brittany Ferries operates weekly sailings from Cork to Roscoff and offers the fastest direct ferry crossing. The 2016 season begins on April 2. Overnight sailings from Cork on the Pont Aven are available every Saturday until Nov 5, with early arrival on Sunday morning for longer in France. Return sailing leaves Friday evenings, arriving in Cork the following morning. www.brittanyferries.ie or 021 427 7801.

* A 14-night stay with Eurocamp in Carnac, Le Grand Metairie based on a 3-bed Avant mobile home with decking is €1,422. Alternatively arrive early July for 14 nights for €2,364. Extras such as ferry, flights, car hire or transfers are available at an extra supplement. www.eurocamp.ie or 021 4252300.

Dos and Don’ts 

DO

  • Bring/hire bikes, perfect for getting around the big campsite.
  • Bring your own tea towels, dishwasher tablets, washing powder, etc.
  • Check if kids camps are available — in high season the age group rises to 4.
  • Try the pony trekking — cheap at €9. Watch out for Tania the cheval — she is stubborn! We love Belle.
  • Shop at Super U for ice cream, beer, pear tarts. Go to Lidl for basics, except bizarrely we couldn’t find fresh milk only UDH.

DON’T

  • Forget sunscreen.
  • Rely on wifi or phone service on site. Head to the tourist office in Carnac for free connection.
  • Forget to drive and cycle on the right-hand side!
  • Worry about baby bits — most of the paraphernalia is available to rent cheaply — bring your own pram though.

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