Holiday parc hopping in the south of France
With so much choice in holiday parcs in the south of France and so much to see, Billy Foley and his family simply had to try out a couple – just to be sure
I WAS introduced to the joys of parc-hopping this year in the south of France. Along the coastline there is almost an endless choice of top quality locations. Eurocamp operates in an incredible 36 parcs along France's Mediterranean coast alone, from the Italian to the Spanish border.
But trying to keep the driving reasonable, we chose two quite close together. First up was La Baume, one of the most popular and long-standing sites in the south of France.
One Belfast man told me how he had visited La Baume with their children 30 years ago and were now back with their grandchildren.
It's very popular with Irish families and at a guesstimate – accepting that I'm talking about the first two weeks of July when English schoolchildren are still in the classroom – we were in the top three nationalities, alongside the Belgians, Dutch and Danes.
Another unique attraction of La Baume is that it's the only campsite in the Rivera and Provence area which has the excellent Eurocamp kids clubs. Almost all parcs have their own kids clubs, but the Eurocamp versions, where English is the first language, are regarded as a cut above.
And there is nothing like enjoying the late afternoon sun, happy in the knowledge that the children are having fun under someone else's guidance for a few hours.
La Baume, a large parc with more than 700 pitches, has everything you would want for a holiday in the sun. There are four beautiful outside pools, two inside pools, three slides and a toddlers' water play park. All the watery fun is set over two sites at either end of the parc, giving a bit of variety to your pool options.
There are also basketball courts, a beach volleyball court, tennis courts, outdoor table tennis, two children's play parks and an astro-turf football pitch. The latter, which is conveniently located beside the restaurant and one of the two bars, was our location for most evenings as my seven-year-old son took part in mass football matches.
La Baume's location is also excellent. It's about one hour's drive from Nice airport (fly direct from Belfast and Dublin) and it's about 5kms north of Frejus. Once in Frejus the choice of beaches is almost endless. Frejus Plage is the obvious first stop – it runs from west of the port all the way to Saint Raphael.
If you want some luxury there are a number of ‘pay for your lounger and get table service' establishments, but mostly its pitch up on the sand. Almost the entire coast is soft sand beach, with child friendly small Mediterranean waves and a gradual deepening into the sea.
Saint Raphael, just to the east of Frejus (the two towns run together) is probably the pick of the busy beaches, with plenty of restaurants, shops and toilet facilities.
It you fancy something a bit quieter leave Saint Raphael on the coast road towards Cannes and you'll come across numerous little cove beaches. Parking can be tricky at many of these, however, and most have no facilities.
Heading west along the coast from Frejus, towards St Tropez, is another stretch of golden beaches. It's less hilly here, so not many coves, but plenty of nice places to choose from, beginning at the endless sands of St Aygulf.
Saint Maxine, which faces St Tropez across the bay, is the next resort along the coast but don't whiz by the village of Issambres without a look. In particular, pay a visit to the gorgeous bar/restaurant L'Arpillon, which overlooks the beach.
It serves simple, good and cheap food and has the most atmospheric bar in the whole area. Picture the scene; it's the early evening in a bar on stilts over the beach, looking out towards the horizon trough floor-to-ceiling windows.
And in case you think this is a St Tropez-type establishment, L'Arpillon has the feel of those Donegal bars where the owner built it himself and added on extensions over the years. It's wonderful.
I've concentrated on the beaches here because most people have sunshine in mind when they head to the Mediterranean but there are plenty other things to do. Head back inland from the coast and you are quickly into the foothills of the Massif Central.
Around 90 minutes from Frejus will get you to one of the most spectacular sites in all of Europe – the Gorge du Verdon.
At 25 miles long and up to 700 metres deep, it's often referred to as Europe's Grand Canyon. It makes for a spectacular drive or, if you're into high-octane fun, you'll find bungee jumps, kayaking and white-water rafting.
All of these places are also within striking distance of our second Eurocamp location, Holiday Green. With 640 pitches it's roughly the same size as La Baume, but has a much more compact feel. For some reason, nothing feels like a long walk.
But first things first; Holiday Green has the most spectacular opening view of any parc I've ever been to. Just past check-in at the 5-star resort there's a spectacular deck which overlooks the whole hilly site.
Behind are the foothills of the Massif Central and below you is the pool complex, restaurant, bar and shops. Suspended at the end of deck is a three-storey spiral staircase which will take you all the way down, as long as you have a head for heights.
Holiday Green keeps it to just two pools (one indoor) and one slide, but the main, California style pool is a cracker. There's also a spa and doctor's surgery on site.
The amphitheatre is set right at the centre of the resort and probably for that reason we found ourselves regularly attending the nightly entertainment. But then so did everyone else, which meant that if you didn't turn up at least 20 minutes before the show you wouldn't get a seat.
This isn't a criticism though, because it meant the nearby bar, restaurant and creperie had great atmosphere every night.
:: Eurocamp has 180 holiday locations across Europe and plans trips for more than 500,000 holidaymakers a year. To book see eurocamp.co.uk or call 0844 406 0402. For a two- person holiday home off-peak it's from £44 per night, and peak season from £70.30 at La Baume. At Holiday Green it's £35.70 (off-peak) and peak season from £70.30.
:: Top five family activities in the Frejus area:
One of the most popular children's days out, this great water park is just a few miles from La Baume and Holiday Green
Musee Oceanographique de Monaco
The famous aquarium is in a spectacular location on the rock of Monaco underneath the Royal Palace. About an hour's drive from Frejus, parking is available on site and can be combined with a tour of the millionaire's playground of Monte Carlo.
Lac de Saint-Cassien
A pretty lake about 45 minutes from Frejus. Originally created for a hydroelectric project, it has excellent water facilities including pedalos and inflatable games.
Gorge du Verdon
Spectacular views in this national park in the Massif Central. It's about 90 minutes from Frejus but be aware of the twisting roads if any of your children are prone to car sickness.
The beaches of Saint Raphael
Everything you imagine from a day at the beach in the Provence – soft sand, lovely cafes and a classy atmosphere