Travel: Family fun in fabulous foothills of French Alps
Billy Foley and family forgo the sea in favour of a Eurocamp-based summer holiday in the south of France
WHAT is it about the sea that draws us? Its sound and power are definitely an attraction, as are the dramatic views and cliffs produced by powerful waves.
There is certainly a life-affirming energy about the ocean, but it also creates some difficulties for holiday making. Whatever way you cut it, wet sand is not your friend if you’re trying to change clothes or get comfortable on the beach.
In search of a holiday away from the traditional seaside, this year we opted for a Eurocamp holiday in the foothills of the French Alps.
Eurocamp has dozens of 'parcs' on the Mediterranean and Atlantic coasts and we’ve enjoyed a number of them on previous holidays, but this year it was off to the Haut Var in Provence.
We opted for the Lacs du Verdon site outside the town of Regusse. It’s just less than two hours drive from Nice airport and about 1,500 feet above sea level.
It’s north-west of Nice and about 40 miles from the nearest beach at Frejus on the beautiful Cote D’Azur.
As well as enjoying a respite from the intense July heat of the coast, the area stands out for the attraction of the spectacular Gorges du Verdon.
At 25 kms long and 700 meters deep in some sections, it is among those places on earth which truly take your breath away.
It's given its name by the Verdon River, which rises in the high Alps before flowing through the gorge and onto the Durance River.
At the western end of the Gorge, the Lac de Sainte Croix was formed by the building of a dam in 1974.
No doubt it will have been difficult for the residents of the village of Les Salles Sur Verdon, which was lost in the valley, but now they have a new village on the edge of the lake and a thriving tourism business.
All around the eight-square miles of lake are little settlements to attract the tourist. They tend to be similar setups: a car park, toilets, a food and drink seller and various types of watercraft for hire.
Les Salles Sur Verdon has two of these areas, plus a whole array of restaurant options in the villages.
Fifteen minutes drive north and there are another three or four of these areas at the point where the Lac de Sainte Croix meets the mouth of the Gorges du Verdon. It’s an inspiring spot where everyone wants to get into the water.
Les Salles Sur Verdon was about 25 minutes drive from our Eurocamp parc, but there are also a number of other options.
Bauden, a beautiful village further south on the edge of the lake, is about 20 minutes from the Lacs Du Verdon parc.
As with many of the villages of the Var, it has narrow and cool cobblestone streets, but tourism has also brought many restaurants, creperies and ice-cream stands.
There is another pretty village on the banks of the Verdon river, just downstream from the lake. Quinson is also about 25 minutes from our parc and another spot to hire a pedalo and enjoy the children’s laughs as they go down the slide into the cool lake waters.
We tended to follow the time-honoured traditions of the family holiday in the sun by spending a day in the parc followed by a day out exploring the lakes and the countryside.
As ever in Eurocamp’s top-end parcs, everything you could want is on hand. At Lacs du Verdon there are three pools , a lazy river and a toddler play pool. There are also three slides, two of which were too high for me.
There’s also a shop, restaurant, bar, pizzeria, tennis courts, football and basketball pitch and bicycle hire.
As it to prove how natural is (the whole area seems to be a giant forest), there are wild boar in the area.
There are other sites worth seeing nearby as well. Less than 2 miles from the parc is the hillside settlement of Moissac Bellevue, with stunning views down to lower lands.
The pick of the bunch however, is Tourtour, about 30 minutes from out parc. Perched almost 3,000 feet above sea level, it’s known as the "village in the sky of Provence" and is regarded as one of the most beautiful villages in France.
The shaded central square has a selection of bars and restaurants, but on the edges of the village some of the other eateries have inpossibly beautiful views of what seems like the whole of Provence.
It’s said you can see the Mediterranean at Frejus, although I couldn’t quite make it out – and that was apt, because we didn’t miss the sea once.
:: GORGEOUS GORGES
The Gorges Du Verdon is worthy of a holiday all of its own.
Forget the usual tourism PR guff, this genuinely is one of the most beautiful places in Europe.
It’s not quite the Grand Canyon, but it’ still an impressive 25 kms long and 700 meters deep at some points.
It’s an activity wonderland with overnight hikes, canyoning, white water rafting, bungee jumping, rock climbing and kayaking.
For the less ambitious there also the simpler pleasure of hiring a pedalo and slowing making you way into the canyon under the Pont du Galetas.
Beware that in the summer season the queues to hire pedalos at the bridge, 15 minutes north of Les Salles sur Verdon, can be lengthy. If possible leave your parc early and be there when the hire stands open at 10am.
For €20, five people can get a few hundred metres into the canyon and enjoy a swim in the famous turquoise waters. It's a special experience.
There are spectacular views if you drive around the gorge but beware that, while worthwhile, it can be a tiring trip. The roads are narrow, winding and busy and it really should be planned as a full day drive with a stop for lunch at one of the many viewing points. Point Sublime, in that regard, is well named.
The best way to experience the gorge is through one of the many well-marked hikes. The most famous is the Sentier Martel which can be done in a day trip if you get someone to pick you up at the other end. Otherwise it requires an overnight in the canyon to complete the 30km round trip.
:: Eurocamp,which was founded in 1973, has more than 180 parcs across 13 counties, including France, Spain and Italy. For more information and special offers go to Eurocamp.co.uk
:: Lacs du Verdon is currently available for £106.40 for 7 nights in a 2 bed Classic; arriving May 18, 2019
:: There are two Eurocamp parcs in the Verdon region, with Les Lacs du Verdon outside Regusse and Domaine du Verdon, near Castellane.
:: Verdon is approximately a 12 hour drive from the Normandy and Brittany ports.
:: Les Lacs du Verdon is 1 hour 45 mins driving time from Nice Airport and 1 hour 30 from Marseille. Numerous airlines fly from Belfast and Dublin to the south of France.
:: Nice airport has a dedicated car hire building, between terminals 1 and 2.