Travel: It's difficult to beat the memories of a family holiday in a French parc
Memories are made of... the fun to be had on a summer break in and around one of the south of France's amazingly family friendly holiday parcs, writes Billy Foley
YOU get a true sense of how fantastic parc holidays are when you meet mature couples whose children have grown up.
Their eyes light up when you say you are going to France to stay in a Eurocamp parc and immediately tell you how special those days were and how much their children loved the freedom and the fun.
The details of where and when are generally followed by a wistful, “I’d love to be going again.”
The only difference now is that most people, particularly when going to the south of France, tend to fly and pick up a hire car. Twenty years ago everyone got the ferry to Brittany or Normandy and drove their own car.
The ferry companies are still busy on these routes, but unless you’re staying in the top half of the country or love driving it’s better to avoid the two-day drive to the beaches of the Mediterranean.
We were guests of Eurocamp at the wonderful five-star La Baume camp in the town of Frejus.
For travel comparisons it’s about 40 minutes' drive from Nice Airport, 80 minutes from Marseille airport but 840 miles (and according to Google Maps a 12-hour drive) from the Brittany port of Roscoff.
It should be added that a left-hand drive hire car is much easier to handle when driving on the right.
On this occasion we flew from Dublin to Marsellie and on to La Baume which sits at the northern end of Frejus, a short trip off the A8 motorway.
The A8 runs along the Cote D’Azur as far as the Italian border and gets extremely busy in the summer, but is the main artery for many of your excursions. One of the joys of Provence is the number of attractions on your doorstep and the A8 will take you to Cannes, Nice and Monaco.
I’ve stayed at a number of parcs in France and Italy and I’d say La Baume is as close to perfection as you're going to get.
Eurocamp holiday parcs fall into three categories. There’s the small parcs were it’s easy to get to know people, because you meet them all the time, and the atmosphere is more relaxed. Then there’s the super parcs, as big as small towns. They are slightly more impersonal but every facility and activity imaginable is catered for, including multitudes of the kind of twisty-turning slides a 10-year-old dreams of.
La Baume falls between these two. It’s large enough (780 pitches) to have the facilities but it’s not overwhelming. 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 two basketball courts, four tennis courts, half a dozen outdoor table tennis tables, two children’s play parks, a boules park and a keenly contested children's football match every night on the astroturf pitch.
Away from the activities, there’s a mini-market, 24-hour reception, bar, pizza takeaway, newsagent, restaurant and gift shop.
However, one of La Baume’s great strengths is that it has the full range of Eurocamp kids clubs.
The children love the activities and what parent doesn’t like a bit of free time at the pool? The kids clubs generally run for two hours in the morning and two hours in the afternoon and are divided into six age categories, from toddlers all the way up to 17-year-olds.
A lot of French parcs have their own children’s club but over the years we have found the Eurocamp version significantly superior and will generally choose a park based on their availability.
But, as good as it is, sometimes you need to get off the site and this is the joy of having the glories of the Cote d’Azur on your doorstep.
It’s about a 15-minute drive from La Baume to Frejus Plage, on the west side of the town. There’s plenty of free parking here but there are nicer beaches in the area.
I’d recommend the beach at Saint Raphael, to the east end of Frejus. It you want luxury there are a number of ‘pay for your lounger and get table service’ establishments, but mostly it’s pitch up on the sand. Saint Raphael is a traditional south-of-France resort with a marina full of expensive boats, plus restaurants, cafés and gift shops.
It you want a more intimate spot, head east on the coast road towards Cannes. This road is part of the famous and spectacular corniche route along the coast but beware – it can get extremely busy in summer.
If you take the road for just a couple of miles outside Frejus you’ll come across numerous little cove beaches. They are beautiful but parking can be tricky and most have no facilities.
Heading west from Frejus towards St Tropez is another stretch of golden beaches, beginning at the endless sands of St Aygulf. This is the flat stretch of land leading to the Gulf of St Tropez and as you drive along the coast road every mile or so there will be a car park to your left with toilets and a basic cafe.
Further along, but no more than 30 minutes from La Baume, is Saint Maxime which faces St Tropez across the bay. It’s a fantastic resort if you want a taste of the good life but don’t fancy the expense and hassle of St Tropez.
If you want a break from the pool and the beach then it’s time to head inland. Around 90 minutes from Frejus will bring to you the spectacular Gorge du Verdon. Hiring a pedalo at the bridge and pedalling through the stunning gorge will be the highlight of your holiday. If you’re into high-octane fun, this is also the place to come for bungee jumping, white-water rafting and kayaking.
Much nearer to base (about 15 minutes) is another excellent excursion – the Lac de Saint Cassien.
It's just one junction east on the A8, leaving the motorway at junction 39 towards Fayence. Pull in about five minutes from the motorway as you cross the bridge over the lake. Here you’ll find all the usual facilities (cafe, toilets, restaurants and watery fun to hire) but also a water obstacle course the kids will love, a bit like Wipeout. (€5 each)
And when you return home remember to bring plenty of pictures for the older people in your life who will love reminiscing about their days as young parents in the parcs of France.
TOP FIVE FAMILY ACTIVITIES:
:: Gorge du Verdon: Spectacular views in the Massif Central and a pedalo ride to remember
:: Aqualand, Frejus: Opposite Frejus Plage, it is one of the most popular outings in the Cote d’Azur and is just 15 minutes from La Baume
:: Lac de Saint Cassien: Is there anything children like more than going down the slide into a lake from the back of a pedalo?
:: Musée Océanographique de Monaco: The famous aquarium is in a spectacular location on the rock of Monaco underneath the Royal Place. About an hour’s drive from Frejus, parking is available on site and can be combined with a tour of the millionaires playground of Monte Carlo.
:: The beaches of Saint Raphel: Typical Cote D'Azur resort with soft sand and super yachts
:: La Baume is open from the start of April to the end of September.
:: The nearest airport is Nice, but Marseille and Toulon are also good options
:: Hire cars are generally affordable in France, with prices starting at around £15 per day for a small car
:: Frejus is a popular area for parcs, with seven in area. In all Eurocamp has 17 parcs to chose from in the Riviera and Provence.