Tuesday, 20 August 2013

The South of France for families

Last week we went on a family holiday to the South of France, which was heavenly. We stayed in a beach house, just outside St.Tropez, and whiled away hours on the beach, drinking rose (the grown ups, not the children) and yacht spotting (I'm sure I saw Simon Cowell and his hareem of women sail past). The reason we chose the Cote D'Azur (apart from it being a beautiful part of the world) was because all the reports I'd had suggested it was super child friendly (and yes, the pictures of Elton John en famille were enough to convince me that it was the destination for us......). But, over the week we definitely learnt a few things. Here are my top tips for a family trip to the South of France

1. Club 55 is not child friendly unless you are Elton John.

You can't go to St.Tropez without visiting Pampelonne Beach, a huge stretch of sandy beach with a coastline heaving with boats bigger than English counties, and super cool beach restaurants all the way down the shore. Of the restaurants and bars, Club 55 is the most famous, and frequented by the rich and famous. We went for lunch at the start of our trip, and although enjoyed it (well, I did, I don't think Mr.G enjoyed getting the bill so much), were quite surprised at how badly kitted up for children it was. I don't know where Elton changes baby Elijah, but I found myself crouched on a stone floor, in the tiniest toilet cubicle, feeling guilty for putting a dirty baby wipe in a bin. And maybe baby Elijah has incredible sitting skills, but the high chair we asked for arrived after a short 30 minute wait, was literally a chair on big legs. No straps or supports. Arthur was much happier eating sand on the floor. Although the Oligarch next to us looked less than impressed when he started filling his sandal with sand. And, although the cooling jets of water are amazing (Mr.G is trying to install them in our garden, using the hose pipe and a cocktail stick, the effects are less tropical cooling mist, and more London drizzle), they made Fifi's ipad (FYI the accessory du jour, every child had one, obviously) rather damp and made Fifi's super curl hair frizz up like crazy. There was no way she was going to secure a playdate with Zachary with frizzy hair.

Cooling the baby in the water mist
To be fair, the beach was beautiful, the food and wine sublime, but Club 55 is just not great for young children. We found Cabane Bambou, a little further down the beach so much better for them. Very relaxed, with children's options on the menu and lots of space for them to play.

2. Aqualand......

One of the big attractions for children along the Cote D'Azur is Aqualand, an amazing water park with slides, pools and all sorts of fun things for kids to do. Suffice to say its hot, grotty, expensive and somewhere I never plan to revisit. In fact, I have renamed it Verucca-land. A much more accurate description.

3. Don't Drive Anywhere

Someone mentioned to me that the traffic along the coast was quite bad. They lied. The traffic along the coast is not 'quite' bad, it's horrific. It took us two and a half hours to drive 20km. We got overtaken by the same joggers at least 5 times, cooing with delight when we 're-overtook' them, and sighing in despair every time their bobbing heads ran past our windows. And, as you can imagine, the kids loved being stuck in the car for hours at a time. Fifi delighted in telling us she needed to wee every 5 minutes, as a tactic to get us to stop the car and let her out, only interspersed with shouting 'out, out, out' every few minutes. My advice is to befriend a rich person and borrow their yacht. Or, if your rich friends are busy, try the boat shuttle, which my children adored.

4. Nice airport is slightly more baby friendly....but don't hire a car

We found Nice airport to be pretty well set up for families. They have a dedicated security area for families with young children and pushchairs, and a playroom with a handful of toys, which means they can have a run around and stretch their legs pre-flight. They also have baby changing facilities (a treat, my first changing table in nearly a week). But, if you are hiring a car, bewarned. The rental offices are miles away from the terminal we had to use, and involve a 5 minute bus ride, where you have to get all of your suitcases off the trolley (Mr.G delighted in lugging my 23kg suitcase, filled with fancy clothes for our glamorous lunches with Elton and David in St.Tropez), onto the bus, with your children and buggy, whilst being pushed and shoved by anyone who fancies it. After bundling off the bus, we had managed to lose our only Euro, so struggled to get another trolley, and when we finally got 3 suitcases, 2 children, one pushchair and ourselves moving in the direction of the car rental office, we were met by hour long queues in a glass roofed building with no air con. When we finally found our hire car, which seemed to be artfully hidden in the farthest recesses of the world's largest car park, we realised the child seats hadn't been put in. While Mr.G struggled to start the car, we had to haggle for car seats, which we were then told were not alowed to be fitted by anyone at the car rental company, as they weren't insured. Cue another 30 minutes of trying to fit two very old, cumbersome car seats with only French instructions. My advice...? If your rich friend is busy on hiss yacht, ask to borrow his helicopter.

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