Moulin de la Baine restaurant

The Moulin de la baine restaurant is located just outside Chaniers, 10km east of Saintes and just a 40 min drive from our family holiday cottages, La Grange du Moulin and Les Vallaies

Situation of Moulin de la Baine restaurant

The restaurant is situated in a 17th century Colbert appointed water mill over the river Charente . It is a large restaurant with three indoor rooms altogether seating 240 plus the terrace ! However we only recommend this restaurant if you can get a seat on the terrace on a sunny day as this is the reason for going. Stunning views over a ‘Monet painting’ with the ducks swimming around the lilly pads and the trees hanging over the gently flowing river – it’s a beautiful setting.

Although I am usually wary of large restaurants with large menus (which this one has) we’ve never had a bad meal or bad service. The food isn’t Michelin starred but it’s a great family restaurant. We have always chosen the Moulin de la Baine restaurant for family birthdays and anniversary s. They are very welcoming of young and old alike and are used to serving large groups. In fact their speciality is a huge baked alaska flamed in Cognac at the table.

Cruise down the Charente

The restaurant also run tours with a  boat company – the ‘Bernard Pallissy’ which cruises down the river from Saintes (starts just next to the Arch pictured above) to Chaniers where you disembark and enjoy a set menu at the restaurant Moulin de la Bain before returning by boat to Saintes . They do day time and evening cruises and is a lovely way to spend a sunny day. Further details can be found here 

It’s quite a long day if you have young children. We went when the kids were quite small and although it was fine going (it takes about 1hr30 to get to the restaurant) after 2hr30 at the restaurant they were hard work to entertain coming back (another 1hr30 along the same route) It’s a lovely leisurely cruise but the countryside is quite flat and uneventful in terms of things for the children to look at along the way (especially when they’ve already seen them on the way there) You get back at 4pm on the basic cruise. There is also a ‘discovery’ cruise which takes a diversion to Port d’envaux and returns to Saintes at 6.30pm.

Highly recommend the cruise for a celebration but if you have young kids then take into consideration it’s an all day event. Having done the cruise, we now just drive to the restaurant which takes about 40 mins.

Kids at Moulin de la Baine

The restaurant is very welcoming of families. They offer a childrens menu at a very reasonable price for three courses, (10€) the starter alone is enough to satisfy most children – a platter of paté, salad and duck slices followed by an (unfortunately unimaginative) ham, burger or fish (not battered) with chips (it says vegetables on the menu but we’ve only ever received chips – which of course the kids arn’t complaining about !) There was a change of management a few years ago as the kids menu used to be mini versions of the adults which we much preferred but our kids are too big now to go near a kids menu anyway.

They can provide a high chair (but request this when booking to be sure) . There’s plenty of space around the tables to have a pushchair with a sleeping baby in too.

 

Our kids loved (and still do) having an explore down below where the water wheels used to be (unfortunately now mostly rotten away) but it’s like a cave with dirt floors and secret hiding places and bridges over the rushing water of the river a foot or two below you.

They also enjoy the habitual walk around ‘the island’ after lunch

‘The Island’

The Mill is located at a point where the Charente river splits into several ‘rivers’  and an island has been created between the confluence of the river and a waterway with a lock for narrow boats to enable them to navigate the river more easily. After a long leisurely meal, we always take a wander around and will stop to watch a boat navigate the lock. The kids climb trees and generally have a lovely time running around. There used to be some shallow water where we used to swim but this has been barred off possibly because of the danger of the fast water passing under the bridge. Older children still jump off the bridge further down into the deeper water on hot sunny days.

Opening times of Moulin de la Baine

The Moulin de la Baine restaurant is open every day from St Valentines day through to mid November. We recommend reserving a table during the summer, particularly on Sundays as it is very popular. We can do this for you.

Further information on the restaurant can be found on their web site here

ontent by Wendy Blakeman

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Chateau des Enigmas

We spent a lovely day at the Chateau des énigmas (Chateau of puzzles ) with my two boys, 14 and 12 and my niece (11) and nephew (9)  . It was a fun day that kept us all interested and would of been suitable for much younger children too with mum and dads help.

The web site describes the Le Château des Énigmes as ” a new kind of theme park, which is both fun and educational: come and discover this splendid Italian Renaissance Chateau with your family or friends. You will take part in a journey adventure in the castle, the wooded park and its little farm.” This year, the chateau d’Usson , registered as historical monument invites you to join Willy the pirate in his treasure hunt to seek for the enigma of the castle and have fun learning how to be a pirate whilst following the trail.

The trail at the Chateau des énigmas

There are 27 puzzles or tasks to complete. The tasks are usually quite simple and allow younger children to feel as though they are participating fully in the puzzle without it being too complicated. With the pirate them these tasks involve pirate skills like knot tying, walking the plank, climbing etc You are free to do the skills or not as they do not constitute part of the puzzle.

The real puzzles vary in difficulty but not so hard that the children get bored. Each puzzle has an answer. At the end of the trail you enter these answers into an interactive screen. It’s not the end of the world if you have a few wrong as you can correct your answer. Each correct answer will give you a clue. When you have all these written down you have to work out the ‘énigma’ – there are three levels of difficulty. You could do all three to help but there were queues for the screens so we didn’t want to hold up others from entering their answers.

 

 

At the end you give your answer and receive a certificate (even if it’s wrong !) plus a 2€ voucher off your next entry. It was a really fun day which we all enjoyed. We would definitely recommend it as a good family day with the whole family.

 

Location of Chateau des énigmas

There are two Chateau des énigmas in France. Our closest is situated in Pons in the Charente-Maritime (Poitou-Charentes or Nouvelle Aquitaine as the region is now known),

The Château des Énigmes is less than 30 minutes from Saintes / Cognac / Royan, and within an hour of several of our larger towns – Bordeaux, Angoulême, Niort and La Rochelle. So from our family friendly holiday cottages here at Les Vallaies and La Grange du Moulin  it’s about a 50 minute drive.

The second is in Fréteval in the Loir-et-Cher, at the heart of the Val de Loire and registered as a site of UNESCO the Château de Rocheux is host to this chateau des énigmas park.

 

History of Chateau des énigmas

In 1536 Jean de Rabaine commissioned one of the greatest architects of his time, Nicolas Bachelier, a pupil of Michelangelo, to build a château. The Château d’Usson, with all the characteristics of a classic Renaissance château was built in the village of Echebrune in Charente-Maritime, 8km from it’s present site. It has had a troubled but interesting history best described on the web site here but needless to say it eventually ended up in it’s present position . During the 1980s the Château was stripped of some of its ornaments by its then owner. The State intervened and put the Château up for sale.

In 1998 that Philippe Lapouyade bought the Château d’Usson with the idea of creating a giant treasure hunt which would allow visitors to discover this lovely Renaissance château and its grounds : The Château des Enigmes Activity Park opened its gates the following year. The chateau now welcomes more than 50,000 visitors a year, making it the most visited château in Charente-Maritime!

Practical info for Chateau des énigmas

We would recommend taking a picnic with you. The course lasts around 3 hours but longer if you stop for a break or enjoy wandering the grounds. There is a small snack bar which is open in July and August; offering chips, crisps, sandwiches, ice creams and drinks but we had to wait a while even eating at 3pm so I expect at lunch time the queues and wait would be a bit on the long side. There are plenty of shady picnic areas and if we go again that is what we shall do. There is also this little play park at the café

The chateau des énigmas is open daily non-stop  from 1st April to 5 November 2017, from 10am to 7pm (8pm in July and August). We paid 14€ per adult and 11€ for the 4 to 12 yrs (under 4 yrs free)

There is a small wooden toilet block (3 loos) so go when you are passing as it’s a long hike with a child that needs a wee from the other end of the park (although there are plenty of trees and bushes for a quick toddler wee !) No baby changing facilities or disabled facilities as far as we could see.

There is plenty of parking immediately outside the park. Take a pen unless you want to pay 50c for the souvenir one. You will need one to fill in your answers.

All in all a good day out for all the family when staying at our family friendly holiday cottages

content by Wendy Blakeman

 

Cherries in June

This year is proving to be a bumper cherry harvest. We have three cherry trees in various locations, all of them sweet cherries. We have so far just stripped the easy lower branches and I still have far more than I know what to do with.

Having made a very successful bitter orange liqueur I now have a cherry version on the go. The cherries have been soaking in 40% fruit alcohol for about a week or so and it smells delicious but I’m determined to keep it going for at least 30 days before we are tempted to try it. The greatest part (apart from the end result ) is that you only need to break the cherry skins – no de stoning required. I put a couple kilos of cherries into a litre of fruit alcohol (the measurements given were 500g cherries to 375ml alcohol) and squished the cherries to release the juice and flavour. I made up a sugar syrup and added that and have just left it covered. Some recipes add cinnamon, vanilla, almond essence (although the cherry pips give that flavour), some use just vodka, others use brandy, it’s definitely a recipe you can change to suit your tastes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

With the next batch of cherries I made a cherry syrup – hoping to use it on barbecue evenings as an alternative to the homemade elderflower syrup we add to our sparkling wine aperitif. Tonight will be the first bbq test ! The recipe I used was 450g cherries to 150g sugar, simmer for 15 mins, cool then strain through a muslin. Pour into plastic water bottles then chill if using in the next week or so, or freeze. The amount of sugar will vary depending on your taste and sweetness of your cherries. Again it’s an easy recipe as you just squish the cherries, no need to de stone them as it’s sieved anyway.

Next I made a cherry crumble which was yummy cold with vanilla ice cream (would also be good hot of course but we ate it yesterday when it was 32c in the shade) I used a Jamie Oliver recipe which worked just great. I’m going to make cherry Eton mess next.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

#lovecherries #cherryharvest #French #Family #Holiday

www.grangedumoulin.com www.lesvallaies.com

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Restaurants

We love our food and wine and love to eat out. We are very lucky to have some excellent restaurants in the area, some we regularly visit, some are for really special occasions and others have been recommended by families who have stayed with us at our family holiday cottages here in the Charente Maritime region of France.

Restaurants for a special occasion

Le Scorlion restaurant, Saint Jean d’Angely

Le Scorlion is a superb restaurant located in the centre of Saint Jean d’Angely and overlooking the Abbey cloisters. Perfect for an intimate dinner for two. Excellent service, delicious food and superb price. Listed in the Michelin guide. Well worth asking me to babysit so you can have a grown up meal out one evening whilst staying with us.

menus from 27€ to 40€

Read more about Le Scorlion restaurant here…..

La Goule Beneze restaurant, Saint Jean d’Angely

 

 

 

 

Located just on the edge of Saint Jean d’Angely, La Goule Beneze is a small family run hotel and restaurant. Subsequently it offers a superb childrens menu and there may be families present who are staying in the hotel; however it still offers a grown up atmosphere with linen tablecloths and lovely table settings, so worth a special occasion.

The couple have travelled extensively and speak excellent English if you are struggling with the menu. The menu itself is well thought out, changes regularly with the season and has unusual flavours mixed with classic dishes.

menus from 26€ to 40€

childrens menu

Read more about La Goule Beneze restaurant here….

Les Pigeons Blancs restaurant, Cognac

Located on the edge of Cognac in beautiful grounds, Les Pigeons Blancs restaurant offers a lovely setting for a sunny outdoor meal or an intimate evening meal inside. The cheese platter is fantastic and you have to choose a minimum of 3 desserts – so make sure you are hungry !

menus from 27€ to 60€

childrens menu

Read more about Les Pigeons Blancs restauarant here…..

Christopher Coutanceau, La Rochelle

With 2 michelin stars, this is one for a very special occasion. I’d say it would be difficult to find a restaurant in the UK of such a high standard at such a reasonable price and pretty much impossible to find one with a high chair !

Located overlooking the beach in La Rochelle and at the entrance to the port area, you can watch the yachts sale in and out of the harbour whilst enjoying a superb meal.

Businessmen and woman frequent this establishment to impress their clients but we have eaten here with the children (because they love their food as much as we do !) and they are treated with the same respect as everyone (but they are very well behaved of course !)

menus from 68€ to 230€

Read more about Coutanceau restaurant here ….

Restaurants for all the family

The closest restaurants to our family holiday cottages can all be found just a short drive away (10mins) in Saint Jean d’Angely. All our local restaurants welcome families with well behaved children. All the following restaurants have a childrens menu.

Le Petit Bouchon restaurant, Saint Jean d’Angely

Le Petit Bouchon restauarant is located in the centre of our local town, Saint Jean d’Angely, just next to the indoor market ; so the perfect spot to eat after an hour or so browsing the market stalls on Wednesday and Saturday market days.

 

 

We have so far never eaten there but many of our guests have. One said he always eats there as it’s the best steak he’s ever eaten – quite an accolade. It has good reviews on Trip advisor

Le Cabanon restaurant, Saint Jean d’Angely

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We have eaten here at lunch and dinner and also for a coffee in the morning. The great thing about this restaurant is it’s open on Monday evenings when everything else is closed ! Plus it’s open all day for coffee. We experienced great service (as do most of their clients according to the excellent reviews on Trip advisor )

Le Moulin de la Baine restaurant, Chaniers

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This has been a favourite of ours for many years. Set in a Colbert appointed water mill over the river Charente it provides a stunning setting for a long lunch on sunny Sunday afternoons. We often go for birthday celebrations with the whole family as the service is always excellent as the staff are used to waiting on large groups.

The restaurant is teemed with the Bernard Palissy boat which offers a mini cruise down the Charente river from Saintes ending at Le Moulin de la baine for a set menu and return trip from Tuesday to Sundays. Their speciality is a huge baked alaska, sometimes requiring several staff to carry it in for large groups.

They welcome families and children too and have a pleasant childrens menu. When they were very young we used to take it in turns between courses to take them exploring beneath the bridge through the tunnels where the river water rushes through – they loved it and it kept them happy during a long grown up lunch on sunny afternoons.

It is also lovely to walk over the bridge to the island where the canal meets the river and you can watch barges negotiating the lock.

Visit their web site here

Batia restaurant, Saintes

Located on a boat moored on the river in Saintes the Batia restaurant has a superb location. The menu is upmarket burgers and steak frites plus a few other more refined dishes. Nice ambience, especially on deck on a sunny day and it’s nicely decorated.

 

 

 

When we ate here the service was very slow but trip advisor reviews vary from excellent to awful so it obviously varies

Menus from 15€ to 27€

childrens menu

Visit their web site here

Saint Jean d’Angely restaurants

Saint Jean d’Angely only has a population of around 7000, the size of some villages in the UK; yet it boasts 3 large supermarkets and numerous smaller ones, an A&E unit/hospital a thrice weekly market and numerous bars and restaurants. Here’s a selection of the main ones.

Hotel Restaurant de la Place restaurant, Saint Jean d’Angely

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Located on the central place near the Maire. Good for an evening out ‘sans enfants’ . it is a hotel restaurant so will have families staying in the holidays but the restaurant is stylish and has large picture windows looking out onto the central square (although this is a car park)  With crisp linen tablecloths and a quiet atmosphere it is ideal for an intimate meal out. We ate here years ago before we had the children and really must go back as it has great trip advisor reviews

menus 25€ – 35€

childrens menu

Les Jacobins restaurant, Saint Jean d’Angely

 

 

 

 

 

This is a pizzeria restaurant serving wood fired pizzas for takeaway as well as to eat in but it also offers some great down to earth Italien and  French basics like steak frites, spaghetti bolognaise, confit de canard and carbonara. Perfect for a relaxed meal out with the children. It has a good sized inside restaurant plus a smaller outdoor terrace.

A la carte menu, pizzas around 8-10€; pastas around 8€

childrens menu

Le Mareyeur restaurant, Saint Jean d’Angely

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Le Mareyeur restaurant is principally a fish / seafood restaurant but with a couple of meat dishes thrown in . Not eaten here yet but has good trip advisor reviews and several of our families have had very enjoyable meals here so looks like it’s on our list to try out. Located on the furthest square from the centre but still only a few minutes walk from wherever you park in town. Has a nice terrace to the front for summer evenings.

menus 15€ to 30€

La Creperie de l’Abbeye and L’ancre Marine restaurants, Saint Jean d’Angely

La creperie de l’Abbeye and L’ancre marine are both creperies. Not my idea of a ‘meal’ but obviously very popular in this town. Great for a simple lunch maybe after the market.

Carottes et Gingembre vegetarian restaurant, Saint Jean d’Angely

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Carottes et Gingembre (Carotts and ginger) is a vegetarian restaurant which is quite a novel thing in rural France so is subsequently quite popular. It also has vegan and gluten free options. It’s number two on trip advisor after Le Scorlion. Find out more on their web site here

menus 15 – 20€

These are just a selection of the main restaurants found around our family friendly holiday accommodation here in the Charente Maritime region of South West France.

Most families who stay with us tend to have lunches out when they are sightseeing then come back to the cottages and light up the barbecue or have a simple alfresco meal of fresh crusty bread, patés, cold meats and salads together with a crisp chilled glass of wine whilst sat watching the sun go down on their terrace. Occasionally they’ll have an intimate meal out one evening whilst I look after their children in their cottage or pop out with the kids to one of the bistros in Saint Jean d’Angely I’ve mentioned above. I’d love to receive comments from families who’ve stayed with us on how they enjoyed any of these restaurants . Thank you.

content by Wendy Blakeman

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Ernest le glacier, La Rochelle

Whenever visiting La Rochelle we recommend popping into Ernests ice cream shop; we always make time, usually after a meal at Andrés seafood restaurant

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It’s always busy and there’s often a queue but it’s worth it. There is an array of ice creams to choose from,(100 apparently) too many really – it’s often really hard to choose which one or ones to have !

 

 

 

 

The flavours range from strawberry, vanilla and chocolate to lime with basil, bubblegum, fig and melon in Pineau – yumm.

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They now have two shops in La Rochelle and one in Niort too. They do ice lollies, cornets and ‘pot Italien’ which you can fill with up to 10 different flavours and share with friends !

The scoops are always really generous – these double scoops below cost 4€

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Content by Wendy Blakeman

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Water parks and swimming in Charente Maritime

We are well served here in the Charente Maritime for fun filled water parks. From babies and toddlers to teens, every child loves the water. Our own two have always been more than happy to jump into a freezing puddle in winter or an unheated pool in autumn never mind a heated pool with water slides in mid summer !

Our two closest water parks/swimming centres are Atlantys in Saint Jean d’Angely (10 mins drive) and Nautilus in Angouleme (40 mins drive) and les Iles de Jonzac, (60mins)  and a little further afield we have Ileo on the Ile d’Oleron (1hr15)

We are regular visitors to Atlantys as it is so close and being all indoors it’s good all through the year. Nautilus is more of a summer day out as much of the really fun stuff is outdoors so you need a nice hot day. We havn’t tried Les Iles de Jonzac or Ileo but they’ve got good trip advisor reviews.

Atlantys swimming centre

We’ve been swimming at Atlantys since the children were babies; On Saturday mornings (10-12) outside school holidays (so September to end June) the pool is exclusively open for the under 4’s, the temperature is turned up, change mats and pottys are supplied by the pool and the pool is filled with balls, floats, mats, climbing frames and all manner of fun stuff for little ones – I went every week with my two when they were toddlers, this is where they learnt to swim at such a young age. Volunteers give advice on how to get your toddlers confident in the water.

In summer holidays it is open every day. The doors open up into a sunbathing area and play area for the little ones. There’s also a café for snacks.  There’s no time limit on how long you stay. Clean changing rooms, lockers (need a 2€ coin- refunded after) toilets and showers. Be warned – men and boys (even toddlers) MUST wear tight fitting swimwear – no loose swim shorts allowed and this is enforced. Suitable swimwear can be purchased from a vending machine inside but may be cheaper to buy them beforehand.

The Atlantys swimming pool center is just next to the Saint Jean d’Angely park, so you can easily spend the day here.

Nautilus water park

We first visited Nautilus water park when the children were little. It wasn’t a great day out, in fact we only stayed about an hour. There was a shallow toddler area but most of the ‘fun’ was outside with rapids, and huge water slides with big teenagers running around. If you’ve got little kids we’d recommend Atlantys instead or we have heard that the Iles de Jonzac is great for younger children and has more facilities than Atlantys with a wave pool too.

 

 

 

 

 

We next went when the children were much older and good swimmers and we were able to let them run around freely whilst we relaxed on a sunbed – It was our kids that were the big kids now ! They loved it. The slide is huge, theres an outdoor water slide with about 5 lanes and you wizz down really fast then the wave pool is always fun for everyone and the rapids are fun too but if your kids are a bit younger / smaller then go on with them as the teens can be a bit excitable in pushing past.

There’s loads of parking, clean secure changing rooms with lockers and of course toilets. There’s a restaurant and a snack bar and an ice skating rink too open every afternoon from 3pm in summer (July/August) The pools are open every day from 10am in July and August. Again tight fitting swimmers must be worn.

Other swimming options

Of course you don’t really need to leave ‘home’ to enjoy the water experience. Both our family friendly holiday sites have heated pools. At La Grange du Moulin our main pool (10mx5m) is heated to 28c and the toddler pool (4m diameter and 60 cm deep) is heated to 30c. The toddler pool is filled with floats and watering cans and is shaded from the heat of the day too.

 

 

 

 

 

 

We also have a hot tub at La Grange du Moulin, in it’s own secure area Mum and Dad can relax at the end of the day after the children are in bed and watch the stars with a ‘glass’ (plastic champagne flutes are provided !) in 38c and massage jets.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

At Les Vallaies holiday cottages the heated pool has a sloping beach entrance which starts at 15cm so ideal for toddlers and young children to paddle in. There’s also a bubble pool.

Just a 30 min drive from our holiday cottages is Les Gours plan d’eau. A swimming lake with a sandy beach, café bar, life guard and playground. An ideal swimming place if you don’t fancy driving to the ‘real’ beach

The Charente Maritime also has hundreds of miles of sandy beaches. for sea swimming and fun. Even in peak season you’ll be able to find a beach that’s not crowded. The mainland beaches have shallow gently sloping beaches, so great for families; the islands on the Atlantic side have rougher waters, great for older children who love waves.

 

Whatever your swimming preferences there’s something for everyone when staying with us at our family holiday cottages La Grange du Moulin and Les Vallaies

Content by Wendy Blakeman

 

 

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Saint Jean d’Angely…..

Our local town of Saint Jean d’Angely

Just a 10km easy drive from our family holiday cottages, La Grange du Moulin and Les Vallaies lies the market town of Saint Jean d’Angely. With a population of just 7000 it has a surprising number of great facilities. There are two large supermarkets plus several smaller ones; providing a good array of produce including fresh milk, big familiar names (Kelloggs, Nescafé and even PG tips in the foreign foods section)

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The town also boasts a thrice weekly local market (Wednesday and Saturday mornings and a smaller Sunday morning one too) Here you can wander the cobbled medieval streets with the locals and pick up fresh fish, oysters and mussels, home grown vegetables, as well as local wines and cheeses.

Restaurants, cafés and bars

After practicing your French chatting to the producers and picking up some local delights for your evening meal you can relax in a café bar and watch the local life go by. There are dozens of bars where you can sit outside and soak up the atmosphere of a small French town. ‘Ellis park’ and ‘Rum runners’ are two of the most central ones, located on the place du Pilori. The children can run in and out of the tables and peer into the ornate Pilori well (don’t worry it’s covered !) whilst you enjoy a morning coffee. When my two were young, they used to enjoy dipping their croissants a large hot chocolate – very French !

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The town also boasts a good selection of restaurants from simple bistros to top class cuisine. Le Scorlion and La Goule Beneze are two restaurants worthy of a babysitter. Enjoy a night out whilst I (a registered childminder) look after your children in your holiday cottage. Alternatively enjoy one of the many family restaurants the town has to offer – L’Annexe and Le Cabanon bistros,  Les Jacobins pizzeria, Le Mareyeur fish restaurant or La creperie de l’Abbeye for some simple crepes. All the restaurants do however not open until 7pm in the evening and many are closed on Sunday and Monday. We can make reservations for you.

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History of Saint Jean d’Angely

The town of Saint Jean d’Angely has had a long and brutal history. The Abbey is the main feature of the town. It was founded in the ninth century to house a relic of Saint John the Baptist, and rebuilt in the 14th, 17th and 18th centuries because of repeated destruction. The Abbey was then abandoned and is now a listed building.

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Saint Jean d’Angely is situated on the pilgrim route that led to Santiago de Compostela] the edifice still constitutes a major stopping-off point for pilgrims. Since 1989, the Royal Abbey has housed the Centre of European Culture, which has breathed new life into the Abbey by restoring it as a historical and cultural site and as a place for the exchange of ideas.

For a small town it has a great selection of fun family things to do:

Atlantys swimming pool centre

Again for a small town, we are privileged to have such a great indoor swimming centre. The Atlantys swimming pool center boasts a 25m sports pool, a 5m deep diving pool and most importantly a large kids pool with fountains, hot tub, baby pool and huge slide.

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On Saturday mornings (10-12) outside school holidays (so June and September) the pool is exclusively open for the under 4’s, the temperature is turned up, change mats and pottys are supplied by the pool and the pool is filled with balls, floats, mats, climbing frames and all manner of fun stuff for little ones – I went every week with my two when they were toddlers, this is where they learnt to swim at such a young age.

In summer holidays it is open every day. The doors open up into a sunbathing area and play area for the little ones. There’s also a café for snacks.  There’s no time limit on how long you stay. Clean changing rooms, lockers (need a 2€ coin- refunded after) toilets and showers. Be warned – men and boys (even toddlers) MUST wear tight fittening swimwear – no loose swim shorts allowed and this is enforced. Suitable swimwear can be purchased from a vending machine inside but may be cheaper to buy them beforehand.

The Atlantys swimming pool center is just next to the Saint Jean d’Angely park, so you can easily spend the day here.

Saint Jean d’Angely park

located next door to the Atlantys swimming pool center (follow the signs for the hospital and the urgences until you pick up signs for the Base de Loisirs or Plan d’eau (both mean the park) there’s plenty of parking but only one toilet next to the café so go before you walk over to the other side of the park to the play area !

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Located on the lake you can hire canoes and pedaloes and it’s linked to the river Boutonne, so you can take your canoe further afield if you wish. There are some (signposted ) lovely walks, there’s a café /restaurant open in summer, a football pitch, ping pong table, mini golf, skateboard parc, childrens play park and rope climbing web. Take a picnic and feed the ducks. It’s a very easy and pleasurable afternoon out.

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Saint Jean d’Angely itself

The town itself is a pleasure to walk around with its cobbled streets and medieval buildings. The tour de l’horloge is worth a look – push open the door and climb the steps. (open mid june to mid sept, tues- sun, 10.30-12.30 and 14.30 – 19.00 & FREE !) wander around the old abbey, take a look at the ceiling in the library and the beautiful old herb market too (now the indoor market) On a rainy day maybe pop into the museum des cordeliers which among other things has a fabulous exhibition of the expeditions of Citroen in Africa in the 1920’s (open tues – sun, 10.30 – 12.30 & 13.30 to 18.00 from mid june to mid sept, see web site for openings at other times)

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All in all our local town of Saint Jean d’Angely has a wonderful history and although small is a bustling, vibrant town (just don’t go on a Monday when it’s asleep !) and has everything you will need for an enjoyable self catering stay at our family friendly holiday cottages here in the Charente Maritime region of south west France.

Content by Wendy Blakeman

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Valley des Singes (monkey valley)

Created in 1998, Valley des singes (singes is a monkey in French), is a zoological park dedicated to primates. It aims to be both a place of entertainment and education of the  world of primates and of environmental consciousness. The park’s main objective has been to contribute to raising awareness in the protection of nature and of the environment.

Valley des singes philosophy

Valley des singes is home to 450 primates in 16 hectares. You will enter the world of primates with no fences, the vast majority of monkeys are free to roam and interact with the humans, only the more dangerous primates have water barriers – for your safety, not theirs !

The main aim of the valley des singes is awareness of issues affecting and endangering primates throughout the world. The park works throughout the globe, through its Conservatory for the Protection of Primates, for the protection of monkeys and their natural environment. Over the years, Monkey valley has become a leader at European level in the proliferation of primates and even worldwide with more than 700 births to date.

Our visits to valley des singes

We have visited valley des singes twice since the children were born. The first time was before Thomas, when Benjamin was a tiny tot of 2. It was a freezing February day, it took longer than we expected to get there (about 1hr30 as we lost our way – there’s no major roads/motorways to get to it) ; most of the monkeys were hiding away in the warmth somewhere and the café was closed – so it wasn’t a great success. Still, Benjamin enjoyed running freely around the walkways and we did see the odd monkey that we got really close to.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The second time was for Thomas’ 10th birthday. He had heard one of the guests in our family holiday cottages talking about how much fun it was and decided that is what he wanted to do for his birthday treat. This time it was a hot August day and we knew the best way to get there so we were off to a better start !

Valley des singes prices and opening times

It’s 19€ per adult and 13€ per child age 5 – 12yrs (free under 5). It takes a good 1hr15 to get there, (80km drive in the middle of nowhere) so you really need to love monkeys ! Personally I think the animal park in La Palmyre (about the same drive time) is far better value and far more interesting plus you can tie it up with a few hours on the beach afterwards too. However for our families who have ‘done’ all the usual sights, it’s definitely a good alternative day out.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s well laid out, there are plenty of toilets and nappy change facilities and you are given a map so you can pick and choose which direction to take. It’s set in a woodland location so there is lots of shade around although some areas are very exposed, like the Bonobo feeding time seats – so take sunscreen, hats and water. I would highly recommend watching the feeding times. Its more like an informative show. The handler gives you lots of information about the primates and they are very entertaining without being  forced into any silly tricks – just their natural behaviour is fascinating.

It’s open 7 days a week from April to the end of October and from 10am to 7pm in July and August. Full details can be found on their web site

Restaurants at Valley des singes

The eating options at least have improved slightly over the years. Being high season both the ‘restaurants’ were at least open and they were offering more than a sandwich and crisps, however as with most tourist attractions the food is pricey and basic but the kids enjoyed the peacocks wandering around ! It may be a better option to take a picnic. There are plenty of picnic areas to choose from. You can also leave the park to eat – just make sure you get your hand stamped so you can come back in.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We had great fun on our second visit to Valley des Singes. It’s a great place for families. Young children can run freely around (it’s unlikely they’ll actually catch a monkey – they arn’t tame despite being surrounded by humans most of the time) and it’s lovely to be in such close contact with them. There’s also a petting zoo and play park. The feeding shows are very informative (in French but with audio translations available).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Content by Wendy Blakeman

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What to see and do in the Charente Maritime

What to see and do in the Charente Maritime

charentemaritime2The Charente Maritime region is famous for its Cognac and Pineau production. There are many tiny villages and hamlets to explore. Quaint chateaux are common. Local delicacies include mussels in cream, goats cheese, honey and cake with angelica. Swimming, fishing, horse riding, golf, tennis and rowing are all available during the summer months in the local area. There are also many lovely country walks all year round. The landscape is gently rolling and ideal for cycling. Below we have listed some of the things there are to see and do for families, for children and for adults. the blue links are to blogs we have written on the subjects to give you more insight.

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There’s little need to venture further afield than our local town of St Jean d’Angely, just 10mins away, but if you do there’s a huge range of places to visit and things to do to suit all ages. Details of days out can be found in each of our gites, cottages and villas and you can always ask us too if you run out of ideas.

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At La Grange du Moulin and Les Vallaies we are just an easy 1 hour drive from the coast, beaches and the famous coastal resorts of La Rochelle, Royan and Rochefort. Its also about an hour to the inland towns of Angouleme, Niort and the area around Poitiers, so we are vey centrally located for the whole Charente Maritime Region. Closer to our gites, cottages and villas you will find Cognac, Saintes, St Savinien all within just 30mins drive.

If you would like further details on any of the places listed just ask. We also have many activities going on at some of our holiday cottages. We hold professional wine tastings on a regular basis throughout the summer, every week we have a walk through the vines that the whole family can enjoy. We hold large barbecues, where everyone joins in and for our younger guests we hold teddy bear picnics and pottery painting and even scuba diving at our child friendly properties.

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What to do with Children in the Charente Maritime:

  • Atlantys Swimming Centre in Saint Jean d’Angely – play pool, dive pool, swimming pool, big slide and hot tubs, great fun when its a rainy day or even when it’s too hot.
  • St Savinien – a must for the young ones, ride on the hand made electric boats around the lake
  • Aquarium – in La Rochelle, a great rainy day thing to do but top tip, go early or very late (it’s open until 11pm in summer)

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  • La Palmyre Zoo – the best in Europe, well known for it’s breeding and rescue programme and its interactivity with the animals
  • Futuroscope – perfect for older children, not so worth while for little ones though, a theme park with rides and a vision of the future
  • Fort Boyard – have you seen the programme ? Take a boat trip to view it (can’t go in but a lovely trip all the same)
  • Nautilys Water Park – a great day out for the whole family . Near Angouleme and with indoor and outdoor pools and slides, perfect for all weathers.
  • Donkey Sanctuary – See the famous shaggy haired Poitou Donkey
  • Valley des Singes – Surround yourselves with Monkeys and learn all about them.
  • ViviLnkPaleosite – watch Dad turn into a Neanderthal, learn to make fire and throw a spear
  • Playgrounds – are numerous in the area, St Jean d’Angely has a good one next to the lake so you can feed the ducks too
  • Karting – in St Jean d’Angely for the teenagers
  • Canoeing and Pedaloes – at the local loisier near the play park in Saint Jean d’Angely

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  • Chateau Branch or Acrobranch – tree top adventures for all levels of ability
  • Chateau des Enigmas – maze and quiz
  • Noahs ark – run by the world parrot trust
  • Puy du Fou – amazing – what can I say ! A couple of hours drive from us but perhaps worth stopping over on the way down or back home. There’s nothing quite like it anywhere else.
  • European zoo – at Chize for a quieter and closer zoo visit than the one at La Palmyre. European animals. Well laid out.
  • Iles aux serpents – discover reptiles
  • Comic Museum and Chocolate factory in Angouleme

For all the Family in the Charente Maritime

  • Markets – Thrice weekly in St Jean d’Angely
  • Beaches – From La Rochelle down to Royan
  • La Rochelle – for its shopping and amazing aquarium
  • Cognac – with its world famous distillery tours

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  • Saintes – a beautiful Roman town with a fantastic ampitheatre
  • Poitiers – with the superb ‘Futuroscope’ park
  • Bordeaux – and its world famous vineyards, beautiful city
  • Angouleme – has a great water park, museums and shopping
  • Niort – for its history and shopping
  • Rochefort – with the Hermione reconstruction and corderie royal

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  • Royan – with its European awarded animal park.
  • St Jean D’Angely – our local town, shops, markets, park and tourist office
  • Venis Verte – hire a boat and explore the waterways on a canoe or hire a guide
  • Glassworks – in Cognac
  • Cafes, bars and restaurants – in St Jean d’Angely and all the local towns

What to do in the Charente Maritime for Adults:

  • All the above of course plus
  • Golfing – there a number of golf courses within an easy drive
  • Fishing – from river and lake to fishing in the sea. Passes/permits readily available

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  • Concerts – are regularly held throughout the summer season, Cognac Blues and Francofolies in La Rochelle are two of the bigger ones but our local town of St Jean d’Angely regularly holds open air concerts and shows.
  • Scuba Diving – we regularly have discover scuba sessions for children but adults are welcome to join in or if you prefer we can organise private sessions and courses.

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So as you can see the Charente Maritime has a host of fabulous things to do and see and to keep you entertained on your family holiday to France

Content by Wendy Blakeman

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Top ten tips when booking your holiday to France

Planning a trip abroad or more specifically to France ? Then here are a few tips we’ve picked up over the years that may help you plan your trip saving you time and money and hopefully make the experience less stressful and more enjoyable.

1, Budget range

This must include travel to your destination, accommodation and any extras eg if its a self catering property are linen and towels extra or included, if its a hotel is there any food included, if not what are the prices of the hotel or local restaurants. Luxury 5* or camping or something in between ? If you are taking your kids out of school make sure you include the fines in your budget. Also consider what entertainment there will be and whether this is free (walks, beach, on site activities) or not (aquariums, zoo, water park)

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2, Travel options

plane, train or automobile ? Don’t forget the cheap flight may be turn out not so cheap when you look at the car hire , insurance and getting to/from the airport, airport parking plus tolls and petrol if the airport is a long way from the accommodation; the tunnel may be handy for those living nearby but the cheap crossing to France may be outweighed by the tolls and petrol and maybe even an overnight stop in a motel if you are traveling to the south or south west of France.

What ferry port to choose ? If you are close to Dover then the obvious choice is P&O ferries or the tunnel, but if you are closer to Portsmouth, Poole or Plymouth then there are good ferry routes with Brittany ferries to northern France. P&O also do Portsmouth to Dieppe. We can offer a 20% discount off Brittany ferry crossings when booking with us and can also give you a link to get 5% off P&O ferries too (read on to find out how to get these discounts without booking !) Being on a decent ferry can be like a mini cruise – the Portsmouth to St Malo route on the Bretagne ship (Brittany ferries) is our favourite and has a superb restaurant and the lovely Commodore cabins – it costs more but gets us 4 hrs drive closer to home than the Dover Calais route and the 60€ + of tolls and a potential stopover.

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3, Region of France

there are now just 13 regions in France rather than 22, (as of 1st Jan 2016) The Charente Maritime will just no longer be part of the Poitou – Charentes region. instead it will be part of the Aquitaine Limousin Poitou-Charente region – a bit of a mouthful so they have until the summer to decide the permanent name . Maybe an acronym such as the ALP region but maybe that would be confusing !

Anyway enough politics – most tourists are more interested in 3 main things :

a/ whats the weather like – do you have to have ‘guaranteed’ sunshine or are you happy in your wellies and raincoats as long as you are with your loved ones

b/ how easy is it to get there – how far is the nearest airport and is there a link to your nearest airport in the uk; how far is it to drive and which is the best ferry port to travel from

c/ is there anything to do – what do you enjoy doing ? Are you after non stop activities or just want to chill out on the beach; do you just need to entertain the kids or do you need grown up activities too ?

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4, Time of year

Everyone hates it but the price of holidays in the summer school hols can double (or more) and with schools fining parents for taking children out of school its a difficult decision . Unfortunately it’s a supply and demand thing – we can let our cottages in peak season 20 times over yet in June we have to fight to compete to get bookings; since the season is so short in Europe nothings going to change – even if school holiday dates are made more flexible, most people want sunshine and a tan so will still choose to go in July and August so it’s always going to be more expensive.  My advice is if you are able travel out of season – do, May half term perhaps if you have school aged children, with pre school kids travel in June or September when prices for accommodation and travel are much cheaper – the weather at those times is just as good and just as reliable as the peak months.

Some of the cheap airlines only operate a service to certain smaller airports in peak season, so check first.

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Another consideration on the time of year you are travelling is In peak season (July and August) there are several weekends that are terrible for traffic. To avoid spending hours sitting in a traffic jam visit http://www.bison-fute.gouv.fr/trafic-routier-2016.html which will tell you what the traffic is likely to be like on your date of travel. They have black days (standing traffic) red days (bad) and orange days (heavy) – avoid the black and red days on certain routes if possible. Some holiday accommodations have different changeover days so search out ones which will give you options for cheaper travelling days  (like ours !!)

5, Motorway driving

Wherever you go or whichever route you take to our family holiday cottages you’ll likely end up on a toll road. Many of the motorways are free – around large cities usually, but you have to be pretty determined to avoid the ones that arn’t free.

A good web site to use to give you an idea of current charges along your route is  www.autoroutes.fr  just enter your route and it will give you an estimate of petrol costs and toll charges. Also drive-france.com and headlampconvertors.co.uk provide useful info on driving in France. Motorway tolls do take uk credit/debit cards, but have some euros handy just in case.

Fuel is still cheaper in France than the UK but the difference these days is not as much as it used to be. As with the UK avoid filling up on the motorways if possible as fuel will be a lot more expensive there than in the supermarkets.

There is no excuse to have a regular break on French motorways, there are rest stops pretty much every 20km or so; they may not be full services, just parking, a loo and a picnic area usually, but a definite plus when you have an active toddler who needs to stretch their legs.

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6, When Flying

shop around and keep an eye out for the deals. Most airlines (and ferry companies for that matter)  use twitter, facebook and google+ to let everyone know about the deals they are offering, yet its surprising how few people follow them to be first in the queue, by the time you hear about the deals they’ve gone – so start following your favourite airline to get the deals. Follow us on our social media then email us to get the 20% discount code for Brittany ferry crossings, you don’t need to of booked with us but we are sure we can tempt you for another year when you see what a great time families have.

Baggage charges are the biggest bug bear of cheap airline clients, so check the small print, how much can you carry, check the bag sizes and hand luggage allowances and remember to check in and print off your boarding card before you get to the airport.

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7, Car hire

is very competitive and all the big companies offer deals just like the airlines, at different times during the year (usually early on before Christmas to get early bookers and then later in the season to rid themselves of empty seats/cars) Its probably wisest to check for the best deal through a price comparison site. Make sure you check the small print too – things like having to return the car full (or empty ) of fuel, cleaning it thoroughly (we’ve had guests think they’ve cleaned it yet still been charged) and charges for car seats (and whether there is anyone qualified to fit it for you) Consider taking your own car seats, If your child has their own airline seat with permission you should be able to take your car seat on board and your child can sit in it which makes them more comfortable and secure – you then have your own seat for the car which you know how to fit safely.

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8, Accommodation

do you want 5* all the way in which case the large online companies are good ways of finding a place and the best deals – we find booking.com very handy when searching for hotels as they only show you hotels with family rooms/can accommodate your sized family which saves time – we then often book direct with the hotel as its said that a hotel will treat you better if you book direct as they havn’t had to fork out the commission !! (Whether that’s true or not I don’t know) we treat all our families the same and we advertise with booking.com too but are happier when families book direct !! If considering camping or a mobile home then think about  the alternatives too, we have had numerous families come to us after camping and cannot believe they have a whole house slightly inland for less than a tent near the beach !

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9, Safety and comfort

when traveling with young children then you need to be organised. Babies and toddlers need lots of equipment to make their lives comfortable and your life easier but it’s a lot to carry so look for places that offer family rooms, cots, high chairs, booster seats at the very least. Our own properties offer so much more as we specialise in accommodating families with young children. All our properties are equipped with stair barriers, full sized baths, high chairs, cots and booster seats, plastic crockery, cutlery and even hand blenders we can also offer steam sterilisers, play mats, change mats, pottys and toilet seats – just ask, if we have it, it’s yours ! Safety is also a consideration with young children, a campsite or holiday camp may be fun but you can’t allow your little ones to run to the swings alone, you’ll need to be with them all the time. A stand alone property may be more your style but then the kids will need entertaining and so that means you’ll have less time to relax . A small complex (like ours !! ) at www.grangedumoulin.com and www.lesvallaies.com may be just what you need.

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10, A little planning

and discussion of all these issues before searching for this years holiday will save a lot of time and will make sure the holiday you pick is right for you and your family.

Wherever and Whichever way you decide to travel, make the choosing, planning, booking and traveling part of the excitement and enhance your holiday enjoyment. Remember to follow/like our social media pages to get your Ferry discount.

HAPPY HOLIDAYS

content by Wendy Blakeman

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