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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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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Les Gours plan d’eau – swimming lake with beach

After 20 years here we are still discovering new places. On Sunday we were at one of our stand alone villas – Villa Fontaine in the rural French hilltop village of Fontaine Chalendray so after our mornings work we thought we would check out a swimming lake a friend had told us about.

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Just 10 minutes drive away (and 30 mins from our La Grange du Moulin and Les Vallaies holiday cottages) Les Gours plan d’eau is in the middle of no where and you can’t even see the lake from the road so you’d never come across it by accident; there is a small sign but if you blinked you’d miss it, so you definitely need directions to get there. Consequently it’s not busy – just those ‘in the know’ have reserved tables in the restaurant.

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We arrived at lunchtime so were pleased to find the restaurant serving steak frites for just 9€50 including an ice cream for dessert. They also offer a full menu of tomatoe salad, paté or melon followed by steak frite (a very nice piece of faut filet and a huge platter of homemade chips), cheese, ice cream cone, caraf of wine, water and bread – all for 13€50; no wonder most tables were reserved. Apparently this menu is only offered on a Sunday but the bar is open throughout the week offering drinks and snacks such as waffles. It’s very simply done so keeps the costs low – very French actually – paper table cloth, thin plastic plates and cups and the food served on platters for you to help yourselves.

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After lunch we headed across the lane to the lake. It’s a beautiful situation – surrounded by mature trees giving lots of shade. Lots of benches and lots of space. There’s a good sized man made beach with lovely soft sand which leads down to the paddling and swimming areas. The paddling area is a maximum 80cm depth and has a rope to define the area, as does the swimming area which goes from 80cm to 3m50. The swimming area is surveyed by a life guard from 2pm until 6pm most days during the summer holidays. The rest of the lake is reserved for fishing.

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A nice play area is provided too with swings, slide and a see saw.

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We had a lovely few hours, the children didn’t come out of the lake until it was time to leave, they had so much fun. We highly recommend it as an alternative to going to the beach for the day – it’s much closer and there’s no low tide !

Find out more about all our family holiday cottages here in the Charente Maritime region of France on our web sites

www.grangedumoulin.com

www.lesvallaies.com

www.french-gites-and-villas.com

www.childfriendlygites.com

content by Wendy Blakeman

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Ten essential things to pack when travelling to France

Essential things to pack – well many of these things will seem obvious but in the last 20 years we have experienced families who have forgotten at least one of these things – new baby passport is the most common ! But as well as remembering to take them away – don’t forget to bring them back home too !

1, Current passport

– check all passports are in date at least 3 months before travelling to give time to renew if necessary. Don’t forget new baby needs a passport too.
To renew or apply for a uk passport go to www.gov.uk/apply-renew-passport

passport

2, Tickets

– whether this be a printed email ticket, a barcode on your phone or just a reservation number its easy to forget these days as few people receive ‘old fashioned tickets’ but you’ll definitely need something ! Many of the cheap airlines require you to check in online and print boarding passes before arriving at the airport, so make sure you check your airlines requirements before getting to the airport to avoid extra costs

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3, EHIC card

– European Health Insurance card . This will cover 100% of emergency treatment and 70% of other treatment when in France . Apply free from the www.nhs.uk/NHSEngland/Healthcareabroad/EHIC/ there is no fee so stay away from web sites that charge

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4, Driving papers

– if hiring a car you’ll need your passport, details of your car hire reservation and your current drivers licence including the paper part for those who still have one, if taking your own car to France you must have a current drivers licence, current car insurance document, GB sticker, warning triangle and headlamps must be adjusted, a breathalyser is ‘compulsory’ but you cannot be fined (at present) for not having one . For full information on other European countries, motorcycle requirements and more in depth information about driving in France visit drive-france.com web site

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5, Travel insurance

– if you have taken out travel insurance (highly recommended) remember to bring your contract number and contact information for emergencies

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6, Accommodation details

– an address, a contact number and name and directions, you’d be surprised how many people have no idea where they are meant to be staying and end up in all sorts of places ! Don’t completely rely on the sat nav. There are many villages with the same name, roads that have changed, new one way systems – have a back up.

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7, Essential prescribed Medication

– such as inhalers, birth control, or any pre existing medical conditions. Bring prescriptions with you, so if you lose what you need, it can easily be replaced. Pharmacies will often honour a European prescription.

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8, Mobile phone

  • with charger and travel adapter and roaming set up with your service provider

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9, Clothes !

  • check out the forecast before you leave to help you pack. Remember it will always be easier and cheaper to pick up extra t-shirts and shorts on holiday if needed than jeans and fleeces

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10, Credit card

– if you forget everything else or disaster strikes at least you can buy what you need with your card. Maybe have a few euros available too, not essential but may come in handy for an emergency coffee or pay loo !

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MAKE A LIST, TICK IT OFF, ENJOY YOUR HOLIDAY !!

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Ten reasons to love (and visit) the Charente Maritime

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We love the Charente Maritime ! After 20 years here, it is most definitely home to our family and we thought you should know why we love it and why you should love it too – or at least visit ! Stay in one of our family friendly holiday cottages located centrally within the region – ideal for visiting all the fabulous places the Charente Maritime has to offer.

Top ten reasons to love and visit the Charente Maritime

 

10, WEATHER

 

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The Charente Maritime has the most sunshine hours per year after the cote d’azur but it’s a lot closer ! It is recognised as having a superb micro climate with mild winters and gorgeous summers with much less rain generally than the Loire to the north and the Dordogne to the south but just enough to keep it lush and green most of the year rather than the dry south coast.

It is usually warm and sunny from Easter until the end of October but rarely gets unbearable. June is our favourite month – all the crops are fully grown, the sunflowers are in full glory and the temperatures are just perfect; hot and sunny during the day but cool enough overnight to be able to sleep comfortably.`

9, FOOD

P1110427-250x187I can’t really claim that the Charente Maritime is the only part of France that has great food; as all French people will tell you, France has the best food in the world ! I shan’t argue, we love our food and we love French food ! We particularly love the local Charente Maritime food of course. Gillardeau oysters are a particular favourite; goats cheese from Melanie Boursin in La Villedieu, Pineau from the Cartauds in Corpeteau and the local galette with angelica dipped in honey from l’abeille galante in Cherbonniers (all just a few km from us)

Every town, however small, has a market at least once a week where the locals buy all their fresh produce – meat, fish, fruit, veg and of course cheese. The Charente Maritime is no exception. There is a market somewhere every single day. France has literally hundreds of cheeses. President Charles de Gaulle was famously quoted as saying (in French of course) ”How can you govern a country which has two hundred and forty-six varieties of cheese?” (others claim it’s actually more like 450 !) The Charente Maritime is famous for its goats cheeses and we have a number of local producers who sell from their farms or at the local Aulnay and Saint Jean d’Angely markets.

France is renowned for its patisseries, it’s pastries and of course its bread. Local bread deliveries are still made to the outlying villages that can no longer support a boulangerie. There’s no experience that makes you feel more like a local than the bread van stopping to give you your daily baguette, you can also catch up on the local gossip !

France is also home to the Michelin guide which awards ‘stars’ to top restaurants around the world. The Charente Maritime boasts 45 Michelin selected restaurants, two of which have star ratings but we know of dozens more restaurants that are absolutely superb. One of our favourites is Andrés in La Rochelle.

Our local town of Saint Jean d’Angely has a great selection of restaurants from family friendly creperies and pizzerias to superb bistros and top class dining worth a babysitter too. Whatever your taste and budget you’ll find something that suits you in the Charente Maritime.

8, LA ROCHELLE

2015-12-22 12.15.48Our county town, La Rochelle is known all over the world. It’s where the rich and famous pull into port in their yachts and gather to eat in Michelin starred restaurants and shop for jewellery. It’s also where you and I can watch the world go by whilst enjoying a coffee in one of the many cafés or eat moules frites in one of the hundreds of seafood restaurants.

Just an hours easy drive from our family holiday cottages, this beautiful city has something for everyone. Families will enjoy the great aquarium, a play on the beach and a walk through the park.

History buffs will enjoy the maritime museum, climbing the port towers and wandering the cobbled streets of the old town with its half-timbered medieval houses and Renaissance architecture and passageways covered by 17th-century arches.

Gourmets will enjoy the hundreds of restaurants, heavily dominated by seafood around the port but foods from around the world can be found down any street. The markets are overflowing with fresh fruit, vegetables and of course fish, oysters and mussels.

Find out more about La Rochelle here

7, WINE

2015-07-22 11.35.49This area is mainly known for it’s Cognac and most of the vines you see in every direction will be used for the production of Cognac. However we are just a boat ride away from the top end of the Medoc, the vineyards for Cognac soon merge into the vineyards of Bordeaux and the top names of Pauillac, Margaux and Saint Emilion . The world famous city of Bordeaux is just a 1hr30 drive from our door.

Small independent wine producers can be found all over the Charente Maritime. We have a number of local wine makers within 30 minutes of our holiday cottages that we highly recommend; Chris has worked in the wine industry all his life so he knows what he’s talking about too !

Whilst driving along the quiet country lanes you will often come across a sign to a local wine and Pineau producer (Pineau is the local tipple – an off shoot of the Cognac industry) Stop and taste their produce, meet the man (and/or woman ) who makes it and buy some as a souvenir of your holiday in the Charente Maritime.

6, COGNAC

IMG_0697A family holiday to the Charente Maritime would not be complete without a visit to the world famous town of Cognac – home to the celebrated brandy – All Cognac is brandy but not all brandy is Cognac – only the spirit produced in this area is allowed to given this prominent name.

Just cheating slightly Cognac is just a 30 minute drive from our family holiday cottages and centrally located within the Poitou Charente (it’s actually just on the Charente side rather than Charente Maritime but I’m claiming it as it’s so close !)

Cognac is home to renowned distillers such as Hennessy, Martell, Remy Martin and Otard.

All the houses offer tours to the public giving vistors an insight into the history, production and taste of their product. There may be other towns in the world called Cognac but this is the only one that can make it and it’s (nearly) in the Charente Maritime !

Find out more about Cognac here

5, BEACHES

280908 045The Charente Maritime has literally hundreds of miles of coastline and sandy beaches. With the four islands, Ile de Ré, Ile d’Oleron, Ile d’Aix and Ile Madam that are also included in this department plus the famous beach resorts of Royan, Chatelaillon plage and Fouras to name just a few, you won’t be short of beaches to relax on.

The mainland offers calm, shallow waters, ideal for families with younger children. For the older and more adventurous, just head over to the Atlantic side of the larger islands for body and wind surfing with big breakers.

Many beaches are protected through the Conservatoire du Littoral (the coastal protection agency) so remain unspoilt. The most popular beaches will have lifeguards on duty and the safer places to swim are marked .

Whatever your requirements for a day at the beach – be it sunbeds for hire, top restaurants, shade and toilets or natural beauty, peace and quiet you will find it on the beaches of the Charente Maritime.

Find out more about the beaches here

 

4, LOCATION

charente maritimeThe Charente Maritime is located about half way down France on the left ! South of the Loire, north of the Dordogne.

We are just a 4hr30 drive from the port of St Malo; 6hrs from Caen or 8hrs from Calais – far easier to reach the sunshine and beaches than having to drive all the way to the south coast.

The region is well supplied with a number of airports – La Rochelle is our closest at just 1hrs drive, then Poitiers at 1hr20 and Bordeaux at 1hr30; all the low cost airlines fly to these cities during the summer months.

Our local town of Saint Jean d’Angely is on junction 34 of the A10 motorway so links to all the major towns and cities easily.

Find out more about the location here

3, SIGHTSEEING

20150211_141139The Charente Maritime has endless places to visit and things to do. You may of already heard of La Rochelle, the Islands of Ile de Ré and Ile d’Oleron (certainly if you’ve been paying attention you will of !)

Maybe you’ve also heard of Royan and it’s beaches, Rochefort and the Corderie Royal (as well as the Hermione) Poitiers too but the Charente Maritime is also home to Saintes and it’s Roman ampitheatre, La Palmyre and its animal park, the citadelle de Brouage, la cite de l’huitre, grottes de regulus, and numerous chateaux, ports and museums to visit as well as parks, churches (above is our local Aulnay 12th century church) woods and forests and endless country lanes and cycle paths.

All the towns have an office of tourism where you can pick up local information on where you are staying and what there is to do close by.

Find out more about what to see and do in the Charente Maritime here

2, FAMILIES

Child-Friendly-BeachesThe Charente Maritime is the perfect location for families. The weather is just perfect – lots of sunshine but not unbearably hot. The location is perfect as it’s not too far to drive and is well supported for airports too.

The French are so welcoming here in rural France. They love children and they are welcome in restaurants – even the 2 star Michelin restaurant in La Rochelle has a high chair !

There’s something for all the family; beaches, animal parks and aquariums for the kids, history, culture and shopping for the adults  but you can also escape to the peace and tranquility of the rural French countryside.

Relax by the pool or sit under the shade of the vine reading a book whilst the children play with new found friends here at our family holiday cottages.

Find out more about a holiday with children here

1, US !

chris50BWe couldn’t write a top ten list of reasons to visit the Charente Maritime without including ourselves ! Our family holiday cottages, gites and villas are ideally located within the Charente Maritime to take advantage of all the above reasons to visit.

Our properties are all owned and managed by ourselves so you know you will receive excellent, personal service – just read some of our reviews on our web sites and on trip advisor to see why families return again and again to stay with us in the Charente Maritime .

They love the Charente Maritime and we are positive that you will love it too.

Visit our web site now for more information

For families – www.grangedumoulin.com and www.lesvallaies.com

For groups of adults or families with older children – www.french-gites-and-villas.com

Content by Wendy Blakeman

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Rainy day top ten things to do

1,  Aquarium

IMG_1312The aquarium in La Rochelle is the number one destination for all our families on a rainy day. Unfortunately everyone else has the same idea so either go early and get there at opening time or leave late in the afternoon and take advantage of the late night opening when it’s always much quieter

Find out more about the aquarium…..

2, Amuzetvous play centre

amuz_logoin Saintes, just a 30 min drive from our family holiday cottages this is the perfect indoor activity for children aged 0 – 12 years. A huge soft play frame of towers, tunnels, slides etc, four large enclosed trampolines, a baby ball pit for the littlest ones and even an ‘ice rink’ in summer. There is wifi and café and board games too. I have spent many a rainy afternoon with a friends playing scrabble and drinking hot chocolates whilst the children wear themselves out !

3, Paleosite

paleosite1A mostly indoor interactive museum about the ‘Pierette’ neanderthal skeleton found on the site. Activities such as making fire, spear throwing and morphing your face into a neanderthal keep the younger kids interested and lots of interesting facts for the older ones too. A perfect rainy day activity as much of it is indoors and only a 30 min drive away from our family holiday cottages.

Find out more about Paleosite…..

4, La Palmyre Zoo or Zoodysee

2016-02-22 15.40.47obviously these are much more enjoyable on a hot sunny day but both animal parks are located in woodland with very tall trees so unless it’s actually lashing down you are quite protected for the most part by the canopy.

Zoodysee is relatively local, about a 30 min drive so although not as good as La Palmyre (it’s European animals so lots of brown and often nocturnal animals ! So more of a pleasant woodland walk) it’s a better option if you just have to get the kids outside for a couple of hours to burn off some steam

Find out more about La Palmyre Zoo……

5, Corderie Royal

P1110578in Royan, an easy hours drive from our family holiday cottages. The royal rope making factory has some really interesting and family friendly activities. Learn how pulleys work by pulling on the ropes, be amazed at the length of the building, visit their regular special displays (we saw one on Shackletons Antartica voyage) It’s also next to the Hermione which although now finished and has travelled to Boston already, is regularly docked at Rochefort and may be visited.

Find out more about the Hermione here…..

6, Cognac distillery tour

IMG_0693Just a 30 min drive from our family holiday cottages, Cognac is a great rainy day activity as many of the tours are mostly indoors. The Hennessy tour is fast moving and you are only ever in one place for 5 minutes, it even includes a short trip in a boat. The lighting and smells will keep even toddlers interested (take some snacks to keep their mouths occupied just in case !) This area is all about Cognac so it’s a must when staying with us come rain or shine.

Find out more about Cognac tours….

7, McDonalds in Saintes

There are Mcdonalds all over the place of course but the one in Saintes is where I used to take my boys when they were little on a rainy day. It has a great play room – like a soft play tower with tubes and many levels.

They’d spend literally hours chasing each other and making friends and just come out to me when they needed a drink. For the price of a few soft drinks and a coffee the kids burn off steam and you can sit back and facebook or twitter all afternoon !

8, Restaurants

andres2-218x223A long lunch in a restaurant in La Rochelle – although not most parents idea of relaxing with young children !

Andrés in La Rochelle is a great choice. There are fish tanks to sit next to which have kept our two (when toddlers) happy while we tucked into our oysters.  They also have crayons and puzzle/coloring sheets and a good kids menu too.

After lunch you can take a walk through the streets which are for the most part covered walkways (designed to keep the sun off but works for rain too ! ) and if the rain should stop for a while there is the town beach which will keep them happy

Find out more about Andrés…..   and La Rochelle……

9, Laser Lander

laser2Laser Lander in Saintes is a great way to while away a few hours blasting each other with lasers. Get together with a couple of other families and all go together.

To extend the afternoon or if you have younger children (under 6) then a simple trip to McDonalds opposite Laser Lander is a good option as it has a great indoor play area.

Find out more about Laser Lander

10, Stay home

pigeonsblancs3Stay in your cottage with some local cheeses and local wines and have a tasting while the kids have popcorn and a movie on the sofa

As you can see there are lots of ideas for rainy day things to do when staying at our family holiday cottages here in the Charente Maritime region of France but since we have the second most sunshine hours in France after the south coast then rainy days are the exception rather than the rule. Fingers crossed you’ll be able to enjoy all these ideas – but in the sunshine !

Find out more about our family holiday cottages here…..

Happy Holidays

Content by Wendy Blakeman

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Travelling and young children – Ten handy things to pack ….

Travelling and young children don’t always mix. Long journeys with young children can be fraught with problems. Travelling long distance is tiring for anyone but particularly so for younger children who don’t have a grasp on time and how long an hour is never mind 5 or 6+ . We’ve all experienced the ‘are we there yet’ 10 minutes into your trip to Grandmas so although it’s unlikely to be stress free there are a few things you can do to make it easier for everyone.

2DD8A708Preparation is key – as with any task with toddlers, even the day to day routine tasks such as a trip to the supermarket is far easier when you’ve prepared. It depends on the age of course, older children will no doubt have their tablets, phones, Nintendos and of course books to keep themselves occupied 🙂 but you may need a bit more preparation for younger children and toddlers.

So with a few years experience of long car and plane journeys with two boys behind me, this is what I’d recommend ….

My top ten handy things to pack are

1, portable/in car DVD player – However much you hate it, a car dvd player on a long drive is a life saver. We have rules for ours, the main one being not for journeys less than 1 hour and no watching it earlier than 1 hour into the journey. Don’t forget headphones so you don’t have to suffer Frozen again.

3905616_14311723322, non sticky snacks – no chocolate as you will end up finding it melted down the seat cracks. Things like raisins in a small box kept our toddlers happy for a surprising amount of time. Fruit bars too.

3, Sticker books – the ones which re stick are good so your two year old doesn’t suffer a tantrum because he stuck the sticker in the wrong place. Or activity books for older children.

4, Crayons/pencils and plain paper for drawing (not felt tips as they end up in the same place as the chocolate having first leaked all over the seat)

travelprintables5, Baby wipes – forever useful even if your child is out of nappies. (cleaning grubby hands, chocolate faces, emergency bottom wiping in the motorway loo with no loo paper, cleaning sick off the clothes, car seat, car etc) My kids are 13 and 10 now and I still take wipes with me wherever we go.

6, Antibacterial hand washing gel – ideal for those wee stops in the middle of nowhere

7, Plastic bags for being sick , sick covered clothes and for rubbish

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8, Tissues – for snotty noses, as an emergency loo roll, for wrapping the half eaten service station sandwich in to save for later

9, Easily accessible kids spare clothes (a top at least, so they can turn up reasonably smart looking at your destination – a full set for kids prone to sickness)

10, A head full of ‘old fashioned’ games when everything else has been tried, (adapt for the childrens age) some favourites of ours are
– how long can you be quiet for (we did 1hr30 once and its always our first suggestion ! )
– points for car colours eg 50 points for a purple car, 20 points for a gold car, 10 points for a yellow car; or points for animals in the fields
– I spy with my little eye (a classic)
– Registration plate Letters eg Registrations starting with a C

My kids are 13 and 10 now and I still make sure these things are in my bag on a long journey.

A few other tips are to

  • ration the treats and entertainment, try to have breaks in between of quiet time – length depends on the age of the child, any age child should be able to spend 10 minutes quietly.
  • take regular breaks. No need to spend an hour running around at a motorway service station, it’s far better to have lots of short breaks as it breaks the time up for the child. A couple of petrol stops, a couple of wee stops. 5- 10 minutes is plenty to let them stretch their legs, unless of course you yourself need the break from driving.
  • Talk about time in periods they understand ie short – in 10 minutes we are going to stop; have 10 minutes quiet time, you can watch the dvd in 10 minutes and relate the time/distance to other events such as the time it takes us to get to the supermarket (if that is 10 mins)
  • If they fall asleep (which toddlers and babies often will) let them and get as many miles under your belt as you can whilst they sleep
  • if flying long haul request to take the childs car seat onto the plane and let them sit in that (they will but you do need permission first) The car seat is secured using the plane seat belt. The baby/child will often feel far more comfortable in their own seat that they are used to and are far more likely to sleep)

HAPPY TRAVELLING

content by Wendy Blakeman

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Cycling holidays in France

This region is ideal for cycling holidays, the Charente Maritime makes for the perfect base from which to explore this beautiful region of France. With gently rolling countryside, quiet country lanes and tracks and with the respect that the French have for cyclists, this region is ideal for a cycling holiday or just a relaxing holiday with a few afternoons
cycling for fun.

velo_plageThe Charente Maritime region of France has 470 km of bike paths exclusively dedicated to cycling and walking. The routes are designed with great care to ensure high quality rides along the coastline, waterways and on both the mainland and islands of Ile d’Oleron, Ile d’Aix and Ile de Ré. The network is subject to a regular maintenance and monitoring to ensure a trouble free ride.

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If you just want an afternoon out on your own, we have a couple of adult bikes you can borrow for free; or bring your own, we have safe areas to store your bikes at all our properties or to take all the stress and hassle out of a cycling holiday in the Charente Maritime in France why not
check out our local bike hire company – Bike hire direct who will deliver and pick up your bikes to our gites and cottages .

bikehireBike hire direct are based in the Charente Maritime region of France and
offer free delivery of your bikes to your cottage, gite or villa. They can provide child seats and tag alongs, locks and helmets and even the car bike rack all at great prices. Go to Bikehiredirect.com to find out more.

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There are a series of guidebooks and bike maps are available in tourist offices  Some of these documents also detail the hiking trails accessible by bike (VTC) and also VTC circuits and mountain biking. The
Departmental Committee of Cycling contributes to the implementation of these circuits in the form of organized hikes and
tourism .

P1100351Whether enjoying a cycling holiday alone, with friends or with your family we have accommodation to suit your needs and budget. We often have discounted rates in May, June and September and will always discount for singles and couples, We offer full weeks or short and long breaks at some of our cottages. All summer from May to the end of September you
can bring your family along to one of our family friendly
villas, cottages or gites and they can play and make new friends whilst you enjoy your cycling in the surrounding countryside. For all our accommodation, please ask for ‘activity’ prices as we are able to offer discounts in June and September at certain properties.

HAPPY CYCLING

content by Wendy Blakeman

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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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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 is no longer a part of the Poitou – Charentes region but Nouvelle Aquitaine.

However 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 Bison Futé 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 autoroutes.fr  just enter your route and it will give you an estimate of petrol costs and toll charges. Also drive-france and headlampconvertors web sites 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 or if you’ve booked then email us to get the 20% discount code for Brittany ferry crossings.

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.

Many families now book their car hire through the airline, but check prices first as it’s not always cheaper and there is always a huge queue since most people on the aircraft have booked too.

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 once you enter your family size / dates, 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 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 .

HAPPY HOLIDAYS

content by Wendy Blakeman

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