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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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).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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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Le Scorlion restaurant, Saint Jean d’Angely

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We have been frequenting the Le Scorlion restaurant in Saint Jean d’Angely for 20 years and have enjoyed the food there from all the three restauranteurs that have owned it during that time. We are incredibly lucky to have such a top class restaurant in our little town of St Jean with it’s population of just 8000 people.

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Thomas and Claire Routhieau

Le Scorlion and it’s present owners Thomas and Claire Routhieau are really pulling out all the stops to really put the restaurant on the map. Having travelled all over the world and working at the Georges V in Paris no less, Thomas is putting all his experience into his menu and dishes and it really shows. The food is becoming more and more refined and has this year been awarded the new ‘ l’assiette Michelin’ for recognition of a really good quality meal.  The restaurant also has two knives and forks which recognises ‘good quality’ in terms of the restaurant itself – table setting, greeting, service etc

Worth a babysitter

We always recommend this restaurant to our families staying with us in our family holiday cottages here in the Charente Maritime. It provides a lovely grown up ambience all year and in summer has a delightful wooden deck terrace at the front, inside the old Abbey cloisters – perfect for a warm summer evening. If our families ask for a recommendation we generally send them here as the quality of the meal is worth paying the babysitter (me !)

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Recent visit

We ate here quite recently with the boys and had a lovely Sunday lunch. It was very busy with both the terrace and inside full so it’s important to make a reservation (we will do this for you when staying with us)  We all chose the Menu Gourmand at 39€ (there’s no childrens menu and our two wouldn’t choose it if there were !) which includes ‘La Surprise’ if you are adventurous – which we are and it was a delicious piece of …………. (shan’t spoil the surprise) They will suggest a wine to accompany the surprise if you ask.

Amuse Bouches

We love restaurants where they bring you the bite sized hors d’oeuvres and we always get at least two at Le Scorlion. It makes you feel like you are getting really good value for money ! They change regularly so it’s always a treat as you never know what they’ll be.

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The Menu

Thomas has three menus: menu de l’abbaye at 26€; menu Gourmand at 39€ and their mid week lunch menu is just 16€50 plus their occasional brunch menu individually priced dishes such as eggs benedict, pancakes, grilled fish with potatoes, ceasar salad with confit of duck and a variety of desserts

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The future

We’d love to see some home made rolls of different flavours – walnut and fig for example and butters to go with them as we have experienced at some Michelin starred restaurants and a dedicated wine waiter too.

We love their themed nights with Jazz and their regular brunches where they offer a completely different menu and hope those continue.

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Coolongalook adventure park, Royan

On Tuesday it was Thomas’ 11th birthday and he requested a day at a climbing adventure park. We have previously been to one at Aytré near La Rochelle but had heard about Coolongalook parc and thought we’d give it a go .

Coolongalook adventure park, Royan

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It’s just under an hours drive to Coolongalook parc from our family holiday cottages here in the Charente Maritime and well worth the trip. We booked in advance as it was recommended but the day we went was very quiet and for the first hour or so we were the only family there which was great !

The main attraction of the park is the climbing. You get fitted into a climbing harness and then given instruction on how the system works.The adult and some of the teen courses are not for the faint hearted, if you don’t like heights it may not be the day out for you.

 

Koala continuous belay system

At the previous parcs we had been to there was an element of risk with the climbing as you had to hook and un hook the carabinas at various points along each climb and unless you carefully followed the instruction of always being hooked on with at least one at any time there was always the possibililty of being 3m (or more for older kids and adults) above ground and not being hooked onto anything. At Coolongalook parc they have the ‘Koala continuous belay system’ where you hook on at the beginning and cannot remove the hook until you are safely on the ground again – far safer when you have adventurous kids to supervise.

12m above ground

12m above ground

There are 4 childrens courses suitable for those of 4 years and a meter tall (there are also some non harness courses for even littler ones; then another two courses for tweens of 1m30 or above and a further 2 courses for the adults. We had 6 courses of increasing difficulty to choose from having purchased the Junior ticket and Chris and I have to admit the last two were far too challenging for us !! Thomas and Benjamin managed them but at 12m above the ground and freely swinging blocks to cross it was tough going and both physically and mentally challenging – Thomas loved it !!

Skyfall

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There are loads of zip wires included in courses – the final one is 250m long and starts at 13m above the ground. For adults there is also a 15m free fall jump called skyfall (we didn’t do that one !!) included in the adult ticket

We spent around 2hrs30 completing the 6 courses and although you have unlimited time to do them all again we were shattered and ready for an ice cream at the café. The café does only sell ice creams, soft drinks, chocolate bars and crisps though, so take a picnic with you as there’s no where to buy lunch. There are picnic tables located all around the park and it’s a lovely woodland setting.

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TOP TIPS

  • take a picnic, water and snacks
  •  mossie repellant  is essential
  • go early to avoid the crowds

Laser Battle

The park also has a small area set aside for a laser battle in the woods. We purchased an adventure pass which includes the unlimited climbing, one game of laser battle (20mins) and the ‘man vs wild’ orienteering  course which takes about an hour. Individually we personally did not think the laser battle (10€ pp) and man vs wild course (6€ pp) were worth their individual prices but we were happy with the value for money of the adventure pass which included them.

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For the laser battle you are given a laser gun each and put into teams, you then have 20 mins to shoot each other. It’s a bit hit and miss as the only target that registers is on the gun (unlike indoor laser games where you get a jacket with various targets over the body) Benjamin loved it, Thomas got fed up as it was hard to target people – even still, I came last !

Man vs Wild

At 6€ pp this would be a bit disappointing on it’s own and really should be included when purchasing a climbing pass in our opinion. However we did enjoy it. We were given a list of 12 questions and a compass. We had to pretend we were on a camping trip and various situations arise at each marker which you have to choose the correct response (eg you have very little water left, what do you do a, drink it all at once because you are thirst; b, ration it throughout the day; c, drink only at night ) You mark down your answer then have to use the compass to find the next marker and question.

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We were quite tired and didn’t think we’d actually follow through the whole course but actually it kept our interest as the woodland was quite thick, the trails quite small and climbing over fallen down trees etc made us feel as though we really were in the wild far from anywhere. We finished the whole course and checked our answers at the end (we got over half wrong so probably would of died !!)

 

 

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We had a great day out, we survived with a few aching muscles, the kids loved it and we’d highly recommend giving Coolongalook parc , Royan a go. When staying at our family holiday cottages in the Charente Maritime, France we can reserve your place for you. Visit their web site here for full details of opening times and prices. For more information about our child friendly holiday cottages visit our web site here .For more information on all our cottages, gites and villas visit our web site here

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Fishing with kids at Migré

Fishing with the kids

We just discovered another great place ! One of our families recently asked where he could take his son fishing. They had no rods or tackle and wern’t really into fishing, but fancied having a go. A friend had mentioned a place about 30 mins from our family holiday cottages where you could just go for a full or half day and the river was stocked with trout several times a day – it was pretty much guaranteed you’d catch something ! They hire out the rods and bait so you don’t need expensive equipment so it’s perfect for families with kids who just want to try it out. I got the details and sent them on their way. They came back with 3 trout !

This Sunday I took the boys there to check it out and wasn’t disappointed , we also came back with 3 trout  !

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My father loved fishing but rarely had the time but when he fell ill he made time with the boys and they loved helping him tie the flies and land the carp. One of their last memories of him was catching a huge carp together at a local pond a few weeks before he died. They were keen to go fishing again.

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Les Sources du Moulin

Les Sources du Moulin is in Migré a 30 minute drive from La Grange du Moulin and Les Vallaies. There is a restaurant which offers a lunch menu at 12€50 and is reported to be excellent . We took a picnic as did many of the fishermen. In the typical French way, they had sunbeds, chairs, tables, wine and even a fondue in the spot next to us whilst their 5 rods sat waiting for the fish to bite. We had a plastic bag to sit on and a bottle of water.

We had no equipment and had no idea what we were doing but the rods (long bamboo sticks) with line, hook and float were provided for a 10€ deposit; we paid extra for maggots and didn’t pay the fishing fee of 5€ per child until later in the afternoon when the river was re stocked, so we could of fished for free – if we had we wouldn’t of caught anything though ! (not through lack of fish, just lack of expertise – our neighbours despite sleeping off the lunch time wine on their sunbeds seemed to catch plenty !)

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We want fish !!

We arrived at 1pm and were told the trout were released at 3pm so we had a 2 hour wait although we remained hopeful of catching something before then – everyone around us seemed to be landing fish (and an eel) every few minutes !  3 o’ clock came and went and despite our neighbours shouting ‘we want the fish’ (in French) he didn’t turn up until 3.20pm (apparently it’s all dependent on how busy the restaurant is that day)

We had to wait until then as everyone was saying how we need to be quick landing the fish and putting new maggots back on the hook – we were getting very excited ! At long last the owner started up his tractor and came along the track, scooping net fulls of trout into the river for each group. We had at least 5 placed right in front of our hooks but they all swam down to the 3m50 depths below and ignored our wriggling maggots.

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Nibbles and success at last

However after about 5 minutes Benjamin got a nibble or two, his float went down but he pulled up too quickly (apparently) and the hook was empty of maggots and trout when it surfaced. This happened at least 3 times – we blame the hook, it must of been blunt !! Thomas on the other hand had a sharp hook and he landed a whopper within 10 minutes of the trout being released (this was after 2hrs 30 of sitting on the bank holding a bamboo stick) He was thrilled (of course) and wants to go again (of course !) Benjamins not so keen.

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Team ‘fishing’ spirit

It’s very much a team spirit and all the neighbours helped us – we would of been lost without the kind lady next to us removing the hook from the poor fishes mouth or the man on the other side getting the line untangled from the tree branch. It was very much an ‘experience’ for me and fun in an odd kind of way. I doubt any of us will become members of  the Prince Albert fishing club (or its French equivalent) – although I was, as a child thanks to my Dad. We enjoyed the ice creams and will definitely try the restaurant at some point. If we fish again we will go more prepared (something other than a bag to sit on will be a minimum) but we came home with 3 trout on barbecue night and they were delicious (thank you ‘you tube’ for the gutting video )

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Three trout – how ?

Well the family next to us caught 19 and felt sorry for the boys, so gave us 2 of theirs so we could come back home and proclaim huge success, they were all delicious. It was fun and a great experience for anyone who’s not fished before. The owner recommended coming in the morning when it’s cooler (it was 34c in the shade that afternoon) and just before the fish are released at 9am….

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www.moulindemigre.com ,  20 route du moulin 17330 Migré ,   +33 546240392

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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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Jean Balluet – the alternative Cognac tour

Each week at our barbecues I bring out my now famous ‘chocolate chip cookie’ dessert and Chris brings down a frosty bottle of ‘Tempete de la mer’ (stormy sea) This delicious liqueur drips into your glass and then glides down your throat with the ease of melted chocolate and just as gorgeous. Its sweet and chilled with a slight ‘petillance’ and 30% alcohol,so its pretty lethal !

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The cries of ‘wow’ and ‘that’s delicious’ are heard every week and inevitably at least one family will make the 30 minute drive a day or so later to stock up on this ‘sparkling Cognac’ as we call it, to take home with them.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Cognac houses have never heard of it. It can only be found exclusively from Jean Balluet, the producer in Neuvicq le chateau, east of Saint Jean d’Angely.

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You can visit the Chateau too

Since many of our guests at our family holiday cottages visit Balluets, we rarely make the journey ourselves these days, we just ask them to buy a few bottles for us when they go, however last week we were completely out and since we were on our way back from Angouleme we popped in. This time our eldest son was with us. He hears the stories every week about Jean Balluet and his ‘alternative Cognac tour’ but has never been himself . It’s been about 15 years since we ourselves have done his tour around the distillery – we usually just pop in buy what we need and leave; but today we had some spare time and decided it was time Benjamin had the pleasure.

You would need to know where it was to find it, blink and you’d miss it. No big sign (I don’t think there’s any sign) and not much to look at. A few stainless steel tanks at the back, but those can be found all over the area, as many farmers produce wine to sell to the large Cognac houses to distill since we are in the fin bois region of Cognac vineyards. 2016-06-21 11.20.10 2016-06-21 11.20.45

Jean wasn’t there that day, it was Arlette, a neighbour and friend of Jeans who took us on the tour. (probably a good thing as Jean is quite the comedian but his jokes are a bit on the rude side – our 13 yr old would die of embarrassment !)
She starts the tour by getting you to look in the mirrors which are straight from the fairground – making you fat or thin or very short (they don’t do that on the Hennessy tour !)

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Arlette then locks the front door and takes you passed rows of barrels in a dark passage to where you have the tasting session. We passed by the next part as Benjamin was with us and it was only 11am ! This tasting of the Balluet Cognac and Pineau is legendary. You get to taste everything and you get huge glasses of the amber liquids – make sure you have a dedicated driver !!!

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The Cognac barrel is next – you get to take a big sniff and as you do Arlette blows through another hole so you get blown away by the Cognac fumes up your nostrils – certainly clears the airways (I always remember Jean asking for the lady with the largest chest and lowest cut top to bend down to the barrel for this trick !)

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You get to see where the grapes come into the distillery and the grapes are separated from the stalks in the grappoir. You are shown the maceration and storage tanks, the swan neck copper still and finally row upon row of barrels filled with eau de vie, maturing and waiting to be blended into Cognac. You are shown the whole process from beginning to end . This isn’t the glossy, slick tour of the famous Cognac houses – it’s the ‘real’ tour of a real working distillery. The floors are sticky, cobwebs hang in every nook and cranny, you bend to walk under pipes and past stainless steel tanks.

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La ‘piece de resistance’ is the tower ! Four flights up a dark, wooden staircase to a magnificent view of the surrounding countryside. 15 years ago it was just the view, now there is a big orientation map and two telescopes.

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Our son felt very privileged to of done the Jean Balluet tour that he had heard so much about; we are privileged to have such an excellent local Cognac producer who thinks outside the box and has developed new products to attract new business. Unfortunately they had run out of sparkling Cognac until the 10th July, so we shall be going back very soon. We did however buy some of his sparkling Pineau which is just as delicious (and slightly less deadly) the problem is it was so delicious we went through two bottles before the barbecue even got going !

To make a day of it, you should also visit the Siecq winery just a few minutes away. No tour but you can have a tasting of all they produce. We have a chilled bottle of their Sauvignon for our guests when they first arrive and use their Pinot noir on our Taste du Terroir evenings. They also do a superb sparkling wine (champagne method) for just 6€ so well worth a visit.

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If you have travelled to us in the car rather than flying you can also fill up plastic bottles of your own with their vrac wine sold by weight .

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In fact trying and buying local wines, Pineau and Cognac and being able to take some home with you is one of the main reasons we recommend driving to us here in the Charente Maritime ! For more information about our family holiday cottages visit our web sites

www.grangedumoulin.com

www.lesvallaies.com

www.french-gites-and-villas.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

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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 !!

content by Wendy Blakeman

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Brittany ferry OFFER

All our families will receive a 20% discount code for Brittany ferry crossings when they book with us. This offer is often increased to 25% in October by Brittany ferries, making your family friendly holiday to France even cheaper. Keep an eye on our facebook page for all our offers, deals and late availability.

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If you have booked elsewhere – don’t despair, you can still take advantage of this great offer by liking us on facebook, following us on twitter or adding us to your circles on google+ . 

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Once you have added us just email us wendy@childfriendlygites.com to get the code and then follow the steps below

1, Go to www.holidayfrancedirect.co.uk

 

2, Click on the orange ‘book your ferry travel’ button at the bottom right

3, Enter your travel details

4, Enter the code we give you as a holidaymaker

This will then automatically calculate the cost of your travel with the discount. Discount applies to the crossing only, not cabins/seats.

 

Brittany ferries travel from Plymouth, Poole and Dorset in the UK to Le Harvre, Caen, Cherbourg, St Malo and Roscoff in France all of which are a reasonable travel distance to our family friendly holiday cottages here in the Charente Maritime region of France.

When travelling to our child friendly gites – distance versus cost is always a consideration. The www.autoroutes.fr web site has useful information on your journey including estimated petrol and toll costs. Here is a rough guide

St Malo 385km 4hr30 toll 13€ fuel 38€

Caen 475km 5hr toll 46€ fuel 45€

Roscoff 523km 6hr15 toll 13€ fuel 51€

Le Havre 530km 5hr45 toll 54€ fuel 51€

Cherbourg 533km 6hr15 toll 13€ fuel 53€

For more information on all our family holiday cottages in the Charente Maritime, France visit our web sites

grangedumoulin.com

lesvallaies.com

french-gites-and-villas.com

Content by Wendy Blakeman

 

 

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