AS airports chaos raged across the UK, our overnight ferry glided away from Portsmouth towards France.
We were destined for the reliably sunny Vendée on the Atlantic coast, a few hours’ drive from the port city of Saint-Malo along the French autoroutes and trunk roads — a world away from the UK’s maddening motorways.
My wife Cordelia, daughter Anna and I awoke refreshed from a good night’s sleep on welcoming Brittany Ferries ship Bretagne.
And what a treat awaited us at La Garangeoire, one of the top-rated holiday parcs used by the time-tested Eurocamp.
The firm has built up a winning formula over the decades — especially for families — with hassle-free outdoor holidays at top-notch campsites, always with swimming pools, activities, and friendly English-speaking reps.
I’m no stranger to Eurocamp, having first holidayed with them as a kid in the late 1980s.
But La Garangeoire took things to the next level — and was both as idyllic and fun as any campsite could be.
It’s a five-star site, set in the tree-lined grounds of a château, on a rolling 200 hectare estate. And there’s stuff to do everywhere you turn.
There’s a big outdoor swimming pool, a covered pool, a kids pool, a toddler pool, and three waterslides that plunge you into yet another pool.
Also on site is a giant playground, games room, table tennis, crazy golf, pool tables, trampolines, and a sports pitch which played host to everything from football, to hurling and cricket.
The bar has a beer garden to die for, complete with a bouncy castle.
There’s nightly family-friendly entertainment — the pancake party where you make your own on hotplates at the table was a highlight for Anna.
It was all too easy to sit back and relax with a beer, and a pizza from the site’s fantastic takeaway, while Anna had an absolute ball.
For the grown-ups, there was also loads to do, much of it included for free — morning pool workouts, guided tours of the estate, pilates, fitness classes, or just whiling away the hours watching the Tour de France in one of the two bars.
Eurocamp’s clean and well-equipped mobile homes make up a swathe of the site.
Everything is on hand, from crockery and cutlery, to gas barbecues for every pitch.
The Eurocamp kids’ clubs ease the pressure on the parents, running for two hours in mornings and afternoons, split up by age groups.
The reps — Irish, English and French — were fantastic, and immediately set any nervy youngsters at ease.
Scavenger hunts, arts and crafts, games, and the chance to meet other children.
If French campsite life is known for one thing, it’s kids making friends, with youngsters enjoying those first bursts of freedom in a safe environment.
The site also boasts a stable with daily pony rides.
The camp’s free French conversation lessons we attended came in handy as we attempted to cajole stubborn pony Karel around the woods.
It was a battle of wills we were set to lose and eventually we were helped back to the stable by a fellow camper.
The stable offered Anna a free ride the next day on a more enthusiastic horse, an experience she absolutely loved.
La Garangeoire even has a man-made ‘lagoon’ with sand, perfect for little ones with inflatables and on the edge of the site and part of the 200 hectare estate is a beautiful lake with free pedalos and rowing boats.
My sporty wife also took advantage with runs along the miles of well marked trails around the estate — enjoying watching the sun come up over stunning countryside.
For an eight-year-old who is determined to be a teenager, La Garangeoire was ideal — we took advantage of the on-site bike hire to get Anna some wheels and the security and friendliness of the campsite saw her whizzing about on her own and meeting up with new-found pals. Kids everywhere on site lapped up the freedom they would never get back home.
The idea of being at the playground until 10.30pm was standard.
With temperatures in the mid-30s — a hot summer for Vendée — the site found its second wind later on as things cooled off.
On one of the hotter days we sought refuge under a blanket of trees in treetop highwire adventure site Le Grand Defi, a mile down the road, with its amazing zip wires across a lake and courses through the woods.
English-speaking staff literally showed us the ropes, and we took six hours to complete the ‘family’-grade trails — with breaks and a picnic.
Back at La Garangeoire, free activities included those French language sessions so we packed off Anna to a class, telling her it was a “French kids club” or some such white lie.
To our surprise, she loved it, making a few pals and giving her confidence to order ice cream and buy the obligatory pain au chocolats and croissants in the campsite shop.
GETTING THERE: Brittany Ferries sail from Poole, Portsmouth and Plymouth to Normandy and Brittany. Its closest service to Vendée is Portsmouth to Saint-Malo, right, (3 hours’ drive to La Garangeoire).
Fares from £499 return for two people and car, or £654 return for a family of four with car, including en-suite cabin on outward overnight sailing. See brittany-ferries.co.uk or call 0330 159 7000.
STAYING THERE: Eurocamp has a range of mobile homes and safari tents at La Garangeoire. Seven nights per family in a two-bedroom Classic XL from May 27, 2023, is £683. See Eurocamp.co.uk
MORE INFO: For details of tree-top adventure park Le Grand Defi see grand-defi.com, and for more on the region see vendee-tourism.co.uk
La Garangeoire may be the serene countryside — with great walking trails — but it’s also about ten miles from what Vendée is famous for — the endless golden beaches.
We swam in the ocean in beautiful fishing port and resort of Saint-Gilles — famous for its sardines — and had a fantastic lunch at La Novita pizzeria and creperie overlooking the Grande Plage.
Back inland, there was more swimming in the freshwater Lac D’Apremont, overseen by lifeguards and in the shadow of a chateau straight from a fairy tale.
La Garangeoire and the Eurocamp experience is clearly the dream ticket, proven by the fact that many of the families we met — many from Ireland, from where there’s another Brittany Ferries link — visit year after year. The undoubted highlight of the holiday for Anna was the weekly pool party — fortuitously rounding off the holiday on our last night — with disco music and dancing in the pool, and late-night water sliding. It doesn’t get any more teenage than that — and it tired her out for that long trip back home.
The return sailing — during the day — was made easier by the engaging kids entertainers back on board Bretagne, doing arts and crafts with the youngsters before a circus skills session.
Then, we were back in the car with all our gear for the big drive back north — safe in the knowledge we wouldn’t be stuck in an airport.
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