As the first part of our journey was a train ride to Southampton airport, my five year old son, Joseph was already tremendously excited – there’s something about boys and trains! This followed by a short two and a half hour flight to what is a sunny Biarritz airport meant that our journey to France was both hassle- and stress-free!
It doesn’t matter where you fly to in the world, the first deep breath you take when you step off the plane lets you know that you are somewhere else – somewhere sunny, and it feels great! The next exciting part was finding out what hire car we were going to get. We requested a medium sized car so it’s a guessing game between Daisy (7) who is hoping for something green and Joseph who’d like something sporty! We end up with a cool Dacia Duster which more than meets our requirements and takes us the one hour to the AzuRivage campsite with ease!
Arriving at AzuRivage in the warm evening sun to a welcoming team of Rockley staff is a great start. On the way to our tent we pass the lovely sized swimming pool, play park and table tennis tables – enough to revive the children from their sleepy slumber. Set amongst trees in a lovely shaded spot, our tent is perfect – we are already a family that loves camping – I mean how could you not be with the New Forest and Wareham Forest on our doorstep, but to be able to stand up in a tent and have everything there for you – linen, towels, a fridge stocked with some essentials and a kettle ready for a cup of tea is a real bonus! And the campsite itself was perfect for us – not massive, not swamped with tourists and with a real authentic French feel which made us feel like we were in France! The small on-site shop which baked fresh croissants and pain au chocolats every morning is the icing on the cake for Joseph and I!
We don’t even contemplate unpacking – the kids want to inspect the pool and the first night evening welcome drinks are about to start – it’s a great way to meet the other families and a perfect introduction to the staff and what our holiday is going to entail.
After a well-needed night’s sleep, we all wake up just in time for breakfast and get ready for our first morning of activities. We chose the night before which activities we wanted to do – Daisy and Joseph opted for the children’s club and Rich and I decided to sail together. So fully sun creamed up and with a bottle of water, the kids race off to meet their instructor. It was lovely to see them so excited and keen to get stuck in. They’d already made friends the night before and the banter with the instructors was instantaneous. All was well with them!
Our two hour sailing introduction proves to be the perfect start to any Monday morning – we are straight on the dinghies learning how to properly rig up and end up following the Instructor on a nice gentle course. It was lovely to be out on the water and even nicer to see the kids messing around on the kayaks with their newfound friends.
After our sessions, Rich and I meet up with Daisy and Joseph who are buzzing from their time on the water and are now totally torn between having an ice-cream, going to the swimming pool or more messing around on the water. We opt for a very long pre-lunch splash around in the pool and endless goes on the big slide!
Lunch is fantastic – a large buffet of goodness which is greatly needed by all of us after a morning on the water. All the meals are a very social affair, sitting on benches outside and talking to other families and generally taking it easy.
During each day there are two, two hour activity sessions in the morning and two in the afternoon with a choice of sailing, windsurfing, kayaking, stand up paddleboarding, catamaran sailing and cycle tours and various standards offered throughout the week. However on the first afternoon we opt to chill out at the tent for a while and play cards. After too much cheating by the kids, we decide to head off down to the lake, take out some SUP boards and kayaks and make our way out to the pontoon. As everything with kids, Daisy and Joseph decid it's a race to the pontoon and they prove to be an unstoppable force – while they plough ahead on their SUP boards, Rich and I struggle to get our rowing technique in sync! Hours of jumping in ensued before we head back to shore with the promise of an ice cream and another visit to the pool.
This was the beauty of our holiday to France, we could join in on as many sessions as we wanted or simply use the equipment and spend some time as a family. On some days we'd spend a few hours on our bikes exploring the local area or the kids would be off kayaking, Rich would be sailing and I would spend a lovely few hours engrossed in a book – something I don’t have the luxury of at home. Spending time as a foursome was just great and it was equally lovely seeing them confidently run off to their sessions, chatting with the staff and making some great friends.
The evenings were just as much fun. A great choice of food and drink followed by much chatting with the other families and various evening socials. The first night is kids only which is a great way for the children to make friends while us parents get to know each other. Another favourite was boules – very competitive and something we all could join in with. And then there was my personal favourite, quiz night. I mean I love a quiz but am completely rubbish at it, however on this occasion I can only put it down to the scrumptious array of French cheeses which was presented to us mid way through - how can I possibly answer questions when there's so much cheese to eat!
Our 2-week holiday meant that we had enough time to get involved with all the activities as well as explore the beautiful area. Being in the south west of France it would have been silly not to go on a few adventures off-site. Although it was hard to wrench the kids away from their new-found friends, endless cycling around the campsite and the activities, when we did manage to convince them, it was great fun. Some absolute favourites (and there were many) included the trendy surf beaches of Messanges (just a 5 minute drive away) and the uber cool Hossegor (just 30 minutes drive). Vieux Bocoux is a great place to go for an afternoon ice-cream or coffee or just a 10 minute drive (or a lovely cycle through the forest) is nearby Soustons plage.
All of these surf beaches are a spectacle – beautiful sandy beaches, ridiculous waves and endless entertainment watching the surfers. For the kids, the trendy surf spot of Hossegor is their favourite day out. Hours of messing around in the waves by the shore and people watching leave us hungry so we leave in search of a beer and some food. The Instructors who often visit Hossegor on their day off recommended Le Napoli, a little pizza place just 50 yards from the beach front. Well they were right – it is hands down the best pizza we have EVER eaten!!
A short drive in to town and we are amongst the endless surf shops - Billabong, Quicksilver, Element as well as restaurants and cafes. We also accidentally stumble across a small indoor market, which although a fraction of the size, could easily rival the amazing La Boqueria food market in Barcelona in terms of its atmosphere and amazing smells.
All the places I have mentioned promise some great places to eat and it would be rude of me to keep them to myself. So here we go with a few more...
For the real surf enthusiasts, try Rock Food on Hossegor sea front. All the dishes are named after famous surfers and you’ll often find a pro surfer serving behind the bar. For those wanting to soak up the ambience then the Café de Paris in the centre of town is the place to drink coffee and watch the world go by, and if the kids hassle you for a crepe, ice cream or a gallett, then head to La Crepe Bretonne – highly recommended by Daisy and Joseph.
In wonderful Messanges, La Dune which overlooks the ocean offers great food and an absolute perfect setting, however if its pizza you’re after then the Dessert Point restaurant at the village roundabout by Dessert Point Surf Shop offer wonderful wood fired pizzas. And for my final recommendation, head over to Heads Beach Brewery Company. It’s a fantastic micro brewery located by the beautiful Plage de Bourdaines in the bourdaines car park. It’s definitely worth the short 25 minute drive from AzuRivage.
At the end of 2 weeks, it feels like we have done so much - things we would never have tried in the UK, while at the same time having great fun as a family. Rich and I were left wondering if we could ever repeat our pre-children 2 week holidays of purely lying on the beach reading, eating and drinking all day long!
We love everything about our holiday – the activities, the staff, the food (Joseph discovered his love of mussels), the atmosphere, the wonderful people we have met, the places we have visited and most of all spending some time as a family and really laughing together. The simplicity of camping, the lack of technology (our phones and ipad ran out of battery on the first day and we didn’t bother to charge them after that!) and the fact that we didn’t have to cook a single meal left me wondering if I would ever adapt to normal life back home!
Daisy and Joseph absolutely loved their time on the water (Daisy often went on sailing sessions with friends and now has a new-found passion) and it was lovely watching their confidence grow. At the end of the holiday we were less sad that it was over and more excited about the wonderful times we had experienced together. Despite the endless activities, we return home refreshed, positive and with a bucketful of fantastic memories that we will cherish!