What is it? A 4* Siblu (formerly Haven Europe) self-catering campsite holiday called La Carabasse, in Vias-Plage, a small town about halfway between Perpignan and Montpellier

Where? In the Languedoc region of the South of France – about as far south as you can get on the coast down to northern Spain and Barcelona

Description: [pool.jpg] Normally armed with tourist guide books, advance research on the internet for places to visit & suitcases loaded with everything including the kitchen sink, Kirsty regretted her more laid back approach to preparing for this holiday as she nipped over to the South of France for a Spring break

A relaxing holiday setting, with glorious countryside & coast surroundings, with twice daily kids’ clubs, close to sandy beaches and an amazing pool on site.

Kids’ clubs run twice a day on most days. Bubbles for ages 1-4 (parents must stay to supervise); Pirate Club for ages 5-9 and Baracudas for 10-14. The pool is excellent with 2 large slides for older kids, a HUGE freeform pool, and a smaller pool for toddlers & babies. On site there are also tennis courts, a petanque green, several play areas (swings, slides, seesaws etc), small indoor area with games machines, table tennis and a football/basketball court. The glorious sandy beach is about 15 minutes’ walk away, or 2 minutes’ drive. Plus a huge range of places to visit around and about – see below.

A nightly show from the ‘Animation’ team – the early evening “Pirate Show” led by the kids’ club team with the regular kids’ club songs with plenty of actions to gradually pick up each night, a ‘character’ visit & a presentation of certificates to each child that’s leaving the following day. It’s then followed by a mix of caberet, singing and acts when the kids have gone to bed (if only!) Not as ‘Europop/Eurotrash’ as I’d experienced at other European campsites. The animation team also appears to be a good mix of British & French.

Local activities: Tons of stuff to do within about an hour’s drive. See the article about places we visited. But there’s also Cap D’Agde, rated as Famille Plus (Cap D’Agde) with 14km of sandy beaches & a children’s mini aqua park called Captain Jako (restricted opening times to high season only) – part of the Aqualand group with many larger water parks in the region. Also the Australian park just outside Carcassonne with kangaroos, and the African reserve in Sigean were places were found out about too late but would have liked to visit.

Wish we had known: That there was so much to do & see in the local area – but it took a lot of digging around & finding out for ourselves. The tourism/attractions leaflets in reception are few & far between, and the information in the official welcome pack is basic. The reception have a lot of equipment to hire/lend (eg irons – but no ironing board, games/toys etc) & have a lot of knowledge about the local area, but you need to keep asking. Make a nuisance of yourself – it will be worth it!

Our top tip: Hire your bed linen & towels in advance and with the space you save, take as much as you can in the way of basic cleaning stuff, provisions, utensils & toys. Unless the caravan is privately let, you’ll probably find it very sparsely equipped. And travel out a bit further (5-10 minutes’ drive) to one of the several major hypermarkets to get more choice and much better value. The on-site shop is expensive.

Kids say: I’m going to be a Knight when I grow up; “Is it time for kids’ club yet?”; “I’m really going to miss Katie” – Luke aged 4.

Getting There: Book online with www.siblu.co.uk where you’ll find some great videos, photos & information about their various sites. Airports within 80 minutes’ drive include Beziers, Montpellier, Perpignan, Carcassonne and Nimes, so plenty of choice to get some budget airlines bargains. We suggest you definitely book a hire car from the airport if you choose to fly. If you are driving to the campsite, it’s about 10 hours from Calais.

About our stay: My husband had been to this region as a teenager on a school exchange with their ‘twin town’ (Beziers -about 5 miles from where we were staying), so he had many memories of this area (some of which I decided not to pursue) and was keen to visit it again as an adult. Me? Less nostalgically, I homed in on the 4* campsite rating, the great swimming pool, the coastal location, the kids’ clubs and the mere 90 minutes flight from northern airports – with a fair chance of better weather than in England, and jumped at the chance of a week in the South of France in late April. And my rusty GCSE French could do with a bit of polishing up! I always find campsites more relaxing than hotels or apartment holidays. They just always seem much more laid-back, friendly and community based than the more corporate feel of many hotels. So I was quite surprised, and actually somewhat annoyed with the ‘sell sell sell’ approach of siblu. As we checked-in we were encouraged to book for next year with ‘up to 35% discount’ and this was repeated around the park and in most of their literature. And we were even ‘doorstepped’ by one of their sales team on about day 2, asking us if we wanted to buy our own caravan on the site. It wasn’t a hard sell, it was just a bit irritating. And let’s get the rest of the bad stuff out of the way whilst I’m at it. The caravans were ridiculously low on home comforts or equipment. We stayed in the top of the range ‘excellence’ model, and were disappointed that we didn’t have a balcony, and that our ‘terrace’ was a patch of overgrown (& ant-infested) grass with little privacy or distance from our fellow passing campers, as we were situated right on the corner of three main routes through the campsite. I expected a bit more. No television was provided (oh well, it would do us all some good – but thank God we brought the portable DVD player!), 3 or 4 basic utensils (no tongs, no whisk, only 2 sharp knives, an old fashioned tin opener, no baking trays or roasting tins, no bread bin, no toaster, no draining rack – I could go on!) And apart from some basic information or adverts in the reception or welcome pack, I felt we had to make a real effort to find out more important stuff, like where we could take Luke for trips out & what equipment reception had to lend us.[luke_with_remi.jpg] But on the other hand, the good stuff was really great. The reception staff are friendly & helpful, and my pigeon French & their pigeon English got us through most things. Although Lisa, an English speaker in reception was just called upon sometimes when things were a bit more difficult to explain. Like where to hire a bicycle for Luke – quite an amusing adventure watching the French owner scurry around his large garden filled with various caravans loaded with bikes, until he finally found one with stabilisers, small enough for Luke to still be able to touch the floor. And at only €23 for the 5 day hire, complete with helmet & collection from our campsite, it was well worth it. The facilities around the parc are superb & it definitely earns its 4 star rating. The pool is amazing (although a bit too cold at this time of year for even me) & the kids’ clubs and the animation team are excellent. Remi (Bubbles club leader pictured above) was just a natural with the babies & toddlers, & besides the well planned & varied craft or activity half-hour each session, could turn his hand to immediate games before & afterwards in the freeplay time that just meant all the kids absolutely loved him & the parents were relieved to have an hour’s peace to just sit & watch. The Pirate Club looks equally well run for the older kids & they too appeared to be delighted with the staff – three or four at this time of year when the number of kids was relatively low. But more staff are taken on as the season develops, to cater for around 80 kids in high season apparently. The older kids seemed to enjoy the trendier ‘Barracuda’ club too, led by the ever cool Jeremy. [carcassonne.jpg] We had quite a few memorable & fun days out too. Many towns and cities are built on the Canal du Midi or the River L’Herault, which makes for some very pretty settings. But Carcassonne has to be the highlight. A UNESCO World Heritage site and a medieval (but parts originally Roman) walled city. Beautiful to walk around with countless gift shops (a bit better quality than your usual tacky tourist gifts), pavement cafes & several museums & cathedrals to visit. We visited one museum (cost €5 per adult & €3 per child) with a French-speaking tour guide, but also a very hands-on display resulting in Luke being ‘knighted’ whilst dressed in chain mail, with sword & helmet to boot! Of course, we ended up spending another €9 buying the plastic equivalents for him before we left Carcassonne. But it’s a lovely memory & not something even he’ll forget in a while. Also Narbonne was a surprisingly beautiful city with more medieval roots. And Sete, a fishing port known as ‘The Venice of Languedoc’ was just glorious. The trip on the regular organised boat tour “Vision Sous Marine” through the town via the canal and also out to the Lagoon, to view the underwater mussel & oyster nets (& plenty of tiny jellyfish too) was a very pleasant way to see the sights of a busy town on a warm Spring day. Vias-plage, our local beach, was further away than I expected from the campsite, but it was very child friendly (although not supervised by lifeguards) for a couple of hours building sandcastles (or our version of Carcassonne!) and splashing around at the edge of the sea. There are a few restaurants on the road down to the sea, for varying menus and price brackets. And the street-stall rotisserie was good value with a family meal to take away (roasted chicken & 4 portions of chips) for €10. The ‘all you can eat’ buffet at the restaurant on the seafront permanantly serving only paella (the Catalan influence is still very strong on this coast), pizza (1 choice of topping only), huge bowls of mussels or piles of chips was a little strange. But it was cooked well & we were happy to wash it down with a bottle of Sangria to get in the spirit of things. The restaurant on the campsite was excellent. Although you wouldn’t choose to eat there every night, partly due to cost & also lack of choice. “La Hacienda” is a bit more upmarket with delicious meals cooked on the open fire in converted stone stables a few miles away near Bessan. Overall, the kids menus everywhere we ate were a little restrictive and basic. Chicken nuggets, beefburger or pizza – all served with chips – seemed to be the only choice really. So Luke’s definitely having no chips or ice cream for the next month as I attempt to get his vegetable/fruit/vitamin intake back up again pronto! But, looking back, it was a great holiday & it’s a region I’d love to visit again. But next time I’ll be a bit more prepared! [Kirsty McGregor is the founder of www.entertainthekids.com and lives with her husband & son, Luke, in Halifax]

Created: 2008-05-01 21:28:17.300

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