Escape to France
A couple of summers ago, Mike Evans and his family took their first camping holiday together for 15 years. Looking forward to spending some quality time together, they set off for Camping la Croix du Vieux Pont at Berny Rivière, near Paris.
I stood at the top of the waterslide waiting for the plunge pool to clear. My wife and son were either side of me, ready to race.
“One, two, three” – we were off! Before I knew it, I’d hit the water at the bottom with a splash, proving you are never too old to conquer your first ever waterslide!
We always took camping holidays when the children were small, in the days before mobile homes were common place and a swimming pool onsite was a real luxury. Since they’ve grown up and flown the nest, we’ve chosen ‘adults only’ hotel resorts, and it’s been almost 15 years since we last holidayed as a family. Until my wife, Jenny, retired from teaching last year, we’ve been restricted to going away during school holidays, so a campsite in July or August wasn’t our first holiday choice.
We often reminisce about the fun we had on our camping holidays – endless days on the beach, chicken and chips from the takeaway and hours spent competing in family boules tournaments. The kids would make friends from all over Europe and disappear for hours on their bikes. We even have fond memories of taking the washing up to the sinks (although that’s probably because we made the children do it!)
So this year, we decided it was time to relive our holiday memories and take a family camping holiday. We wanted to spend some quality time together (we live all over the UK and don’t see each other often) and also see how much camping holidays have changed in the last two decades. If I’m honest though, the thought of sharing a mobile with two grown up children and their other halves wasn’t really appealing. The Deluxe Lodges seemed the perfect solution. Available exclusively at Berny Rivière, the four-bedroom model sleeps up to ten people. It sounded ideal and meant no one would have to sleep on the sofa.
Exploring the campsite
We arrived at the campsite late on Saturday afternoon. The drive from Calais was easy – a couple of hours on a quiet motorway. We were greeted on site by one of the Canvas couriers who took us to our lodge and gave us a quick tour. There was plenty of space, with four huge bedrooms and two bathrooms. The kitchen was well equipped with all the mod-cons, including a dishwasher (no trips to the communal sinks this holiday) and huge fridge-freezer. There was even a TV and DVD player in the lounge area. It was a bit of a step up from the tents that we were used to! I pulled rank and picked the master bedroom with a fabulous balcony overlooking the lake. As the weather was warm, we cooked dinner on the enormous gas barbecue that came with the lodge, and cracked open the bottle of red Canvas had left to welcome us. Our son-in-law took on the role of chef while we relaxed.
After eating, we took a stroll around the campsite. It was bigger than the sites we’d been to before, with the accommodation set around three lakes and along the riverbank. There were children feeding the ducks and swans on the lake, families on pedalos and people fishing. The atmosphere was completely relaxed, exactly as we remembered campsites to be. The next morning, breakfast was an alfresco affair of baguettes, croissants and pain au chocolat from the on-site bakery. It was always a holiday tradition for the children to go to the shop to practise their French – ‘une baguette s’il vous plait’ was probably the first French sentence they could both speak. These days they put us to shame, so Jenny and I were dispatched to practise our own French!
The weather was glorious so we hit the pool. The complex was superb, and a real step up from campsites we’ve visited in the past. With a lagoon-style outdoor pool with fountains and a lazy river as well as a second pool with retractable roof, it was better than the pools at most hotels we’ve visited. There was also a pool for toddlers, and waterslides. My son and daughter soon found their inner child and spent a couple of hours racing each other down the waterslide – clearly they haven’t grown up as much as they like to think! I’ve never been a strong swimmer, and the thought of hurtling down a waterslide frankly terrifies me. But watching my family have so much fun, I decided to join in. Egged on by my daughter (who kindly offered to hold my glasses) I joined Jenny and James on the top of the slides. Although they both assured me this was neither especially fast nor long, the pool below still looked a long way down! Holding my nose, I took the plunge and splashed into the water below. While holidays are meant to be about new experiences, I’m not sure that I’ll be repeating that one any time soon!
Food was always one of our favourite parts of camping holidays. We like self-catering. You eat when you’re ready. And our holiday policy is to keep it simple. Ham, cheese, bread and melon for lunch; sausages and burgers on the barbecue for dinner. While French food hasn’t changed in the last 15 years, the quality of the shops, bars and restaurants on site has. Berny Rivière has a well-stocked supermarket and bakery, take away (chicken and chips were available), plus two bars and restaurants. It’s an impressive choice, better than most hotels.
While it was fantastic doing so little, we felt we couldn’t come here and not visit Paris. The campsite run a coach twice weekly, but we chose to forgo the early start and took the train from nearby Soissons. The train took us straight to Gare du Nord from where we took the métro to Notre Dame. We wandered along the banks of the Seine, enjoying the views along the river and the occasional glimpse of the Eiffel tower in the distance. We jumped back on the métro at the Louvre and headed to Montmartre for lunch. This is a vibrant corner of the city with street artists painting portraits and plenty of bars and restaurants where you can dine alfresco.
We browsed the shops and took in the stunning views from the steps of the Sacre-Coeur Basilica. The day finished with a stroll along the Champs Élysées and a quick ‘demi’ before catching the train back to the campsite.
On our last morning, we decided to leave the peace of the campsite and explore Pierrefonds, a château town a short drive away. In the past it was always a struggle to drag the kids away from the pool or beach, so it was lovely to spend some time together appreciating the amazing architecture and wandering the narrow streets. Better still, it was market day, so we browsed the stalls (and marvelled at how little the stock has actually changed since our last French holiday!) We enjoyed a cool drink and galette on the banks of the fishing lake before heading back to the pool for our last afternoon. Over our evening barbecue and glass of wine, we reflected on the holiday. It had been fantastic to spend some time together, reliving our holidays past, and the accommodation was nothing short of superb. While the facilities on site have improved, the essence of the holiday is exactly the same. It certainly won’t be 15 years until our next camping holiday!
If you fancy trying a holiday at Camping la Croix du Vieux Pont for yourself, have a look at our Camping in Paris page here.