Thursday, 24 September 2015

Summer in Provence

Excuse me while I contradict myself and post some holiday photos and a review of our recent sojourn in Provence. I know my last post took a brutally honest look at family holidays, but like everything in life, with the rough comes the smooth, and with the passing of a few weeks any stressy moments you probably encountered during your fortnight in the sun are magically erased, leaving a trail of wonderful memories in their wake. How else would anyone get through the mundanity of everyday life, if we were unable to recall those sun-drenched - the weather is ALWAYS sunny in our memories - rather romanticised images from time to time?

With that in mind, I'm happy to forget the head injury and the train line that ran next to our campsite and just remember the good bits. Because there were lots of those...

Where we stayed

La Ciotat

While I can't recommend the Eurocamp site we stayed at this time around, I can recommend the area around La Ciotat, a bustling town located about an hour from Marseilles airport. Being based here ticked a lot of boxes - proximity to a great beach (Les Lecques at St Cyr-sur-Mer) and access to some beautiful countryside and towns. A short transfer time from the airport is always a bonus in my mind and starts holidays off on the right footing. It was also great to be able to travel from our home airport which runs the Marseilles route via EasyJet.

Les Leques Beach
The Beaches

The nearest beach, Les Lecques, is perfect for families. It's big, sandy and has plenty of facilities close to hand, including nice cafes and restaurants, toilets and beach shops. I enjoyed not having to fight for beach space for a change, and I liked the very French ambience of this resort. It's very much geared towards French families and feels authentic. The sea can get choppy in this part of France (due to the mistral winds which can whip up quite frequently) but on a calm day it's perfect for children, with its shallow and clear waters.

Another beach at St Cyr-sur-Mer

Several watersports companies offer boat, surf and kayak activities - we saw kids enjoying surf school but our two opted to take to the water on a kayak, a great way to pass a morning on the beach.

There are numerous other beaches in the region, which is blessed with some truly stunning, unspoilt coastline. A boat ride around the Calanques is a must do and gives you peek into the dramatic coves that characterise the area around Marseilles. Some of the Calanques are accessible on foot, but many are not; those that can be reached on land involve a pretty energetic hike to get there...not recommended with children in tow. There are two Calanques close to La Ciotat that can be easily reached by car - Figuerolles and Mugel - which, though beautiful can get busy. 

Calanque En Vau
We picked up a boat trip from Cassis which was a fun way to see the Calanques from the water. Due to the prevailing winds, the experience can be a choppy one and boats frequently get cancelled or postponed due to the weather. Our kids really enjoyed being tossed about on the open seas, though I found it a bit hairy at times...

Clear waters of the Calanques

Towns and Villages

This region is blessed with some lovely towns to explore, from the postcard-perfect Cassis to the bustling former capital of the region, Aix-en-Provence. If you like your towns to ooze that quintessential flavour of the Med, Cassis is a must-visit. Its pretty harbourside is lined with pastel-coloured buildings, while its compact beach is lapped by sparkling azure seas. It's bustling and charming, with lots of cafes and restaurants to sample, as well as a weekly market that provides the classic French shopping experience. 

Cassis Harbour
A little further afield lies Aix which totally charmed us with its strong French flavour, amazing market and quaint streets and squares. An affluent town, Aix has a buzzy atmosphere and interesting cafe culture - a little like Paris but on a smaller scale. It doesn't have any major sights as such, but it's a great place for a bit of unhurried mooching, market stall browsing and citron presse slurping. If you're into art you can visit the atelier of esteemed Provencal artist Paul Cezanne, just outside Aix.

Other pleasant towns in the area include Bandol and St Sanary-sur-Mer. We also loved Le Castellet, a pretty village perche overlooking the rolling vineyards of Bandol. 

Eating and Drinking

We were seriously impressed with Provencal cuisine, which leans towards seafood and fish. The Marseilles speciality of bouillabase is a menu standard, and you'll find delicious, fresh-from-the-boat fish everywhere you go in this region. Our local restaurant was amazing and we made a few return trips, not just for the food but for the blissful views across the sea, the perfect way to catch the full beauty of a Mediterranean sunset. 

Fresh sardines by the beach
For kids choices tend to be a bit standard - either chicken nuggets or steak hache - but Italian influenced food is also widely available. Good quality pizzas and ice cream are easy to find here, plus it goes without saying that you're never far away from an amazing boulangerie.

If you like wine you can sample the locally produced Bandol - there are numerous vineyards and wine cellars where you can give it a taste and then buy a bottle to take home. 

Bandol vineyards
Kid-friendly activities

In a word, Aqualand, a waterpark located in St Cyr-sur-Mer. It's not cheap and the extras soon stack up (lockers, sun-loungers, etc) but as a child-friendly alternative to the beach, this completely delivered. There's something for all ages, from toddler pools with age-appropriate slides to more white-knuckle experiences for older kids. We didn't really have to queue for anything and there was plenty to keep our boys occupied, from twisting tube slides to lazy rivers and rapid rafting-style rides. 

Be warned that a strict height policy is enforced - we saw a few melt-downs from kids just a few inches off the designated height requirements so you may want to check this out in advance to avoid similar scenarios.


More photos


1 comment

  1. Lovely pictures! This looks like a great spot for a family holiday. Thanks for sharing!


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