Organising a French holiday as a single parent by Ros Bayes
Over the years we had many French holidays with Matthews, all of them chosen, booked, organised and executed by my husband. All I’d ever had to do was cater, pack, organise the kids and occupy the passenger seat. But this year finding myself on my own after a divorce, my daughters, now more or less grown up, wanted me to organise a holiday for us all.
It was not something I’d ever had to do before; was I up to the job? I took a deep breath and thumbed through the Matthews brochure. The further south, the better the weather was likely to be, but I didn’t want to set myself too daunting a task in terms of the mileage. Bretignolles-sur-Mer seemed like a reasonable compromise – at 440km south of Cherbourg I hoped we would get warm weather, and it ought to be possible to drive it comfortably by evening, even taking it cautiously and stopping for frequent breaks.
I got the car serviced two weeks before departure to ensure that all was in good working order. I pumped up the tyres for a full load and packed the boot successfully. I had chosen to take the fast craft from Portsmouth to Cherbourg. We had breakfast on board, and disembarked late morning French time. I gave myself time to adjust to driving on the right, and didn’t break my neck to do the maximum speed limit all the way. I don’t own a sat-nav, but I had planned a route which I handed to my daughter with the road atlas so she could navigate. As it turned out, the route was very straightforward and fairly self-evident, and we didn’t need to consult the map until the last few miles of the journey. We had a stop for lunch (with a can of red bull to wake me up!), a couple of loo stops, and an espresso stop when I felt myself getting tired in the late afternoon.
We reached the campsite at about 9pm, only to find the barrier locked and the office deserted. There was a buzzer, so I pressed it and was answered in French. Fortunately I speak quite good French; I’m not sure what would have happened if I had known only English. Help arrived very rapidly in the form of a man with a key to the barrier, and the Matthews couriers were waiting for us. They were very kind and helpful and we soon settled in.
We had a fantastic two weeks. Without travelling very far at all we managed a zoo trip, a chateau visit, a tour of the salt marshes by boat, an aqua-park and lots of shopping (I had been saving my clothes budget to go to Gémo – there are branches all over France!) On a number of days we didn’t even leave the campsite except perhaps to take the short walk to the beach. The onsite pool was excellent, with flumes, indoor and outdoor pools and a bubble pool. We went body-boarding and found that even as early as the end of June the sea was unexpectedly warm.
On the last morning, just as we were about to leave the site to come home, disaster struck. Our car broke down and couldn’t even be driven off our emplacement. Fortunately I had thought to take out European breakdown cover (the cheapest one I could find on the Internet, and the best £26 I’ve ever spent in my life!) I rang the telephone number provided and a breakdown truck came out. The mechanic took a look at the car and decided he couldn’t repair the fault and would have to remove it to a nearby garage. It became obvious that we were not going to make our ferry crossing that evening.
While I was on the phone trying to sort everything out, the Matthews courier disappeared, and by the time he returned he had arranged for us to stay an extra night in the mobile home and had rebooked our ferry crossing for the following evening, taking a large weight off my shoulders! The breakdown company arranged a hire car to take us to Cherbourg next morning – another scary experience for me, as I had never driven a left-hand drive vehicle before. We left the luggage we couldn’t carry in our own car boot and set out with what we could manage between us. I drove to Cherbourg without incident and we came back on the ferry as foot passengers. We could have had a hire car from Portsmouth but I opted instead to have a taxi home and borrowed a car from a family member. My car was repatriated to my local garage and was soon fixed and back on the road.
I found that organising a French holiday for the first time post-divorce, when I had never had to do it before was in fact an enjoyable challenge. It all went very smoothly, and even the difficulty with the car breakdown was more of an adventure than a stressful event. The fact that I managed to handle it actually gave my confidence a much-needed boost, and I will definitely be booking again next year. Who knows – we might even venture as far as Lacanau next time or maybe even beyond, if Matthews add any campsites further south for 2013.
To any other woman who finds herself newly single and has never had to undertake the organisation of a trip abroad by herself before, I would say – go for it! You will have a great time, and come back feeling proud of your achievement.