Home from home in France
Manchester Evening News - Jan 14, 2012
This article was written by a paying guest for her local newspaper and it is the nicest compliment we could get
By Tracey Rous
It was the first night of our holiday in France and the guests at our table had only been introduced to us earlier that day. But we all had one thing in common – we were eagerly awaiting the final members of our party as our host prepared a lavish cake and champagne to celebrate a special birthday they were marking.
As the good humour bubbled alongside the champers with suggestions one of them have a birthday every day the following week, our eldest son had even more reason to be delighted at their arrival.
David and Wendy came complete with their own two sons – aged 11 and 12. For our 11-year-old that was the moment the holiday really started. And that kind of sums up Le Castel, an imposing chateau in Normandy.
While the backdrop is stunning and the facilities fantastic this newcomer to the world of all-exclusive family breaks is really all about people and making those face-to-face connections that have somehow got lost amid all the social networking and multi-media platforms of the 21st century.
So let’s get the proviso out of the way first. If you don’t talk to your neighbours, barely know what age your colleagues are or their spouse’s name and in all honesty prefer the kind of catch-up that is the Facebook newsfeed or Twitter timeline, then this is not the holiday for you.
There is no escaping socialising the old-fashioned way at Le Castel and it’s exactly why we loved it. I mean, for starters our host and the owner of Le Castel, Jon Barnsley, is a former showbiz editor of the now defunct News Of The World.
It was great fun checking out his famous gallery featuring pictures of him with the likes of Kylie, Elton John and Victoria Beckham and his career certainly made for interesting dinner table chat.
Yes there was the odd bit of scandal and gossip served up with the delicious culinary delights, but more than that there was a healthy dose of finding out about people you had never met before but took a leap of faith to spend a week’s holiday with them. Although that may be stretching the nature of the holiday a tad.
Of course, it is essentially your family holiday to do with it what you will but the format at Le Castel is to take breakfast and evening meals together and with only five families staying at any given time there is plenty of interaction throughout the day.
But there is also plenty to do as a family flying solo and for days out in the surrounding area, from the D-Day beaches to getting a closer look at the Bayeaux Tapestry.
Conveniently located just 90 minutes to the nearby ferry ports, including Caen where we travelled across the Channel with Brittany Ferries, also makes it a fairly easy jaunt for young families.
In fact, relaxation with your little ones is key – formality is a no-no at Le Castel. Stay in or go out the mood is laid-back and you do tend to switch off and enjoy.
There is no fussiness about sticky fingers, or discarded sandals, or a dropped ice-cream. Jon and his team keep the place spotless while all the time making the holidaymaker feel like this is their home.
This was the most relaxing family holiday we’ve ever had – and we’ve been to some memorable places.
While there are three suites in the main house, we stayed in one of the cottages in the grounds to enable us to have a bit more privacy as and when we wanted it.
It worked well for us but others with younger children loved being part of the chateau and the ability to come down to dinner in the main house knowing their kids were safe upstairs.
My husband and I did the occasional tag team over dinner but we did take advantage of a babysitter for the amazing five-course ‘show’ dinner on the Friday night.
There is childcare for two hours in the morning and again in the early evening and this takes place in the giant marquee/circus tent on the lawn packed with toys.
For those with clingy children you may find it difficult to make the most of this R ’n’ R but there is such a lovely atmosphere around the place that most of the parents just got involved in whatever was going on.
We go on holiday to be WITH our children so I suppose for us it was perfect mix as we could make the most of the fabulous play space and grounds while
enjoying the company of the other families.
This is a social holiday – a great chance to mix and meet new people, for both adults and children. Our group got on famously and it made the holiday all the sweeter. Firm friends were made during a wonderful week.
The food for the adults was superb in the evenings served after the children were fed and best efforts made to put them to bed (interestingly no-one at any time took the option of eating separately from the group even though you can if you want to).
As the perfect host, Jon does take his lead from his guests in terms of eating with or without the children but at least one night is devoted to all generations dining together.
Naturally, the kids’ food is less a la carte than the adults but they devoured everything, from spag bol to local sausages and having some adult time in the evenings was greatly appreciated by our group.
I missed Le Castel as soon as I got home. Would I go back – most definitely and would love to book it out with established friends next time just to give that same quality time to old friends that we thoroughly enjoyed with some new ones.
For information, go to www.le-castel-normandy.com
All-inclusive breaks from £1,800 to £2,600 for a family of three or four for a week to include accommodation, breakfast and evening meals (except on a Thursday), drinks including beer and wine, unlimited ice cream with snack fridge also available.
Organised play sessions on most days for children aged three to 12, tented play area and five-course show dinner on Friday night.
For travel information, see www.brittany-ferries.co.uk
Tracey travelled from Portsmouth to Caen where return trips cost from £75 per person.
For days out information, go to www.zoo-champrepus.com/index.htm and www.tapestry-bayeux.com
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