Although perhaps a little off-topic from photography training specifically, I wanted to do a blog post about our family holiday adventure in the hope it might be useful to people thinking of doing something similar.
Our family holiday was for myself and my wife with our two girls who are 4 and 7.
About a year ago we purchased a camper van and we thought it would be a good idea to go on an adventure with the family . After a few discussions we decided to travel to Spain and France in search of some slightly more reliable weather.
I was a little apprehensive about driving all the way to Spain because of the dreaded break-down fear! Our van is a 1988 VW T25 Auto Sleeper Trident, so she is getting on a bit!
We decided to get the ferry from Portsmouth to Bilboa in Northern Spain where we would have a 1 week holiday before driving back through France over the second week. This way we thought we would be very unlucky not to get our 1 week holiday in Spain and if the unthinkable happened we would at least have European breakdown cover and we would get home.
We travelled with Brittany Ferries from Portsmouth to Bilboa on the Cap Finistere. The ferry departed at 10.30pm on the Sunday night and we decided to get to Portsmouth early and had a meal and a wander on the front before going to check in.
The ferry journey is a long one, 34 hours! They bill it as a cruise and is supposed to be the more luxury option. The alternative is to get the 'economy' ferry which does not have any entertainment and has self-service restauants etc. I can't comment too much about this alternative as we didn't do this. Having said that we met some very nice people on our campsite in Spain who did and said it was absolutely fine. Also I believe the economy option is a bigger boat which means it is likely to not feel quite as rocky. It's also quicker at about 24 hours.
On the ferry we had our own cabin (you pay for it separately). It's small, but actually very nice and very liveable. It's got an en-suite bathroom with a very good shower. The bunk beds fold down and are very comfortable.
So after climbing on board and having a quick night cap we went to bed and woke up in the morning with the whole day ahead to explore the boat. But before that we had to have breakfast and we headed to the restaurant where we had a good breakfast. The service was a little slow but the food was great, everything was really clean and not too expensive.
A good day ahead of us, or so we thought...
Unfortunately for us the girls had a touch of sea sickness. This kind of made things difficult but we still did manage to enjoy the boat. Apparently you can buy these sea sickness wrist bands which someone on the boat said they were using and found it to be really good. The girls would opt for one of these next time!
They had entertainment on the boat in the form of a couple who did various activities for the kids. Later on they even enterianed the adults with an Abba and Elvis tribute act, which all sounds very tacky and caberet, but actually it was really good. During the day it was things like balloon modelling, face painting, party games etc and later on in the evening there was a quiz, bingo and then later their Abba and Elvis tributes. They seriously worked hard all day and clearly love what they do. They kept us entertained and the day went quickly.
I think it was a bit choppy for our journey and for some of the time the decks were closed, which is a shame because sometimes there is a possibility of seeing dolphins and whales. We'd even borrowed binoculars for this opportunity but unfortunately didn't get to see anything.
Up top there is also a swimming pool, I thought this would be laughable, but I was wrong again, it was quite good, although we let the kids enjoy that whilst watching from the side lines. Also nearby was a childrens' play area which kept them entertained for quite a while too, whilst we enjoyed a Normandy Cider looking out at the ocean.
There were various places around the ship for refreshments, incuding quite a good cafe style restaurant on the top deck (Le Café Salad Bar) that did various hot and cold meals (ours pictured below). The main bar (Planets Bar) on the ship is where the entertainment was going on and then another bar just next to the self-service cafe (Le Petit Marché) which served beer and wine, including our favourite Sancerre!
At the end of the day we went back to the cabin and in the morning, before we knew it we were docking at Bilboa and we were really excited to hit the roads in Spain. We couldn't quite believe we were chugging along in our T25, in Spain!
Our campsite was in a place called Noja which was a good hour's drive, but a very pleasant one often with lovely views to beaches. We arrived at Noja really not knowing what to expect, but we were very pleased with what we found. Don't expect a quaint old fashioned Spainish village, it's not, but it is lovely. Lots of restauants and bars, but not tacky British pubs or anything.
Then as we passed through the town we arrived at our campsite, Playa Joyel. Upon arrival you have to go to receptions and they allowed us to walk around the site and make a note of a few picthes that we would like and go back. We got our first choice and we were blown away by the site, totally amazing. Plots were big and sheltered with trees which also gave privacy.
The site is big but didn't feel overwhelming at all. Three swimming pools, really nice toilet and shower blocks, a big park/play areas, a zoo!, supermarket, restaurant/bar, entertainment, laundry room and best of all, right on a lovely sandy beach. Even a place to wash your car, if you so desired!
We basically didn't move for a whole week, apart from walking in to town we were quite happy with everything we had at hand.
On our last night we walked in to town and went to a restaunt called El Horreo. Modern and airy, this was the perfect choice. The food was amazing and the wine great too (and so cheap). A lovely lawn area out front were the kids could go to run off a little energy, a fantastic night to end that part of the holiday.
The next day saw us fire up the van and head to Manent-Montane in the South of France. I have a client who wanted to do some photography training whilst I was there and allowed us to park the van at their smal holding for a couple of days. Manent-Montane is aout 1.5 hours south of Toulouse and that is where we headed to do the photohraphy training. I really liked Toulouse, lots to see and do and very very clean. There is a separate blog post about our day in Toulouse here.
After our 2 night stay we then headed up the middle of France right up to the west of Paris, very top of the Loire Valley, and a place called Senonches. This was a long journey in the van and took about 13 hours incuding stops.
The campsite was good but certainly not without it's faults and wasn't cheap either. That said I don't think we really took advantage of all it had to offer. The site had a big lake that you could take rowing boats on, for free. You could fish the lake too, we missed out on this and would definitely take advantage of next time.
One one of the days we headed into Chartres which is the capital of the Loire Valley and about 40 minutes from our campsite. It was lovely small city with a stunning catherdral called Catherdrale Notre-Dame de Chartres and yes it does look a bit like the Notre Dame. We had an amazing lunch in Chartres at L'AnneXe Officiel and then afterwards the girls spent ages playing in the water fountains.
But the main reason for our chosen location was because we wanted to take a day trip in to Paris as the kids wanted to see the Eiffel tower. We did this from a nearby train station (15 mins by car (20 by T25!)). The train was great and only took about an hour and a half and we were right in the middle of Paris. We did the tourist bit and took the hop-on hop-off bus tour, which was just perfect for us. A rather nice lunch and then back onthe train to get back to the site for pizzas by the lake.
We had 3 nights at this campsite before setting off towards Dieppe and our ferry back home. Newhaven is only about a 40 minute drive to where we live so seemed like a good option.
We stopped off at Rouen on the way home and wow, what a very beautiful and pretty city; a really lovely place to spend the day.
After a good day we left to make our way to Dieppe and before you knew it we were on board and heading home. It was an overnight ferry and this was a little hard to deal with I felt, the drivers lounge is where we got some kip, but the chairs are definitely not the most comfortable place to do so. Next time if we did the same journey I would opt for an earlier ferry.
To sum up, we had one of the best holidays we have ever had and cannot wait to do it again, in fact we have already booked the ferry for next year! This time though we have opted to get the return ferry to/from Spain and spend some time travelling around Spain. We just had such a great time in Spain that we want to spend all of our holiday there.
As for the van, she did brilliantly, clocking up about 1200 miles with no issues. Our love for her has grown stronger :-)
If anyone is thinking about doing a journey like this I would really encourage you to go for it, such great fun. If anyone has any questions, please feel free to ask.
Andy, Samantha, Myla & Willow