Ed-ventures in France
Time in France
Having spent a year travelling around the UK, we wanted our second year to take in countries further afield. The first port of call on our European travels was France.
I love France and have many happy memories of going there on holiday when I was younger. Tim and I spent three weeks camping in northern France before the girls were born and we had brought the girls to France on a couple of camping holidays in the past. This time, we were spending a little more than a month exploring France, travelling and living in our motorhome.
We chose to travel in France during the winter period in order to avoid the summer crowds and escape the British weather. There are pros and cons to travelling at this time of year; there are fewer people around but many sites and attractions are closed. We chose a route down the east of France, from Calais, stopping in Picardie and Lyon before spending a good chunk of time in the Alps and then making our way along the southern coast to Spain. Planned highlights of the trip included winter sports and meeting up with friends. Ultimately, we wanted the trip to be an extension of our ed-venture – a mixture of education and adventure. We wanted the girls to experience a different country, appreciate its culture and learn its language.
Language Learning by Amy
Part of going abroad is using the language. With a language so widely spoken around the world, it’s tempting to speak to people in our own mother tongue, rather than the native language of the country. Really, though, not only do you learn more by attempting to speak it, but also you’ll find that people living there appreciate the attempt to speak their language and will often try to help. Whilst we’ve been travelling in France, my sister and I have been polishing up our French, taught to us by our mum, a French dictionary and a language learning CD given to us by our grandparents (which has been the source of constant jokes but has helped all the same!)
We put this knowledge into practice in the cafes, museums, shops and even a campsite that we have visited. In fact, in one particular souvenir shop in the French Alps, we ended up telling the shop-keeper where we live, who with, our name and our age after she overheard us practising our French as we walked around the shop. We are also now experts at reserving breakfast pastries and asking for stamps for England, which I had to do in three different places before I finally somewhere that sold them. But, as my sister and I have learnt, practice makes ‘parfait’!
Staying in the Alps
A large proportion of our time in France was dedicated to the Alps. Primarily because we wanted to do winter sports and seek some mountain adventures. We had never considered camping at a ski resort before and were a little concerned about how the motorhome would cope in snowy conditions. Snow chains at the ready, we drove with surprising ease along the windy roads up into the mountains.
The first resort that we stayed in was le Grand Bornand, a popular French family ski resort. We hadn’t known this before we arrived and were surprised by the numbers of other people camping at the site. We soon discovered that we were there during the French and English school holidays which meant that there were plenty of other families around. It had snowed prior to our arrival and we were thrilled to see a thick coating of the white stuff all around! The girls were understandably very excited and keen to play in the snow.
The second site that we stayed at was in Landry, in the Vanoise valley, over-looked by snow-covered mountains. Although the site was located in the valley, beside the river Isere it was easy to travel up between villages and up into the mountains, using the many free shuttle buses that are provided. Whilst we chose not to ski or snowboard in this area, the temptation to head into the mountains was irresistible.
Snowy activities by Amy
[A shortage of snow was not an issue for us whilst travelling in the Alps. The snow and weather were in our favour and we had plenty of opportunities, over the 3 weeks that we spent there, for skiing (Alpine and cross-country), snowboarding and sledging.
Both of the resort villages, Le Grand Bornand and Landry, had good access for family-friendly skiing and the days we spent in the Alps were packed with activities. I loved skiing in Le Grand Bornand (the resort we chose to ski at) – the wide variety of slopes for beginners to experts appealed to all of us. Just getting up in the morning, jumping on a ski bus and enjoying the fresh, powdery runs was something we all treasured. I for one was pretty disappointed when the ski pass expired. Le Grand Bornand site was also great for other activities. It was fun having a go at cross-country skiing – we were all pretty rubbish at it but certainly had lots of laughs trying! Ella and I had a couple of sessions at the ice-skating rink during the last few days we were there. We also enjoyed some sledging sessions as well.
At the other Alpine resort, Landry, we chose not to ski and instead spent time exploring the surrounding area. The site we stayed at in the village had a cycle route running next to it, linking two nearby villages, Aime and Bourg Saint Maurice, and, in a brief thaw of the snow, we hopped on our bikes and made the most of that opportunity. Free shuttles ran from Landry, heading higher up into the mountains and, unable to resist the lure of the snow, we went sledging and, on one day, hired snow shoes and hiked up to build a Quinsee snow shelter – hard work but we had an end product we were pretty proud of.
Camping in the snow by Ella
Arriving at our campsites located in the Alps was ‘très’ exciting! Just the fact that we were hearing the snow crunching beneath the wheels as we drove onto our pitch at le Grand Bornand made me squeal with excitement. When we stepped out of the motorhome our feet became buried under fresh, powdery snow. I had a huge grin across my face when I looked at all the snow around us. It was hard to resist a snowball fight or a snow dog building session.
Unlike other skiing holidays when we stayed in hotels, we would return after a day of skiing back to our motorhome. Staying in the motorhome was like taking home away with you – for us it was literally that! We had all the home comforts: books, blankets, toys and teddies. We were snug and warm even though it was snowing outside.
The last few days in France were spent travelling along the southern coast, stopping off at aires and campsites by the sea. The Winter chill had started to disappear and we had some gloriously sunny weather. This section of the trip was unplanned and we enjoyed the freedom of travelling along at a leisurely pace stopping when and wherever took our fancy. We enjoyed a night in the Camargue, spotting the famous white horses, bulls and flamingoes wading in the salt marshes. We also enjoyed the coastal route with its magnificent view over the Mediterranean sea. Learning the language and speaking it in real life contexts, finding out about the culture and lifestyle through conversations and personal experience, and visiting places of historical importance made our month in France a wonderfully cultural ed-venture.