Guest post by Christine Leger
Christine is a Canadian girl, who with her husband and son moved to Germany for work and adventure! Since then the family have travelled to 7 European countries and have knocked some landmarks off their bucket-list. You can follow Christine and her family here:
Vacation of a lifetime
The French Riviera with kids
Our first road trip was to the French Riviera with kids. I have been dreaming about visiting the Mediterranean since my honeymoon when we visited the Caribbean. When the opportunity came along to spend a week at a chalet in Port Grimaud, center of the Golfe de St. Tropez, we jumped on it.
We purchased discounted tickets from Expedia, but they forgot to mention a few things when we booked so we had to pay extra for our checked bags and Air Berlin bag drop-off can’t accept payment so we had to wait in another line. Word to the wise, pack a change of clothes for both the children and mommy. After take-off, a certain someone sitting on my lap had a blowout all over my new shorts. Safe to say, I did the walk of shame to the bathroom, got us both changed and took our seats.
We had initially planned to visit some of the larger cities within 100km from the resort, but after the wailing in the back seat we decided to take a closer look at the surrounding area and found plenty to do that was both relaxing and fulfilled my need to tour. In this case, it would have probably been best to hire a car service to drop us off and pick us up, but we had no way of knowing.
Prairie de la mer - Beach resort at its finest
While the address on our information sheet was challenging to put into our GPS, we eventually found where we going. The resort itself is called Prairie de La Mer and it is a series of mobile homes owned and managed by various companies. We stayed with BJ Riviera holidays. The home was not very large, but it wasn’t that expensive either, considering where we were. One master bedroom with a double bed and two smaller bedrooms with two twin beds in each. They will remove some if the space is needed, which it was. The kitchen was extremely small, and in the same room as the dining table, couch and porch. A small grocery store, bar, quick service restaurant, play ground and mini carnival were all in the same area, just a 5 minute walk from our house. Having a fully equipped kitchen helped keep the cost down as we were able to buy and store food for the whole week. Had we driven, we would have brought all of our own food and accessories, and only purchased perishables, making it even cheaper.
There are three formal restaurants on the beach that had very good food at a reasonable price – though not something we did every night. They don’t open for dinner until 7 pm, however, which was a little late for the kids but munchkin was able to play in the sand while we waited for service and baby girl was down for the night in her stroller before we sat down.
Laundry service was available near the grocery stores and only took 45 minutes. Our house had a drying rack on the front step so we just brought our wet clothes back to the house to dry and continued on our way. While the area was fairly trustworthy in terms of leaving your clothes outside while we were away, we choose to bring them in overnight, only leaving the stroller outside but tucked away behind the car.
We really did enjoy ourselves a lot, and the kids had a great time playing in the Mediterranean all evening, every evening. The front desk had a number of pamphlets for things to do in the area and were able to answer many of my questions. The staff spoke many languages so the hubby was able to communicate with them easily enough, while I decided to practice my french. My accent was a dead giveaway that I wasn’t a local and many asked if I was from Montreal – apparently that’s the only city that speaks French outside of France. It’s better than Belgium, when they thought I was British (they had no idea Canada had a second language – a few didn’t know where Canada was, but that is a different story).
St. Maxime - Half-day trip across the Golfe
Our first day was just chillaxing at the beach, making food and checking out the ice cream. Day 2 was on the Riviera. We decided to go to St. Maxime and check out the aquascope. les Bateaux verts, the only ferry to traverse the Golf, is at the captainaire to the left of the entrance to Port Grimaud. We went right, thinking it would be in the center of the port with everything else – they had a kiosk next to the canal cruise and she directed us back to where we came from.
Since our vacation was at the tail end of tourist season, they were not running nearly as often as they had, say, a week before. We arrived just in time to catch the first ferry out, they were actually about to leave when we bought our tickets. We had a private ride and baby girl fell asleep as soon as the engine started. 20 minutes later, we arrived and crossed the dock to the Aquascope kiosk.
There were 9 seats inside the submarine and baby girl didn’t count as a person. Since she was still asleep, we brought her car seat into the sub and forced to hold it on my lap because munchkin decided he didn’t want to sit on our laps and we didn’t pay for a seat for her. This is was not comfortable, I have to say, since the seats were more like a bar stool and didn’t have a backrest. The ride was maybe 30 minutes, I didn’t see what I was hoping for but the toddler had a great time so I can’t complain.
There were a few things further into the city that I’m sure we could have visited, but the tourist information centre had surprisingly little information regarding St. Maxime and we all really just wanted to swim.
Grimaud village - Hot, Humid and Hungry
The resort offers a bus/train transit called “Le Petit Train de Grimaud” that has a starting point within the resort, a stop next to the port (maybe 2 min drive), then it continues down the highway and up to the village. It is a guided tour in 4 different languages, cost 7 euro per adult for a round trip, and takes about 50 minutes to do a complete circuit. The train, and later the town itself, is more or less stroller friendly, though I don’t advise it. My Bob revolution is a little larger than most strollers and we had an interesting time fitting into the provided space. Also, we were not able to take the walking tour of the town because of the stairs. We managed to find “roads” and walked more or less, straight up to the castle ruins.
Down the street from the drop off site was an elevator to go down to the main village and visit the fountain and tourist centre. They provided us with a map. If we wanted to take the full walking tour, follow the numbers on the walls and it takes about 1.5 hours to reach the castle ruins at the top of the mountain.
Once we arrived to the foot of the castle, there were two sets of steep stairs. We separated the stroller from the car seat and brought her up to the main landing, and then we went our separate ways. Hubby stayed while I took munchkin to the top of the castle to look around. The idea was to switch eventually, but a little accident involving the castle breaking his fall meant, we headed back down, so doctor daddy could have a look at his new goose egg.
The church was nice to see on our way down for lunch time. Munchkin reminded us of the rules, “use your indoor church voice”. I’m glad he remembers something from our frequent travels.
Overall, we took the 11:10 train and took the 3:50 return train. Long day over all. Not enough wine in the world could erase my headache. The beach definitely helped though.
Port Grimaud - The Artificial Port
Port Grimaud itself is an artificial town created by architect François Spoerry in the 1960’s in order to create more ports for tourist boats and accommodate more people away from neighboring St. Tropez. Because of this, many of the local towns look down on Port Grimaud. The town is walled, manned by security 24/7 and is privately owned.
From any entrance, turning left would send you to the Capitainnaire (Harbour master) and Les Bateaux Verts launch, turning right takes your right into the heart of the city. The square, surrounded by local shops, has markets on Sundays and Thursdays. We stopped here for breakfast while waiting for the market to open (9 am). I am happy that we arrived so early, it didn’t take long for the area to get busy and over crowded. This was around the time we left to take the kids home for an over due nap. Here they sold soaps, towels, bathing suits and jewelry. Across the bridge was the second part of the market and “mall”.
The market had many fruit, cheese and sausage stales. It also had many clothing booths; they only take cash and cheque, good thing they don’t take Visa or I could have been in trouble.
There is a canal cruise, very short, that took us around the port. It was a nice, relaxing time where the munchkin could look off the sides, point to all the boats and baby girl could sleep her troubles away. We didn’t do much today, just relaxed, shopped and walked around. And, as usually, the beach was our final destination.
Just before heading home, we made the wonderful day trip to St Tropez. The boat was much fuller than before, considering this town was so much more popular than all the others. St Tropez is also the starting point for many other inter-city transportation systems, crossing the Riviera to Cannes, Antibes, Nice and Monaco.
As the boat pulled up, we spied the light house and all the beautiful boats docked. We took the time to take a look around before exploring. Munchkin was very grateful. This worked up his appetite so we stopped by a few bakeries on the way to the castle. I know, such a sacrifice.
We slowly made our way to the citadel, via the main road. We passed several remarkable buildings, like the Gendarmerie National, along the way. The architecture is so old-school. The colours are so bright, sun dyed and chipping but beautiful because of it.
The citadel was fairly easy to reach. Everything was ramp-like, dirty roads. The Museum was also fairly accessible; the hallways were wide enough for my behemoth to pass while
letting others pass beside us. There was an elevator in the center and a family sized rest room at the entrance. We were able to access the whole museum save the roof. I have found museums in Europe have an attendant in most rooms and this was no different, since the baby was still sleeping, this rooms attendant kindly offered to watch her while we took the munchkin to the roof. She promised to call if she needed us. As we walked back down, the baby was starting to wake. Perfect timing.
We ended the day with some souvenir shopping and more ice cream. We were too early for the boat and the line was in direct sunlight. We hid in the shadows ,while we waited and finished our snacks. We didn’t wait too long though, the line grew quickly after we joined it and the boat was fairly full once we set off.