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La Cour Aux Bourgeois, France
Ever found the words ’self-catering’ and ‘holiday’ a misnomer when travelling with small children? Then look no further – La Cour aux Bourgeois, a gorgeous gîte in Lower Normandy takes some of the grind out of looking after the family away from home.
A convenient 45 minute drive from the Caen ferry, La Cour is exactly how you’d picture a 17th century Norman farmhouse to look like – warm sandstone and white woodwork set in a beautiful orchard. Approaching through swooping white gates, we were greeted by Sarah our friendly and enthusiastic host. Sarah and her French husband, Laurent, set up ‘Toddler Holiday’, catering for the under-5’s and their families at La Cour, after struggling to find genuinely relaxing places to holiday with their own young family. They aim to ‘minimise the strain and maximise the fun for parents holidaying with small children’.
Sarah showed us round our spacious and comfortable part of the farmhouse. Set over two floors and boasting heaps of character – exposed beams, a Louis XIV fireplace and shuttered windows, the gîte is tastefully yet casually furnished. A huge lounge with a well equipped kitchen and dining area comprise the ground floor while upstairs (stairgate fitted) is a spacious master bedroom, with yet more beams, a well finished bathroom, a nursery with a wooden cot and toddler bedroom under the eaves of the house – perfect for our 1 and 3 year old. Perfect for mum too as the fridge and cupboards were stocked with the basics ordered prior to our arrival so there was no need to face the supermarket after a long journey!
Little baby-friendly touches – blackout blinds, night lights, bibs and a non slip bathmat have been catered for here as well as the essential highchair, plastic plates and cutlery. There’s also a box of toys, DVD player, satellite TV with CBeebies, CBBC and all other BBC Channels. Lots of warm colours, ample exposed wood and soft fluffy white towels give the gîte a cosy, homely feel. Best of all, as the safety aspects have been thought through you feel you can really relax in the accommodation and you’re not constantly on edge fearing the offspring will hurt themselves or, worse still, damage the place!
Accommodation explored, the trip to the long promised playbarn was a delight. Located along an entire side of the rambling farmhouse, the tremendous choice almost overwhelmed for the children at first sight; huge enclosed trampoline, numerous ride-ons, kids bikes, toys, art and craft corner, dolls house, book and DVD library with comfy chairs for supervising parents (with a magazine collection should your children let you alone for a precious few moments). The children could easily spend a long afternoon there, or in the fenced outside playarea with massive sandpit, slide and swingset. In the barn we met the neighbouring family staying in the other gîte in another part of the farmhouse. With two lively toddlers of their own, new playmates were instantly found while the adults exchanged tips on exploring the local area.
Finally persuading the children to leave the barn for some tea, another treat was in store. We’d chosen to try the meal service for our first night. A traditional, home cooked French dish is prepared that day and delivered to the gîte in the afternoon ready to reheat. It’s a fixed menu on 3 set nights per week with toddler portions and baby purees also available. This approach worked well for us, particularly on the first night, as we could all eat together at a time that suited plus the Poulet Vallée d’Auge (or Normandy chicken with rice) dish was simply delicious.
There’s a lot to do in this area of Normandy (beaches, zoos, WWII sites, chateaux, Norman history…) and the ‘Tried and Tested’ directory supplied in the gîte is particularly valuable in working out where to go. Previous guests share their experiences of visiting local attractions with toddlers in tow, so you can both avoid potential pitfalls (such as trying to take a pushchair round Mont St-Michel) and reap the benefits of some top tips (e.g. there’s a free crèche at Le Memorial in Caen).
Oh, and the by the way, Sarah also does your laundry for you and offers babysitting for 3 nights per week (all for free!), so La Cour really does go a long way to taking some of the domestic grind out of what is supposed to be a break. What they offer is very much geared towards catering for the under 5’s. In fact, Sarah only accepts bookings from parties containing at least one child under 5 and this works well for the children sharing the facilities from both a playmate and a safety perspective. For a holiday with a toddler, a pre-schooler or a baby or any combination, you’d be hard pushed to find a better appointed or better organised self-catering place for such good value for money.
Sarah and Laurent have found their Toddler Holiday offering so successful, they’re shortly to move out of their part of the farmhouse to create a third self-contained gîte that promises to be even better than their other two! Sarah still plans to be on site very regularly and Wi-fi and telephone connections are promised for each gîte for the near future to keep guests connected with the outside world.
For those seeking more privacy and exclusive use of facilities, 4 rue de la Dive is another nearby gîte available through Toddler Holiday, offering a very similar family friendly service. This 18th century barn has been beautifully converted to offer accommodation for 7 people plus a cot set over three floors. The gîte is private and very peaceful set in spacious grounds with friendly and approachable British hosts residing in the farmhouse nearby.
The barn has a light and airy feel, more formal than La Cour and with a definite French touch to the furnishings. The sitting room has a striking 15 ft high arched window in the place of the original barn door, it has a kitchen to die for and a sunny dining room leading to a terrace and four spacious bedrooms.
The grounds are also home to a donkey, sheep and cows – though these are fenced away from the property. It’s just a short walk over the fields to a nearby village with amenities so there’s no need to drive every day if you prefer a more relaxed pace.
The gîte also boasts a well equipped playbarn adjacent to the living room with toys for a wide age range, bikes for all ages, a swingset, a tennis court and a fully-fenced swimming pool (open June to Sept). Essential baby and toddler equipment is available and stairgates and bars on low windows are fitted to improve safety.
Although the facilities catering for a family with under 5’s are on site here, 4 rue de la Dive would equally suit a family with more of a mix of ages or with grandparents in tow. A meal service, pre-arrival shopping and babysitting are also available here – a welcome service whatever the age of the children!
Special Offer: 20% discount to babygoes2 readers for all remaining weeks in May 2006. More property information can be found on www.toddlerholiday.com.
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