Selling the idea to the boys was child’s play. ‘We’re going on holiday in a motorhome,’ I told them, ‘just like Ben 10!’
There was a flurry of excitement, followed by earnest discussions on whether we were going to live in one for ever. ‘Ben 10 does,’ asserted my oldest.
‘No, he doesn’t,’ I retorted. ‘He just stays in it in the summer holidays.’
A few days later, when I proudly showed them pictures and layouts of our six-berth beast on the hire-firm website (aviscaraway.com), they complained that it didn’t actually look exactly like Grandpa Max’s from the TV series. This time I didn’t bother to reply.
We flew into Marseille on the Sunday, spent a wonderful day there, and took a taxi out to the suburbs to pick up our Fiat Pilote after lunch on Monday. As motorhome virgins, we were shown a video in English of how to manage the clean and dirty water and sewage tanks, hook up to electricity, and so on. Then one of the staff talked us through the whole shebang, in French, from lighting the gas and operating the fridge to magically transforming the dining table into a double bed. There was a great deal to take in a short space of time, but we were given a manual and various leaflets to remind us what we’d been shown.
We left the hire place – slowly and with expressions of severe unease on our faces – at about 5pm, stopped at a supermarket for basics, and at 8.30pm pulled up beside an alluring and deserted beach in the pretty seaside town of Fréjus. The boys leapt out and ran about wildly on the golden sands while we cracked open some beers and watched the sun go down. This was the life, we decided, and over dinner in a seafront pizzeria within view of our motorhome we found ourselves discussing buying one and fantasising about the freedom it would afford us to explore the UK – Scotland, Wales, the Lake District… It would pay for itself in no time, we decided, in savings on accommodation.
Day Two brought us back down to earth: we drove along the coast to Antibes to hook up with some British friends renting a flat there and found ourselves snared in the labyrinth of narrow streets that constitute its picturesque old town, unable to find a place to park our monster. It all culminated in a close encounter with another vehicle – nothing too serious, but one that required a hour’s form-filling with the other driver by the roadside as impatient French drivers bashed their horns and swung their fists around us.
Having found a peaceful spot to park by a beach on the other side of town and downed a few beers, we put the incident down to experience and resolved to get on with our holiday, which was largely enjoyable. Just don’t remind my husband of the series of hairpin bends that we got tangled up with on a hill in the Arrière-Pays – the scenic hinterland of the Riviera – or of the campsite we stayed in just outside Antibes, full of Brits clamouring for the nearest ‘caff’ serving Full English.
Highpoints, on the other hand, were the stunning wooded campsite we chanced upon in the Arrière-Pays near Vence, the Domaine de la Bergerie (www.camping-domainedelabergerie.com), and the marshy Camargue region, famous for its white horses and wild flamingos, where we stayed in a seaside site, La Brise (www.camping-labrise.fr), and enjoyed three pristine swimming pools to ourselves (we were playing hookie after May half-term).
We learnt our lesson about trying to leave the motorhome outside towns and catching the bus in to sightsee, although after returning to the UK and talking to other people about their motorhoming holidays, we heard endless stories about dramatic crashes everywhere from Wales to New Zealand (despite the latter's more open spaces). They certainly take some getting used to driving, and though we haven’t ruled out buying one in the future, we’d need to have another trial run in order to convince ourselves that they are worth the stresses involved.
And the kids? They had no reservations whatsoever. In fact, the one night we did break the holiday in a swanky hotel (the gorgeous Mas Candille), my oldest asked on the way out, ‘Why did we have to stay in a hotel, Mummy? I wanted to stay in the motorhome.’
They adored the adventure of it all, from sleeping on their double bunk above the driver’s seat (with a net to stop them falling) to parking by the beach or in lovely tranquil campsites with pools and playgrounds. The proof of the pudding is in the number of other mums who have come up to me in the schoolyard to tell them how jealous their kids have been after hearing Ethan and Ripley talk about their holidays.
Read more about family holidays in the South of France.