As far as first glimpses of a holiday destination go, it was more than a little mind blowing.
Long stretches of golden beaches beaming in the sun as our excited, tourist-filled ferry glided towards the port of Ouistreham on France’s stunning Normandy coastline.
In the 75th anniversary year of the D-Day landings, which took place on these very beaches stretching out before me, how different my excited thoughts must have been to those of the Allied soldiers as they made the same journey.
Their experiences would hit me countless times over the next fortnight, both on these beaches and in the many fascinating Normandy towns which paid the heavy price of war.
Our onward destination from Ouistreham, just north of the busy town of Caen, was one of those places.
The pretty beach town of Houlgate, a 30-minute drive from the port, was to be our base from which to explore this historic and most beautiful part of northwest France.
We were staying at Camping La Vallée, a French-run site where Eurocamp manages around a third of the pitches.
This was something of an experiment for us, the first time the family, with three children aged seven, four and one, had travelled abroad. Would Eurocamp’s family-friendly reputation ring true for us?
We had made the journey from Edinburgh to Portsmouth by car, staying overnight in a budget hotel, before picking up a six-hour Brittany Ferries sailing to France at 8.30am.
The timings were perfect for the kids. The ferry, with its cinemas and entertainment, proved a big success and the long crossing didn’t present any issues.
The campsite was easy to find, and with the weather in its sunny and glorious mid-20s, we arrived to see it looking its very best.
Described as one of Eurocamp’s “lively” sites, both “toddler friendly” and “action packed”, all three boxes were easily – but tastefully – ticked.
Facilities included three swimming pools (one covered), five flumes, a restaurant/bar, a well-stocked (and reasonably priced) shop, a pizza takeaway and a kids club.
Volleyball and football pitches, two play parks, a bouncy castle and even some ponies were added to the list, all set high on a hillside in swathes of well-kept grass.
The campsite was busy, even though the English school holidays had yet to start, and was made up mainly of French, Dutch and British holidaymakers, many of the former making their way from Paris for a seaside holiday in this chic region.
The Eurocamp staff were helpful and well-informed, making for a pleasant welcome. All good so far.
We had opted for a two-bed static caravan from Eurocamp’s budget-friendly “classic” range. It was deceptively roomy and served its purpose well, with an outdoor decking area (equipped with gas barbecue) and all the essentials expected for a self-catering holiday. This included a fridge/freezer, hob/oven, microwave and kettle.
The “classic” range is perhaps older and with its slightly tired, dated features, many holidaymakers would probably wish to opt for one of the more modern caravans.
The Eurocamp range is vast – not forgetting its spectacular, all-equipped safari tents – so depending on budget, taste and size requirements there is undoubtedly something to suit all happy campers.
For us, with three young children, the classic two-bed (one room with a single and bunk beds, the other a double) did its job, and with a shower/toilet, and sitting/dining area was preferable to canvas for our first Eurocamp experience.
After finding our feet on the first day, including popping to the nearby town of Dives-sur-Mer to the Intermarché supermarket to stock up on supplies, we soon sketched a loose to-do list and got into a workable rhythm.
Late afternoons/evenings were spent on the campsite, with our preference being to explore the surrounding Normandy area for the bulk of the day.
This worked well, with the outdoor pools proving refreshing after a day in the sun, and the fun of some al fresco dining on the decking to look forward to later on.
While the campsite had a lot to offer, both during the day and in the evening (mainly in the bar for people without three young children) there was a strict policy of quiet from 11pm. This curfew added to the general respectful mood about the site among campers, including the many pitched tenters, caravanners and campervanners who were dotted around the statics. Ten out of ten so far.
One of our first day trips out of the campsite, and one we repeated several times, was into Houlgate where we spent hours on the glorious beach, in the sea, picnicking, making sandcastles, collecting shells and playing bat and ball.
Its Promenade Roland Garros was spectacular, lined with striped beach huts and magnificent period properties overlooking the sea.
With a typically relaxed French feel, the beach was immaculate and just a 20-minute walk from the campsite, taking us through the town centre with its markets, restaurants and boutiques.
Much like the beach, with its pristine white sands, diligent lifeguards and regular announcements advising of tides/temperatures, attention to detail was not lacking in the town centre with its tidy flower beds and a general feeling of pride.
This was felt in all the beautiful coastal towns we managed to explore, most notably Deauville, Villers-sur-Mer and Honfleur.
The latter, with a harbour lined with eye-catching 16th century townhouses, will most definitely be visited again by yours truly. As will the D-Day landing beaches and museums which deserve several return trips to do them justice.
We made an unforgettable trip to Sword Beach (one of the five main landings areas) and to the Pegasus Bridge in Ranville, which was a major objective for the Allied forces. The bridge’s museum captured the imagination of my eldest children and has been spoken and read up on in great detail on our return to Scotland.
Owing to the quality of the campsite and the sheer breadth of beauty on its doorstep, this holiday exceeded all of my expectations. Brace yourself Camping La Vallée – we are coming back in 2020 for round two.
Camping La Vallée is open until 1 November, 2019 and from 3 April to October 30, 2020.
Prices for a ten-night stay in a two-bedroom classic static caravan (based on a family of five) start from £1,290 (for a July 2020 break).
Eurocamp offers discounts of up to 35 per cent for bookings made by 5 November (for summer 2020 breaks).
Brittany Ferries runs two sailings a day from Portsmouth to Caen (27km from campsite) and two return. Prices vary, but can start from around £300 return (based on family of five). Booking through Eurocamp can secure discounts.
For more details, visit www.eurocamp.co.uk or call 01606 787 125.