After seven glorious summers spent in an assortment of “compact and bijou” mobile homes around the Continent, something had to give.
Our three offspring were but bairns when we first starting visiting camping sites throughout France, Spain, Italy and the Netherlands, but now they are aged 16, 14 and 11 and aren’t getting any smaller – and nor am I for that matter. To facilitate a harmonious holiday, a bigger base is needed for this year’s trip to Camping la Croix du Vieux Pont at Berny-Rivière, 70 miles northeast of Paris – which is where our Moda Plus Lodge with Canvas Holidays comes in.
The pine-clad modern unit sleeps eight people over 100 square metres – about three times more space than the largest conventional mobile home. It has an open-plan living/dining/kitchen area, with comfy sofas, sturdy dining table and chairs, American fridge freezer and ice dispenser, fan oven, microwave, dishwasher and TV. It also has three bedrooms and two large shower rooms – though curiously only one toilet. A decking area enables al fresco dining and barbecues, shaded by an enormous cantilever parasol, and our lodge is a quieter part of the sprawling site with lots of space between neighbours.
Camping la Croix du Vieux Pont has hundreds of mobile homes and lodges to suit families large and small, positioned around two large lakes for fishing and watersports such as paddle boarding, kayaking and pedalos, plus another small lake for splashing about in with a sandy man-made beach and beach-side bar/restaurant. There is also a heated indoor pool, plus one for toddlers, and an outdoor pool complex with bubble beds and lazy river (this is not a place for wannabe Adam Peatys), as well as a bar, restaurant, bowling alley, soft play centre, crazy golf course, Laser Quest, takeaway, supermarket and bakery.
We arrive at the start of July, before many schools in the UK and elsewhere have broken up for summer, but it’s already busy with families who have pre-primary children in tow. And Camping la Croix du Vieux Pont certainly suits that demographic best – teenagers have to largely content themselves with taking selfies, WhatsApping chums, draining the wifi and being moody. Well, there are worse ways of spending a fortnight.
The site, however, is also ideally positioned for day trips further afield. Our first is to Paris, and specifically the Eiffel Tower. Although Google Maps will have you believe it takes 90 minutes to get there from Berny-Rivière, traffic is horrendous and it takes at least another 90 before we find an on-street parking space which costs about €35 for the next six hours. Approximately three hours of that is taken up by queuing to get to the very top of the tower itself – though I guess that’s to be expected if you’ve been daft enough not to pre-book tickets at the height of summer. It’s worth the wait though, to enjoy unsurpassable 360-degree views of Paris – and a couple of flutes of bubbly at Paris’s highest champagne bar, 906 ft above ground. After an hour or so, we get the lift down to the second floor and walk the remaining 674 steps to the ground, which provides a better appreciation of the architectural wonder itself and also allows the less cowardly members of our family to “enjoy” traversing a (hopefully super-strength) glass-covered floor segment.
After retrieving the car we battle chaotic rush hour traffic around the Arc De Triomphe – where local legend has it that motoring insurance policies are null and void – then cross the Seine and head back to the 7th arrondissement to dine at the gloriously Parisienne brasserie Le Solférino (262 Boulevard Saint-Germain). It’s a great place to watch the stylish citizens go by too, and we fill up on the likes of steak haché, roast chicken, salmon with Béarnaise sauce and plenty of frites, and finish off with a crêpes Suzette. With three Diet Cokes, a grande beer and a mojito, it comes to £150 and is just about worth it.
The next day we visit the local market at Vic-sur-Aisne, a quaint village that’s a ten-minute walk from the campsite and has a couple of bar/restaurants and the nearest cash dispenser. There’s a few stalls selling clothes and accessories, fresh fruit and cheap toys, but we would have been better getting up earlier and heading to Soissons, 15 miles away for a full-on typical French covered market experience. Arriving there in the afternoon means we’ve missed retail haggling opportunities, so instead we visit the Abbey of St Jean des Vignes, a majestic Gothic edifice which dates back the best part of 800 years. We have the place to ourselves as we explore the stunning cloisters and subterranean refectory, amble around the grounds and visit the English-language-friendly visitor centre – all for free, though donations are welcome to continue the restoration work.
Culture box ticked, we spend the next couple of days making the most of the campsite itself, chillaxing by the pool, playing table tennis, eating takeways from Berny Burger and more sophisticated meals at the wood-beamed Brasserie Macao, and drinking delicious French wine at rock-bottom prices.
But with time running out, there’s one last must-do: a trip to Disneyland Paris. It’s only about 60 miles from Camping la Croix du Vieux Pont and we arrive at 10am and don’t leave until the last light has gone out on the spectacular son et lumière closing show at 11pm. In the intervening 13 hours, we take in all the best rides at both the Disneyland Park and the adjoining Walt Disney Studio Park and we’re lucky that our visit coincides with the Marvel Summer of Super Heroes, which involves an array of live shows and animation featuring the Hulk, Iron Man, Captain America, Spider-Man and Co.
Other highlight rides include Big Thunder Mountain, Ratatouille: The Adventure and the scream-fest that is the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror – though by far the scariest part of the day is when I get the bill for our buffet lunch at Inventions restaurant in the Disneyland Hotel. Even though we were joined by characters such as Goofy, Donald Duck and Pluto during the meal, I felt £305 was, er, taking the Mickey. In fairness, though, there are another 65 restaurants in the parks to suit all budgets. Best of all, we made memories on this holiday that will last a lifetime – and that’s priceless.
Canvas, part of the Vacalians group, is the leading camping company in Europe with 900 sites. For Camping la Croix du Vieux Pont, Berny-Rivière, fly to Paris or drive 160 miles from the port of Calais. In September mobile homes are available from £217 per week, lodges from £329. Week commencing 13 October (half-term for many) Lodge 4 (sleeps ten) is available at £399 a week; Moda Plus mobile home (sleeps eight), £266 a week. Early bird offers on 2019 holidays are available with up to 30 per cent off. www.canvasholidays.co.uk, 0345 268 1644.
Disneyland Paris Marvel Summer of Superheroes ends 30 September. Adults (12 and above) one-day, one-park tickets £56pp, one-day two-park tickets £73pp. www.disneylandparis.co.uk