Paris for beginners

Colin Ainscough visits France for the first time

With so many faraway and exotic countries now only a flight away, I sometimes wonder how I have reached my thirties without ever making the hop over to our near neighbour France.

Colin Ainscough's daughter Kira visiting the Eiffel Tower

Colin Ainscough's daughter Kira visiting the Eiffel Tower

Maybe it’s early memories of my father’s stereotypical views of Europe, or is it an irrational fear of driving on the wrong side of the road that has held me back from visiting this popular holiday destination?

Imagine my surprise then when I found myself preparing for a family trip to La Croix du Vieux Pont a holiday parc in the Berny Rivière northern France, fervently hoping that my father was wrong and that I wouldn’t completely freak out whilst driving on the right.

Before setting off, we had to consider the logistics of each leg of the journey which entailed an epic six-hour drive from Lancashire to Dover followed by a quick one-and-a-half hour ferry ride and another two-and-a-half hour drive to our destination. 

As this was our first driving holiday, we decided to break up the journey with an overnight stop in Dover, leaving only the ferry crossing and shorter drive to our holiday parc the next day.

Kira enjoying the Eurocamp facilities

Kira enjoying the Eurocamp facilities

Happily, it proved to be the perfect way to deal with such a long journey and particularly with a young family in tow.

After a nerve-wracking drive, we arrived at the La Croix du Vieux Pont campsite with a combined sense of achievement and relief.

The holiday parc is situated in the small village of Berny Rivière in the picturesque Aisne Valley and gives you that perfect holiday escape feeling while still being relatively close to all the local amenities. We checked in at the Eurocamp reception and were soon shown to our accommodation by a friendly chap on a bike. 

Our pied-à-terre was an excellent Sunlight mobile home which featured a living space with adjoining kitchen, two bedrooms, a small but complete bathroom plus all the creature comforts you would expect from your own home, including central heating and even an iPod dock.

Outdoors, Eurocamp had catered for everything we might need. There was a decked area complete with patio table, chairs, umbrella and two sun loungers and plenty of room for sunbathing, and a barbecue was neatly tucked away.

This certainly wasn’t camping as I remembered it from my childhood and I was pretty sure my wife and daughter would approve.

After settling in, we headed off to explore the site and discovered an impressive list of amenities and activities.

As well as the standard swimming pools and play areas, there was the added bonus of special activity areas, kids’ clubs and a man-made beach which is guaranteed to keep adults and children occupied for as long as your stay lasts. 

We opted to spend most of our time at the pool or the beach but, for the more adventurous, there was the chance to try your hand at archery, canoeing, cycling, climbing, football, basketball and bowling. And for those seeking a slower pace, a spa and wellness centre certainly hit the spot.

All the facilities are listed on your welcome pack but if, like us, you prefer to explore the site and make your own way around, the activities seem to be endless.

On our last day at the holiday parc, we stumbled across an internet room complete with pool tables.

Beyond the holiday parc, Berny Rivière is an ideal location for holidaymakers with its supermarkets and restaurants. However, if you want to venture further afield, only a 30-minute drive away is Soisson, one of the oldest towns in France and probably the ancient capital of the Suessiones. There you will find a medieval museum and art gallery as well as plenty of shops to explore.

Soisson also has a train station which runs direct services to the Gare du Nord in Paris an hour away. From there, you can connect to the amazingly efficient Paris Métro and travel to all the main attractions in the French capital. We chose to visit the Eiffel Tower which was only about 30 minutes away from the Gare Du Nord.

If, like us, you drive to France then there are a host of other sights close to Berny Rivière but whether you visit Sea Life Paris (62 miles away), the themed Parc Astérix (44 miles) or the more popular Disneyland Paris (62 miles), it is worth taking time to do some research before you travel as there are some great deals online. We booked tickets for Disneyland Paris a few weeks before we left home and, apart from the seemingly endless queues and incredibly long day, it was worth every penny to hear my daughter sing along to classic Disney songs accompanied by an array of images projected on to Cinderella’s castle at a magnificent late night light show.

However, be aware that the light show does not start until 11pm so if you have very young children, this may be a performance too far for them. 

Apart from the many commercial attractions on offer in France, we found our stay at Eurocamp well organised and it provided enough entertainment to keep us all happy for the week while at the same time giving us, as a family, the freedom to choose what we did and when we did it.

And so with a new-found love for France, my irrational fear of driving on the right cured and tears from my daughter on our last night because she didn’t want to go home, I am sure that the joys of Eurocamp and France will lure us across the Channel again.