France. Yawn. Everyone goes to France. We don’t do France, we do Spain (well, admittedly everyone goes there too, but you know, we are irrational creatures with irrational opinions). So how was it, then, that we ended up spending a week of our precious holiday in rural Languedoc last September?
Well, it’s all down to this place: Montengrand. I discovered it on babyfriendlyboltholes.com and it sounded just about perfect. Set about an hour’s drive from Toulouse airport (Carcassone, served by Ryanair, is even closer), this collection of 4 cottages on a smallholding had, on paper, about everything you’d want for a cool holiday with young kids: chic interiors (Cath Kidston meets Farrow and Ball); full kitchens (dishwashers!); bedrooms for everyone (no sofa beds in the lounge or camp beds); boxes of age-appropriate toys for the children (Brio railway!); a lovely pool with views over the beautiful rolling countryside; a beautiful market town, Mirepoix, just a few minutes drive (or cycle) away; babysitting and meal delivery services; animals to feed; a wigwam on a huge grassy lawn… The only thing missing was a beach (quite a big deal for us…).
And here’s the shock. We didn’t miss the beach at all. Not at all! In fact, we actually relished not scraping sand off screeching children for a week. We had a fabulous holiday just pootling about the gorgeous countryside and cycling to nearby villages (there’s a traffic-free path along a disused railway that runs to Mirepoix and beyond, perfect for rides with the kids). More than anything, we enjoyed simply staying put at Montengrand itself.
What this holiday made us realise is that a familiar environment shared with like-minded families can make all the difference to a holiday. The set up at Montengrand encourages you to socialise: you meet other parents at the pool and you get talking. The children soon discover each other and play happily with the toys that are scattered about (Leo was particularly protective of the plastic BBQ; and the shopping trolley got mauled by all the young guests). Because everyone is dealing with toddler stroppiness and unpredictability, it is actually incredibly relaxing – you don’t feel conspicuous when your child is having a crying fit, or deciding to fill the pool with leaves (of course!). Nor do you feel isolated like you can do in a villa – it’s nice to have other people to share ideas and experiences and just have a laugh.
The other major plus about a place like Montengrand is that you are effectively ‘hosted’ by the owners – in this case Nicki and Adrian. They are on hand to welcome you, pick up groceries so your fridge is stocked for your arrival, book you into local restaurants, arrange bike hire, deliver fresh croissants in the morning and recommend places to go etc. It just makes everything easier – unlike a hotel or a private villa where you are on your own. The best thing is that Nicki can arrange for you to have dinner out at the local Chateau in nearby Camon, which is a magical experience. You sip champagne under an arbor and then dine in the monk’s kitchen or cloisters. She will drive you there, pick you up and arrange the babysitter. Wonderful!
Our time at Montengrand really made us think differently about what we want from a holiday – we don’t actually need a beach; we value sociability (on an intimate scale) over privacy; and we loved having someone on hand, that personal touch to make things go smoothly.
Oh, and our holiday also made us think differently about France. We loved the restfulness of the scenery; the daily croissant delivery; the wine and the fabulous produce in Mirepoix market… yes, I have to admit, we want to go back. My only concern is, on the basis of this glowing review, you get there before me and they have no availability left!