Mommy and the Muffins first destination last summer was La Selle Sur Le Bied, a beautiful rural community 110 km southeast of Paris, where they had a 10 day visit with very dear forever French friends Christian and Chantal, who have chosen this lovely community for their retirement.
We enjoyed a month-long home exchange in Saint-Maximin-la-Sainte-Baume which is a commune in the Var department in the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region in southeastern France. It lies 40 km (25 mi) east of Aix-en-Provence at the foot of the Sainte-Baume mountains: baume or bama is the Provençal equivalent of “cave”. The town’s basilica is dedicated to Mary Magdalene.
Mommy, Mimi, and the two Muffins arrived first. Our gracious and ebullient host Marc had the oldest Muffin in the pool and the youngest in his arms before we’d even unpacked our bags. For those considering home exchanges, having a day overlap of the two families at the beginning and end of a home exchange is a marvelous way to settle in and express gratitude. My daughter used a French home exchange site to find this beautiful home with a pool.
The patio was a great place to relax and enjoy all of our home cooked meals. The interior was Mediterranean modern and spacious with separate bedrooms for each of us, but within earshot of the little ones. The baby, not yet walking, enjoyed couch cruising and both children loved the pool. In another post I will share how our four-year-old was able to attend school in the town for 3 weeks.
Betty Crocker’s Castle Cake took precedence over our family’s usual name-your-crepe celebration as my granddaughter celebrated her 4th birthday. The ad said it’s as easy as building with blocks...not! But the birthday girl and all her guests were delighted with my daughter’s creation. And, of course, Happy Birthday was sung in both English and French. Many of her little friends were from her French for Fun preschool.
Camping in France offers a whole new opportunity for the American traveler that is often overlooked. Don’t think tents in the wilderness. We stayed at Camping à Cagnes sur mer Green Park in 2006.
Our three bedroom mobile home bungalow had all the amenities including air conditioning and was located on acres of tree-shaded land with swimming and other recreational activities for children and adults, talent shows in the evening, and all priced well within our budget.
My son-in-law-to-be joined us at the last minute for a week’s stay that was within a short drive of all the Côte d’Azur and Provençal attractions. Nice with its elegant Hotel Negresco, famed pebble beach and world-famous art museums (Musée Marc Chagall, Musée Matisse and Musée des Beaux-Arts Jules Chéret).
Provence’s most famous hilltop villages were in easy traveling distance. We enjoyed St. Paul de Vence and the Gorges du Verdon, and even a secluded goat farm high in the hills producing the most delicious cheese.
When exploring these camping spots, which are the favorite destinations of a large majority of French families for their annual vacations in August, expect to use your high school French visiting the websites and at the camping locations or search for British online camping sites. You know you’ve found the perfect location when there isn’t another American in sight!
Children of all ages can pretend to be kings and queens, knights and archers.
Haut-Koenigsbourg Castle 55 km south of Strasbourg is a perfect example. It is filled with artifacts and has beautifully restored room and educational displays.
Plus, for the grownups, there is the incomparable view and the authentic medieval or Alsatian food in the restaurant serving everything. Even a snap-on tray high chair to secure the toddler.
In early July 2013, Mimi, that’s me, the grandma, left on one plane for Oxford for a week-long residential writing course, and Mommy and the Muffins, then one and three and a half, left on another plane for Paris and a stay with dear friends in La Selle sur Le Bied, a lovely rural village southeast of Paris. Joined by Mimi a week later, they all drove to Strasbourg for a ten-day stay, this time with the grandmother of the two girls Mommy tutors back home. The tutoring girls were visiting as well, so it was a fun-filled time, immersed in the warm, welcoming African and French culture of that family. The next destination was to a month-long stay at a home exchange near Aix en Provence in the town of Saint–Maximin–la-Sainte-Baume, this time traveling by TGV. The high-speed train stops for no one. You don’t get your luggage or one of the children off in time and you can kiss them goodbye. We had literally five minutes (instead of the usual ten since they were running late) to get one grandmother, one mother, two toddlers, two car seats, four large bags, four small bags, and a dual-stroller, onto the train at Strasbourg, having made a mad block-long dash with the whole lot after finding the direct elevator to the track out of order! Then mid-way we had to change trains. If it hadn’t been for a young man from New Hampshire and several French passengers forming a four-man “luggage” brigade, we never would have caught the second train. I can still see Mommy running breathless up and down the quay to where we were to board train number two, pushing the stroller laden with several suitcases at a time. Arriving at the Aix TGV station, we recruited another passel of helpful strangers to help us off. But as you can see from the photo, the preschooler thought her first TGV ride was all very relaxing and great fun.