MEMORIES IN THE MAKING: Le Manoir de Longeveau has everything for a family holiday to remember
RACHEL JANE discovers a French retreat that offers a family-friendly environment with a touch of sophistication
MY CHILDHOOD holidays were not glamorous. There were no pretty cottages or cool European villas.
It was the Seventies and the static caravan was the thing. An iron shell hid an Aladdin's cave of Formica and itchy fabrics. On the plus side, my brother and I could play without health and safety spoiling our fun. I'm not sure seven-and eight-year-olds would be allowed to ride around on mopeds today, though.
Now that I'm mother to a mischievous four-year-old, Morgan, I also want him to have memorable holidays, preferably minus the communal showers. Click here now for amazing deals to France!
It sounded like mission impossible until a friend told me about Baby-Friendly Boltholes, which specialises in child-friendly holidays with a little luxury. The company offers stylish cottages, chic ski chalets and overseas villas while providing more than the usual self-catering child facilities of a travel cot and a high chair.
After our short FlyBe flight to Bergerac we picked up a hire car and weaved our way through the French countryside, past glorious Bordeaux vineyards and field after field of nodding sunflowers. An hour later we were at Le Manoir de Longeveau, near Aubeterre in south-west France. It's an idyllic location on the border of the Charente and Dordogne, just a few miles from the River Dronne.
Longeveau is a 16th-century former Cognac estate with 21 self-catering cottages.
Our home for the next seven days was a pretty gîte called Les Jolies Arches, which once housed a grape crusher. It has been converted into a modern rustic space with an open-plan lounge, dining room and kitchen. Wine crate lids adorn the walls and the three bedrooms are decorated in French shabby chic style. Each cottage has a private terrace opening on to communal gardens.
To my delight, our neighbour was TV legend Johnny Ball, who was visiting friends and enjoying the on-site nine-hole golf course (apparently EastEnders star Sid Owen was there the week before).
There are also three open-air pools and an outdoor play area.
After a meal (there's an on-site bar and restaurant), we were ready to explore. We nipped down to nearby Aubeterre where we spent the day on the banks of the Dronne soaking up the sun and building sandcastles on the "river beach". Want incredible deals to France? Click here now...
Aubeterre, voted one of France's prettiest villages, enjoys stunning views from its hilltop setting. The main square is surrounded by bars, restaurants, a bakery and artisan boutiques overlooked by an imposing 1,000-year-old château.
We were also keen to visit the famous puppet theatre but the owner seemed to be on permanent lunch break. I guess that's showbiz for you; temperamental stars with temperamental agents pulling the strings. One place that did not disappoint, however, was the 12th-century underground church of St Jean, carved into the rock, complete with catacombs; an extraordinary building that is both damp and serene.
It would be criminal to visit Bordeaux and not sample the wines, so we headed to St Émilion, a 45-minute drive away. I feared Morgan wouldn't enjoy our day trip but he adored the Train of the Great Vineyards that toured the town, as a guide told us about the châteaux and their wines.
Following our tour, a wine shop caught the eye of my husband, Dave, and he couldn't resist six bottles of fine wine. The bill was not so fine. Another delicacy with a smaller price tag is the almond macaroon. First made in 1620 by Les Ursulines, a small community of nuns who lived in the village, the recipe was a closely guarded secret until 1930 when it fell into the hands of Madame Grandet, who opened the Blanchet Bakery.
Three generations later the business is still thriving.
7 RANTÔME, on the northern edge of the Dordogne, is also worth a visit. It has been nicknamed the "Venice of Perigord" and is the perfect place to mess about on the river and enjoy the outdoors.
As child-friendly holidays go, it was great. The facilities were first class with tennis, golf and a crèche but the best fun to be had was introducing Morgan to a new country. He remembers his first holiday in France for all the weird and wonderful things that happened, much like I will always remember my childhood trips to France. Long may that continue. GETTING THERE: Baby-Friendly Boltholes (0845 489 0140/www.babyfriendlyboltholes.co.uk) offers seven nights in a one-bedroomed cottage at Manoir De Longeveau from £248 (cot hire £15). FlyBe (www.flybe.com) offers return flights from Gatwick to Bergerac from £112. Avis (0844 581 0147/www.avis.co.uk) offers weekly car hire from £224. French Tourist Office: 0906 824 4123/ www.franceguide.com