In a surprising break from our usual habit of holidays in The Netherlands, we decided to head to Normandy in France for our 2019 summer holiday. We were staying in the seaside town of Houlgate in Calvados, at Camping Village La Vallée. While this is a campsite, we were actually staying in an Al Fresco Holidays mobile home.
To get there, we drove down to Folkstone and travelled across to France on the Eurotunnel. We then drove down to Houlgate, which is about 3 hours and 20 minutes away.
We brought the bikes along, as is the custom when we go away. Though we were a little apprehensive about what the conditions for cycling would be like and unsure whether to bring the bikes. Other than riding round Paris quite a few years ago with Fat Tire Tours, we’ve not really ridden in France before, and never with the kids.
Before we left, I asked around on the Family Cycling UK Facebook group about cycling in Normandy and generally, the responses were positive. So we decided to take the bikes and see how we get on. In the end as you’ll see, I’m glad we did.
Camping Village La Vallée
As I mentioned, we’d booked a holiday home at La Vallée campsite in Houlgate. As you’d expect, this is located a little bit out of town, but not far. Compared to our regular destination at Duinrell in The Netherlands, it’s clearly a much smaller site, though it was still a decent size.
As the name would suggest, the campsite is located in a bit of a valley, with it sloping up from the entrance. There’s a fair number of pitches, with a combination of tents, caravans / camper vans and holiday homes. Our holiday home pitch wasn’t too far from the reception and shop.
Compared to Duinrell, the holiday homes are much closer together at La Vallée. This meant there was only the road to play on, whereas Duinrell has large grass areas in between the holiday homes. The roads are generally quite quiet, so it didn’t cause any massive issues. Though it did feel a little like we were on top of each other.
There’s a number of facilities and activities on site, with the most popular being the indoor and outdoor swimming pools and water slides. For a campsite of this size, these were pretty good and clean. We had some pretty hot weather while we were there, and the pools were pretty busy. In typical fashion, there was a queue at opening time as people rushed to bag the best sun loungers.
There’s more than just the pool though, they have a number of activities to do there, like archery, climbing walls and a tree adventure course. We didn’t do any of these though, so I’m not sure how good they are. There’s also a kid’s play area and the usual obligatory video games, pinball machines etc. Our kids quite enjoyed going down there in the evenings, though we seemed to go through quite a few Euros!
The shop on site was typical of a campsite. It was decent enough, though it didn’t have a massive selection. It was useful for picking up the odd things, but generally we went to the shops in the town for anything more.
They did have fresh bread and pastries in the mornings, though you did need to place your order the day before. We did this a few times, sending the kids to collect our order in the morning!
There’s a bar and restaurant next to the pool. The bar was fine, though it was a little rough when we first went there. The restaurant we ate at the first night and didn’t really enjoy it, so we didn’t go back. I’d say it’s probably typical campsite restaurant food, if you know what I mean.
While we enjoyed our stay at La Vallée, there was one major issue for me, which was insect bites. Now I am prone to getting bitten, but it’s usually manageable with some repellent. That wasn’t the case at La Vallée, I was absolutely covered with bites, which swelled up quite badly and got worse as the holiday went on.
I don’t know why they were particularly bad. It was quite warm when we were there and the reps said they’d had a lot of rain before we arrived, so there was some standing water around. It was only really me that was affected, so I’m guessing for most people it’s fine. Though it’s something to be aware of if you are prone to getting bitten.
The Al Fresco reps were really friendly and helpful, particularly with suggestions for cycling, places to visit and help with the bites. Being a much smaller site, it felt like the reps were able to give a better service than at Duinrell.
La Vallée is situated just on the outskirts of Houlgate and it’s about 1.5km into the centre of town from the campsite. This is about a 20 minute walk or about 5 minutes cycling. We only ever cycled into the town, so can’t comment on what the walk is like, though the ride there was pleasant enough.
While there wasn’t any cycle infrastructure to speak of, the roads were pretty quiet and most drivers were very considerate, either holding back or giving plenty of space when overtaking. We didn’t feel at all uncomfortable cycling with the kids.
Houlgate was everything we hoped for from a French seaside town. The beach and seafront were lovely and picturesque, with lots of pretty old buildings. Being a small French town, there’s all the shops you’d expect there, like lovely a bakery and boulangerie. As there the town is popular with tourists, there’s also plenty of bars, restaurants and cafes to go to.
As we had some fantastic weather while we were there, we spent some time enjoying the beach at Houlgate. It was a really good size and didn’t ever get that busy, and the sea was reasonably child friendly. The first time at the beach, there was a bit of wind and some waves, so we rushed off to pick up a kite and body board. But as typically the case, it was pretty calm the rest of the holiday and we didn’t really use them!
We spent a quite a bit of time in the town too, both shopping and eating out. The main street, Rue des Bains can get a bit busy, particularly as most of the space is given over to cars, both moving and parked. Some evenings, the road was closed to traffic and it was much more pleasant. It would definitely make sense to make Rue des Bains traffic-free most of the time.
While during the holiday, we ended up exploring much further away (more on that to come), we did keep returning to Houlgate during our stay, including a enjoying a lovely meal at L’Arbre à Pin on our last night.
Next to part 2 – Dives-sur-Mer and Cabourg