Free Range Toddlers

I’ve just had this article about a family-friendly gite holiday in rural Brittany published on The Green Parent magazine website. Click on the link above to see it online. The Green Parent is a magazine proudly ‘Raising kids with conscience’ – read about its ethos here. You can purchased single copies or subscribe here.

Blackberry picking at Guebernez

Maddie Sinclair and family get a taste of the good life with a rural gîte holiday in Brittany

Half way through our relaxing week-long rural holiday in the Brittany countryside, I decided to post my first Facebook status. It read: “Blackberry and Apple picking today culminating in my homemade Crumble for dessert. Tom and Barbara Good, eat your hearts out!”

My blackberry and apple crumble

I had already reached utopic country-living bliss by this stage, unlike my city-dwelling friends fresh from a summer of rioting in London, and the jokes started to come in thick and fast that, at first glance, they all thought I was (most uncharacteristically I might add) bragging about looting smartphones.

It was a silly misunderstanding, but it really got me thinking about the urban landscape that we have chosen for our children to grow up in, and about how, in this day and age, it is more necessary than ever for us to give them an experience of country living while they are still running around in nappies.

Brittany sunset

Gites Guebernez, in the heart of central Brittany, proved to be that exact educational experience for our two year old son, Callum.

Nestled amongst farmland between the towns of Ploërdut and Le Croisty in the Morbihan region, the two-acre site lazes away its days amid gently swaying maize fields, and paddocks with sleepy grazing cattle and perfectly-rounded hay bales.

Rural bliss

Increasingly popular accommodation with British holidaymakers, gîtes are a type of fully-furnished self-catering French holiday home available for rent which are usually old farm cottages, converted barns or farm outbuildings. Traditionally the owner lives nearby to offer a warm welcome and friendly assistance to guests, and in our case the smiles belonged to British couple Beverley Fearis and Warren Smith, and their two year old son, Freddie.

Bubbly Freddie

Both were working as freelancers – Beverley, a journalist, and Warren, a photographer – when they decided that the fast pace of living in Brighton and working in London wasn’t for them. They fell in love with this region of France during a three month campervanning trip before their son was born, spent the next year finding the perfect gîte site to buy and finally migrated when Freddie was 12 months old.

Guebernez consists of three gîtes, La Grande, Le Pressior, and the newest arrival, L’Ecurie, which has just started taking visitors.

The Pressior

Oozing with rustic charm, the traditional farmhouse buildings conjure visions of hardworking farm families in a bygone era. Made from large stones of local Granite cobbled-together in a higgledy piggledy fashion and topped with beautiful grey slate roofs, their windows and doors are painted in the traditional Breton blue colour, with the bright blue shutters like outstretched arms beckoning you in for a welcoming arrival hug.

My husband, Doug, and I stayed, along with Callum, in the smallest gîte, Le Pressior, which is a converted cider press. As you approach it, a friendly iron cockerel sits atop a post, guarding the blue letterbox, bienvenue-ing you and wishing you a pleasant stay. Quaint vine-covered stone steps lead up to a small open-planned kitchenette and living room, with just enough room for a dining table and traditional Breton-style fireplace with wood burning stove.

Pressior bedroom

Le Pressior sleeps up to four and was more than enough room for our party of three-and-a-half, as I was seven months pregnant with a gargantuan bump at the time of our visit. Doug and I slept soundly in the light and airy double room downstairs, and my pregnant bladder was very thankful to have the bathroom just next door. Beverley and Warren kindly set a cot up for Callum in the upstairs attic room, which also sports twin beds and a gratefully appreciated stairgate to stop our little wannabe Sir Edmund Hillary getting into too much mischief.

The obviously larger La Grande accommodates up to eight, with two double bedrooms, a children’s bunk-bed room, a double sofa bed in the lounge, a moveable single fold-away bed, and two bathrooms.

Dandy dandelions

Feeling the size of a Breton farmhouse myself, and with about the same level of mobility as the stone well next to the chicken-house, I was keen for a holiday that involved dawdling rather than darting. We spent our days wandering (or waddling in my case) up country lanes, patting horses and having dandelion-blowing competitions.

An overjoyed Callum spent one much talked-about afternoon picking apples from the trees in Guebernez’s orchard, triumphantly positioned on Doug’s shoulders, and transporting them back to the gîte in a little plastic wheelbarrow borrowed from Freddie.

Gammon and Chicken

Feeding Guebernez’s chickens and collecting their eggs became Callum’s main reason for living, and levels of excitement never before witnessed were experienced the day that Hatty the hen disappeared and Freddie and Callum were both ordered on a chicken-finding expedition, a game which lasted across several days until poor broody Hatty was finally found in a bush by the rope swing sitting on a nest of 18 eggs.

Another favourite game of Callum’s was to wander around Guebernez’s huge vegetable garden, squealing with delight at all manner of botanical bounty he found growing. Knowing how much our son liked the veggie patch, Warren would come calling if he was going to harvest any produce, and Callum would be given the role of Head Gardener, helping him to carry back the ripe pickings in a lovely old wooden carrier with a rope handle.

Tres rustique

It being autumn and all, the weather during out stay was a bit of a mixed bag. On sunny days we’d wile away the hours by taking a dip in the newly installed solar-heated swimming pool or playing boules on the lawn. On rainy days we’d make use of the games room, playing pool, table tennis and Wii, or snuggling up in our gîte with the fire on, playing boardgames, watching DVDs or reading.

Regardless of the weather, we’d take a short daily car trip to the boulangerie in Le Croisty for a freshly-baked, still warm, and yes, very croisty, baguette, and would argue about whose turn it was to carry it home, using the power of its snuggly heat as a doughy bodywarmer.

Guebernez’s solar heated swimming pool

A couple of times we got itchy feet and decided to leave our peaceful haven to explore the local area, so we drove about 45 minutes to the closest beach, Larmor Plage, for some sandcastle building and rock pool exploring, followed by a well-deserved crêpe lunch.

On the way back we stopped in at Priziac, home to a large lake with a little manmade beach and only about 10 minutes from Guebernez, and disturbed the quiet surroundings with our competitive rock skimming championships.

Bénodet Harbour

We also put our sat nav, affectionately known as Mrs Garmin, to good use on a day trip to the fashionable seaside resort of Bénodet, about a 1.5 hour drive from Ploërdut. It was nice to see how the other half live, even though the expensive boats in Bénodet Harbour definitely made us feel like Tom and Barbara in a town full of Margo and Jerries.

Despite the surrounding wealth, we managed to have a lovely and very reasonably priced lunch, sitting in sunshine on the terrace of the L’Alhambra restaurant overlooking the Odet River mouth from where the town gets its name – Bénodet means ‘mouth of the Odet’ in Breton.

Back in the more cosy surrounds of Guebernez, in the evenings we would sit outside and cook dinner on the gîte barbeque while watching the sun set, before moving inside to light the fire, from where I would jealously watch my husband sample many of the local wines in front of.

Wheeley good apples

On the Saturday evening we were told about a ‘Moules Frites’ night that was being held in the local Ploërdut village hall, so went along with our best pigeon French and 10 euros each and indulged in a veritable banquet of seafoody potatoey delights (well, my husband did – I had the definitely-not-potentially-food-poisoning-inducing-for-a-pregnant-lady local ham), followed by dessert, cheese and coffee courses.

Row after row of wooden trestle tables were set out to accommodate what must have been the whole village across two sittings, and I spent a delightful evening chatting with a French mademoiselle, also called Madeleine, whose family owned the local horse riding school, while Callum ran around outside with the local children, proving that the most universal form of international currency is indeed a smile.

By the end of our week-long stay, any past memories of city living had been well and truly banished and we had pretty much convinced ourselves to down laptops and pick up shovels in our quest for the good life.

Gammon (Callum) admiring Warren’s veggie patch

Upon returning home, urban reality set back in fairly quickly, but a little part of Guebernez remained with us. We decided to take on an allotment with some friends so that Callum can pass on his veggie patch knowledge to his new sister, Freya.

And while, with a newborn in the house, we’re not really thinking of any upcoming family holidays just yet, we fully intend to return to Gites Guebernez one day when Freya is a little older, so she can have her turn at being a free range toddler too.

Want to know more?

Accommodation at Gites Guebernez starts from £225 per week for Le Pressior, £295 per week for L’Ecurie and £325 per week for La Grande. For details visit www. gitesatguebernez.com

Gites Guebernez is a two-hour drive from St Malo. Brittany Ferries sail daily from Portsmouth to St Malo and route prices start from £120pp, or £479 for a family of two adults and two children, for a return sailing with cabin accommodation both ways, based on a seven night stay and a standard sized car. To book, visit www.brittanyferries.com or call 0871 244 1400.

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