AS Normandie eased away from her mooring on a warm May Saturday morning, it was as if we were waving goodbye to the stresses of everyday life and leaving them at Brittany Ferries’ Portsmouth terminal.

A sense of relief washed over us as we looked forward to our arrival at Ouistreham on the French Normandy coast.

After a quick freshen up in our comfortable family cabin and a roam around the ship, it was time for breakfast at Le Deauville restaurant to set us up for the day.

As soon as we arrived at Ouistreham, the sat nav was set and our five-hour drive to the Charente region had begun.

As is so often the case in France, the motorways were deserted ensuring easy passage and after meandering around a series of country lanes, we arrived at Les Gorges du Chambon, our stunning Les Castels campsite, just as the sun was fading.

We were warmly greeted by campsite owner Lidewij Froger who led us to our home for the week – a charming 17th century gite, set within the main courtyard, the focal point of the site.

It was lovely to hear and learn about the site which was a farm in a past life, and the previous roles the buildings in the courtyard once played. Apparently our abode used to house the resident bread oven!

With a private garden and ample living space, we couldn’t have asked for more.

Away from our holiday home, the rest of the site was beautifully kept, with vibrant roses in bloom, lush green grass and views you could gaze at forever – quite stunning.

At Les Gorges du Chambon, it is all about the great outdoors, appreciating its beauty and enjoying the many pursuits at your disposal – canoeing on the river, swimming, cycling, hiking or simply playing basketball or trampolining with the children. This site offers all this and more.

We have long been fans of the French way of life and it was fascinating to see how the French do ‘down time’. Some are more energetic than others.

Our stay coincided with Ascension weekend and French families were enjoying the opportunity to relax and be together, while others were taking part in an off-road mountain bike event. Anything goes.

It is important to also note the on-site eatery, Restaurant du Chambon. With a social atmosphere and a simple yet delicious menu – pizzas, plat du jour, salads - holiday makers can take advantage of a night off from barbecuing and enjoy the company of other guests exchanging tips on what to do and where to go nearby.

And had it not been for a conversation with a fellow guest, we would never have known about Oradour-sur-Glane. A martyr village with a harrowing tale to tell, but one the French are very keen to share.

On June 10, 1944, the Nazis surrounded this small village in the Limousin district. Residents were rounded up and separated. The men were taken to various locations around the village for execution and the women and children were ushered and locked into the church, which the SS set alight. In just a few hours 642 lives were lost and a village destroyed.

The remains of Oradour-sur-Glane have been left as a poignant reminder of the tragedy that occurred, and visitors are encouraged to come and walk the haunting streets and to remember the horrific events of that day.

Lost in thought, we walked to the new village of Oradour-sur-Glane, a thriving community where we had lunch outside a bustling hotel, discussing what we had just seen and asking the simple question – why?

Taking the most indirect route back to our campsite, so we could see as much of the surrounds as possible, we were once again struck by the unspoilt beauty of this region and considering what life must be like living in such remote rural locations.

As the temperature soared, the welcome calm of the pool complex was calling us back to Les Gorges du Chambon. The perfect way to end a day of exploration and a chance to consider what tomorrow would bring.

Fact file

Les Castels Holidays visit:

Camping les Gorges du Chambon T: 0033 (0)5 45 70 71 70 E:


Travel – Brittany Ferries -