Family Travels: France and Spain

Sunday, 8 March 2009

The beautiful Basque region

The Travelers: Stephen and Gina Turner, who hail from Britain and Taiwan, and their two boys Nathan (7) and Joe (3). Stephen's sister Jane and her three children, Josh (17), Molly (15), and Izzy (9), came from the UK to meet up with the family.

The Destination: Southwest France (Biarritz, Saint-Jean-de-Luz, Socoa and environs) and San Sebastián, Spain.

The Plan: Not just a summer break for the whole family, this 12-day trip was also a good excuse for Nathan and Joe to catch up with their cousins, whom they hadn't seen in two years. It was the perfect location for both families to get to and a great place to catch some summer sun and waves at the beach.

The Reality: Truly a dream vacation, topped with a little je ne sais quoi. The families deliberately took a leisurely "côte Basque" pace and focused on taking each day as it came and just letting the kids be kids. They found that the weather was great, the food was sensational (especially the mouthwateringly fresh seafood), the people warm and the vistas spectacular. The family also enjoyed learning more about Basque culture and art, and even brought some art home with them.

Where to Stay: The Turners booked the Txan Txan Gorri at Socoa (2km from Saint-Jean-de-Luz) online. They paid over GBP 3,000 for a week at the villa, but the cost was split between the two families who thought it was well worth it considering the villa's spectacular location, its facilities and beauty. Off-season prices are much lower, making winter a great time to go. Try, or

Where to Eat: Although they shopped at local markets for fresh produce to eat at the villa, the families frequently ate out and thoroughly enjoying the local cuisine. Regular steamed vegetables were rarely served with meals, so Gina requested slices of tomato and other cold vegetables for the kids to nibble on. Local restaurants are often full, so making reservations is advised.

Getting Around: The families wanted the freedom to cruise at their own pace, so they reserved an Avis rental car online ( and picked it up at Biarritz airport. Knowing that their trip was scheduled for peak season, they booked the car well in advance. Having a car also allowed them to explore the beaches and hinterland around Saint-Jean-de-Luz, and even nip into Spain.

Best Side Trip: The family loved their visit to San Sebastián, just over the Spanish border, located just half an hour from Biarritz. Their visit coincided with a colorful music festival and the kids were entranced by the jazz musicians, exuberently-dressed street performers and living statues in the parks. Check out for details.

Biggest Splurge: The villa - but the family insists it was money well spent. Not only was it a mere five minutes walk to the beach, but the gorgeous house with the huge garden featured a pool, table tennis area and many other facilities, including a housekeeping service that changed linen and provided fresh towels every second day.

Biggest Saving: The Turners saved on airfare by booking their flights directly through the Air France website ( The tickets were non-refundable and the dates non-transferable, but this was not an issue considering the money saved.

Bad Weather Plan: Although it didn't rain very much during their stay in France, the Turner family did encounter one or two thunderstorms. Whenever these occurred, they simply jumped in the car and drove to Spain!

Best Tips: Book everything well in advance. The families paid more for their villa because it was the last one available. Save considerable money by traveling during off-peak seasons. If you are traveling with toddlers, bear in mind that French restaurants serve dinner late (after a meal, the family found themselves crawling into bed no earlier than 11pm). Although this was not a problem for the older kids, the smaller ones struggled a little.

Biggest Highlight: Definitely the fact that the Turners could plan a holiday that catered to both parents and kids (of all ages) alike. This trip had the best of everything - culture, food, weather, fun and beauty - all in one place. The kids loved the water (both the swimming pool and beaches where the Turner boys got surfing lessons from their cousins) and the fact that they could just enjoy being kids together. The adults loved the relaxed atmosphere, culture, food and shopping.

Biggest Surprise: One thing the family didn't expect was the richness of the Basque culture, so firmly entrenched in this part of southern France and very different from other parts of the country. They were also surprised by the sandy beaches - real surfing beaches, not just typical European pebbles. Vive la surf!

First published in beijingkids magazine and on the beijingkids website.

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