THINK of the Loire and you immediately conjure up images of magnificent chateaux.
The river banks are lined with endless castles, making this part of France a must for anyone with even the remotest interest in history.
Unless you’re of noble descent or win the lottery the chances of owning one are minimal.
However, we got the chance to taste a little bit of chateaux-style living, albeit one-step removed thanks to Dutch campsite operators Vacansoleil.
Our base was Chateau de la Grenouillere – and yes that really does translate as Toad Hall – some 10 miles from Blois at the eastern end of the Loire valley.
In terms of size it’s a fairly modest site with just 270 units – a mixture of tents and mobile homes.
But in terms of facilities it has to be one of the best sites we’ve ever stayed at.
The small chateau, which is still lived in, forms the backdrop to the site and there is both an indoor and outdoor pool, plus separate children’s pool, several playgrounds, a bar, on-site shop, restaurant and even a takeaway which offers freshly made pizza.
Everywhere was immaculately kept with the wooded parkland offering plenty of shade.
Our home for a week was a Bali mobile home which had everything we needed including shower, fitted kitchen and outside sitting space.
Vancancsoleil is perhaps not as well known to British holidaymakers as Eurocamp or Keycamp but it is making inroads into the market.
The levels of accommodation are perhaps not quite as high as the more well-known companies in the UK but remain perfectly acceptable.
And the four-star site itself was outstanding.
Being hypercritical you don’t get too much space of your own in which to sit out, but it was still possible to dine at the outside table without bothering your neighbours.
And a word of warning, you do need to leave a hefty breakage deposit which is refundable at the end of your stay and cards are not accepted.
Situated on the outskirts of the town of Suevres, the site is easily reachable in a day from Calais.
Our trip included return ferry crossing with P&O via Dover although we paid extra for entrance to the club lounge which offers free tea, coffee and Champagne and is just the best way to deal with crossing the Channel, leaving you relaxed for the drive down.
So good are the facilities you could just stay on site for the duration.
But that would be a waste of your surroundings. For families, both EuroDisney and Parc Asterix are reachable for a day trip but personally, there is so much in the Loire region itself, I’d concentrate on attractions closer to your new home.
The historic city of Blois is well worth an explore with some good shopping and some great old buildings.
A little further away Orleans, home to Joan of Arc, is again a must if only for its magnificent cathedral.
For chateaux lovers, it’s a question of where do you start.
We followed the river to Villandry which is renowned for its magnificent ornamental gardens and spent a pleasant afternoon in Amboise where the high walls of the chateau tower over the narrow streets.
But the real surprise was Chaumont, a wonderful chateau in its own right. But the real delight is its gardens.
Every year artists from around the world are each given space in the grounds to develop their own concept gardens.
It might sound like an art school project, but the results are truly amazing – and that comes from someone whose gardening expertise is limited to mowing the lawn.
Add the region’s renowned wine – you can taste your way along the river if you can find a designated driver – and this region does offer a perfect relaxing break. And as a base, old Toad Hall cannot be too highly recommended.
For a Vacansoleil brochure call 0333 700 5050 or visit www.vacansoleil.co.uk