A week in Disneyland Paris may be heaven for the children but is not all adults' idea of fun. Here's how to turn a magical trip to Disney into a relaxing family week away in Champagne, northern France
The eldest of our 3 young daughters had been growing increasingly desperate to 'do Disney', but with the youngest being 18 months old, we did not feel a trip to Florida would be fully appreciated just yet.
I priced the various packages offered by Disneyland Paris to stay in one of their hotels and was horrified by the cost for a family of 5.
My Husband said "We could have a week away for that!" and so we did...
Gites within striking distance
I searched the internet for self catering gites in the north of France, sticking mainly to the east of Paris as this is where Disneyland is located.
A gite is a French holiday home that is available for rent, a bit like you would search for 'cottage' in Britain or 'villa' in Spain. Generally a gite is an old farm workers cottage or converted outbuilding or barn with the owners living close by.
I found plenty of choice of accommodation of a high standard on the website www.gites-de-france.com There is a central booking office that communicate with you via email and pass on your booking details to the gite owner. I also contacted the owners of the gite I had chosen and found Christophe to be extremely helpful, answering all my questions quickly and in English!
The chosen gite in roucy
Le Gite du soldat Carouge, 7 Rue de la Fontaine, 02160 Roucy.
The gite I settled on was in the department of Aisne, very close to Champagne. I had asked Christophe how long the drive to Disney would take us from the village of Roucy and he was able to tell me 1 hour and 20 minutes. In addition to this he offered to purchase the tickets to Disney for me at a reduced rate he was able to get through work! Wonderful!
Northern France in September
We travelled by P&O ferry from Dover to Calais. I booked the ferry crossing around 6 months ahead of our trip through the P&O website for the ridiculously cheap price of £50 return. (I even went back to double check I had not forgotten the car and booked us as foot passengers!)
I printed off directions from the AA route planner before we left and they got us from Calais to Roucy in just under 3 hours. The toll charges on the motorways in France keep the roads quiet and make for easy stress free motoring.
We picked up food shopping in Laon, one of the closest large towns to Roucy on the way through and then went on and found the village with ease.
Roucy is a small typically french village perched on the side of a hill with the remains of a fort just visible behind its walls. There are no shops other than the boulangerie which sells basic provisions plus the obvious delicious freshly baked croissants etc. The Gite is in the centre of the village next to a pretty fountain and opposite the church.
The owners' house faces onto the street and the holiday gite is round the back through the electric gates.
I can not sing the praises highly enough of this well thought-out conversion. The accommodation is in a topsy-turvy layout with the large and light open plan kitchen lounge diner on the top floor. The staircase then leads you down to the bedrooms on various levels and finishes in the original vaulted cellar with roll top bath and huge walk in power shower.
The decor is modern and tasteful throughout and with the building work only being completed one year ago, all still feels very fresh and new.
Outside is a patio and enclosed grass area for your sole use. There is a large walled garden shared with the owners and a heated swimming pool which is fully secured meaning children are safe to play outside unsupervised.
The biggest bonus of this fantastic place is the provision of every imaginable bit of kit for children and babies. There is a highchair, pushchair and cot plus delightful extras such as bikes and a fully furnished dolls house. The owners have 3 children themselves and this has clearly influenced the thoughtful way in which the gite has been equipped.
We found northern France at the back end of September to be a touch on the cool side. However we did manage to use the pool and gardens but one can only imagine how fabulous these facilities would have been in the summer months.
Day trip to Disneyland
The route to Disneyland from Roucy was straightforward. Disney is well signposted as you approach.
The beauty of visiting at this time of year is the lack of crowds. It is worth noting that Wednesday is a day off school for French children so in addition to the weekends is best avoided.
Because it was so quiet we did not need to use the 'Fastpass' system that they have. This would allow you to select a time slot later in the day to avoid the long queues for the more popular rides.
Our 3 young children particularly enjoyed the It's A Small World ride and of course the parade. I felt that although the park is excellent, it is perhaps not on the same level as its American cousins. The fact Buzz Lightyear and all of his Disney character pals were talking in French before English felt a little odd.
That said, our girls were certainly caught up in the magic of it all and it will put them on for a few more years until we plan a trip to Florida.
I felt that after a full day here exploring the 4 lands we had seen as much as we needed to. I was pleased that we had not opted for a 3 day Disney only trip that I had originally had in mind. Families travelling with slightly older children may benefit from a further day here to ride some of the bigger attractions which are height restricted.
Roucy is set between the 2 old French towns of Laon and Reims, Reims being the nearest at 15 miles away.
It is regarded as the capital of the champagne region and is home to many of the most famous champagne houses, Veuve Cliqcquot and Lanson to name two.
Although we decided that a tour of one of the champagne caves may be more stressful than enjoyable with a lively toddler in tow, most of the well known champagne houses plus some of the lesser known offer them. Christophe also mentioned that at least 2 of the champagne houses in Reims have a train that takes you on the half hour tour of the caves, which may appeal to older children.
The fact we didn't take a tour did not stop us sampling plenty back at the gite!
The Notre-Dame de Reims cathedral in the centre of the city is magnificent and well worth a look around. The city centre is full of well known high street stores plus some more unusual boutiques. We stopped for the most divine hot chocolate and pastries at one of the many fine patisseries on the cobbled streets close to the cathedral.
If like us you travel with a roof box on the car, remember to avoid the city centre mulitstory car parks as they have height barriers. The on street parking was both plentiful and reasonably priced.
Other days out locally
The city of Laon is the capital of the Aisne department in Picardy and is 20 miles away. A hilly city in an otherwise flat area, the cathedral perched high on its peak is visible from miles around. The historical old town centre is linked to the new town down below by cable car.
We spent a very active and enjoyable afternoon at Axoplage, a recreational area within Aisne less than a half hour drive from the gite.
The entry price is very reasonable. There is a lake with various water sports available and a beach. The many walking tracks take you through both landscaped gardens and wildlife wetlands. There is a bird hide high above the grounds and plenty of slides, climbing nets etc that are suitable for both younger and older children.
There doesn't seem to be a website but you can contact the park for more information:Tel: 0033 323 809241
The way to do Disney?
The week away was as relaxing as is possible with a young family in tow. I felt like we had a real break and the day at Disney was a pleasant addition to the holiday rather than all consuming.
The area has interesting cities for days out and an abundance of champagne houses on the doorstep. Alternatively the gite itself is the perfect spot to just kick back and relax.