Is it possible to take the family to the south of France on a budget?
Last summer, we tried it by cutting short our dream holiday, a fortnight in a rather splendid villa near the Med, to spend a week in a mobile home. Cost comparison: seven nights in a "luxury" mobile home, sleeping six, in the Languedoc, £1,254; one week in a private villa, sleeping six, on the Côte d'Azur, £3,100.
Well, I'm not going to pretend I didn't miss the plump pillows and silky sheets of the villa, or that I didn't yearn to sit on the private terrace and watch the sea go pink at dusk. But anyone under the age of 16 doesn't give a flying croissant about all that, so you can probably guess which holiday mes petits choux preferred.
The villa had a private pool, but the kids took more pleasure in the huge man-made lagoons on our campsite, which came with water shoots and plenty of other kids to splash around with. The villa was in a peaceful cul-de-sac where all you could hear was birdsong, but the kids wanted entertainment and music and the chance to strut their stuff in talent competitions. The villa had views across the bay of St Tropez (well, nearly), but the only thing the kids wanted was a decent view of the evening boules matches outside our mobile home. I think you get the gist. So, save your hard-earned euros, forget the villa, and book in to the nearest campsite.
We hired ours through French family holiday specialist Siblu (0871 911 2288; siblu.com). It laid on so much entertainment at our site that we had a problem fitting it all in.
The kids were overjoyed to find that they could safely roam without being hitched to an adult. They played tennis, football and basketball, hired bikes, made friends, and attended all sorts of activities. (There are even French lessons at selected sites this season, though the kids may not thank you for that.) We, meanwhile, were free to enjoy ourselves and had enough euros left to splash out on pizza for dinner.
Happy kids mean happy parents. And with the bank manager happy, too, we're all smiling.