We’ve just passed a splendid looking chateau and now a field of sunflowers greets us as we turn onto the quiet country road which leads to our French holiday camp.
If we didn’t know already, the reminders that we’re in the glorious Loire Valley are all around us.
Our home for the week at siblu’s site, Le Domaine de Dugny, is the perfect base for our sun-soaked holiday.
The swimming pools at the centre of the camp are a short stroll from our caravan in one direction, and a picturesque boating lake - lovely for a morning or evening stroll, or a punt in a pedalo - is just a few strides the other way.
Our accommodation is a spacious three-bedroom Excellence model, with all mod cons. There’s even a welcoming bottle of red to help get the holiday under way.
The camp turned out to be one of the loveliest we’ve visited in regular summer holiday trips to France. There was family friendly activity if you wanted it - two pools, bike hire, a bar, a restaurant and a takeaway serving freshly-made pizzas - or tranquillity, peace and quiet if you prefer not to get too involved in camp life.
Le Domaine de Dugny was also perfectly placed to visit some of France’s most impressive chateaus and their stunningly beautiful gardens - and was even close enough to Paris for a day trip to the capital by train.
We took an early direct service from the local station - details are available from the camp staff on site - and were exploring gay Paris before midday.
We decided to get off the main tourist trail for the morning, giving the queues to climb the Eiffel Tower a miss. Instead we took the Metro north to Porte de Clignancourt and the city’s most famous flea market Les Puces de Saint-Ouen.
Covering seven hectares it’s the largest antiques market in the world, and is made up of fascinating tiny avenues packed with affordable collectables, and streets with high-end antiques shops selling chandeliers and furniture for millions of Euros apiece.
In the afternoon we hopped onto the Metro again and surfaced in The Marais - one of Paris’ most fashionable districts. Home to trendy restaurants, fashion houses, and art galleries including the Musée Picasso, we spent an idyllic couple of hours wandering the romantic streets, exploring the little boutiques, and relaxing over a cafe creme in a coffee shop.
In the evening we caught the Metro again for pre-dinner glass of rose in a pavement cafe in the district of St-Germain des Pres.
This is the neighbourhood where Jean-Paul Satre set the world to rights with his crowd of literati in Café de Flore and its rival cafe Les Deux Magots, both within a few strides of one another.
A table at either is the perfect spot for people-watching as stylish Parisians head home to their apartments or set out for an evening stroll.
1 Visit Amboise - a buzzy town with a great mix of old and new, ancient architecture sitting happily alongside fashionable shops and welcoming restaurants. The town’s two must-see attractions are the Chateau d’Amboise, which affords great views of the winding Loire Valley far below and has fantastic gardens, and the Chateau du Clos Luce where Leonardo da Vinci spent the last three years of his life. The surrounding gardens are fascinating to explore and are devoted to da Vinci, helping to explain some of the great man’s passions.
2 Chateau Cheverny - a castle instantly recognisable to fans of the comic book hero Tintin as Marlinspike Hall. Author Herge - whose tales have been gathering a whole new generation of fans thanks to the blockbuster Spielberg movie - based Marlinspike on Cheverny, and the chateau has its very own Tintin museum. Best of all though is its kennel, where around 100 hunting hounds are kept, washed, fed and exercised at regular intervals for visitors.
3 Chateau Chaumont-sur-Loire - a short drive from Domaine de Dugny, this is the closest chateau to the camp, and well worth a visit. The gardens are breathtaking beautiful and great fun to visit. Last summer’s interactive Gardens of the Future display featured glass baubles in place of flower heads, an unmade bed overgrown with weeds, and thought-provoking flowerbeds planted with cards symbolising species which are sadly extinct.
4 Chateau Chenonceau - the most visited castle in the whole of France and it’s easy to see why. It’s picture perfect, built on the River Cher, and surrounded by stunning gardens. It has a great audio tour and is just the right size. - even inattentive youngsters can get round this one.