We were standing on Omaha beach in Normandy, France, and soft sand stretched out as far as the eye could see. The English Channel was a deep blue on one side, green grassy banks on the other, and barely a soul in sight.
“Can you imagine what it must have looked like during the D-day landings?”
I asked my 15-year-old son Harry. “Not really, no,” came the reply and I knew exactly what he meant.
Even in the height of summer on a warm sunny Saturday there must have been just 20 people on the beach with little to indicate the battle here decades before.
It was a perfect place to spend a relaxing day building sandcastles, taking dips in the sea and eating ice cream.
The previous day had been much livelier. We had risen bleary-eyed at 4am to drive to Portsmouth to catch the 8.15am Brittany Ferries service to Caen. Six hours seemed a long time to keep our brood entertained but we needn’t have worried.
My wife Lyndsey took Lucy, 12, and Elliot, 10, to one of the two onboard cinemas while I supervised Lyra, three, in the soft-play area before catching The Princess and The Pirate show.
Harry decided to catch up on some sleep in our cabin which, at £31 one-way, was ideal for stashing bags and also came in handy for escaping the crowds.
We were soon winding our way though the French countryside towards our accommodation for the week, the delightful Siblu Domaine de Litteau holiday village. Set in a forest, surrounded by farmland, it was a perfect idyllic rural retreat. A quick check-in and we were soon in our mobile home – and a home was exactly what it was.
We had a double bedroom , two twin rooms and a spacious living/kitchen area. It was compact, clean and modern.
The site was clean and tidy too. It had an indoor swimming pool, a pub, a snack bar, the biggest Viking longboat inflatable I’ve ever seen (much to the delight of our youngest).
There were also play areas, a basketball court, and an area for evening entertainment– shows, singers and tribute acts. The site shop sold essentials and had fresh-baked baguettes and croissants every morning. The kids were glad of the wi-fi, and we were glad the cost of a week’s pass for three devices was just €36.
After a first day on the beach we started exploring, starting with the incredibly impressive Mont St Michel – a spectacular abbey sitting atop a rocky islet, surrounded by sea and sky.
A tour is €10 per adult and under-18s go free. It’s worth every cent. Not far away lies Cherbourg and the outstanding La Cité de la Mer, a maritime museum entered via a hall filled with submarines.
First up for us was the Walking into the Depths virtual reality experience, an exploration of the depths. Then came Le Redoutable, one of the first nuclear-powered submarines. The younger ones loved the vast aquarium.
Another gem is the family-run Alligator Bay, a park filled with reptiles. Luckily we arrived at crocodile feeding time.
Huge gasps ensued as two crocs went for the same (dead) chicken, ripping it in two.
Then it was off to stroke giant tortoises and explore the Dragon’s Maze, which has an impressive array of lizards and snakes – and perspex viewing tunnels for kids to climb through. Not too far away, atop a hill, Château Guillaume le Conquérant was an unusual mix of old and new – a traditional castle exterior with a modern finish inside.
A tablet from reception allowed us to scan a coin in each room to reveal how the room would have originally looked. Elliot loved the treasure hunt, using the tablet to find objects hidden in the castle.
Thirty minutes away was Bayeux and its tapestry, while the stunning port town of Honfleur was perfect for an ice cream and a stroll with Naturospace nearby, a large indoor butterfly enclosure.
At the holiday village, an hour splashing in the pool became our evening routine before catching whatever was left of happy hour at the pub. At €2.50 for a pint of lager you couldn’t go wrong, and it set up nicely the evening entertainment. Bend Jovi anyone?
Book the holiday
STAY THERE: A week’s self-catering at the Domaine de Litteau holiday park is from £602 for four people sharing a two bedroom holiday home with terrace from August 24. Find out more on siblu.com or call 020 8610 0186.
GET THERE: August fares on Brittany Ferries’ Portsmouth-Caen route start at £175 each way for a car and family of four. Find out more on brittany-ferries.co.uk or call 0330 159 7000.
MORE INFO: Find out more at uk.france.fr/en.