Taking the family to France: Pat’s top five tips

Collioure and its harbor from the hills above the city.

Pat and I have wanted for quite a while to take our adult kids and granddaughter on a trip somewhere exotic.

For many years, Pat and her brother and sister and our families got together for a week each summer, and our kids – who are more or less only children — have very good memories of being with their cousins. This practice has fallen off a little now that the cousins are all grown and several have families of their own. It is difficult now to find a town with zoning laws liberal enough to accommodate our entire group.

Market day in Collioure: Sunday and Wednesday

And, of course, most people of our generation have memories – good and bad – of road trips with our parents when we were growing up.

So, in this milieu, we had been talking about getting our small family group together. (Two adult children, their partners and our granddaughter) The planning took more than a year.

We started out narrowing the choice of locations. France emerged in part because we wanted a place that was interesting enough that the kids would want to go. It was a draw because Kara’s boyfriend, Georges, is fluent in French, and Charlie likes to practice his.

Another priority was to find a place near the water. Charlie’s girlfriend, Genevieve, is highly motivated by Mediterranean beaches, and Amelia also is a beach fan.

I like places with a little history and culture, and Pat enjoys small towns and local markets.

Our group at dinner

So the product of this search was a house in Collioure, in the French region of Languedoc-Roussillon, just north of the Spanish border and the city of Barcelona.

Collioure is beautiful and meets all the criteria: It is on the beach, has a history that dates to the Greeks, Romans and Visigoths, with an interesting 14thCentury castle, a couple of art galleries, a great farmers’ market, and lots of seafood restaurants. But it is a little out of the way, and the logistics were complicated.

Georges, Kara and Amelia came via Geneva and a few days’ drive while stopping off in the chateau area of France. They are flying out of Barcelona.

Charlie and Genevieve flew non-stop to Barcelona from New York. Easy.

Pat and I were in London for a couple of days to visit family and then flew to Carcassonne, which is about two hours away. (Ryanair is cheap, but we paid a little extra for a ticket that allows you to pick your seat and carry a bag.)

Getting ready for dinner. The view is from our deck.

The result has been a really great week. There were several trips to the beach and local farmer’s markets, significant time by the pool, extra trips to the wine store, a couple of hikes, great group meals. All of this has produced Patty Moriarty’s top five rules for traveling with your family:

1) Consider individual interests and choose a place that has a little something for everyone: beaches, hikes, restaurants, galleries, etc.

2) Together time isn’t always the answer.  Don’t plan to spend every minute together or plan too many activities for the whole group. Encourage the kids to get away by themselves without you — even if they talk about you when you aren’t there.

3) Plan transportation options ahead of time. Is there easy access to nearby shopping and town? If cars are necessary, have enough cars to allow for independent excursions.

Pat, Georges and Kara at the beach.

4) Consider the size of the house and the layout.   People may have a variety of sleep schedules especially if they are jet-lagged.  Enough bedrooms so everyone can be alone if they need to.  Don’t make anyone sleep on the couch in the living room. It is always nice to have a game room or swimming pool.

5) Come together at the end of the day for a group meal.   Make use of culinary talents of the group by sharing the cooking and shopping duties.

I don’t guarantee that following these rules will ensure a successful family trip. Maybe you have family members who are incompatible after a few days. But we offer them in case they can be of help.

For us, there are preliminary discussions of another family trip. And, by coincidence, we are scheduled to share a house together in Tennessee next month to celebrate Pat’s brother’s 70thbirthday. So far, no one has backed out.

Genevieve and Charlie at dinner.

Amelia with the harbor in the background.


Walking the South Downs Way, when we could find it.

Walking near Alfriston in Sussex, Southeast England

There is a great walking tradition in England that dates to the Romantic period but which really got its start when people moved en masse to big, crowded cities like Liverpool and Manchester during the industrial period. In the 20thCentury, before and after World War II, Parliament passed laws protecting public rights of way across private lands to ensure access to the countryside.

This House, on the Main street in Alfriston, dates to the 14th Century.

A few years years ago, Pat went on a series of walks through the English Cotswolds with women from her book group. She has been wanting to do that again, so as part of a more extensive trip this summer, we included a few days in Sussex, in southeast England to walk in the South Downs National Park.

Our home base in Sussex was a beautiful old town, Alfriston, which dates to the 14thCentury. There is an old priory, church and several houses and pubs, all with some part of their buildings that began in the 14thCentury.  Alfriston is a classic English village. It is one-street deep, and there has been a local conflict about whether to allow a stop light in town.   The traffic police are losing the battle, and traffic seems to back up daily at one pinch point where the road is only one-and-a-half cars wide.

Walking through wheat fields to Berwick.

We only had two days for long walks, and the first day took us to the nearby town of Berwick, which has its own 12thCentury church. The Berwick church – St. Michael’s and All Angels — was kind of adopted by the Virginia Woolf-Bloomsbury group, which maintained a home nearby, and the church is richly illustrated inside with post-impressionist-like murals by Duncan Grant and Vanessa Bell, Woolf’s sister.

We walked from Alfriston to Berwick, trying to walk along the South Downs Way, which is marked (occasionally) on 4-by-4 posts with little arrows. The English may be devoted to protecting the public rights of way and all that, but the signage could use some improvement. We were able to find our way to Berwick, along to so-called “Vanguard

Decorations on the walls of the church in Berwick.

Way,” and then ended up bumming a ride part-way home.

On the second day, we walked again along the South Downs Way – when we found it – along the southeast coast, with its massive and abrupt chalk cliffs. (The natives say they are whiter than the white cliffs of Dover.) After a good few hours of walking, from Eastborne, via Beachy Head to Birling Gap, we had been advised to end our walk at the Tiger Inn. Pretty tired by then, we headed up a path in hopes of a refreshing pint, we walked and up, and up and up for at least a

On the South Downs Way near Beachy Head.

mile before finally reaching the Tiger in the little town of East Dean. All told, this was probably only seven miles or so, or 15,000 steps on Pat’s Fitbit, but it certainly was sufficient. This place is hilly.

We go on from here to meet the family in Southern France, in the little town of Collioure, just north of the Spanish border on the Mediterranean.

Whiter than Dover?