Although holidaymakers do not really head en masse for Haute-Vienne (where I live) each summer, the council maintains a handsome variety of local leisure facilities.
Within a 30-minute drive, there are half a dozen lakes, parks, cycle paths and campsites. There are woodland walks, keep-fit trails, beaches, playgrounds, swimming pools and public barbecues.
All the lakeside beaches offer free activities for families: bouncy castles, pony rides, craft workshops, shows, sports lessons and fêtes. It means there is always somewhere to go on a hot summer’s day.
We love going for picnics, ball games, swimming, reading in the shade and at some of the lakes, indulging with beer and pizza before heading home.
The only thing I never understood was the campsites.
Why shouldn’t we go camping at the local lake?
Does anyone really drive all the way from London or Paris to stay on a campsite in the middle of rural France with nothing but fields as far as the eye can see? Judging by the number of tents visible, the answer is no, they don’t.
But then the kids had an inspiration. Why shouldn’t we go camping at the lake? Why not indeed!
So, having managed to borrow a tent and some sleeping bags, we packed the car and set off. It was surreal but amazingly refreshing to arrive at our holiday destination after a drive of 12 minutes.
If a summer storm hit, we could have gone home
The next morning we knew exactly which boulangerie to raid for crispy croissants and hot coffee before getting on with the serious business of sunbathing and inflating the paddling pool. It was all very relaxing.
The pitch was €5 a night so we felt we could splurge on lunch at the posh restaurant a short stroll round the other side of the lake.
A sleepy afternoon followed by the best apéros in the world (chips and red wine) had us all prepped and ready to light the barbecue. It was amazingly fun.
Drawn by the scent of grilling sausages, various acquaintances and dog walkers stopped by to chat, and knowing that no one had to drive meant we could enter into the holiday spirit with no holds barred.
And if we had been hit by a sudden summer thunderstorm, we simply could have gone home.
It is exactly the same as going somewhere exotic
The next day was Sunday but instead of having to leave early to beat the traffic, we spent most of the day on the beach before loading the car and heading home.
Twelve minutes later, we arrived at the house, and the extraordinary thing was, we felt like we’d been far, far away for a very long weekend.
I was talking about it to the neighbours. “Oh yes,” they said. “We often go camping at the local lakes for the weekend. It is exactly the same as going somewhere exotic – just without the traffic, the motorway driving, and the petrol bills!”
I’m obviously late to the party, but now I’ve realised that the local tourist facilities are as much for us as for anyone, we’ll be enjoying weekends away – 12 minutes away – all summer.