Bel-Air Gites is a small family-run business and our family live onsite all year round. We fully understand how important it is to ensure that your family and friends are safe during your time here. That is why we want to reassure you that we strictly follow the COVID-19 guidelines issued by the French government. It is also the reason we have come up with our new ‘Exclusive Use’ offer for 2021.
What is ‘Exclusive Use’?
This year, due to the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, we are introducing a new holiday package, aimed at giving you some peace of mind during these difficult times. With our new ‘Exclusive Use’ package you can hire both of our large family gites, that can accommodate up to 13 people. You will have exclusive use of the gite complex, including the gardens, children’s play areas and our huge outdoor pool with sun loungers. We guarantee that no other guests will be booked in to any other accommodation for the same dates. In addition, we will provide hand sanitiser sprays and cleaning products around the complex, and in the gites for your added protection.
Peace of mind
For just €2600 per week you can stay in our two family gites, Châtaigniers and Chouette ,with full unlimited access to all our fantastic family facilities. This will give you total peace of mind, and a wonderful time shared with your loved ones. Our special package is only available by booking direct with Bel-Air Gites. Availability is limited due to already confirmed bookings, so call us now to check availability and get a great deal.
At Bel-Air Gites we care a great deal about all our family, friends and guests who come out to visit us every year. And we understand that the ongoing press reports and COVID-19 variations are a cause for concern which is why we want to keep you up to date with the latest travel advice. We are closely monitoring the coronavirus situation across various websites for advice on travelling in and around Europe.
Since the beginning of the year the UK is no longer a member of the European Union (EU) which means that, even without the Covid issues, there would be different rules for travelling. In addition, because of the rising number of cases of COVID particularly across Europe, all countries have imposed stricter travel restrictions to try and contain the spread of the virus.
We would like to reassure everyone that’s already booked their summer holidays with Bel-Air Gites, and all those who have made enquiries, that we are still open for business and taking bookings for summer 2021. Obviously if the situation changes then we will contact all concerned parties to discuss any new or existing bookings. We encourage all our guests to purchase the necessary insurance when they make any arrangements for travelling. This year it is vitally important that your travel insurance covers you for cancellations. And your car insurance also needs to cover European travel for the full period that you are staying and travelling in Europe.
Remember to bring your driving licence, log book (V5C) and valid insurance documents if you are taking your own car. You will need to contact your insurer six weeks before you travel to get a green card that will prove you have insurance.
European Health Insurance Card (EHIC)
If you are planning a holiday in a country in the European Union (EU), and you already have a valid EHIC, then the card can still be used until it’s expiry date. The EHIC covers you for medical treatment if you fall ill or have an accident in any EU country where the scheme is accepted.
What is the GHIC?
If you don’t have a valid EHIC card then you can apply for the newGlobal Heath Insurance Card (GHIC). This replaces the EHIC for the majority of UK citizens. Only apply for the card on official government sites. It’s free but some unofficial sites may charge you. The GHIC can take a couple of weeks to come through so make sure you apply in plenty of time.
Your current passport will be valid as long as it is less than 10 years old and has six months left before it runs out. If your passport is due to run out then make sure you apply in plenty of time before your holiday start date.
If you are travelling from the UK then sadly you can no longer use EU fast-track passport control and customs lanes. Also, when you arrive in an EU country you should be prepared to show your return ticket. So keep all your documents close at hand.
Safety of our guests
The health and safety of our guests has always been – and always will be – one of our highest priorities. At Bel-Air Gites we want you and your family to enjoy your holiday. We also want you feel safe whilst you are here. This is why we provide lots of Covid-19 travel advice and information when you make a booking. There is also detailed information about the French COVID-19 rules in all our gites. And in addition we have implemented some changes of our own, including flexible check-in dates, and allocated areas.
If you have any concerns about travelling this summer, please get in touch with us. Alternatively, you can go to the following websites for up-to-date travel advice.
For most English-speaking countries, except the U.S and Canada, we sometimes call big chewier biscuits ‘cookies’ and the smaller crunchy biscuits would be, well.. just ‘biscuits’. But we are not going to argue over terminology when there is a special day for celebrating a good, chunky choc chip cookie. So on December 4th let’s all celebrate Cookie Day!
Different shapes and sizes
Cookies come in all shapes, sizes and they’re really easy to bake. So easy that even the kids can join in. And what could be more fun than making some lovely biscuity treats with your children? Eating them of course!
Here in France we have some lovely, moreish, crispy cookies, like Crêpes Dentelles, which means ‘lace crepes’. They are very thin crepes with have been folded over, so you have a deliciously thin, layered crunchy texture. They were invented over 200 years ago in Brittany by Marie-Catherine Cornie. She developed a secret recipe for making the paper thin crepes, but luckily it isn’t a secret any more. So now you can find artisans all over France who specialize in making crêpes dentelles.
Another favourite of ours is Langue de Chat. These are small, thin, crispy French cookies and you can get them dipped in chocolate for extra scrumptiousness. Or flavoured with lemon, orange or vanilla. Langue de Chat means ‘cat’s tongue’.
It’s probably where the saying comes from ‘has the cat got your tongue?’ when someone is very quiet or doesn’t answer a question
These French biscuits come in three layers – a soft, Genoise sponge base, a jelly filling, and a thin chocolate layer on the top. It’s a delicious blend and a Genoise Sandwich is lovely with afternoon tea.
Speculoos are a crunchy dark brown cookies that originated in northern France and Belgium. They are flavoured with cinnamon and and taste like caramel because of the special dark brown sugar that’s used, called vergeoise brune. These biscuits are delicious with coffee, which is why you will find them served in cafes all over the world. There is also a famous brand of ice cream that makes a whole range of speculoo-flavoured ice cream treats. And they’re very, very difficult to resist!
Image credit – Jonathan Taylor on Unsplash
Bake a Cookie Day 18th December
So there’s also Bake Cookie Day this month as well. So on the 4th we can just choose to eat our favourite cookie or biscuits. But on the 18th December, you can’t put it off any longer, and you have to bake some cookies. And in case you are stuck for ideas, here’s a few simple cookie recipes that all the family will enjoy making and eating.
A cuppa and a cookie
A biscuit and a brew. Same thing but different. Whatever you call them, they’re delicious. So sit down with your favourite biscuit or cookie and put your feet up. And while you are relaxing and thinking about where to go, when travel restrictions and lockdown are a thing of the past, remember Bel-Air Gites. Your favourite family holiday destination and all those great memories. Do you remember that wonderful pool, the play barn, and the playground that kept the kids totally entertained all holiday? So what are you waiting for?
If you had to choose just one favourite French pastry then what would it be?
December 9th is Pastry Day so this calls for a celebration! But there are so many to choose from this is going to be a very difficult decision. And it doesn’t help that the patisserie window is always such a beautiful, eye-catching display of gateaux and French pastry. Perhaps we need a French Pastry Week. What do you think?
It takes a tremendous amount of effort to pass a boulangerie or patisserie, especially early in the morning. Because that’s when the rainbow-coloured pastries on display are supported by the enticing aroma of freshly baked bread.
List of the Best French Pastries
You’ll never know the real taste of France, until you have tried at least one of each of these pastries.
This is just a small selection of some of Bel-Air Gites’ favourites, in no particular order. Each one has it’s own delicious merits so as far as we are concerned they are all at Number 1.
Éclair au Chocolat – I don’t know how the French manage to make this amazing moist filling that creates such an overall deep chocolatey sensation. The icing starts to melt in your mouth as soon as you take the first bite. (My mouth is watering already, and we have only just started the list!) Some patisseries also make a coffee version, which I’m told is equally as good, but personally I prefer my coffee in a cup rather than a cake.
Gateau St. Honoré– named after the patron saint of French bakers and pastry chefs. Small profiteroles are dipped in sugar and attached to the top of the circle. This base is traditionally filled with crème chiboust and finished with whipped cream using a special St. Honoré piping tip.
Mille-Feuille – You might know a slightly different version as a vanilla slice. But the French version, sometimes called a Napoleon, is even more delicious. It has extra layers of buttery pastry, vanilla pastry cream and a thin layer of smooth icing on the top.
Paris-Brest – A sandwich cake made of two round wheels with lots of thick coffee cream inside, and slivers of peanut on the top. Apparently it got it’s name from the bike race between Paris and Brest, because the gateau is shaped like a wheel.
Tarte au citron – For all the lemon-flavour lovers out there. This is a crunchy pastry basket full of amazingly zingy soft lemon filling. A bit like a lemon meringue pie, but without the meringue! There’s also a Tarte Chocolat – Same as the citron, but with a soft gooey rich chocolatey paste. And who can resist a crunchy Tarte Tatin – an open apple tart, it’s baked pastry side up and then flipped over before serving.
Macarons – All colours and tastes. Probably the French pastry that’s most popular with our Bel-Air Gites guests because macarons are nicely boxed and travel well. Assuming they make it back! Strawberry, mango, pistachio, chocolate – you name it, you can get it. There are more combinations than you can possibly imagine. It’s probably why they’re are so popular.
Bake and Stay?
Why not have a go at making your own macarons? Send us some photos, or better still, bring a few with you next time you come and stay at Bel-Air Gites.
Just under an hour’s drive away from Bel-Air Gites is the town of Touvérac. It’s only a small town, but the area surrounding it is a protected natural site, with some wonderful hiking trails. However, this is also a place that can take your breath away. In amongst the pines there is a hidden paradise – the beautiful clear waters of ‘Les Lacs Bleus’. The Blue Lakes of the Charente.
Lace up your hiking boots, get your binoculars ready, and head off on the trails surrounding the pure blue waters. It’s a good 2 hour walk so make sure you are suitably kitted out, and have plenty of water. The wet clay can be a bit slippery, so take care as you walk the white slopes. Well-sign-posted trails will take you around the old kaolin quarries.
Mined in the Charente up until the 1990’s, this beautiful white clay has a variety of uses. Primarily used in porcelain, cosmetics, pharmaceuticals and paper-making, it’s now also used in skincare. However, the kaolinic clays extracted in the Charente were mainly used to make refractory materials to withstand high temperatures, such as in furnaces, kilns, etc.
When the mines were finished with, the holes were left open and the rain turned them into small, hillside reservoirs. It’s these old mines that now make up the blue lakes of the Charente. The water is pure and clear, but because the environment is still young, the aquatic life is still developing. So don’t expect to see lots of fish.
Allow a good 2 hours to hike the complete circuit, and try and allow some time to read the many information panels. Because there are some fairly steep slopes, the trails are not recommended for people with restricted mobility. And tempting though it looks, swimming in the lakes is not allowed. We would also advise people not to go too close to the water’s edge, because if you slip, it can be very difficult to get a firm footing on the slippery clay surface. Don’t be put off though. It really is a beautiful place, and the blue lakes are a spectacular site to see.
The walk around the Lacs Bleu is one of the things I will remember most about our holiday trip. Unsure if we were in the right location, the first glimpse when rounding the bend was just breath-taking.…. Unmissable if you like nature walks!
Book Bel-Air Gites
So, yet another wonderful family activity for you to plan into your next summer holiday with us here at Bel-Air Gites. Be sure to bring your hiking gear, but don’t forget your swimming costumes as well, Because when you get back from admiring the Blue Lakes of the Charente, you can take a dip in the beautiful cool blue pool at Bel-Air Gites.
Talmont-sur-Gironde is recognised as one of France’s most beautiful villages. It is 15 km south of Royan, and situated on a rocky cliff overlooking the Gironde estuary. Less than 30 minutes drive from Bel-Air Gites, this pretty little village is one of our guests’ favourites.
White-painted houses with blue shutters and gardens filled with scented roses and multi-coloured hollyhocks. It is a photographer’s dream location. But it also has an incredible history and some of the most wonderful views of the Atlantic Coast.
Fishing huts on stilts
Along the cliffs you will also see the ‘carrelets’. These are fishing nets suspended from the fishermen’s huts built on stilts. The carrelets are part of the Charente-Maritime heritage and an incredible sight, standing tall on the coastline.
Surprisingly perhaps given its position, Talmont was founded as an English bastide town in the 13th century and the layout of the streets now is more or less the same as it has been for the last 700 years.
Exploring the village
The streets of Talmont are quite narrow so you need to park the car and explore the village on foot. Start by following the old fort ramparts around the outside of the village and finish with a stroll around the streets and the pretty whitewashed houses.
Talmont-sur-Gironde is best known for the magnificent 11th century Sainte Radegonde church, that stands right on the edge of the cliffs. The façade of the church had to be rebuilt in the 15th century after the original façade fell off into the sea. But as well as its location, the church has a beautifully ornate carved entrance, and fascinating carvings of animal heads just below the roof.
The views along the coast from the cemetery are very impressive, with white cliffs in both directions. After completing a tour of the ramparts take a stroll through the narrow streets of Talmont-sur-Gironde to see the little whitewashed houses.
From the end of spring and into the summer months, the hollyhocks dominate the village streets and the cemetery. They are a really beautiful sight and seem to grow from every little crack in the wall.
We have hollyhocks here at Bel-Air Gites as well. Incredibly tall stems that look too fragile to last a long time, but some can flower for several months. They are self-seeding so we get more and more every year. If you want to see the hollyhocks in full bloom then make sure you book your next summer holiday at Bel-Air Gites in the Charente-Maritime. We are in a great location close to beaches, woodlands, vineyards and castles. There are plenty of family attractions here as well. From theme parks to golf courses. Hiking trails to water-sports. You’ll find something to suit everyone.
The ‘Train des Mouettes’, or the Seagull Train has been travelling the route between Saujon and La Tremblade since 1876. The idea was to attract bathers to the beaches at Royan. So tickets were offered at discount prices, valid only for the weekend. Back in the 1800’s, the steam train brought thousands of new visitors to the resort.
Although the line was closed for many years, visitors today can enjoy a nostalgic trip onboard a steam train. Even in 2020, this wonderful train journey is a major tourist attraction, loved by adults and children of all ages.
One of the most beautiful villages in France
The Train des Mouettes is a wonderful experience to enjoy with family and friends. Your train ticket is valid for a day and includes several stops to explore on the route. Villages including Saujon, Chaillevette and La Trembalde. And Mornac sur Seudre, which is ranked amongst the 100 most beautiful villages in France.
Train times vary throughout the year, and you should book tickets in advance on the website. They even have a Market Train so that you can take the steam train and shopping at La Tremblade market. What a wonderful story to tell your friends about your holiday in France.
Attractions en route
There are lots of things to see and do on your train trip, with different attractions on the route. As well as the railway museum at Mornac, there are Oyster farms and Grandmother’s Hut at La Tremblade. And a wide variety of shops, cafes and restaurants along the way. There is even a brewery at Arvert.
And for Bel-Air Gites guests you’ll be pleased to know the starting point at Saujon is only 30 minutes away.
Work on the railway for a day
If you or someone you know is a real enthusiastic, why not spend a day working on the railway? Ride the engine from Chaillevette station and back,and learn how it all works. At Bel-Air Gites that’s what we would call a making wonderful memories. And we should know, because we are the experts in providing great holidays, and fantastic family memories.
Summertime at Bel-Air Gites usually means clear blue skies and long sunny days. Evenings on the patio with the smell of the barbecue in the air. The children spend hours playing outside in the pool and the garden, but now and again it’s nice to have a day out. And if you don’t fancy the beach, then the charming village of Port d’Envaux, on the Charente river is a great place to go.
It’s a pretty, quaint little village a few kilometres from Saintes, and only 45 minutes drive from Bel-Air Gites. There are some very beautiful, grand houses on one side of the river, and a few shops and a cafe in the centre. So if crowded beaches are not your thing, maybe a relaxed hour kayaking on a lovely calm, wide river might help you to unwind.
Out on the Charente
For a few euros you can hire canoes, kayaks, paddle-boards or dinghies and take off down the river. Before you set off on your waterway adventure, make sure everyone is wearing the flotation jackets provided.
There are some quiet areas where it is safe to swim, so if this is something you plan to do then be sure to take towels with you. Another thing to remember is to take a ‘dry-bag’. Somewhere you can safely store mobile phones, car keys, camera and dry clothes. Where everything will stay dry, especially if you go for a swim.
Designated swimming area
River swimming is different from swimming in the sea. It’s generally shallower for one thing, so you might find that you are just paddling, or wading across pebbles in places. However, there is a large designated swimming area with steps down to shallow water for paddling. Or further along there is a ladder so you can drop down into deeper water. You can then swim out around 15 metres to an anchored pontoon. It’s all very safe, and all this area is cordoned off from the main river, although you can swim out and across the river if you want to.
If you don’t fancy the water there is a play-area with swings and clean sand for kids to play with buckets and spades. Plenty of shade with benches for overlooking the river. Port d’Envaux on the Charente is very picturesque and popular with the locals as well as the tourists.
You can combine a visit to the river at Port d’Envaux with a 5-minute drive to the ‘Les Lapidiales‘. This fascinating place is an old limestone quarry with sculptures carved into the rock. It’s fascinating for adults and children alike.
The open air art quarry is free and open year round just waiting for visitors to come and find their own inspiration.
Stages of the Tour de France in the Charente-Maritime
For the first time ever during peace-time, the legendary Tour de France will not take place in the month of July. The announcement to postpone the race was made in April, and it is to help contain the spread of the coronavirus. With the race now starting on Saturday August 29th, most of the stages will take place during September 2020. And from the 7th to the 10th of September there are several stages of Le Tour de France in the Charente-Maritime.
Le Tour 2020
That’s right. Stages 10, 11 and 12 are less than 90 minutes drive from Bel-Air Gites. If you are avid followers of the Tour de France, then you probably already know the route. If not, then here are the details for the stages that are the closest to Bel-Air.
Stage 10 – 8th September
Île d’Oléron, Le Château-d’Oléron to Île de Ré, Saint-Martin-de-Ré
Stage 11 – 9th September
Châtelaillon Plage to Poitiers
Stage 12 – 10th September
Chauvigny to Sarran Corrèze
Just in these three stages the teams will cover a total of 554 kilometres. Stage 12 is actually the longest stage of the Tour, taking the riders through the Vienne and Haute-Vienne areas. It tires us out just thinking about it.
They arrive in the Charente-Maritime on Monday 7th September, but that’s an official rest day. I wonder what they will do on their day off in France’s second most popular tourist destination.
They are in the perfect place for taking in the culture and the breath-taking beauty of the French Atlantic Coast. Perhaps a boat trip or helicopter ride over Fort Boyard, taking in the old port at La Rochelle. Or maybe an invigorating walk along the long, sandy beaches before they stroll round the Aquarium at La Rochelle. For those preferring to take in the more historical sites we would suggest a visit to the Roman amphitheatre at Saintes, or the citadel of Saint Martin de Ré.
If they weren’t following such strict diets and exercise regimes we’re fairly certain that they would find something delicious to eat and drink in this fabulous region. They will be cycling through some of the areas finest vineyards, so maybe cognac would be their tipple. However, if they have been doing their research then they would be more tempted to try the local Pineau des Charentes.
Food-wise there are so many wonderful Charentais specialities they will be spoilt for choice. Oysters, éclade (smoked mussels with pine needles), chaudrée (fish soup), or galette charentaise. What would you recommend?
The Tour is the ideal opportunity for spectators and supporters to admire the diversity and the beauty of French landscapes. From craggy coastal regions and charming coastlines. To soaring mountains, lush farms and picturesque towns and villages.
After all those hours cycling perhaps a round of golf at one of the top 5 golf courses in the Charente would help them relax. Some of our guests at Bel-Air Gites recommend Golf de Royan. It’s an 18-hole course amidst forests of pine trees and natural sand dunes, with a view of the lighthouse. What could be better than that for taking your mind off the Tour for a few hours?
And whilst we are on the topic of relaxation and taking your mind off things…
Booking your family holiday
They don’t call it the Sunny Charente for nothing. In August and September, when the Tour de France is taking place the weather here is usually in the mid to high 20’s. So if you’re not chasing Le Tour why not come and relax by the pool at Bel-Air Gites? Or check out some of the other great family attractions close by. There is so much to see and do here you will want your holiday to last forever.
For the best family-friendly holiday experience come to Bel-Air Gites, in the Charente-Maritime.
New measures in place for the safety of our guests
Wherever you go on holiday you want it to be relaxing and safe. In France the government, health organisation and tourism departments are continually updating the information and advice for businesses in all areas. But for the hospitality sector, there are specific measures that must be in place to ensure the safety of our guests.
At present hotels, gites, campsites and other types of accommodation are open without restriction across France. However, all accommodation must adhere to the strict health guidelines issued by the government.
The health and safety of our guests has always been – and always will be – one of our highest priorities. At Bel-Air Gites we want you and your family to enjoy your holiday, and we also want you feel safe whilst you are here. This is why we provide lots of Covid-19 travel advice and information when you make a booking, and in all our gites. And it’s the reason why we have implemented some changes of our own.
Flexible check-in dates
You can now check-in on any day of the week. This helps you make travel arrangements which fit in with your busy schedules. So you can travel on dates and times that suit you. It also means that we don’t have all our guests checking-in and out on the same days, which is safer for all our guests. We also have a minimum of 24 hours between check-out and check-in for each gite. This gives us plenty of time to do a thorough clean and change-over, with less risk to ourselves and our guests.
The safety of our guests and everyone that works at Bel-Air Gites is our priority, and therefore we must impose some restrictions. We have worked extremely hard to try to ensure that the restrictions do not take away from your enjoyment of your holiday.
In the summer months the pool is our guests’ favourite location, and we want everyone to be able to enjoy it. With this in mind, we will now be allocating each gite their own area by the pool, with their own sun loungers. All of the sun loungers will be disinfected every evening, and we will also provide disinfectant for guests to use during the day.
There is a limit of 10 people in the pool area at any one time. So we ask all guests to be mindful of other guests, who might be waiting to use the pool. And please make sure that you take all of your belongings – toys, inflatables and pool towels – back to your gite.
Toys and Games
Unfortunately the Play Barn will remain closed for the foreseeable future. This is because we do not feel that we can guarantee that all games, toys and surfaces can be thoroughly disinfected every night, and during the day. However, each gite will have their own box of DVDs and games which can be used for the duration of the holiday.
The playground and trampoline are still open, and it is up to parents to decide if their children can use them or not. The equipment will be disinfected every evening, and and we will also provide disinfectant for guests to use during the day.
Obviously there are restrictions in place for all businesses and you need to bear this in mind when you are planning your days out. Cafes, bars and restaurants are open and everybody must comply with the social distancing measures in place. Wearing a mask is compulsory in enclosed public spaces for anyone aged 11 and over. And you must use the hand-gels provided.
If you are planning to travel on public transport you shouldn’t have any problems, as long as you follow the guidelines and wear a mask. Trains, buses, trams and all the stations have safety measures in place to protect members of the public and their staff.
So I’m sure you will agree that wherever you go in France you will be safe. And there is nowhere that you will feel safer than here at Bel-Air Gites in the Charente-Maritime.
If you still have questions about your stay here with us then get in touch. Because at Bel-Air Gites we want to assure you that the safety of our guests is really important to us. Just ask. We are here to help.