Wonderful, because the weather was beautiful; wonderful, because the food and wine were so delicious and wonderful because - well - having lived in France for almost 4 years, being back in France again was (and always will be) pretty wonderful.
But what really made our family holiday so special was discovering this true gem of a place to stay. Domaine Les Hirondelles (literally, 'Home of the Swallows') is situated in the stunning and peaceful, spiralling little medieval village of Capendu, nestled between the Mediterranean sea to the east and the mountains of the Pyrenees and Spanish border to the west. Run by David and Abigail and their two lovely children Mimi and Fred (who also live on site), the Domaine consists of two gorgeous and lovingly restored holiday cottages - the 2 bedroom Maison de la Vigne, a former grape pickers cottage, and the 3 bedroom Maison du Lierre ivy cottage - where we stayed (pictured above and below). The cottages are set within two acres of beautiful walled gardens, with a long sweeping drive (perfect for bike, scooter and tractor riding) and a heavenly heated pool - all fenced in for child safety - with comfortable loungers and arm chairs, and a summer house kitchen for guest use. For the little ones, there are plenty of inflatable toys, floats, rubber rings, arm bands, as well as their very own table and stools for picnics by the poolside: The swimming pool is opposite a lovely shady play area complete with a sand pit, play houses, rockers and ride-ons, an amazing tree house/climbing frame/den/slide/swing set and two - yes two- fully enclosed spring free trampolines! There are secret gardens to explore, perfect for hide and seek, trees just waiting to be climbed, and a bike shed full of every bike you could possibly wish for, not to mention bike taxis, bike seats for children and of course all the necessary safety helmets and equipment. The surrounding area is so beautiful, a bike ride around the village, to neighbouring medieval villages and along the nearby Canal de Midi is an absolute must. In addition, there's table tennis, badminton, giant Lego, giant Connect 4, and a chicken shed full to the brim with space hoppers, bat and ball games, badminton sets, wheelbarrows and toy lawn mowers - in other words, everything your children could possibly need to stay entertained for hours and hours whilst the grown ups relax! And as for the barn - well - you can just imagine our children's delight when they discovered this... (Although by the end of the day, most of these toys were scattered around outside on the drive, where E and I would invariably find ourselves on one of the shady benches with a glass of something nice and cold whilst the children played together): The inside of the cottage was equally well equipped for holidaying with children in tow. From cots to cot beds; bed rails to bath toys; monitors to high chairs and an array of magical books, toys, DVDs and games, David and Abigail really have thought of everything. Our 2 year old has a penchant for 'car panters' (car transporters to you and I), and as if by magic (and much to J's delight) David even produced one of those! The cottages were beautifully decorated and in keeping with the traditional style of the building with contemporary touches and all mod cons whilst being comfortable, stylish and immaculately clean (I could post a million photos of the interior decor but you can see plenty of lovely pics on their website).
Each cottage has its very own spacious and private garden with terrace, outside seating and BBQ. We spent many an evening there with many a bottle of the local village wine! The shutters and ceiling fans provided much needed cool and shade during the heat of the day (and helped to prevent early morning wake ups*) - although the call of the ride on toys, trampolines and swimming pool tended to wake up our 4 year old daughter anyway...)
(*'early' being defined as pre 6.45am, of course).
It really is the perfect retreat - and a 'treat' it is. From the moment we arrived, we wished we were staying for longer (I don't think there are many places where you feel so 'at home' and so relaxed so quickly). There is so much to do in the surrounding area, we could have stayed for a month and not seen everything we wanted to see.