First Family Holiday (Part Two) – After 4 days of driving the 5th day consisted of a 6 hour ferry crossing and a 2 hour drive to the south of the island of Corsica. A very sunny, warm, breezy, and pleasant fusion of French and Italian culture. I did feel that at this point the holiday had begun again. We stocked up on fresh local food and wine and unpacked and felt quite at home in our villa. I don’t think I had done this since I was a child and I actually wondered why. We had a brand new, fully equipped, beautifully furnished villa. It had a large decked terrace, air con, we had fresh croissants delivered to our door each morning and no one disturbed us to make our bed or restock used items. We had everything we needed, Siena slept when she wanted, we ate when and whatever we wanted – we didn’t actually eat out once. In fact we ate healthily, and shared our meals with Siena outside overlooking at the view of the bay. We strolled to the pool each day which was heaven for Siena and quite honestly all she wanted. We could wash our clothes, use the microwave for sterilising and had plenty of room to relax in the villa when Siena was asleep in her cot. We knew straight away that this was the future for our holidays, we felt at home and on holiday at the same time and I’m not sure why we hadn’t done it before.

As our time at the villa came to a close my thoughts turned to the journey home. I was totally relaxed thanks to Corsica and felt quietly confident about the trip. We were rested and had learned from the journey so far:

Well, we were still making mistakes and even on the ferry to Nice asking for some hot water to stand Siena’s milk in to heat was painful. This experience was basically the same, from the ferry, to cafes to top restaurants, and it was one of the biggest lessons learned for me. I had people take the bottle from me and try to open it and fill it with hot water, someone else put it in a microwave, I’ve been given a bucket of hot water which the waiter then tried to float our Tommee Tippee container also filled with water and of course the bottle inside that! (I just looked on in amazement at that one!), people generally run the hot tap and give you several gallons of that. Also bare in mind, at this stage your baby has probably already decided its hungry and the fiasco you are experiencing takes up valuable time, and you know it will achieve nothing. I think on a couple of occasions I was immediately given a small amount of very hot water in a perfectly sized stainless steel jug – so clearly it is possible. However, my advice to anyone – including myself, is to be self sufficient. Boil a kettle as the last thing you do before you leave and fill your baby flask. Even if you think you’re going somewhere civilized and want to save yourself carrying the extra weight – don’t – you’ll regret it! Also, don’t let anyone take your bottle or food away – even if they say they have to place it into the hot water – don’t trust them to do this – the chances of it going wrong are high!!

Once again our good planning paid off throughout our journey, firstly we found that having a balcony or terrace if you stay in a hotel really was important. Once baby is asleep in her cot at the end of your bed you can retire to the balcony to enjoy a drink, a book, play cards or just chat over the day or plan your next day of adventures. If you don’t have the extra space you could find yourself tied to a dark and quiet room to allow your baby to sleep.

Something else we found – which admittedly was more luck than judgement was that a good pool can also make your hotel stay. After we left Corsica we had 3 nights in Monaco and our hotel had quite honestly the most amazing pool I have ever seen. It was set in acres of grounds and had so many features that it would take up a whole blog to describe them! Part of it’s attraction to us was that it had two areas where the water was very shallow, so that children and babies could safely play and crawl without being in deep water. As Siena is a real water baby, this was so much fun for her; we spent many happy hours with her in the pool. This is now something I will strongly consider when booking future holidays.

Driving inland and north from the south coast we took a road called ‘route Napoleon’. Once again the scenery was stunning and the mountains and lakes dramatic and postcard worthy. Still correcting our mistakes as we ventured I remember very clearly the second night after leaving Monaco – we had a night and a meal booked at a French chateaux. Off we trotted to the fine dining restaurant where we had an aperitif whilst Siena’s dinner heated in the hot water I had taken with me from our room. So, note the self sufficiency and the good use of time, full marks so far. When we went through to our table it was busy and yet very quiet –I would say silent actually. I felt my nerves tingle a little and looked at my husband who was clearly thinking the same. Siena was actually very good, but we simply don’t have a baby who sits quietly, eats her food and then has her milk and goes to sleep while we enjoy our meal. She wants to talk to everyone, make lots of noise and well, fine dining is not really her thing…yet. I managed to eat my dinner, my husband’s was re-cooked for him (not the first time this had happened to us on the holiday – another reason having a room with a balcony comes in handy – your meal can be delivered there for you to eat), and I had to take my drinks up to the room as I hadn’t had one sip. This was an expensive, pleasant restaurant and we spent all our time trying to ‘ssshhh’ Siena so that other guests could enjoy their meal, we on the other hand probably did not. I would say that over all we stand about a 50/50 chance of having a successful meal out. Based on this we phoned ahead and cancelled all our meals in the restaurants we had booked. Instead we ate in local French restaurants, enjoyed atmospheric background noise which Siena contributed to (without deafening anyone), chatted to other families and couples, ate superb food and spent considerably less. Oh yes – and we left with our nerves intact. I know that to a lot of people this will seem obvious; I can hear that in my own words. But – we didn’t want to totally give up on what we previously enjoyed as a couple and I very much want to introduce this to Siena at a young age. People told me I shouldn’t take her swimming at 12 weeks, and that it’s too young for a newborn to go to church each week. Well I’m sorry, but those people are wrong. Siena has grown used to these environments and already learned how to behave as we have learned how to keep her entertained during these events. OK, so maybe fine dining every night is a bit wasted, and we would chose the easier, more relaxed option, but we will also continue to take Siena out so that she learns how to behave and knows what to expect. As with everything – it’s all a balance.

Having a baby in your family brings a new experience each day – what I consciously noticed about our holiday was that it was often my husband asking me if I had seen Siena do or say something. It was great to see Daddy able to experience some of Siena’s ‘firsts’ and report them to me rather than receive my observations at the end of each working day.

So – what worked, what would we do again and what would be not do?! Here are my observations based on our family holiday: I would definitely take our pushchair (not just the car seat clicked into the wheels), it wasn’t used much ‘on tour’ but every day in Corsica; research your accommodation thoroughly (how far to beach/pool, how equipped is it, is the cot in perfect condition?), Trial run packing the car (with exactly what you plan to take), ensure you have appropriate luggage – this makes a huge difference if you are packing it every day! Calculate quantities: milk, nappies, wipes, take insect repellent and a mosquito net, both are cheap, and we were bitten so much on our first night, Siena didn’t have one bite all holiday. Baby sun block, obviously, I also applied this each day as part of our routine, we also took a tube of calamine and glycerine which we didn’t need, but for roughly £1 it treats a multitude of things (sometimes you feel confident just knowing you have the back up!). Forcing her hat on, especially in the pool – I would start clapping hands or something similar to distract her immediately after putting on her hat which then led her to forget about the hat for a good 20 minutes or so. Relax ‘the routine’, expect that things won’t go to plan and when they don’t adapt your plans – having said this I always ensured that Siena ate and slept well, this is a key component to happy holiday for us all!! I wouldn’t take a solar tent; we were advised not to bother, took one, never used it and if we did I don’t think she would have stayed in it for five minutes – though it may be good to keep your belongings for the day and for baby to sleep in perhaps? LONG SLEEVE TOP if baby is spending time in a sunny pool – this was one of our mistakes (and it was difficult to find a long sleeve top in the summer season). Definitely take new toys, ensure you have a kettle, take your own hot water with you each day and return home on a Saturday.

It’s a lot of information – just to go on holiday. However, so many of us pin our best times on the annual holiday meaning it has a lot to live up to, so it’s wise to prepare and take advice from others and learn from their mistakes. I know families who have put off a holiday by a year, or taken Grandparents, but remember, they will be running around by then – not just crawling! And I would think carefully about sharing that forst holiday – you won’t get it back. If you’re still thinking about it – DO IT! You don’t regret what you haven’