“What tone should I set with this Isabella review?”
Editor in chief Mrs EBF doesn’t like colourful language in blog posts. She’s just asked me to write a post about our holiday to France, a 1000 mile tour, incorporating 3 separate campsite stays, with two different caravan awnings to put up, with no swearing involved.
You know what. It’s easy.
To really understand what our holiday meant to us I need to take you back 2 years ago. My Dad was diagnosed with incurable Liver Cancer, our world turned upside down and inside out.
I’m not dwelling on the whys and wherefores but our holiday to France this year was the first proper break that we have had since that diagnosis. After the year from Hell last year I was determined to get away this, I booked two weeks in France touring with our caravan with no idea how I was going to pay for it. My salary depends on Commissions and Bonus’s, I’d hardly been in the office due to spending time with Dad, we were/are on the bones of our arse (first swear, bound to be edited)
Dad died in May 2018 . Spring/Summer 2018 is a bit of a blur if I’m honest. Friends tried their best, we got away for a couple of days with them, but my heart wasn’t in it, going through the motions for the kids, for my own sanity. I’ll never forget the kindness of our friends, I acted like a bit of an arse, they understood and carried on being our friends regardless.
So, October 2018 came, the great Caravan & Motorhome foreign holiday booking bonanza! Ferry times and campsite details and prices are released in October so I called, I booked two weeks at two separate campsites for the second week of the school summer holidays 2019. Something to look forward to.
Immediately, instead of being excited about our holiday, I felt under pressure, how the hell am I going to pay for this in May? I knew I had a few things bubbling at work, if I got this right come bonus time the money would be there to pay the balance.
Christmas came and went. EBF was going from strength to strength thanks to Vicky’s tireless work. The social media reach was rising all the time, we had a long talk about who we wanted to be associated with in terms of partnerships, who we wanted to talk about and what we wanted to talk about.
It was an easy decision really. We love our Caravan and everything about Caravanning. We needed to talk about it more, extolling the virtues of caravanning and try and break down some tired stereotypes.
Isabella are known for the quality of their product. The attention to detail, the workmanship, care and experience that goes into their brand is unmatched.
After reaching out and telling Isabella our story we worked together to come up with group of products we could road test for them and report back on. Remember, this break of our was really important, we were not willing to compromise it or in some way belittle it by accepting anything and everything, we wanted to enhance our holiday experience while at the same time highlight the brand and show what Isabella had to offer.
May arrived, thankfully, so did the bonus. We were off to France! Two weeks, two Campsites. The first, Château de Chanteloup just outside Le Mans for 4 nights, then to Il de Re, a small island off La Rochelle at Huttopia Chardons Bleus for 7 nights, then back to Château de Chanteloup for our last 3 nights. Why Château de Chanteloup twice you ask? Simple, it’s the best campsite we have ever stayed at, these two visits represented the 6th time we had been to the site. If I’m in France with the Caravan, I want to be at this site. More later.
After discussions with Isabella we decided to try out one of the Air Awnings from the new range and an air Sun Canopy, a wind break (like you’ve never seen before!) chairs and some accessories (Wine Glasses, again, like you’ve never seen before!)
So with the holiday paid for, the car and caravan serviced, a very exciting morning of the courier arriving with boxes of Isabella product, we could really start preparing and planning our break.
Given our relatively short stays at Chanteloup I didn’t want to be wrestling with erecting a full size awning, so the Canopy was perfect. The Air Awning was again not full size, but more than big enough to be comfortable and useful. The Chairs, two different ones to try. Thor and Loke (Dylan was massively impressed with the Avengers reference, I didn’t have the heart to tell him)
Summer ticked on, the end of the school year and all of a sudden, our break was upon us. With the Caravan packed, the bikes strapped to the roof of the car, it was time to go. Our Ferry was at 8am in the morning from Portsmouth which mean a middle of the night departure from home. We were also in the midst of a mini heatwave. It was 22 degrees at 3am in the morning when we left. Once on the Ferry and steaming towards Caen, it was nearer 30.
We landed in Caen at 3pm French time. It was 40 degrees, the stiff breeze felt like a hairdryer. We had a 2-and-a-half-hour tow to Le Mans.
French roads are incredible, the toll roads are in the main quiet, straight and like driving on glass. Its so easy. The children, exhausted from the early start slept. After an uneventful journey we arrived at Chanteloup at 6pm, it was still bloody roasting. We were welcomed like old friends, it was really great to see Mon Amie Dominique, the manager and owner who even after two years of not seeing us immediately recognised us and fussed over us, taking us to our pitch on the lawns in front of the Chateau.
I had now been up since 3am. Vicky took the children straight to the pool to cool down while I got on with setting up the Caravan. With the water, gas and electricity hooked up all that remained was the awning. It was still 30 odd degrees. I unpacked the sun canopy, I fed the canopy around the awning rail so it was positioned over the door, plugged in the pump to inflate the main support and pumped it up. I then pegged out the three guide ropes. The entire process took about 6 minutes and within that time both of our new neighbours had come over to admire our fast erect sun canopy.
A simple fantastic piece of camping equipment. I was sat in the shade with a cold beer in hand, relaxing having set everything up before Vicky and the children came back from the pool. Incredible.
4 wonderful nights at Chanteloup came to an end far too quickly. It was just what I needed to start the process of re-setting my head. I’d been “on” for so long, I was so tired mentally (I must have been, Vicky beat me at Chess for the first time in 27 years!) and I didn’t really realise it, it had become the new norm. It was time to pack down and head south to Ile de Re.
After another 4 hour uneventful tow we arrived at Huttopia Chardon Bleus for 7 nights on the Island of Ile de Re. Ile de Re is a stunning island off the coast of La Rochelle. It is made up of ten separate villages and is the shellfish capital of France, Moules and Huitres are in abundance, along with beautiful beaches and miles and miles of cycle paths.
As we pulled onto the site I had a mild panic. It was rammed. The pitches here were tightly packed together and had little to no boundary hedges. The wide open pitches of Chanteloup a distant memory, I really wasn’t sure about this. I very nearly turned the van around to speed back to Le Mans! Anyway, after a few deep breaths we checked in and were given our pitch number.
We have a motor mover on the caravan which allows me to position the van into places I could never reverse it into. The pitch was sand so I positioned the caravan as far to the boundary line as we could. I then unpacked the Isabella Cito 350 air awning again it came with its own pump and was a joy to put up, under 15 minutes. It took longer to peg out that it did get onto the awning rail and pump up! With our Isabella awning carpet the inside was cosy, we weren’t getting sand everywhere, a safe and clean place for Matilda to play with her LOL dolls.
On this tight pitch the awning and the Isabella windbreak really came into their own. Both offered a little bit of privacy and our pitch soon felt like our own space. About that Windbreak. I said before you’ve never seen a windbreak like it, I certainly hadn’t! Every windbreak I’ve ever had a was gaudy horizonal deckchair like material with sewn in poles. They always seem to fall over at the slightest breeze and you spend most of your time hammering the poles back into the ground.
Not so the Isabella windbreak. I needed the instructions! It comes with 5 ten inch spikes, 5 metal bases, 5 vertical poles and 4 horizontal poles. You lay the 4 horizonal pole out on the ground first, at each join you then drive the spikes into the ground leaving a few inches proud, you then slip the metal bases over the spikes and peg them down, take the vertical poles and slip them over the remaining proud spike. Thread the horizonal poles into the top of the windbreak material, through the first and last vertical pole and slot onto the top of the poles. The single most sturdy and stable windbreak I have ever seen or used. It was so simple, yet so effective and impeccably designed and made.
With our awning and windbreak set up, we spent the week exploring the island, we cycled to the village markets, to the Oyster farms and beach. We spend days on the beach surfing and kayaking, sunbathing, making sandcastles. We wondered around the markets, I ate oysters and the children lived off Moules en Frites. We visited La Rochelle and treated the children (and me) to a few hours in the famous aquarium, watched the street performers and ate more Moules!
Our time was nearly up on Ile de Re, we had another 3 nights to go before our return ferry, so I’d booked our last few nights back at Chanteloup. We wanted to get away in really good time the morning we left so we had packed down the awning and windbreak. However, such was the ease and speed of putting up the sun canopy I quickly put it up to give us a bit of shade and cover on our last night. The next morning it was down and in its bag in minutes and we were hitched up and ready to go again.
Another uneventful tow back to Le Mans (notice the common theme here? The roads really are excellent) we arrived back at Chanteloup in the early afternoon. We arrived to be told we had a pitch in the woods, of which in 6 visits to Chanteloup we had never stayed. Any doubts were instantly extinguished when we got to our pitch, it was enormous! We could have park 3 caravans in it!
As the pitch was so good and we’d made such good time I put the Cito 350 awning back up, The children had fun pumping it up and we set the curtains and lighting system up as well. The awning looked stunning lit up that evening. It really is a fantastic piece of camping equipment, spacious and the quality is second to none.
As we sat in it on our last evening, drinking from our brilliant Isabella wine glasses, which you can take the stem and base off, and store in the glass thanks to the ingenious placement of a magnet at the top of the stem; I released that I had at last found some peace. I felt relaxed, I felt like the furrow in my brow that had been there for so long had shallowed. I didn’t feel sad about coming home, I wasn’t dreading going back to work. I had spent two quality weeks with my little family.
I felt Happy.
*Disclaimer – products sent to us to provide a honest review