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    Saint Tropez by Jo Kessel

    St. TropezWe are happy to introduce a special guest travel article from Jo Kessel - freelance travel writer for the national newspapers: Saint Tropez on a shoestring - it's not possible. Or so I thought. Until I found a French self-catering specialist, Pierre & Vacances, with studios in their holiday village Les Restanques from just £367.00 for a family of four. Flights were booked, a car hired from Toulon airport, and off we set.

    Despite having traveled the world, for me nothing beats the French Riviera. With rolling hills sweeping to the Med, the picturesque villages of Provence with their indigenous pastel houses and slatted wooden shutters evoke a charm of a bygone era. But it comes at a price, and with much currently made of the euro/pound exchange rate, could this part of the world be visited on a budget?

    Amazingly enough, it appears that it can! Les Restanques was quite a find. A beautiful village set around a lake in a 25 acre landscaped estate, accommodation all typical of the region. Not only were the grounds a botanical delight, bursting with colour and the scent of lavender, but the facilities were amazing too. Two swimming pools, one with a wave machine and water slides, tennis and basketball courts, a football pitch, a children's playground and a roller-skating park. Moreover, fantastic kids clubs (which my brood absolutely loved) were included in the price and there were even free aerobics classes.St. Tropez

    We could have stayed put, but instead the kids (twins Nathalie and Gabriel, 6, and Hannah, 4) went to the children's clubs in the mornings, whilst afternoons were spent exploring. Les Restanques was brilliantly situated. Saint Tropez was only a ten minutes drive away. Here we managed to somehow admire the yachts in the harbour and all the designer shops without giving in to temptation. The best time was had wandering the narrow cobbled streets of the old town and hanging out on the main square, watching locals playing petanque (French bowls). For £2.00 we all even enjoyed an ice-cream (great economising) by buying a six-pack of own-brand cornettos from the Spar supermarket opposite.

    Whilst we loved St. Tropez, it was the smaller, less-known Port Grimaud which stole our hearts - a gem of a faux-medieval walled town built on a network of canals linked by bridges. Here we hired an electric boat for a slightly different perspective, breezing past the marinas and admiring the peach, mustard and terracotta-coloured houses on the water's edge. Also not to be missed was Grimaud itself, a majestic, ancient stone village tucked away from the crowds of the Riviera, set on a hill topped by an 11th century castle.

    To keep expenses low we stocked up for the week at the extremely cheap supermarket Lidl, and kept meals simple. Lunches were pasta in our basic, 2-bed apartment. Dinner was a picnic of baguettes stuffed with various cold cuts. The greatest trick was managing to stick to a tight budget whilst never feeling deprived. And this we did with a style that Brigitte Bardot would have been proud of!

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