School trips needn't always have a curriculum focus, writes Phil Revell
It's early evening on the Mediterranean coast. In the foreground a girl in a blindfold is attempting to feed another girl chocolate mousse - with predictable results. In the background there are whoops and squeals as another teenager tries the combo trampoline and bungee jump. There's a big audience for the chocolate mousse-eating contest, and an even bigger queue for the trampolinebungee.
This is the Mimosa Holiday Village, near Beziers, on the French Languedoc coast. Mimosa is one of PGL's eurocentres offering a sun, sail and sand holiday for school groups from March to September.
"It's a holiday that the children never forget," says Martin Permain, who has brought 40 teenagers from Bristol's Bedminster Down school. And he should know; this is his 19th trip with PGL, provider of activity, adventure and educational holidays, tours and courses for seven to 17-year-olds.
"Students who came with me on those early trips still talk about it, and they are all in their late thirties now," he says. "The changes have been dramatic. The teachers had two-man tents in 1981, now it's chalets."
From the beginning of the day it's a whirlwind of activity, from sailing with the centre's fleet of dinghies and catamarans, to canoeing and windsurfing. Evening activities are led by the same young instructors.
There's table tennis, volleyball, and the inevitable disco.
Blair Griffin and Nick Densley, both 16, are having a good time. "It's about having fun with all your friends. I saved up my spending money to come on the trip; overnight on the coach, 20 hours, that was a bit stressful," says Blair.
"My brother did this five years ago. I raised pound;200 for the trip,"
The Bedminster group are following PGL's two-centre option, breaking the long journey south with three days in the Ard che, where the group canoed down the Ard che Gorge.
Blair and Nick enjoyed the Ard che, but they also appreciate the wider range of activities at Mimosa. Nick is looking forward to windsurfing, while Blair is keen to try the thrills and spills of the Ocean Rider: an inflatable banana attached to a power boat, which pulls tight turns out to sea. "That looks fun," she says.
On a free day the group will visit a local water park; it's a packed trip and, at pound;395, Martin thinks the kids are getting good value. This is not a curriculum-related trip; the Mimosa centre offers a holiday, pure and simple. But Martin thinks the overall benefits justify the time and effort of organising the bookings - and giving up a week of his August break.
"This is totally different from anything else they have done. They have to get on with each other, there's no alternative, and you can see them adjusting, tolerance levels rising. It boosts their confidence, and they take back lots of memories," he says.
Bedminster is not the only group on site. Mimosa can accommodate 300, in six villages. Schools are kept together for their daytime activities, but there is the opportunity for social mixing in the evenings.
Mimosa is managed by Ali Benyon, an ex-teacher who moved to PGL because she "wanted to do a job which put her more in touch with the children". She manages 75 staff. In addition to the boats and dinghies the centre has an abseil tower and a couple of bigger keelboats. Safety is the watchword.
"We've always felt safe," says Martin. "And I've stayed with PGL because they make me feel a valued customer."
www.pgl.co.ukOther activity holiday providers in southern France: Acorn Adventure, tel: 0870 121 9950; email: firstname.lastname@example.org; www.acornadventure.co.ukNST Travel Group Ltd (Ard che only), tel: 01253 503403; www.nstgroup.co.uk