If you like the idea of camping but can’t face the reality, you’re in luck – ‘glamping’ or glamorous camping has become a big market in the UK, Europe and beyond, and can take much of the martyrdom out of the experience while remaining a relatively low-budget family holiday option – and one with an adventurous side that appeals to kids.
Northern France is a great place for treehouses, glamping and alternative camping experiences, since this kind of holiday isn’t wholly dependent on great weather – who knows, a bit of wind and rain might even add to the experience and help you to get even closer to nature! It’s also reasonably cheap and easy to get if you cross the Channel by ferry. Some of the following also make great places to stopover for a night or two on your way further south or back to the UK.
PICARDY (Hauts de France)
A peaceful wooded setting beside a river in the Omignon valley is home to these five static Romany caravans sleeping four to five, with a double bed in an alcove, two single sofabeds and a foldout bed. They also have a kitchenette, BBQ equipment and a shower room and loo. On-site you'll find games to borrow, canoe and bike hire, a hot tub and wildlife galore to observe, from herons to deer and rabbits. There are also two wooden camping pods (sleeping two - great for teens) and a Carré d’Etoiles (see below). The on-site Kota Grill, in a Finnish-style hexagonal chalet, serves meats cooked over an open fire and other local products; breakfast and dinner, served to your roulotte, carré or pod, is an optional extra. The tiny on-site shop sells regional produce including apple juice.
Among the various accommodation options available at this four-star campsite with its indoor waterpark, three lakes (one with a beach) and wealth of other family amenities and activities, situated just over an hour north of Paris, are some African-inspired safari tents with wooden decking, lanterns, rugs and sunloungers. Two-bedroomed, sleeping up to six and featuring kitchens with full-size fridges, they’re bookable with Eurocamp, who also have treehouses on the site.
‘A Bed in the Meadow’ offers several sites around the country, three of them in Normandy – the others are in Brittany (see below), further south in the Limousin and the Auvergne, and to the east in Lorraine. Tents sleeping up to six are made from solid wood with a thick canvas and traditional furnishings, and include a wood burner, a kitchenette and an indoor loo. Sites have honesty shops selling fresh local ingredients.
Roulottes du Château de Monfreville
Amidst trees by a lake in the grounds of a handsome little castle in the Manche, these two Romany caravans sleeping up to four, plus a baby or toddler, mix trendy Cath Kidston style décor with wonderful views over a National Park. The site – which also has camping pitches and B&B – includes a natural swimming pool (with frogs and lily-pads!), a hot tub, bikes, table tennis and other games, and lots of friendly animals kids can help to feed. The roulottes have basic cooking facilities but showers and loos are in the chateau cellars. In the evenings, you can enjoy mussels and chips in the open dining area, while mornings see deliveries of fresh breads and pastries, and there’s an honesty shop with homegrown organic veg and other produce.
La Ferme de Caroline
More roulottes in the Manche, but these actually move – they’re horse-drawn, and after a day’s induction, you can use them to take a one- to six-night tour of Normandy’s tranquil Cotentin Peninsula, using either quiet lanes or a chemin vert (converted railway line). The caravans sleep four to five and have basic cooking equipment; staff will provide you with details of good places to stop en route (from campsites and farms to chateaus), where you can use showers, toilets and other facilities.
Les Ormes, a vast campsite not far from the iconic Mont-St-Michel, offers an almost absurd range of facilities, activities and accommodation, including treehouses suitable for those with kids aged two and up, cottages, wooden chalets, Russian-style datchas, and nature lodges, as well as tents, mobile homes, studios and apartments, and even a three-star golf hotel.
These static Romany caravans on the edge of Brittany’s Monts d’Arrée, an ancient mountain range within a regional natural park, are offered on a B&B basis for two or in self-catering form for up to five, with breakfast optional for the latter. The latter is served in the welcoming reception hub with its eco-friendly shop selling organic and/or sustainably-farmed produce, restaurant, outdoor play area, ‘story space’ with books, comic strips and CDs on local myths (from the korrigans or fairies of the name to Arthurian legend), and wellbeing area. Themed stays including storytelling around a campfire are available, as are hiking excursions and bike hire.
Situated in the Sarthe, Europe’s largest Indian American encampment (approved by the American Indian Society) offers 18 tipis over 17 acres, authentically centred around interior campfires; they sleep 3/4 or 5/6. This is not for the fainthearted – mobile phones and even watches are banned, and activities include archery, lacrosse and tomahawk and monthly Indian-American themed weekend breaks including traditional meals and dancing. If one of your brood is naughty, you can dispatch them to spend the night in the one-man chuckwagon…
Possibly the strangest of all, the ‘Star Box’ is a basically a wooden cube plonked in a countryside setting, with a transparent dome in the roof that lets you gaze at the stars from your double cabin bed set at the top of a ladder (there’s also sleeping for two on the sofabed at ground level, although the cabins can be a squeeze for four and some sites will only take bookings for two, so families would need a couple of carrés). Each box also comes with a ‘sky observation kit’ including a telescope, stellar chart and astronomy-themed games. There’s a kitchen corner in each, but breakfast is included in the price and dinner can also be provided, as can ‘gourmet baskets’. Sites have kids’ play areas, mountain-bike hire and games such as pétanque at hand; optional extras include massages and use of a hamman. There’s one site near Saumur in the Pays de la Loire, one handy for the castles of the Loire Valley, one in Finistère in Brittany, one in Picardy (see above), one in Champagne-Ardenne plus several further south.
Great for budget accommodation and a blast of fresh air within easy reach of the French capital, Huttopia offers two sites in the Ile de France region that contains Paris – one at legendary Versailles, the other in the nearby forest of Rambouillet. There are two further sites to the west of here – Senonche in the Eure-et-Loir region of Centre and Rillé in the Loire Valley (see above). As an example, the Rambouillet site offers roulettes, wooden huts and cabins, and Canadian-style tents, together with pitches for tents (some isolated in the heart of the forest), campervans and caravans. There’s also a chlorine-free swimming pool and paddling pool, pedalo hire on the lake, guided forest walks, mountain-bike hire and trails, a high-season kids’ club for ages 5–13, and various games and sports facilities.
Domaine de Mandukhaï
Not far north of the champagne city of Reims, this site has seven traditionally decorated Mongolian yurts sleeping up to four plus Japanese-style ryokans for two. The site itself is no-frills and ‘zen’, with pagodas and a pond with fountain, and good walking and fishing nearby; there is, however, an on-site restaurant serving Mongolian specialities against a backdrop of suitably ethnic music.
La Fosse aux Chevaux
This single roulotte is set on a farm with animals that guests – up to two adults and two kids – are free to pet, including a donkey, horses, Highland cattle, goats and sheep, in addition to peacocks and other birds, some of which live on or around the small lake. The caravan itself is enclosed in its own little garden in the trees, with loungers and a table and chair; it has a kitchen, BBQ equipment, a shower-room/loo, and even a flatscreen TV and DVD player.
This protected area – once home to a rehabilitation camp for children orphaned or damaged by World War I, then a school – combines four treehouses for two to eight (one without a lower age limit) with a treetop adventure course amidst ancient oaks and wild cherry trees. The adventure course includes three courses for kids 1.1m or over, plus a zipwire. There’s also a nature trail through the woods, in the footsteps of badgers, foxes, wild boar and even wild cats, and nine cycling tracks of varying levels; you can hire bikes (including mountainbikes and tandems) plus children’s trailers on-site. There’s also a restaurant and frequent special events, including gigs and an apple festival.
See also our Eco-friendly Places to Stay with Kids in France.