If you like the idea of camping but can’t face the reality, you’re in luck – ‘glamping’ or glamorous camping is becoming 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 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.
‘A Bed in the Meadow’, offers six sites around the country, three of them in Normandy – the others are in Picardy (see below) and further south in the Limousin and the Auvergne. In Normandy’s Orne département, the Ferme de Moncel offers posh camping on a small family-run deer farm, in six tents sleeping up to 6. Made from solid wood with a thick canvas and traditional furnishings, they have a wood burner, kitchenette, and a bathroom and indoor loo. The farmers run a honesty shop selling fresh local ingredients, including meat and vegetables, Camembert and cider, and guests are free to cook on the open-air fire.
Also in the highly rural Orne, this duplex eco-treehouse between the branches of a 200-year-old chestnut tree offers views over a surrounding meadow teeming with plants and wildlife, including foxes, badgers, wild boar and deer. The main room has a king-size double bed, sitting area, small kitchen and bathroom with a shower and loo; there’s a lower room that sleep up to 3 children (in twin beds and a wall-mounted bunk running over the top). There’s also a terrace with table, chairs, loungers and a hammock where you can read, listen to music and star-gaze, as well as enjoy the breakfast basket of fresh local produce delivered each morning, including organic breads.
Yet another property in the Orne, this large tipi in the heart of the Perche Regional Nature Park is great for groups of friend, although you need to know each other well – it sleeps up to 14 people on futon beds in one communal space. Also inside are a wood fire and wooden floors, while in the surrounds you’ll find walking trails and opportunities to canoe, fish, mountain-bike, play tennis and tennis and enjoy the pool-spa in a nearby village.
Set amidst trees by a lake in the grounds of a handsome little chateau in the Manche, these Romany caravans sleeping up to 4, plus a baby or toddler, mix trendy Cath Kidston style décor with wonderful views over a National Park. The site – which also offers camping pitches and B&B – offers a natural swimming pool (complete 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 roulettes 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.
More roulettes in the Manche, but these actually move – they’re horse-drawn, and after a day’s induction, you can use them to take a 3- or 7-day tour of Normandy’s tranquil Cotentin Peninsula, using either quiet lanes or a chemin vert (converted railway line). The caravans sleep 4–5 people 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.
A leafy riverside setting within Picardy’s Omignon valley is home to three static Romany caravans sleeping 4–5, with one double bed in an alcove, two single sofabeds and one foldout bed. They also have a kitchenette, BBQ equipment and a shower room and loo, and there are games to borrow and wildlife galore to observe, from herons to deer and rabbits. The site is also home to a fishing gîte for up to 6 people and should have a Carré d’Etoiles (see below) before too long. The on-site Kota Grill, in a Finnish-style hexagonal chalet, serves meats cooked over an open fire and other local products; breakfast is also an optional extra.
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 have other safari tents at campsites Château Le Brevedent in Normandy and Château des Marais in the Loire Valley.
Alternatively, on the same campsite, Canvas Holidays offers deluxe wooden lakeside lodges with two or four bedrooms, or there’s one family treehouse for up to 7 people (with a minimum age of two) available via La Cabane en l’Air. Thomson Alfresco offer mobile homes here, or there are tent pitches and modern gites available via the site’s own webpage.
Not far north of the champagne city of Reims, these seven traditionally decorated Mongolian yurts sleep up to 4 people each. 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.
This single roulotte is set on a farm with animals that guests – up to 2 adults and 2 kids under-18 – 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 site – once home to a rehabilitation camp for children orphaned or otherwise damaged by World War I, then a local school – combines four treehouses for 2–8 people (one without any lower age limit) with a treetop adventure course amidst ancient oaks and wild cherry trees within a protected area. The adventure course includes three courses for kids 1.1om or over, plus a zipwire. There’s also a nature trail through the woods, taking you in the footsteps of badgers, foxes, wild boar and even wild cats, and nine cycling tracks of varying levels of difficulty; you can hire bikes (including mountainbikes and tandems) plus children’s trailers on-site. There’s also a reception centre and restaurant and frequent special events, including gigs and an apple festival.
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 Orne region of Normandy (see above) and Rillé in Centre (Loire Valley).
The Rambouillet site, for instance, offers roulettes, wooden huts and cabins, and Canadian-style tents, together with pitches for tents (some of them 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 5–11, and various games and sports facilities.
Situated in the Sarthe in the Pays de la Loire, Europe’s largest Indian American encampment (approved by the American Indian Society) offer 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 one of them 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). Each box also comes with a ‘sky observation kit’ including an astronomical telescope, a 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, plus several further south (two of them available with Canvas Holidays).
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 starting at ages 2 and up, cottages, wooden chalets, Russian-style datchas, and nature lodges, as well as tents, mobile homes, studios and apartments, and even a 3-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 up to 4 people or in self-catering form for up to 5, 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, crêperie, 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.
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