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France – Happy campers
Not a natural to life under canvas, Liz Harper made a beeline for the south of France, to enjoy sunshine, barbecues and lazy, hazy evenings under the stars
I’m not a big fan of camping so it took some convincing for me to give up a nice hotel with en suite for some canvas and a 150ft hike to a communal toilet block last summer. However, despite my initial reservations, it proved to be one of the best holidays we’ve ever taken as a family. And it was one of the best value too. OK, so Provençal weather helped, but there was something really magical about a week of outdoor living, picnics on the beach and barbies in the evenings. The kids all loved the space, freedom and adventure the campsite provided, and DVD players and games consoles remained in their cases all week.
We removed the hassle of erecting tents and the fear of bad weather by picking a company that does the hard work for you, and a location with guaranteed sun. On our arrival at Yelloh Village Les Tournels, near St Tropez, a member of the Canvas team showed us to our tent: a big frame structure with two bedroom compartments and a massive internal living space complete with cooker and fridge. Outside we had a table, chairs and barbecue. No deciphering complicated instructions, arguing over missing tent pegs or frustrations over tangled guy ropes. Within minutes of arriving, the children had made friends and were embroiled in a game of French cricket while we were indulging in a little local wine tasting with fellow campers. This pretty much set the tone for the entire week.
Lazy mornings disappeared in a haze of croissants and coffee, pain au chocolate and fruit juice. While the tennis courts and swimming pools received plenty of use, it was the communal nature of the camp and the big open spaces that the children loved most. From role-play games to obstacle course building, hide and seek to multi-generation rounders matches, it was a secure and safe environment for kids to be kids, and parents to either chill out or join them in their games.
A 15-minute walk through vineyards led us to the beach and a gorgeously warm turquoise sea, where sandcastle challenges created a whole new level of competitiveness. A couple of day excursions allowed us to explore some of the surrounding area — from the beautifully picturesque Gorges du Verdon to the glitz and glamour of St Tropez. In the main though, it was a week of warm lazy days consisting of little more than pool, beach and play. Ah, such simple pleasures! Which sums up Euro camping perfectly: not flash but relaxed and definitely fun. Allow yourself to admit it and you’ll probably enjoy it every bit as much as your kids.
Children’s highlights: The excitement of being able to walk to the campsite shop each morning to buy croissants and ‘parlez their Francais’ on their own. Being outside and ‘free’ from the moment they woke up until when they went to bed. They also enjoyed the interaction with other children on the campsite and making new friends.
Low points: Having to get shoes on and trek across the site at 2am to go to the loo.
How to do it: Liz Harper and family travelled to Yelloh Village Les Tournels near St Tropez with Canvas on a self-drive basis. A week at this site in a maxi tent (sleeps up to six) from £780, including Dover-Calais ferry crossing. www.canvasholidays.co.uk
Read more in the Spring 2013 issue of National Geographic Traveller Family (UK)