Looking for a holiday with a sense of freedom and laid-back fun? Then try a self-drive camping holiday abroad…
Gone are the days when a visit to a campsite meant pitching your own tent in a field and visiting the loo blocks in the middle of the night with a torch. Campsites have moved on – a lot. In fact, they’re more often described as holiday parks, as, alongside the traditional pitches for caravans and tents, they have a variety of accommodation that’s available to hire with a wealth of facilities.
There are thousands of them on the Continent, from France to Croatia and Switzerland, by seasides, next to lakes, nestled among mountains, or near historic cities, if sightseeing is your thing.
You can choose to stay in the likes of a mobile home, chalet, cottage or canvas tent. With modern conveniences and private spaces, often with your own barbecue, they have just the right level of luxury and families with small children, or those who are less able, don’t have to worry about climbing numerous stairs or the safety of children on balconies.
Most sites have swimming pools, some have tennis courts or water parks with slides, and there are play areas for toddlers to teenagers. There are often kids’ clubs and activities such as horse riding, mountain biking, archery and wakeboarding. For the adults there are on-site restaurants, bars and shops, and some have their own gyms and spas. But the real beauty of a holiday such as this is that at most locations, you can arrive and depart on any day, and stay as long as you like. We visited two popular parks – in France and Italy – to see what you get for your money.
Domaine de la Bergerie, Roquebrune-sur-Argens, Côte d’Azur, France
Part of Les Castels – a chain of four- and five-star campsites in stunning locations – this campsite is set in the heart of the French Riviera between Cannes and Saint-Tropez. It takes its name from the farm that once occupied the site and the restaurant is located in the centuries-old sheep barn.
Set amid a wooded nature reserve, it has large pitches for caravans, tents and motorhomes, and modern mobile homes and cottages for hire surrounded by greenery.
Do as much or as little as you like – as well as a heated indoor pool, it has a large outdoor pool complex with slides, a river feature, a jacuzzi, a sauna, a Turkish bath, massage, reflexology and a gym. Activities are organised daily and there are shows and discos in the evening.
It has its own supermarket and bakery too, so there would be little reason to leave the site were it not for its fantastic location in the heart of the Var region – with typical Provençal villages set in hills covered with vineyards and olive trees – and just a few miles from the beaches of the Mediterranean.
Four to explore
A short drive from the campsite, this little medieval village of winding streets and painted houses lies in the shadow of the Rocher de Roquebrune.
An energetic hike – not for the faint-hearted – from the village will take you to the
top, where you will find three different-shaped crosses: the sculptures, by the conceptual artist Bernar Venet, are a tribute to the Renaissance artists Giotto, Grünewald and El Greco. Take time to enjoy the panoramic view towards Fréjus, Estelle, the Argens valley and, in the very far distance, the Alps.
LES GORGES DU VERDON
This giant groove in the mountains of Var forms one of Europe’s biggest canyons. One of Les Issambres is home to several beautiful beaches the must-see natural wonders of central Provence, it is home to birds of prey such as vultures and eagles. While there is no road up the gorge, there is a breathtaking circular ‘corniche’ route around the rim of the gorge, and plenty of opportunities for boat and kayak hire on the lower end.
On the coast lies Les Issambres, arguably one of the most beautiful landscapes
of the Côte d’Azur, with five miles of fine-sand beaches and steep cliffs. The beaches are interspersed between rocky headlands and, depending on the time of the year, you can often find a small beach that isn’t too crowded. The water is so clear on this side of the Bay of Saint-Tropez that snorkels, goggles and nets will keep you and your children amused for hours.
From Les Issambres take a boat ride on Les Bateaux Verts to Saint-Tropez, famous
for its glamour and vibrant nightlife. Once a small port, Saint-Tropez now has more yachts than fishing boats, but there is still plenty of old-world charm under the cosmopolitan exterior if you wander through the narrow back streets. Pay a visit to the Musée de l’Annonciade to discover the work of Matisse, Derain, Signac and Picasso, who were all inspired by the region.
Factfile DOMAINE DE LA BERGERIE: €497 (£430) for seven nights in a two-bedroom cottage between 11 May and 15 June and between 7 September and 3 October. GETTING THERE: Flybe, easyJet and Ryanair fly to Nice, and easyJet also flies to Marseille Provence. CAR HIRE: Book before you go with rhinocarhire. com, and consider insurance to cover car hire excess – see insurefor.com.
TO FIND OUT MORE: camping-castels.co.uk
Del Garda Village and Camping, Peschiera, Italian Lakes
Situated in the pretty town of Peschiera del Garda and a short stroll away from the lakeside, Eurocamp’s Del Garda Village and Camping offers a relaxing break with many leisure activities. The parc is very clean with a family- friendly feel. Lodges are compact but bright and airy with air conditioning and there’s a charcoal barbecue outside. Hire a bike to explore the area – there are lots of routes for all abilities. Sporty types can play tennis, football, basketball and beach volleyball, and have use of the indoor gym. There are four pools, including two for children with waterslides. Entertainment is centred on the family with a mini disco, themed dance shows and live music. There’s an enclosed play area for children and a games room.
On-site dining includes a large restaurant serving Italian and international cuisine, an ice cream kiosk, a pizzeria and a lovely bar with a terrace overlooking the entertainment area. The small supermarket is ideal for essentials and there is a large supermarket a five-minute drive or 15-minute walk away.
FIVE TO TRY
Italy’s largest lake has more than 20 towns dotted around
it. In the south the landscape is lush and green, while the north offers picturesque views of
the mountains. Relax, swim, snorkel or hire pedalos – there are numerous beaches and bays.
The approach to this town is dominated by the Scaligero Castle, a port fortress on the south bank of Lake Garda. See 15th-century churches, thermal springs, historical ruins and Villa Romana, a grand Roman residence. Busy in peak season, the winding streets contain high-end shops, antiquities, eateries and ice cream parlours.
With its ancient churches, museums and monuments, Verona is perfect for culture vultures and is perhaps best known as the setting for Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. Visit the house where the lovers would meet and stand on Juliet’s balcony. The 12th-century Torre dei Lamberti in Piazza delle Erbe offers a 360-degree view of this vibrant city.
AND CANEVA AQUAPARK
Both within half an hour of Peschiera, Gardaland and Caneva Aquapark offer great days out. Gardaland has rides, shows and an aquarium. The pools and water rides at Caneva Aquapark are ideal in hotter weather.
SIGURTÀ GARDEN PARK
A 15-minute drive from Peschiera, Sigurtà Garden Park has lovingly restored buildings and gardens, the Avenue of Roses, the Medicinal Herbs Garden, Water Gardens and the 400-year-old Great Oak tree.
Factfile DEL GARDA VILLAGE AND CAMPING:
From £245 for seven nights in April for a three-bed Azure lodge with bathroom, deck and air conditioning. To book, visit eurocamp.co.uk. GETTING THERE: Flights from the UK take 2 hours, 20 minutes and return tickets cost around £200 with a number of budget airlines. CAR HIRE: Visit rhinocarhire.com for competitive rates.