Camping in France: Beaching to the converted
You haven’t really got a family until you’ve driven them across northern France in a VW Camper.
Each part of life has its rite of passage. Your first rusk, first communion wine, first double-digit Guinness when you fail your A-Levels. First pay packet, first redundancy threat, first flat, first house. First time you stage-dive and miss, first kiss with the person you’re going to marry.
But when it comes to kids, forget cutting the cord or wetting the head, it’s this… you only know you’ve arrived when you’ve departed at dawn with them packed in the back of a German icon, their little faces poking out from all the luggage you’ve ever owned.
Before the day is out you will have heard the following: “The map is wrong.”
“That’s our ferry, sailing away.” “I feel sick.” “I’ve done a wee.” And (all cliches are true) “Are we there yet? Are we there yet? Are we there yet?”
We were sensible. We went with Eurocamp.
So what is Eurocamp? Well, it is a brand owned by the Holidaybreak group from Cheshire and operates with its sister firm Keycamp on a large network of sites across the continent with a range of prepitched tents and mobile homes. Each is different but they have many common characteristics -the three we saw were all clean, well run and safe, and had swimming pools, play parks and restaurants, take-aways and shops.
The village of Pont l’Eveque is tucked away in the tree-shaded Norman department of Calvados (tip for Newcomers to France: always stay in places named after booze or cheese. From now on we’ll call Newcomers to France N2F). We got there for dinner time and enjoyed our first swim in the pool.
Rubbed dry and in the play park, the infants went up and down a slide and we stood and chatted to other parents.
After self-catering ourselves a meal in our two-bed mobile home with decking, we walked the grounds, set impressively about a lake. The night was calm and warm. Down a quiet dell lined with orange and green tents, as wide-winged birds came to rest in the trees above our heads, we concluded the following: Eurocamp is all right. Eurocamp can carry on. Early next morning we SatNavved on. As on the day before, the roads were free and easy. Like Britain would be if nobody lived here. We passed First World War battle sites and Second World War landing beaches, and countless unchanged church-centred villages.
Stopping for lunch is easy. For the well-prepared, service stations have picnic benches and space not too pooed for kids to run around. For the ill-prepared and easily persuaded, they sell frites.
(N2F: most main roads you’ll choose will be toll roads. On these, you roll up to a booth and they either give you a ticket, take a ticket or want money. Sometimes that money is much less than you’d think: about £1. Sometimes it’s £8. I never could predict what was coming next. They like to keep you guessing, the French).
Any fans of bridges (as if I’m the only one!) should make sure any route takes in the Pont de Normandie from Le Havre to Honfleur. A mile and more of cablestayed, four-laned, elevated class. Merci.
We didn’t (sadly) have time to stop. We had to get to where we were spending the main body of our holiday, St Cast. We got a two-bed, two-bath mobile, which was perfectly big enough for our purposes. Our purposes were these:
1. Breakfasting on croissants and baguettes bought a 10-minute toddle away at the shop by reception.
2. Preparing for a sunny day on the beach or a rainy day outing to one of the castles dotting the coast.
3. Returning from above. Drying towels or selves.
4. Having enough space for infants to run themselves tired even when confined to indoors by inclemency.
5. Space to enjoy the evening once les enfants have retired.
Our mobile home easily accommodated all of the above and was in a lovely spot, right up the back of the site, looking into some diverting woodland.
So, what would you do every day if you were in St Cast? If you were as lucky as we were with the weather, you’d spend most of your time exploring scoresyour time exploring scores of beaches. St Cast is the headland west from St Malo, and it introduces an oblong inlet that has some lovely, covey, hidden plages.
Nowhere in Cornwall or West Wales can I think of a stretch of land with better beaches. There are long, wide beauties like Pen-Guen; dramatic, swept ones like Quatre Vaux, and hidden-away, best beach you’ve ever been to, once you find it you’ll never go anywhere else-type places like La Pissotte. Seriously, it’s lovely. Tucked away in the hills above Saint-Cast-le-Guildo, you have to park up by a campsite.
It’s a bit of a leap of faith, because you can’t tell if it’s very good and it looks miles down a steep path. But, do bother. The water was pristine, there were cliffs to play in and you could swim round to the next deserted bay. It was the highlight for all of us. The sand was very good for castles, reported Gwen. And for eating, reported Catrin. The water was cold enough to make them both scream in delight. We had baguette picnics and stubby beers. We took goggles and I could draw a map of the rocks under the bay, we swam it so much.
For non-beach days, your options are plenty. We went to Fort La Latte, a 13th century castle rebuilt in the 50s. It’s fascinating, and you can run up and down the ramparts with a sword from the gift shop shouting “Aaaaagghhhh”. Apparently.
You can do a spectacular coast walk from the west to the old and new lighthouses at Cap Frehel, one from the 1600s, one from 1950. It is a windswept and remote outpost. And you look slightly silly if you run about with a sword from La Latte.
About an hour’s drive away is Mont Saint-Michel. A favourite of school trips, this religious monument-commune on its tidal island is a Unesco world heritage site and it feels like a proper, world-class attraction.
The intricate, secretive architecture could be right out of Harry Potter, and if you are going, prepare to spend all day… and to walk a very long way indeed.
All of which is very well. But for this family, the simpler pleasures resounded far more than any official attraction. Swimming in the sea. Eating fresh croissants. Stopping at farms to buy champagne-style bottles of cider, which exploded like a Fort La Latte cannon into the roof of our mobile home.
Oh, and is it wrong to list a supermarket as being more enjoyable than a Unesco world heritage site? Very probably, but it’s true.
N2Fs, hear me out. I am still drinking the coffee I bulkbought at the Hyper U. And I’ve still got a few of the pens left. I’m certainly still scribbling away on the notebooks. (Bridges and stationery. A man must have hobbies.) Sadly, the cheese is but a fading memory.
We stopped overnight on the way back in La Vallee in Houlgate, on the coast in Normandy. It was a pleasant, packed seaside resort, with plenty to do on the townside beach.
And then we’re off back to the ferry, laden down with pens and cider and the sword from the gift shop, officially at last an estatedriving, France-travelling family.
Eurocamp has 7nts s/c from Jul 18 at the Chateau de Galinee parc in a 2bed Horizon mobile home (sleeps 7) with decking from £710 for the family (saves £383). Multi-parc trips and stopovers also available. www.eurocamp.co.uk, 0844 406 0552. Tourism: http://uk.franceguide. com/, www.brittanytourism.com, http://www.normandie-tourisme.fr.
Time zone: UK +1hr
Currency: Euro £1 = 1.15
Best time to go: N2Fs welcome this summer!