travel: France: Camp it up in La Grande style

Gill Hasson decides to stay put when camping in Brittany, while, below, Tom Hindle goes touring to discover the area's rich past
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The Independent Culture
I was eight years old in the summer of 1966 when we went for a week's holiday to a campsite in Hythe, Kent. Not for us days on the beach with our buckets and spades; my sister Rosalind and I spent most of the family holiday in the back of our dad's ancient Austin A40, being driven around Romney Marshes, as Dad taught our mother to drive.

Well, maybe it wasn't every day, but it certainly seemed like it.

Fast-forward 30-odd years and I found myself planning a camping holiday, taking my own children to Brittany. After a long drive to our destination, the last thing I wanted to do was to spend the rest of my holiday persuading our two eldest children to get back into the car. Why visit places of interest when they're not interested? Neither did I want to spend time fighting with a reluctant two-year-old while I tried to strap him into his car seat. And I certainly didn't want to argue with my husband about directions.

What I did want was to arrive at a seaside resort and be provided with pleasant accommodation and a range of recreational facilities, all in one locality. I had no intention of getting back in the car until it was time to go home again.

I got what I wanted. For our summer holiday last year, the French resort of Saint Cast le Guildo fitted the bill perfectly.

This was our first family camping holiday and I had booked the ferry and accommodation - a comfortable, well-equipped six-berth tent - with the self-drive camping operator, Eurocamp. St Cast itself is perched on a small promontory on the Emerald coast in north Brittany, about 35km east of the port of St Malo. The campsite, Camping le Chatelet, has been awarded three red tents by the Michelin guide, reflecting its remarkable location; panoramic views along the Emerald coast towards a castle, Fort Lalatte, on a nearby headland.

Although small, this peaceful campsite offered plenty of on-site facilities. The children had plenty to occupy them; two playground areas, a games room, an attractive pool area, a small lake for fishing and a children's club.

From the campsite, a short walk down a cliff path and some steps, you reach the happily sandy Plage de la Frenaye. As you sit here gazing out across the bay, the tops of innumerable wooden posts are visible above the waterline. These are bouchons, used for farming mussels. Eventually the tide goes out to reveal the extraordinary site of millions of mussels which have attached themselves to ropes wound round the posts.

Climbing over the rocks, making our way down to the mussel beds for a closer look, we discovered that the retreating sea had also left plenty of empty shells for us to collect.

The largest beach, a 20-minute walk from the campsite, is La Grande Plage at St Cast, a huge sandy beach which is the place to bring bats and balls, buckets and spades. Water sports facilities and sea fishing trips are available, and the local stables also offer horse riding along the beach.

If the weather turns bad, St Cast boasts a heated indoor seawater swimming pool.

There are some good cliff-walks, too. From the headland at St Cast Point you can walk a mile or two to the Pointe du Garde and take in views of the Emerald coast, so called because of the colour of the grassy cliff- tops and green fields.

Bike hire is available if you feel motivated enough to cover more ground. South-east of St Cast, we discovered the remains of a fortress which once guarded the Arguenon estuary. The children enjoyed searching for the pierres sonnantes, stones which made a strange metallic sound when banged together.

St Cast's fishing port serves up excellent scallops and clams. Our big blow-out meal was at the town's La Mariniere restaurant, which specialises in seafood and offers a children's menu.

But of course, in Brittany the crepe dominates the gastronomic scene. We indulged ourselves at Le Breton d'Or; a creperie 10 minutes walk from the campsite. The rest of our meals were cooked on the barbecue using fresh local produce from the market which is held at St Cast on Monday and Friday mornings. We did make one trip in the car; to the nearby supermarket. But that was the only time I got behind the wheel.

Gill Hasson and family paid pounds 330 for a week in June at St Cast through Eurocamp Holidays (01565 626262), including the ferry crossing from Newhaven to Dieppe. Other operators include Keycamp Holidays (0181-395 4000) and Eurosites Holidays (0870 751 0000).

For more information contact: Office du Tourisme, St Cast: 00 33 2 96 41 81 52