Carry on camping
Holiday parks go well beyond a tent pitch or caravan – now you can expect swimming pools, circus skills, nature walks and even spa facilities
Kate Simon is the Travel Correspondent of The Independent and The Independent on Sunday. She was Travel Editor of The Independent on Sunday from 2005 to 2011. Kate is also the co-founder of Little Black Book Creative (www.lbbcreative.co.uk), which offers editorial services, media relations consultancy and travel-writing training.
Wednesday 04 April 2012
What's the attraction?
These glorified campsites have developed from offering a space to pitch your tent to feature pre-erected tents and mobile homes, with extensitve facilities. The main operators are Hoseasons (0844 847 1356; hoseasons.co.uk), Eurocamp (0844 406 0402; eurocamp.co.uk), Keycamp (0844 406 0200; keycamp.co.uk), Canvas Holidays (0845 268 0827; canvasholidays.co.uk), Thomson Al Fresco (0871 231 3293; thomsonalfresco.co.uk), Siblu (0871 911 2288; siblu.com), Matthews (01483 285213; matthewsfrance.co.uk), Venue Holidays (01233 629950; venueholidays.co.uk), and BreakFree Holidays (0844 84 84 534; breakfreeholidays.co.uk).
If you're prepared to jostle with families, holiday parks can provide convenient bases for singularly adult pleasures. Jazz fans should pitch up at the Sol à Gogo campsite (00 33 2 51 54 29 00; solagogo.com) on France's Vendée coast for the Jazzellerault Festival (festival-jazzellerault.com) at Châtellerault from 1-9 June and the Rendez-vous de L'Erdre (00 33 2 51 82 37 70; rendezvouserdre.com) in Nantes from 30 August-2 September.
In Italy, oenophiles can tour the vineyards of Chianti from Norcenni Girasole Club (00 39 055 915141; bit.ly/Hfn94v), just outside Florence. And art lovers should base themselves at Camping Nautic Almata (00 34 972 454 477; almata.com), near Roses on Spain's Costa Brava, to follow the trail of Salvador Dalí (00 34 972 67 75 05; salvador-dali.org) around the local museums and landmarks dedicated to the artist.
Tents and those mobile homes that don't move – static caravans – aren't the only options available in Europe's holiday parks. Gypsy caravans, safari tents and treehouses are among the more unusual places you can opt for. But the most bizarre accommodation must be the Lake House at Chateau des Ormes campsite in Brittany. The two-bedroom thatched-roof house, accessed by a walkway, sits on a floating platform and can be punted around the lake. It's available for three-night stays through Keycamp. Arriving on 16 August, a family of four pays £550.
It's easy to mix the great outdoors with a city break. Camping International Maisons-Lafitte (00 33 1 39 12 21 91; sandaya.fr) is 20 minutes outside Paris. But beware, it's basic – no pool and few leisure amenities. Camping Village Fabulous (00 39 06 525 9354; ecvacanze.it) is only 13 miles from the centre of Rome via the nearby EUR Fermi Metro Station. At Orbitur Guincho (orbitur.pt), you can hop on a bus for the 20-mile journey to Lisbon. And Vilanova Park (00 34 93 893 3402; vilanovapark.com) puts Barcelona just 30 miles down the tracks.
On the nature trail
Birdwatching is on the agenda at the Eco Camping Village at Camping Bled (00 386 4 575 2000; glamping-bled.com) in Slovenia. Kelling Heath Holiday Park (01263 588181; kellingheath.co.uk) in Norfolk is the scene of two star-gazing parties each year. El Bahira (00 39 092 397 2577; elbahira.it) on Sicily is near the Zingaro Nature Reserve. Holgates Holiday Park (01524 701508; holgates.co.uk) has created a Butterfly Walk at its Silverdale park near Morecambe Bay. And Beekse Campsite (libemavakantieparken.nl) in Holland has its own safari park.
Holiday-park breaks rarely require a banker's bonus, but you can still join the high-flyers in their seaside playgrounds. Les Prairies de la Mer holiday park will put you just six miles from chi-chi St Tropez on the Côte d'Azur. Thomson Al Fresco (see left) has seven nights for up to six people for £322 in total in May, including return ferry crossings with car. Meanwhile, Camping Capo d'Orso (00 39 0789 702007; capodorso.it) is smartly located at Palau on the classy Costa Smeralda, the jet-setters' holiday haunt on the Italian island of Sardinia. A week's hire of a mobile home, for two to four people, costs from €245 (£200).
You don't have to visit a five-star hotel to indulge in a little pampering these days. Siblu is just one of the holiday-park specialists offering spa treatments and facilities at some of its sites these days. Visit Les Sables du Midi in Languedoc and you'll find a sauna, steam room, hot tub and fitness centre. Seven nights from 14 July starts from £693 for six sharing, accommodation only. Massages cost from €20 (£16) and saunas from €5. At its Domaine de Kerlann park, near Pont Aven in Brittany, massage styles from across the world – including Californian, Kalari Marma and Zen Shiatsu – are offered.
A family affair
Only the brave venture into a holiday park without children during the school holidays. The target market is mum, dad and the kids, so parks spend their energy on thinking up ways to attract the family pound. This year, Canvas Holidays (see above) has expanded the free FamilyExtra programme (circus skills, zorbing, radio production) it offers at a selection of European parks in Italy, France and Switzerland, to include "Balanceability", an accredited learn-to-cycle scheme for children aged 30 months to six years – a holiday where your children can learn a life skill.
Who said that?
"It always rains on tents. Rainstorms will travel thousands of miles, against prevailing winds, to rain on a tent" – Dave Barry, Pulitzer Prize-winning author
"All the people, so many people" – Parklife, Blur
"My first holiday memory was camping on the Maltese island of Gozo. I remember it being bedlam, boiling hot canvas tents, sand everywhere, tears and tantrums" – Monty Halls, writer and broadcaster
"Most holiday parks offer cots, high chairs, baby baths and buggies andthis will save you a huge amount of packing space in the car. But it is a good idea to call ahead to ask about the availabilityand pre-book where possible." Jo Taylor, marketing manager, BreakFree Holidays (breakfreeholidays.co.uk)
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