Put away the tent pegs, we're going glamping
Do you yearn for the great outdoors but can't do without your mod cons? Try these new pine lodges in the French countryside, says Simone Kane
Sunday 05 October 2008
Beeep-be-beeep, tinkle, buzz... A symphony of eerie sounds interrupts the tranquillity of the dusky lakeside, where I'm relaxing on our wooden deck, glass in hand. But, this is no battle of the ringtones between testy teenagers. These are fishing alarms. And by the end of our five-day break they become the ambient soundtrack that eases us into the early evening after a day of family fun.
Here at Camping la Croix du Vieux Pont, Berny Rivière, in Picardy, 11 attractive wooden lodges have appeared along the far shore of the lake. Tapping into the glamping trend, British tour operator Canvas Holidays has expanded its range of tents and mobile homes and commissioned the Lodge Deluxe to satisfy the desires of the discerning camper. People, like me, who yearn for the outdoor living experience – but with all mod cons.
So we're putting this new five-star family offering to the test. And we're not disappointed. This is no credit-crunch cabin: it's our own piece of pine perfection. Laid out over two floors, there's a trendy yet well-equipped kitchen, downstairs bathroom with shower and bath and a living room with dining area and sofa bed. There's also a beanbag for the kids to fight over. Upstairs, one of the two simple attic-style bedrooms (sleeping six between them) has a balcony with views.
And outside, beyond the deck, there's even our own bit of lawn, where our daughter fails to respect the boundaries of our neighbours' gardens, marked out by new planting. Although she has her own toddler table and chairs, she prefers our steamers to lounge on. This is my kind of camping.
The concept has clearly hit the right note for others, too: the Lodge Deluxe was almost sold out this summer, though you can still put them to the test yourself before the season ends in late October. And there will be more chance of grabbing a little of this kind of glamping action next year – Canvas has just announced it will more than double its range of lodge accommodation for 2009, with the addition of eight four-bedroom models.
And, in these dire financial times, they know how to reel us in quickly. Take advantage of its range of early-booking offers – from free grandparent places to single-parent discounts – and if you book by 14 November you can save up to 30 per cent.
"Berny", as it's known by regulars, is a Michelin Red Tent site with four stars, one of Canvas Holidays' top 10. The company has been sending customers here for 20 years and it's obvious why. Despite the quiet setting of our lodge at the far end of the site, just five minutes' walk away, there's plenty to keep our two children – Calum, seven, and Sophie, 21 months – occupied, despite the age gap.
The free swimming complex is the biggest draw. The heated outdoor and two indoor pools see us through rain and shine, and a clutch of chutes feeds the adrenalin addictions of the whole family. The pretty lakeside park is a daily temptation. Trampolines, bouncy castle, go-karts and a playground keep younger ones amused, while the more adventurous pootle in pedaloes or canoes on the lake. But watch your wallet: fun doesn't come free. Top tip: buy the €40 pass.
Then there's the fishing (popular, hence those alarms), tennis and bicycle hire. Everyone takes to two wheels here – from customers to reps. And dad can't resist the football tournament, where lots of other feisty fathers join staff and other, much younger, players on the pitch. We cheer him on, but it's not long before World War III breaks out and some people are squaring up.
Peace declared, we venture off site in search of another armistice. This is First World War country: a short drive into the countryside and the endless graveyards are a stark reminder of losses sustained. Roadside signs detail upcoming commemorations of the 90th anniversary of the armistice. It was signed in a railway carriage (now a museum) in the forest at nearby Compiègne. And there's plenty more to explore: Paris, Reims and Chantilly are within easy reach, while the local village, Vic-sur-Aisne, is scenic and sleepy.
There are tears from Calum as we leave. But the holiday isn't over yet because we're heading north-west to Brittany. We arrive, ready for action, at Camping Chateau des Ormes, another Canvas top 10 site, just outside the medieval town of Dol-de-Bretagne. This time, we're not here to laze by the lake: we've come to put ourselves through our paces with an exclusive new activity programme that is being piloted at this site.
The rest of our trip is a tight timetable of dynamic fun, designed in consultation with leisure activity specialist In2action. Raft-building, canoeing games and aeroball keep Calum buzzing, and a brilliant Waterwalkerz – a human hamster ball – even has him walking on water. It's not just for the kids; family sessions mean you can all join in the fun.
The queue to enrol for the activity sessions told its own story and the reps were inundated by passers-by trying to muscle in. Bright ideas like this should keep us rolling in.
How to get there
Canvas Holidays (0870 192 1159; canvasholidays.co.uk/ios ) offers seven-night holidays staying in a Lodge Deluxe at Camping la Croix du Vieux Point, Berny Rivière, France, for £518 per family for arrivals on the site on 19 October 2008. The price is based on two adults and two children sharing the lodge and also includes return Dover to Calais ferry crossings for a car and passengers.
In2action Canvas Family Extra activities will be available across four more sites in France.
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