The cut-price holiday that's coming home
Eurocamp is returning to the UK. So what is the experience like? Kate Simon reports
Sunday 22 March 2009
The atmosphere is convivial on the decking tonight. We've showered off the sand from the beach and, still tacky with after-sun lotion, are attempting to relax on our plastic deckchairs with the first glass of wine of the evening.
Across the way, Gillian and Derek, a middle-aged couple from Lancashire, have marked the end of the afternoon by putting down their blockbusters, closing the parasol and lighting the barbecue. We pass the time together as we go about our evening rituals.
We are on a Eurocamp holiday in Sicily, at a campsite just outside San Vito lo Capo on the north-west coast of the island. Our base is a mobile home, a study in veneer and corrugated plastic that gives new meaning to the word compact. It shakes like the set of Crossroads, but it suits the needs of our family of three: it has two bedrooms, positioned at either end of a lounge with kitchenette, off which, a little close for comfort, is a shower room with toilet.
The decking, for elevated al-fresco dining, comes at an extra cost. So do linen, beach towels and a pack of basic foods and useful items. In fact, you buy accommodation by the day, not blocks of weeks, in one, two or three-bedroom units, across a range of styles, from classic to superior, which feature air-conditioning, extra patio doors and a little more space as you ascend the price scale.
How you travel to your chosen campsite is also up to you. Road, rail and air can all be arranged in your package. The point of a Eurocamp holiday is that you fit it together to suit your purposes – rather like the mobile home you stay in.
It's a winning formula, especially with the British, who make up 60 per cent of clientele. The Cheshire-based self-catering and camping company, which set up shop 36 years ago, welcomed thousands of visitors last year to its sites across Europe, and for its recently added motorhome holidays in the United States and Canada.
Now Eurocamp is coming home, or rather returning. The company struck camp on British turf 15 years ago, due to lack of demand. It's hoping that the recession and the weak pound will dovetail to attract both a home-grown and an international audience in search of good-value breaks.
Nine destinations have been earmarked across the UK: at Cobeland and Cashel in Scotland, Low Wray and Great Langdale in the Lake District, Spiers House in North Yorkshire, Beddgelert in Snowdonia, Holmsley and Roundhill in the New Forest, and Christchurch in the Forest of Dean.
The geographical spread puts most homes within easy reach of a UK Eurocamp site, a point that is not lost on the company. Eurocamp's Chris Hilton said: "More people than ever are interspersing holidays abroad with short breaks and weekends away in the UK that are a convenient drive from home." A family would be looking at £100 for a three-night break in a six-berth tent – such pricing is very competitive.
The holidays will differ from the Continental model, there are the vagaries of the British weather to contend with, after all. To that end, Eurocamp has formed partnerships with the National Trust and Forest Holidays to offer pre-erected, fully equipped tents on Forestry Commission land, where the focus will be on enjoying the natural surroundings.
To fill the days, Forest Rangers will be on hand to educate and entertain by sharing their knowledge of survival skills, including fire-making, animal tracking and shelter building. Other activities laid on will include hill walking, fishing, bird-watching and watersports.
Back at the campsite in Sicily – the Italian island returned to Eurocamp's brochure just last year – the diversions are many. Nearby excursions include the cities of Palermo and Trapani, jaunts to the medieval fortress of Erice and the Greek temple at Sagesta, walks around the neighbouring Zingaro nature reserve or drives through the badlands around Corleone.
But we are happy to spend most of our time lazing on the pleasant beach in St Vito, a five-minute drive away, only stirring for lunch at one of the town's excellent restaurants. A week in a mobile home is a real bargain when the sun shines.
How to get there
Eurocamp (0844 406 0552) offers seven nights at the El Bahira Parc in San Vito lo Capo from £186 for a family staying in a two-bedroom superior mobile home, sleeping up to seven, with air conditioning and decking.
A three-night weekend break at Great Langdale in the Lake District starts at £100. A seven-night holiday in the New Forest costs from £240.
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