Like many of my contemporaries, I spent many of my childhood holidays on family camping trips all over Europe. Back then, there were no children’s clubs, no electricity (just a Camping Gaz light and a mosquito candle) and certainly no television. The joy of each day was its total lack of structure, apart from endless opportunities to eat. We hiked in forests, swam in Alpine lakes, snorkelled in the Adriatic and shopped in Mediterranean markets for juicy peaches and giant tomatoes. We also feasted on one-pot recipes and played cards every night.
That all still sounds like fun, but camping is now also more exotic. Last year, 65,000 new members joined the Camping and Caravanning Club (www.thefriendlyclub.co.uk) and 32,000 of these were families – a 27 per cent increase on 2008. “In the current economic climate, camping and caravanning is an enjoyable and cost-effective option,” says spokesman Jon Dale. “And there is nothing quite like a night under the stars – children love the whole outdoor experience.”
Of course, it’s the glamming up of camping, or ‘glamping’, that’s enticing families today. Instead of soggy tents, there are luxury yurts with wood-burning stoves, and holidays on wheels are cool, thanks to retro camper vans in pretty pastel colours. Festivals like Glastonbury and Bestival have made camping sexy, while the rural Featherdown Farms give our children a taste of the freedom we once enjoyed. New camping websites have also cropped up, such as www.pitchup.com, which offers over 5,000 UK campsites. Here you can search for the type of accommodation you want, as well as the adventures and destinations your family will enjoy – from beaches to National Parks. If you’ve always resisted camping, now’s the time to think again.
A couple of years ago, Keycamp introduced a few treehouses on its French sites and was overwhelmed
by the demand. After all, with their location high in a tree canopy, a treehouse really is a dream holiday
for any child with Jungle Book-style ambitions. And while they may be high in the sky, you don’t have to
do without – most treehouses now come with all the comforts, including kitchens, bathrooms and balconies.
- Keycamp now has six sites in France with treehouses offering one or two bedrooms and a decked area where you can eat and relax. Each is equipped with self-catering equipment and breakfast can be hoisted up on a pulley for an extra £8 per person. A week at La Forêt in the Vendée region in May is £290 per family, including return Dover-Calais ferry crossings. Visit www.keycamp.co.uk
- Deep in the forests of the Ardennes is Le Chêne Perché, which has a choice of four treehouses. Treetop Adventure courses offer zip wires, rope bridges and Tarzan swings and you may even spot badgers, foxes and wild cats while on a nature trail. From €125 per night for a family of four. Visit www.lecheneperche.com
- The Treehouse, located in the beautiful Somerset village of Halse, is built around a lime tree rather than being perched high in the sky, but it guarantees five-star luxury. Underfloor heating and a wood-burning stove ensure everyone is snug, while the owners plant a native tree for each booking they receive. Family-friendly equipment – from buggies to sterilisers – is available on request. From £680 per week for a family of five. Visit www.treehouseholidays.com
Pods, Yurts And Tipis
These are the cool new customers of glamping. Whether it’s at a music festival or in the wilds of the Welsh countryside, pods, yurts and tipis are a quirky, and usually luxurious, way to camp.
- Pods – which look like little half acorns – are secure, heated wooden shelters, so they’re great in chillier seasons. The Camping and Caravanning Club site at Eskdale in Cumbria offers pods that sleep up to four people and cost only £40 per night. Made from locally sourced timber and insulated with sheep’s wool, the pods blend in with the beautiful Eskdale countryside. Tel: 01946 723253.
- When it comes to yurts, only the real deal from Mongolia will do, which is what you’ll find at Strawberry Sky Yurts in the beautiful mid-Wales countryside. Each one has a wood burner and is decorated with exotic rugs and wall hangings, while eco-friendly illumination comes from tea-light lanterns and solar-powered fairy lights. A large yurt for six costs from £70 per night. Tel: 01938 811308.
- For the real American Indian experience, you only have to travel as far as, er, France. Bonheur de Vivre, 30 minutes from Le Mans, is an authentic Indian-style encampment, where traditional activities are embraced, including tomahawk and archery lessons (the owner of the site even donates ten per cent of profits to an American Indian charity). The tipis are impressively large – you can even light a fire in them. From €70 per tipi. Visit www.lebonheurdevivre.net
- Further afield, you can get back to nature in Lanzarote in an Eco Yurt at Arrieta. They sleep up to six, are just two minutes from the beach and have a solar-heated pool. The site has a children’s play area, sand football pitch, trampoline and games room as well as mountain bikes, body boards and plenty of animals, including a resident donkey. From £513 per week. Visit www.holidaylettings.co.uk
Not everybody wants to go completely back to nature. With toddlers, you might, understandably, need a few extra facilities. Big camping specialists like Eurocamp, Keycamp and Canvas Holidays have sites all over Europe that offer a variety of accommodation from canvas tents to mobile homes. All you have to do is drive to the site – everything else is provided.
- If you are looking for a specifically toddler-friendly site, Eurocamp’s new Petit Paradis is just the ticket. Petit Paradis is a collection of 11 toddler-friendly sites in France, Spain and Italy, specially selected for their toddler-safe pitches. The sites include a toddler pool and even a decking gate to prevent your toddler wandering from the decking area. You can order anything from sterilisers to all-terrain buggies and use one of the Rumble Trucks to help pull all of your baby essentials around the sites. There are also activities for under-fives, including Tumble Tots classes and swimming lessons. Seven nights at Ca’Savio on Italy’s Venetian coast staying in a two-bedroom comfort mobile home with decking costs £370 for a family of four during June. Tel: 0844 406 0552 or visit www.eurocamp.co.uk
- There are gorgeous new Fairytale Cottages at Canvas Holidays’ Domaine des Ormes site in Brittany. Set in woodland, with thatched, pointy roofs and smart, wooden interiors, they look like they are straight out of Hansel And Gretel. Each cottage sleeps up to seven and has a mezzanine area as well as television, DVD player, bathroom and kitchen (so, camping at its least primitive, then). The site has lots on offer for families: a children’s library, toddler yoga, raft building, mini Olympics and BMX bikes. A week during May costs £919 per cottage, including Dover-Calais ferry crossings. Tel: 0870 192 1159 or visit www.canvasholidays.co.uk
Thanks to the great revival of Seventies camper vans, camping on wheels is now super cool. “Motorhomes and camper vans are fantastic if you have children because you can travel to places you wouldn’t be able to contemplate using aeroplanes and cars, hotels and self-catering apartments,” says Caroline Mills, author of the new Cool Caravanning (New Holland, £14.99). These days, owners often endow their retro vans with personalities and names, but if you want to try before you consider buying, you can rent them from several places for a touring holiday.
- In the Colne Valley, north Essex, Nomad Living rents out three retro VW camper vans from £495 a week that come complete with cooking utensils and essentials, plus you can hire extras, such as Cath Kidston tents or bike racks – perfect for exploring rural Essex, Suffolk and Norfolk. Tel: 0798 2525 888; www.nomadliving.co.uk
- In Cumbria, try Rainbow Camper Hire, which offers classic Seventies VW vans that sleep up to six. They all come with quirky names and some with extra mod cons – for instance, Billy has a PlayStation. Camping essentials are supplied, so you just turn up en famille with sleeping bags and hit the road. From £500 per week for a family of six. Tel: 01768 780413; www.vwcamperhire.net
- For contemporary vans adorned with an array of dazzling graffiti, try Wicked Campers. Vehicles have a kitchen and can accommodate up to five people from £494 a week. The vans come with two tents – ideal for those who still want to sleep beneath the stars. There are depots in London, Dundee, Belfast and Loch Ness, as well as branches across the world from Spain to the US and including South Africa – should you be planning a jaunt to the Fifa World Cup this year. Tel: 0808 234 8461; www.wickedcampers.co.uk
Sleeping out under the stars holds a special appeal for children. Of course, if you want to bed down beneath canvas nowadays you aren’t expected to pitch your own tent. Instead, it’s all about ultra-chic safari tents for camping with all the trimmings.
- Featherdown Farm is one of the pioneers of this style of camping in the UK – a network of 19 working farms in lovely settings from Cornwall to the Lake District, with an area dedicated to a small group of safari tents, each with a wood-burning stove and sleeping five. Each farm includes a hen house, where children can collect eggs, bike hire and a farm shop. Children are encouraged to roam free (away from the working bits of the farm), play Pooh sticks and build camps in the woods as well as visit the sheep, pigs and cows. But pack a case of wine and a book – you’ll have lots of spare time as children will be so busy with all the activities. A week at Berridon Farm in Devon costs from £400 for a family of four. Visit www.featherdownfarm.co.uk
- Eurocamp has also introduced safari tents at some of its European sites, specifically the Costa Brava, Italian Lakes and Lauterbrunnen in Switzerland. Each has two bedrooms, a kitchen (including a fridge and a gas hob), sun loungers and a decking area with dining furniture – perfect for the reluctant camper. A week during May half term at Il Collaccio in Castelvecchio di Preci, Lazio, costs from £429 for a family of four.
- The 14-day Into The Wild West family tour by Explore offers a real Wild West adventure for children. Visiting Nevada, Utah and Arizona, families see the spectacular Grand Canyon, visit a Navajo Reservation in Monument Valley, take in a rodeo and enjoy a spot of horse riding at Bryce Canyon. It costs from £2,041 per adult and £1,933 per child in July and August, including flights. Visit www.explore.co.uk
Read our Cool camping essentials article for other interesting tips in our Travel section.