Now let me start right away with a disclaimer so that neither you nor my husband misunderstands: I camped a lot during my childhood summer vacations and often camped with my family, when my daughter was younger for convenience and budget reasons – I even camped in the desert in Qatar. But generally speaking, I’m not a natural camping enthusiast, and I enjoy the luxury of being pampered, sleeping in bedding someone else has to wash, and sitting at a good table for dinner with tablecloths and crystal wine glasses in hotels.
So you can trust me when I say that the campsites I list here are special and – at that time at least – were better than any hotel could have been, not necessarily because they made me provided a hotel experience. Instead, they gave me a unique stay, whether it was in a tent under the pines or playing pétanque in the sand. There’s something appealing about having nothing fancy, about having to go find your own entertainment. Everyone holds great memories for particular reasons.
For a happy traveler but not a natural camper, the other undeniable advantage in France is that the majority of campsites here have chalets. Yes, there are sites where you can park your car or RV and pitch a tent, but there are also always cozy huts that have separate bedrooms – and even bathrooms – so you don’t have to no crawling out of the tent at night and standing on a hedgehog when trying to find the toilet block in the dark (yes, that happened to me).
If you’re on a budget, road trip, or traveling with grandchildren, then “camping”, at least on the sites mentioned, can often be the easiest, cheapest, most affordable option. practical and (dare I say it?) more fun.
Here’s a selection of great sites, some fancier than others, but all offering a special stay you’ll enjoy.
1. Interlude Sunelia
Ile De Re, Charente-Maritime
It was my parents who first introduced me to camping on the Ile de Ré. I, in turn, introduced my husband and my daughter. On a subsequent visit, I also introduced this site to my in-laws and my niece. It’s now a family affair, and at large gatherings the pictures always come out.
Île de Ré is a beautiful island off the west coast of France near La Rochelle, about a 5 hour drive from Paris. The island offers everything you need for a relaxing vacation: beautiful land and seascapes, cycle routes across the island, long beaches, fresh seafood and, above all, a laid-back selection of accommodation . There are only a few small hotels on the island but many campsites.
This campsite, Sunelia Interlude, lies directly next to the seaside town of Le Bois-Plage-en-Ré, and along a long sandy beach, ideal for frolicking in the waves, building sand castles, flying kites or endless walks. After a renovation, the campsite now offers three types of wooden chalets, complete with private terraces, en-suite bathrooms, and on site, a spa, swimming pool, rental bikes, shop and catering services.
Pro tip: Just outside the site on the way to the beach, the restaurant The Grill is perfect for dinner or lunch when spending the day on the beach.
2. Les Sableres Campsite
Also on the French Atlantic coast a little further south along the M63, exiting at Magescq, is Campsite Les Sableres by the municipality of Vieux-Boucau-les-Bains. Nestled under shady pines on sandy ground, the campsite sits just behind the dunes, sheltering it from the ocean and separating it from one of my favorite beaches in Europe.
It’s also my favorite campsite in France, because it remains quite basic (even if you can rent a luxury chalet). Many people still bring their own tent, pitch it under the trees (sandy ground makes setting up the pegs quite difficult, but that’s part of the fun) and get back to basics, with shared, but very well watched post, shower and toilets.
There are no fancy spas here. Instead, you have ping-pong and pétanque courts. For fun, just walk through the dunes to the beach, where you can practice water sports, learn to surf and enjoy the beautiful surroundings.
Pro tip: Vieux-Boucau is full of restaurants, shops, activities and galleries within walking distance, allowing you to spend an entire summer vacation right here.
3. Campsite Merko Lacarra
We are still on the same coast, but even further south, after Biarritz and in the French Basque region. Saint-Jean-de-Luz is a charming seaside town just minutes from the Spanish border and a short drive from San Sebastian, one of the world’s top foodie destinations. The campsite, another favorite vacation spot for my family, is along the coast just north of Saint-Jean-de-Luz, which has ceased to be endless stretches of white sand. Due to the proximity of the Pyrenees, it is more rugged and rocky, but with small beaches tucked between the cliffs. There are several campsites side by side, but the one I chose, Merko Lacarra, again is a more traditional campsite without a lot of modern conveniences. Instead, you bring your tent or park your motorhome and play ball on the grass. Yes, there are chalets, but nothing fancy, because otherwise it would be called a hotel, right?
Pro tip: This is hiking country, and there are lots of trails around the coast of Saint-Jean-de-Luz, so don’t forget to bring sturdy shoes as well as your bathing suits.
4. Domaine De Chalaine
Lac De Chalain, Alps And Jura
Finally, we leave the Atlantic Coast and head south-east, the Jura. Domain of Chalaine can be reached by flying to Geneva in Switzerland (55 miles) or Lyon (91 miles). Or, as I did, stop here on your road trip through France towards Italy. The site is next to Lac de Chalaine, a popular swimming lake with sandy beaches along its wooded shoreline. Here you can bring your own tent or rent one of three accommodation options, from traditional chalet to bungalow or a basic cabin called a mobile home.
This place aims to keep you busy with activities such as a water park, paddle boats, canoes, bikes and scooter rentals; there is horse riding, archery and even rock climbing. The indoor and outdoor pools take into account the sometimes changing weather conditions influenced by the nearby Alps. There’s plenty for birdwatchers to see too – I spotted a woodpecker doing its thing right outside our little mobile home.
Pro tip: This rugged countryside is secluded and wonderful, so best explored with a car at the ready to take you to all the trails and scenic spots around. You can rent cars at both airports.
5. Paris Campsite
Paris, 16e Borough
Did you know you could camp in Paris? And I mean in Paris, not on the outskirts. It seems strange to include a campsite in Paris in this list, but while it would be nice to spend a night or two at the Ritz or one of the other glamorous places, these come at a high price, and also, sometimes it’s good to try something different, isn’t it? I bet none of your friends have ever camped in Paris.
Campsite in Paris resides in the 16e arrondissement, not too far from the Porte Maillot pole northwest of the city center. You can either arrive with your own motorhome and tent, or rent a small wooden chalet nestled under the trees of the Bois de Boulogne. The campsite is located on the banks of the Seine, just behind the magnificent Parc des Bagatelles. Although I’ve never stayed there personally, I’ve walked the dog there a few times and always thought it was a great place – so close to Paris, yet still felt like miles in the countryside.
But Paris is always close. And because you are in Paris, there is of course a small restaurant-bar, a grocery store to buy your fresh baguette and cheeses, a food truck, and an order service for breakfast to be brought in the morning. A shuttle will take you to Porte Maillot, where you can take metro line 1, which will take you to the heart of Paris in 5 minutes. And, for something special within walking distance, there’s a private vineyard in the Parc de la Bagatelle, which offers tastings and tours.
Pro tip: In your chalet, you will benefit from a service worthy of a hotel; clean sheets and towels every day. But for your other clothes, there is also a launderette, very practical if you find yourself on a road trip.
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