Camping Thoughts

A few rambling thoughts on camping in France

Holidays in France.

Chances are you’ve come for a couple of weeks by the sea, possibly staying in a rented mobile home on a vast campsite just a few yards from the beach –

Oh dear. It all sounds very downmarket.

I imagine hundreds of mobile homes, cheek-by-jowl, in a field that is actually a very long walk from the nearest accessible beach.

I imagine a sprawling campsite, not unlike a refugee camp with water points and washing blocks. A campsite shop that looks more like a food distribution centre and mobile homes and caravans in incestuous proximity. Open your toilet window for a view of next-door’s BBQ area. We are so close that we can shake hands bedroom-to-bedroom with the neighbours. We can share in all those high-tension holiday feelings that come with close quarters living and the general stress of actually being on holiday. We are so close, that even the hushed, late night conversation next door might have you calling up the local branch of the Noise Abatement Society.

Curious is it not. We work hard all year for our place in the sun and year on year, we pay our hard-earned money to go and live in a space that is barely bigger than the spare bedroom. We live on mosquito-infested campsites, sharing every waking minute with total strangers. We try not to stare at the family across the way having breakfast. We try our hardest to greet everyone that passes by as we sit out on our small terrace, and as we pass by, we try not to stare. BUT we are CURIOUS. We really DO want to know how the other happy campers spend their lives. We have temporarily joined this ephemeral summer campsite community. We might merely be camper vans that pass in the night, but we like to know about our neighbours. GOD FORBID though that we actually try and get to know them.

Perhaps French campsites are not like those in other countries. To start with we don’t say campsite but “un camping” and even that is going out of fashion as the humble “camping” becomes “Un hotel de plein air”(An Open Air hotel) Inspired by Club Med you can’t go camping now if your site doesn’t have a couple of swimming pools, several bars and restaurants, a mini shopping mall, a gym, beauty salon, watersports and above all – nightly entertainment to keep the punters happy. An exaggeration? – well many camp sites might not all have the gym or the beauty parlour, but they’ve got the rest

Ah for those campsites of old – a far-flung field with a wash block like something out of a gulag and a basic campsite shop and nothing to do in the evenings other than sit round the gas lamp, fight off the mosquitoes, read a book, play a board game and then retire to your flimsy creaking camp bed at some unfeasibly early hour when most people would just be thinking of going out for the night, but you are camping you poor bastard. You are in the middle of nowhere and once it is dark there is nothing to do but go to bed.

Of old camp sites used to be fields in the country or fields by the sea. Some canny farmer with a spot of land would install a few chemical loos and water points and open a camp site. And then holidays got expensive. Those nice little cottages or apartments by the sea started to cost serious money, so everyone went camping, but people wanted all those services on a campsite that they might get in a holiday apartment. Washing machines, dishwashers, satellite TV, BBQ areas and above all they wanted something to do – bars, restaurants, shopping ; entertainment – and so the luxury campsite was born. Pitch your tent at near camping prices but with electricity, wifi, on site everything and more besides – Hey, once you have got here, you want all your creature comforts but you still want camping prices.

I suppose the evolution to “camping resorts” started in the mid 90’s when real holiday rentals got too expensive and we all went camping to save money but stim wanted all the materiel comforts of a real holiday resort.

As things stand in France, you can still pitch your tent in a rural campsite for as little as 5 Euros a night. You might get some very basic gulag-style washing and toilet facilities but above that that there is nothing. OR you can go for the upper end of the market – glamorous camping or “glamping” with a mobile home rental (wifi, aircon, washing machine, TV, shower, separate bedrooms, microwave) for ….

Well it all depends where you go. On the northern coasts of France you’ll be paying 500€ to 750€ a week in high season (14/07 to 15/08) down south in the Gulf of St Tropez, a mobile home will set you back 1500€ a week. So, you know where I go and I am seriously looking at my holiday strategy. BUT, I get a lot for my money.

So, time to sign off for tonight, because I have to confirm my last minute “Luxury Holiday Lodge” reservation (because that is what a mobile home