Friday, 26 December 2014

Family Camping Holidays in France

First Family camping holiday in France this year ?

Not sure which region to try ?

Which way to travel ?

Stay in a tent or mobile home ?
Or take your own tent or caravan ?
Well maybe we can share some of our experiences.

We started out by camping in Brittany. Apparently that is a typical first camping destination ! But it has suited us very well. It is an interesting and varied region, with good child friendly food (crepes !) being a favourite and sheltered, clean beaches.

The campsites are varied and offer lots for children.
The sites where the big tour operators such as Keycamp and Eurocamp visit will often offer children's clubs and there are excellent playparks usually.



One site we visited at Carantec even had a baby and toddler room with nursery style toys - a great idea especially if its raining !
(www.bestfrenchcampsites.com/carantec/carantec.html)

If you are looking for a cheaper option than travelling with a tour operator, it can often be cheaper to book direct with campsites eg

For a first trip, especially if you have a baby, it might be better to have a mobile home if possible. Think about whether you really would like to have your own bathroom facilities rather than having to walk through a campsite in the night. If you have very young children as well we recommend the Potette travel potty idea - great even for car journeys !
But yes the mobile homes are great and if you have a toddler you can get decking with a stair gate which gives a safe area for the toddler and allows you to relax a little on holiday ! Camping and 2 or 3 year olds are not an easy option so plan carefully!

Another thing to consider is that the weather in the north of France is very similar to that in the south of England. And the types of insects you encounter are similar too !  Whereas if you head to the SW or South of France you could be hitting potentially daytime temperatures well into the 30s, with hot humid nights and potentially encountering mosquitoes etc. (Certainly for pets there are worse ticks etc down in the South of France than in the north.)  So, if you are heading south with a young family in the summer months, make sure you get air conditioning if you are in a mobile home, and remember that a tent will probably be too hot to be in during the afternoons. All things to consider. Tents can be fabulous for really feeling close to nature and for getting kids to really feel a part of the campsite and get out playing with friends, but there can be other things to consider as well.

If you want to find a holiday to suit a smaller budget then have a good look for 2 and 3 star campsites and read their reviews online. The 2 and 3 star rating can indicate that they might not have a swimming pool onsite or perhaps facilities like a shop and restaurant, but they can still be clean, friendly and could be in a great position for the beach etc. e.g. Camping des Abers in NW Brittany.

Another option is to look for municipal campsites which are run by towns and villages themselves, so can often be found in very convenient places for visiting tourist attractions, and can very often be of a good standard. The cheapest option is probably to take your own tent and book a plot.

We have enjoyed travelling with Brittany Ferries. Their ships are well planned and for example if you are on a longer crossing you can often book a day cabin. The ferries often have good food options and sometimes a cinema or entertainment as well as shops to keep children occupied with trying to get their parents to buy them something ! The Calais to Dover crossing is the quickest (can be around an hour to 1.5 hours) and Eurostar trains through the tunnel are also a very quick option - you can travel with your car as well on the Eurostar trains.

The quickest ferries on the other routes to France tend to be the 2.5 hour Fast Ferry crossing, sometimes run by Brittany Ferries in conjunction with Condor Ferries, which typically crosses between Portsmouth and Caen (but please check exact details with the ferry operators !)  Although we have met families who take the long crossing to St Malo overnight and that works well. They drive down to the port one day, sleep on the boat and then arrive at their campsite the next day.  So there are lots of possibilities !

If you decide to make this year your first family holiday in France then we hope you have a good one !

Click here to find out more about the campsites we recommend at Best French Campsites

The Dordogne Area of France - A British Favourite !

The Dordogne département is found within the Aquitaine region of the southwest corner of France. The region is often referred to as Périgord, a name used for the region before the French revolution. It is a lovely area to visit and there is much to see as well as just taking in the lovely countryside.

The rocks of the area are made of limestone, a relatively soft rock, and rivers have cut through the rocks leaving fantastic cliffs and vast systems of caves. Some of these caves have been found to contain prehistoric cave paintings. The area is famous for its cuisine, including truffles and foie gras and you will also find that duck and goose are a favourite in this region.
There are many chateaux to visit in the Dordogne. The Dordogne is just inland from Bordeaux, which is famous for its wine ! There is a famous dessert wine produced at Monbazilac, and cheap, drinkable reds are produced around Bergerac.
There are many places you may want to visit including the Lascaux caves, the Marqueyssac gardens, medieval Sarlat, Chateau Castelnaud, the prehistoric caves in the Vezere Valley and the Gouffre de Padirac caves.
If you are energetic, you may want to try canoeing the Dordogne. There are also lovely towns and villages to visit with the most popular being Bergerac, Brantome, Excideuil, La Roque-Gageac, Le Bugue, Riberac, Rocamadour and Sarlat.

Cave Paintings - The famous Lascaux caves The original Lascaux cave was closed to the public in 1968 to preserve it but a brilliant replica has been built 200 metres away. Everything has been reproduced as accurately as possible, including the temperature which is kept at 13 degrees C. The animals depicted in the paintings are mainly horses, deer and bulls. The caves are one of the most renowned archaeological discoveries of the 20th century. They were discovered in 1940 by teenagers when one of their dogs chased a rabbit into the caves.
A fantastic, realistic online version (the best thing I've seen on the internet so far!) of the caves can be viewed here : http://www.lascaux.culture.fr/#/fr/00.xml

Sarlat
Sarlat is the capital of Perigord Noir. It has 1,000 years of history in its buildings, with fine examples of medieval and renaissance buildings built in the yellow limestone with grey roofs that is typical of this region. Another fine example of architecture is the cathedral, which was erected in the reign of Henry IV.
There is an excellent market that takes place on Saturdays in Sarlat. It takes place in the "Place de la Liberte" marketplace which is surrounded by mediaeval buildings. The market stalls also stretch down the Rue de la Republique. The market stalls with their colourful canopies sell a selection of local produce including  foie gras, walnuts, wine, cheese, mushrooms, bread, pastries, herbs, spices, fruit and vegetables, sausages, cakes, biscuits, oils, vinegars, wine and, depending on the season, possibly even truffles!  The smells and tastes of the food make this a must on a visit to this area.  There is also a smaller market on Wednesdays, mostly in the area around the Place de la Liberte, and there is a covered market daily in the former Saint Marie church also on the Place de la Liberte. Sarlat has a Christmas market in December and in January or February there is also a truffle and foie gras market at the Place Boissarie on Saturdays mornings.

Rocamadour
It is well worth a visit to this fantastic village built on a hillside.
Bergerac
You can visit the old town of Bergerac with its 14th, 15th and 16th Century buildings.
Aquarium de Perigord Noir 
Europe's largest private aquarium with more than 30 separate aquariums displaying over 3,000 fish from all around the world.
Château de Castelnaud 
The most popular château in southern france. Built high on a hill in the 13th century it changed hands many times. The Château has been home to the Museum of Medieval Warfare since 1985 where you can view such things as siege equipment and trebuchets. Demonstrations of the trebuchet are sometimes given in the summer which should prove popular !  There is a magnificent view from the chateau over the Dordogne Valley.
Le Gouffre de Padirac 
The Gouffre de Padirac is a natural limestone cave. 103 metres down to the river - by lift or stairs - to the start of the tour. The visit lasts 1.5hrs and is 2km long
Restaurants shops and picnic area.
Le Gouffre de Proumeyssac
This is found to the south of Le Bugue, near the village of Audrix.  You can view the stalactites in this impressive cave as well as some interesting crystalline formations. It is in a spectacular position, high in a cliff, and can be accessed by a man-made tunnel.
Grotte de Pech-Merle
These caves include paintings of dappled horses and outlines of human hand prints from 25,000 BC.  Guided visits are given from Easter until October and numbers are restricted to 700 a day so its definitely advisable to book ahead during July and August. The guided visit lasts an hour and is done on foot. The access stair to the tour has 40 steps down and back up. The tour distance is around 400m, broken up by stops to view the panels and paintings. For more information about the caves please visit their website at : http://www.pechmerle.com/
Musée National de Préhistoire 
The National Museum of Prehistory which reflects ever expanding archeological research. It is the most important collection of items from the Paleolithic era in France.
Prehisto Park 
Theme park which traces the evolution of man from 1500BC. You can watch craftsmen using only the tools which would have been available at the time.
Le Thot - Espace Cro Magnon
Situated 7 km from Montignac this centre is a valuable first stop before visiting the numerous prehistoric sites in the Périgord. You can view animals here which are similar in appearance to the species which lived in the wild in this region during the Upper Paleolithic Age and which you are likely to see when viewing the art of that time in cave paintings. You will be able to see animals such as reindeer, the European bison, the aurochs, the Przewalski horses, the Tarpan horses, the ibex, the red deer and the fallow deer. There are also replicas of extinct species such as the mammoth and woolly rhinoceros. There are often activities to take part in such as art workshops and replica archaeological digs.
Quercyland 
This waterpark at Souillac has 6 pools and a variety of slides as well as mini golf, trampolines, pedal boats etc. and a restaurant. There is a high ropes course adjacent to the waterpark. For more information please visit their website in advance to plan your activities: http://www.copeyre.com/en/index 
The same website will also show canoe hire on the Dordogne River with Copeyre Canoë, who offer various options to canoe along the river. There are also details of a corn maze "The Labyrinth of the Hermit", 10 minutes from Sarlat.
Les Jardins de Marqueyssac 
The "hanging" gardens in the grounds of the Château de Marqueyssac are some of the best kept gardens in France. They were modelled on Italian gardens by Julien de Cerval who inherited the property in 1861. There are 6kms of walks and wonderful views. There is a candlelit walk which takes place in July and August on Thursday evenings.
Château de Milandes 
Old home of Josephine Baker the famous musical hall singer. Built 1489 in a wooded region between Castelnaud & Berbiguiéres. Falconry displays several times per day. Restaurant on site. Night flights to observe the chateau from the house's own captive hot air balloon.
Château de Hautefort 
One of the most prestigious châteaux in southwest france, classified as a historical monument. Built between 1630 and 1670. Surrounded by superb gardens.
Château de Monbazillac
Visit this chateau with its vineyard and its fantastic views over the Dordogne Valley.

For more information about Camping in the Dordogne : Go to Best French Campsites