“We’re going Eurocamp France” announced Mrs B one day.
The quiet of our kitchen was broken by me dropping a teaspoon in horror.
“Camping?!” I said weakly. “Camping … in France?”
“Yes” confirmed Mrs B. “With friends”
“With … other people?”
I lay on the sofa in shock and started to moan.
“It will be fun” insisted Mrs B, in that way that always sounds like more of a threat than a prediction. This must have been a new use of the word “fun” of which I was previously unaware.
Camping, for me, holds a particular visceral horror, for two main reasons. Firstly, no matter how hard I try, I cannot see the logic of purchasing an expensive house, paying an Estate Agent for the keys, paying tax on the transaction, then furnishing, heating, insuring and paying some banking scoundrels a crippling mortgage on it, only to decide the best option for a holiday is to actually leave it empty and pretend to be homeless in a field for a week instead.
Secondly, if you’ve ever served in the military, you’ll appreciate there is a special sub-level of hardcore camping that only the military make you do. Usually, in an area of Wales, that involves sleeping under a waterproof sheet in a hole in the ground, cooking, eating and washing out of a small metal tin that inconveniently doubles as your only sink.
The evening entertainment consists of watching the steady departure of all of your body heat into the rain until the actual marrow of your bones is frozen solid.
You could say I am not a fan of camping.
However, Mrs B is oddly enthusiastic about camping in a way I will never understand. I mean, she was in the RAF, so sleeping outside still holds a little bit of novelty for her, I suppose.
But for someone incredibly fond of a high tog duvet, ideally covered in an Egyptian cotton cover, on a memory foam mattress, the thought of loading up the car with a few unbreakable items and living in a field makes her suspiciously cheerful.
Visions of me struggling in the wet, trying to set up a tent in a French garlic field while the rain lashed in from the Atlantic filled both my mind and trousers with horror.
Fortunately for my sanity and indeed, my body temperature, our friendship circle of “people who are friends because all our children go to the same school” is equally not keen on laying down in a field of garlic and after many nights planning over bottles of wine, the group decision was that we would all pile in our cars, board a ferry and, like a terrible version of a Top Gear challenge, we would drive to … a Eurocamp France!
Yes! A Eurocamp holiday! So while these places may well have the word “camp” in their title, that is as far as the camping aspect actually goes.
If you’ve never been to one, a Eurocamp holiday comes with many amenities, crucially – heated buildings with walls and roofs, but also, things like swimming pools, well-catered restaurants, a well-stocked bar and, if you’re lucky, a supply of children’s entertainment and ice creams.
After researching plenty of Eurocamps in France, we opted for the Europcamp Le Domaine du Clarys on the Atlantic coast, near the town of St Jean-de-Monts in France, about an hour from Nantes and about an eight-hour epic drive from the port of Dieppe via the immaculate Freuroench toll road system.
But, if that’s not your bag, there are a number of other options and Eurocamp France has a number of sites in Brittany, Normandy and the Paris region, all the way down to the more sun-kissed areas of Southern France like Provence, the Riviera and even the Pyrenees regions.
Now, while I emphatically do not like camping, I do actually like France. I can’t remember who said it, but I seem to remember in the depths of my mind a quote that the reason English people don’t traditionally like French people, is (apart from all the wars and stuff) is that they secretly think France is far too nice for French people.
I sort of get it. Southern France is idyllic. Metropolitan France is exciting and fashionable. The bits of France that make wine … well, they make wine – what’s not to like? Everyone wants to go to the South of France. No one wants to go to Rochdale.
And so it came to pass that one bright Easter holiday, we snuck the kids out of school a day early under the cover of a fictional Great Aunt who had tragically passed away on the very day the holiday was the cheapest, loaded up our trusty family car, punched in a destination to a SatNav that gave a depressingly long driving time and headed for the ferry for our Eurocamp holiday.
Travelling to a Eurocamp Holiday on the West Coast of France
We opted for the Newhaven to Dieppe crossing provided by DFDS ferries, which set us back about £150 for 2 adults, 2 children and one overloaded car on a very reasonable 3-hour trip.
To my great delight, the onboard catering was smashing out a reasonable Full English breakfast for a very reasonable price.
Suitably fortified by eggs and bacon, we rolled happily off the ferry ramp, revved the engines expectantly, and drove straight into a post-Brexit Customs queue, where surly French customs officers took turns laughing at our attempts at French and laughing at our passport photos.
Having managed to successfully communicate that we were off to a Eurocamp holiday in St Jean-de-Monts to spend some Euros, we sped away from the customs post and once out of the immediate town of Dieppe, we were suddenly on the French toll roads.
It had been a few years since I’d driven on them, and I’d forgotten how clean they were. How well maintained they were. How well designed they were. And, after three hours … how boring they were.
Because yes, while they were really quite magnificent bits of civil engineering, they were of course, designed to be in the middle of nowhere so you didn’t get caught in any traffic, just miles and miles and miles of farmland and after the first couple of hundred kilometres you came to look forward to a toll both.
Sure, it would cost you money to cross, but at least it was something to do.
The sun was reluctantly setting over the Atlantic when we finally drove into St Jean-de-Monts, an absolutely perfect French seaside town.
Claude Monet couldn’t have painted better – faded coloured shutters covered bright white buildings, sand from the beach blew gently around the streets and the occasional spot of greenery glowed brightly in the approaching summer weather.
As it wasn’t quite a summer season, the town was only barely open, with a couple of adventurous restaurant owners bravely opening for business and the local supermarché running typical French hours, which mostly boiled down to “We’ll open when we can be bothered”.
As a lazy traveller, I heartily approved of this stance.
As we drove up to the gates of our Eurocamp holiday, I was conscious of my limited French and wondered out loud if this might prove a problem – but luckily enough for us lazy travellers, Eurocamp France, fortunately, provides a Duty English Speaker – a lovely girl from the Midlands who cheerfully gave us an ID bracelet in case we got lost.
She directed us towards our chosen accommodation, a 3-bedroom Azure chalet which we managed to secure for the bargain price of just £300 for the week, in a neat row of other identical Azure chalets next to our friends.
Inside, there was a Queen-sized bed (so, just enough room for Mrs B, as she equals one Queen) a twin room for the kids and a modern kitchenette with everything you’d ever need for a week, which means there’s a bottle opener and a corkscrew.
Satisfied that the basics were fully covered, I went in search of a refreshing health drink of carbonated water, malted barley, and yeast that had ideally been well fermented, barrelled and served out of a beer pump for a couple of euros per half a litre.
This could handily be found in the onsite bar, right next to the outdoor and indoor pools, which also served a variety of non-healthy options as well as a substantial ice cream bar in one corner, and the inevitable kid’s arcade in the other.
After a couple more drinks and a slice of pizza at the on-site fast-food joint, we wandered happily home to our first night in our holiday park in France.
The next morning, summer had decided to come a little earlier than planned, and the entire site was bathed in a warming summer glow. Children (not ours) woke early and cycled and played happily on the roads, other, more energetic families were up packing buckets and spades into cars and I was still clutching a cup of coffee like my life depended on it, at half past nine.
With my children about to notice they were hungry, I thought a walk through the back gate into the local town to find the local boulangerie might help, and so arming myself with my Google Translate app I set off in search of some fresh croissants and maybe some jam to smother them in.
The slumbering town we drove through the night before appeared to have completely transformed.
Previously tightly closed shutters were thrown wide open. The streets were full of brightly coloured souvenir stands. The local amusement arcade must have been told my children were in town as they were fully open, offering a variety of exciting challenges to win exciting tat.
Best of all, a fruit stand had appeared, a shop was knocking out rotisserie chickens at a bargain price and yes! The boulangerie and supermarché were fully open, selling tasty things and, giddy with excitement and/or low blood sugar, I collected the first of many batches of fresh buttered croissants and a whole jar of fresh apricot jam.
This quickly became a bit of a happy breakfast routine throughout the week.
Mrs B would put on a hot fresh pot of black coffee and I would put on some flip flops and my most inoffensive t-shirt and potter happily out the back gate into town, returning with fresh bread, fresh sausages and whatever else looked good that day – armfuls of abundant fresh fruit, handfuls of fresh cheeses and perhaps a really decent fresh coffee.
Suitably refreshed, we’d then work out what to do that day, opting between strolling on the beach (difficulty level: Easy), trying to buy things in French (difficulty level: Moderate) and teaching The Boy to swim in the pool (difficulty level: Expert), although I did manage to find that bribing him with Roblox Robux not to drown was, surprisingly effective.
This brings me neatly to the campsite itself. Unlike the sort of campsite I had envisaged in my mind originally, there were no depressingly grotty communal showers, nor any queues of tired parents trying to wash pots and pans in a cooking area.
What there actually was, was an incredibly clean and modern pool complex, complete with sun terraces, an outdoor pool, waterslides, a heated indoor pool, plus a jacuzzi area. It was absolutely ideal for anyone with small children, as long as you keep a close eye on them in the deeper areas.
I was delighted to note my favourite water park ride was in operation – the Lazy River Ride, allowing me to scream “argh” in terror as I drifted very slowly around in a circle, not spilling my cocktail at all.
Away from the excitable pool area, there’s also a reassuringly enclosed kid’s play area and if you want your children entertained (and who doesn’t?) there’s a range of organised activities available every day.
There are a couple of big screens and a stage set up outside the bar where you can watch sports or shows and because it’s near the aforementioned kid’s play area and also the bar, you can park yourself there on a warm evening and be reassured the children can’t go far.
Things to do in St Jean-de-Monts
When it comes to things to do in St Jean-de-Monts, TripAdvisor says the best thing to do is visit the beach. It also says the second, third and fourth best things to do, is also, to visit the beach – but you’d be forgiven for thinking that the endless expanse of clean golden sand was the only thing going for it.
Don’t get me wrong, it is a beautiful beach, but it is attached to the usual panoply of things that seaside towns have, like restaurants, bars, and a stretch of arcades and amusement rides for the kids.
There’s a beautiful church that you can admire and honestly, the nicest thing to do in a strange but friendly town is just to potter around, hunting for souvenirs and spending money on ice cream, donkey rides and the occasional healthy beer.
It’s basically Blackpool, but with sunshine.
Each night, we would return, suntanned and happy, and knock the sand out of our shoes before wandering over to the bar area where the kids would play safely and happily in the playground making friends with children of all Nationalities.
While the adult world might be full of suspicion and distrust, the innocent world of children cares not for accent or skin colour but is very concerned with who is best at hide and seek and who has any spare euros for the arcade that night.
We sat around with our friends, taking turns playing pool, watching the children and sampling the local wine.
Finally, when the children came down from their enormous sugar highs, we would carry them gently back to our nearby chalet.
We would try and dress a slumbering and protesting child and settle down for a peaceful night’s slumber only disturbed by my occasional excitement when I remembered that there would be fresh croissants in the morning.
Fortunately, before my entire salary was spent in the shops and markets of St Jean-de-Monts, it was time to return back to England from our Eurocamp holiday.
After a relaxing week of sunshine and pools, the children nodded off somewhere outside Nantes, swiftly followed by the Wife, lulled to sleep by the hypnotic sounds of car tyres on the tarmac and leaving a charming trail of dribble from the corner of her mouth.
It had been a genuinely happy camping holiday, made all the better by the fact there was no actual camping involved, but there were some lovely local wines and cheeses consumed during a rare outbreak of pre Summer weather.
There was also a lot of evening sitting outside with friends on warm nights, some fantastic local food and endless beaches as far the eye could see.
Whoever said France was far too nice for French people was wrong. France is too nice for anyone.