Winning tip: Camping with cascades, Occitanie
If you want to fall asleep to the hypnotic rhythms of waterfalls, Camping les Cascades is for you. At the foot of the Cascades du Sautadet, an hour’s drive north of Avignon and not far from Orange, this four-star site is in a lush, verdant area of unspoilt nature. You can also splash about in the swimming pool or paddling pools with the children, or have a nice day on the Cèze river beach or walk out to the nearby villages. There are cottages, glamping tents and tent lodge safaris to choose from. Lots of sports to do too, including football, table tennis and canoeing – the locals even treated us to a glass of wine for our hopeless attempts to try the classic French game of pétanque one evening!
Pitches from €23, campinglescascades.com
Perfect French village, Occitanie
The four-star site Le Camp de Florence in Gers is by La Romieu village, regarded as one of the most pretty in France. Among its most famous buildings is the amazing Collégiale St Pierre, a 14th-century church with a cloister and a tower. The restaurant at the campsite serves excellent food and wine inspired by the local Gascony countryside and there’s a superb tropical-style swimming zone for families. The staff are so accommodating and go that extra mile. Highly recommended – I will be back!
Visions of Gauguin, Brittany
For a relaxed camping experience stay at Camping du Quinquis in the coastal village of Le Pouldu in southern Brittany. When there visit the stunningly beautiful nearby village of Pont-Aven. The village is famous for its picturesque landscape, which has attracted numerous artists, most notably Paul Gauguin. Wander pretty riverbanks and pop into the many small galleries while soaking up the bohemian vibe. Camping du Quinquis provides you with the perfect base for exploring the Breton countryside, coastline and culture.
Stargazing on the beach, Brittany
It’s rare for a family to only stay once at four-star Camping de la Plage, near La Trinité-sur-Mer in southern Brittany. Its allure lies not only in the direct beach access, but in the communities that reassemble on the site each year. Evenings see children zoom round the hedged avenues on bicycles while adults convene over a glass of wine; nibbles in plastic bowls with merguez sizzling on barbecues. Teenage friendships I made here have lasted over two decades, and I can’t wait to introduce my own son to sandcastles, swimming and stargazing at this French home away from home.
Lush grounds, Vendée
Fancy camping in a French château? Then five-star La Garangeoire, on the grounds of a beautiful old castle, is for you. It is tucked away in woodlands and meadows, just a few minutes’ drive from Vendée beaches like Grand Plage at Saint-Gilles-Croix-de-Vie. There is lush green countryside surrounding this extensive campsite, with four fishing lakes and cycling, canoeing and horse-riding on hand. Camping pitches are very spacious, all are on grass with hedges to provide privacy. There is a swimming pool and a welcoming little restaurant that serves local dishes like octopus salad at fair prices.
Take me to the river, Dordogne
Have an early morning swim in the pool at Camping le Capeyrou while the spectacular Château de Beynac emerges on its cliff above the morning mists, then stroll along the river bank to the village pretending to be Juliette Binoche in Chocolat. Walk to either Beynac or Castelnaud-la-Chapelle Castle. Picnic on the Dordogne river beach and have a swim, watching tourists in kayaks and gabares (traditional flat-bottomed fishing boats). We used to drive a (t)rusty Volkswagen T2 with three kids there every year, but have upgraded to the less rusty and more reliable T6. The three-star site is about 60km east of Bergerac.
Moules and frites, Normandy
A short drive south of Dieppe, three-star Camping l’Orival is a small family-run campsite in the lovely Pays de Bray, not far from the “alabaster coast” of Étretat to Le Tréport. This May, three of us stayed one night in a static caravan that was functional, clean and had a nice deck to sit and listen to the birds calling in the trees. The pool was a welcome relief from the blazing sun, and that evening we sheltered from a thunderstorm in a marquee full of locals, eating buckets of moules and frites washed down with red wine.
Spiritual pitches, Loire valley
L’Orangerie de Beauregard near Tours is a gorgeous, clean, spacious four-star site in a wonderful woodland setting with a cluster of lovely buildings at the centre and a stylish poolside bar for sipping a glass of crisp Loire rosé. Blissful. On the St Jacques de Compostela pilgrimage cycle route from the Netherlands to Santiago de Compostela in Spain, the château also offers accommodation for weary pilgrims as well as a chapel for those who are in search of spiritual refreshment. There are glamping pods and gites on site as well as more traditional pitches.
Municipal bliss, Loire Valley
I’m writing this at the municipal campsite at Montoire-sur-le-Loir near Tours. This is a lovely basic three-star riverside site with shady generous pitches and clean facilities. The attractive town is a 10-minute amble away via a footbridge over the river and has excellent boulangeries, butchers, cafes and bistros with a sample four-course menu of €14, including wine. Lots to see and do in the area, including gardens at Plessy a few miles away.
Don’t look back in Angers, Loire Valley
Camping de l’Etang, near Angers, is a lovely family-friendly four-star site in the Loire Valley. My family has stayed here four times and we’ve always been made very welcome. The site is close to both the A11 and A87 motorways, so is a great halfway stop to or from the south of France. It has three swimming pools – two outdoor and one covered – as well as a small fishing lake. It’s bicycle-friendly, with rentals and special bike pitches (from €10), and has a small shop, bar and restaurant.
Stephen J Pegum
A large range of accommodation is available at each site, including gîtes, glamping, static caravans, family tents, pods and pitches for visitors’ own tents, cars, bikes and campervans. Prices for basic pitches start around €10pn