10 Best: French campsites
Published 28/05/2011 | 05:00
From the mountains to the Med, Jonathan Knight picks his top places to pitch up in the new Cool Camping guide to France.
Best for groups
Mas de la Fargassa
High up in the Pyrénées and 20 minutes from the nearest town, Mas de la Fargassa is hidden away amid a dense wonderland of trees and farmland bisected by an atmospheric mountain creek.
There's an organic fruit farm connected to the property that sells plums, apples, strawberries, gooseberries, raspberries, pears, and organic bread, which is sold each week at the excellent Céret market on Saturdays.
The atmosphere on site is warm and homely, especially in the evenings when the campfire is lit and people eat at the large communal table. To keep up the social vibe, the owners arrange regular group outings, where you can hike to a Spanish restaurant for supper, after which cars will bring you back to the campsite.
With such a homely feel to the place, once you've climbed to the dizzying heights of Fargassa, you might never want to come back down again.
Mas de la Fargassa, Montalba, Amélie-les-Bains (00 33 4 68 39 01 15; fargassa.com). Pre-erected tents for five cost €450 per week. Campers with their own tents pay €10pp per night.
Best for glampers
This is a camping fantasy, from the romantic safari tents to the black granite pool. You can camp in the traditional way, but when each safari tent comes with a lavish interior, twinkling candelabras and a verandah on which to sit with your glass of red, it's a shame not to give them a whirl. Sample the red wines of the Bergerac region or the sweet whites of Château de Monbazillac.
Les Ormes, St Étienne de Villeréal (00 33 5 53 36 60 26; campinglesormes.com). Tent plus two adults €10 per night; safari tents €360-€975 per week. Open 1 May-15 September.
Best for yogis
Caudet Radha Yoga Centre
Surrounded by an undulating landscape of sunflowers, vineyards and wheat fields, this retreat in the Gers region, the Tuscany of France, is more yoga centre than campsite. But there are three pitches and a teepee.
The area is famous for foie gras and Armagnac, which you can pick up in Lectoure, Fleurance and Nérac. If you fancy a gastronomic extravaganza, head to the Michelin-listed Le Logis du Cordeliers in Condom.
Caudet Radha Yoga Centre, Marsolan, Gers (00 33 5 62 68 87 95, radhacaudet.com). Tent plus two adults €20 per night; teepee €25pp per night. Open all year.
Best for mountain views
The Alpe d'Huez mountain dwarfs the smattering of colourful tents at Ferme Noémie.
This high-altitude haven offers all manner of mountain sports, from the incredible 10-mile "La Sarenne" run to the challenge of cycling up the legendary 21 road hairpins of the Alpe d'Huez.
Or just grab a glass of homemade cider, gaze at the snowy peaks and soak up those alpine rays.
Ferme Noémie, Les Sables, Bourg d'Oisans (00 33 4 76 11 06 14; fermenoemie.com). Tent plus two adults €15-24 per night. Open April-October.
Best for carless campers
Just a hop, skip and ferry ride across the Channel, Etretat is a medieval town on the Normandy coast famed for its dramatic cliffs, natural arch and pebbly beach.
This gem of a site is municipal camping par excellence. The facilities are sparkling, the service is friendly, and the bus from Le Havre stops right outside.
Camping d'Etretat, 69 rue Guy de Maupassant, Etretat (00 33 2 35 27 07 67). Tent plus two adults €11.30. Open early April-mid-October.
Best lakeside site
This may well be the friendliest château-camping experience in France.
Le Brévedent sits in the grounds of a Louis XVI hunting lodge, set in parkland with a lake and surrounded by woodland. It is operated by descendants of the Marquis de Chabannes La Palice, who opened the grounds to campers to help with post-war repairs. Most camp by the lake, where carp can be caught and canoes hired. The site is in the heart of Calvados country, with regular tastings for adults and other apple-based activities for kids.
Le Brévedent, route du Pin, Le Brévedent (00 33 2 31 64 72 88, campinglebrevedent.com). Tent plus two adults €16 per night.
Open 30 April-18 September.
Best by the sea
Camping de l'Océan
Just 300m from Plage de l'Amélie, nestled among tall pines, sits the exemplary Camping de l'Océan, on the Côte d'Argent. When you're not building sandcastles or surfing the waves, you can cycle some of the 140km of bike tracks on the Medoc coast, taking in wild beaches, stunning lakes, château vineyards and scented pine forests.
Camping de l'Océan, 62 allée de la Négade, Soulac-sur-Mer (00 33 5 56 09 76 10; camping. ocean.pagesperso-orange.fr). Tent plus two adults €23.50 per night.
Open all year.
Best for riverside chilling
Le Clapas takes its name from the old Occitan word for a pile of stones. The stones come from the site's expansive private beach on the shores of the Ardèche river.
If not right next to the river, pitches offer a view of its emerald waters, and all invite river-based play. Canoeing and kayaking are popular and the Pont d'Arc, a 60m natural stone bridge, is a pleasant hour's stroll away. Le Clapas, Salavas, Vallon Pont d'Arc (00 33 4 75 37 14 76;, camping-le-clapas.com). Tent plus two adults €14-22 per night. Open April-September.
Best for beach bums
Panorama du Pyla
This glitzy west coast resort is home to the King Kong of all sand dunes.
Secure one of the secluded pitches by the side of the dune and watch the matchstick silhouettes trekking towards the summit, the reward for their 30-minute climb being a sublime pinky-blue sunset that engulfs the Bay of Arcachon.
Spend a day at the laid-back shoppers' paradise, Cap Ferret, then make sure that oysters feature on your evening menu.
Pick a restaurant with views across the bay and feast on deliciously fresh shellfish, or head back to camp where fresh fish, sea scallops, meat, and foie gras are available for the taking.
After the sun has set and you've washed the sand off your feet, simply marvel at the silvery-blue sea in front of you, and dream about the wonderful surprises that lie in store tomorrow.
Camping Panorama du Pyla, Grande Dune du Pyla, route de Biscarosse, Pyla-sur-Mer (00 33 5 56 22 10 44; camping-panorama.com). Open 15 April--5 October. Tent plus two people €17--€43.
Best for campfires
Don't be fooled by cheap imitations: these Gypsy caravans are the real deal. Here are five authentic circus roulottes restored to vintage condition. Some nuzzle up to a river, others sit in a field. A campfire will provide your principal cooking method.
Les Roulottes, Les Marais, Huisseau-sur-Cosson (00 33 6 67 74 94 93; lesroulottes.fr). Roulottes (sleep 4-5) €310-450 per week. Open all year.
Camping France (2nd edition) by Jonathan Knight, published by Punk Publishing, £16.95 (€19.30) available from coolcamping.co.uk).