If you’re anything like me, the thought of going to a campsite which is part of a group may fill you with apprehension. Whilst not strictly a “holiday camp”, the idea of these cut-and-paste campsites brings to mind cramped pitches, over-zealous staff and enforced fun – Butlins but with less comfortable beds, basically.
Whilst our recent camping ‘career’ has mainly featured hidden gems and quiet campsites, my earliest camping memories include a number of French holidays at a Eurocamp campsite. I’m not sure what Eurocamp is like these days (it certainly looks a lot slicker based on the website!) but back then it was a fairly low-key set-up.
So when we decided to try a week’s holiday in France this year, I was hesitant to step away from my comfort zone and try something more… professional.
The trouble is, when you’re driving a couple of hours here in the UK, the risk of a duff campsite at the end of it is fairly minimal. Worst comes to worst you can turn around and go home. When you’re driving 400+ miles to the South of France, though, the idea of arriving at a campsite and finding out it’s next to a sewage works – or infested with flies – is a bit more daunting.
So we decided to try one of the more well-established camping groups – namely a ‘Huttopia‘ site down in the Ile D’Oleron, near Bordeaux.
The website made it look pretty nice – a mere 50 metres from the beach, camping in a forest on an island famous for its seafood. While there were clearly a few ‘luxuries’ onsite, such as a shower block and a bar/restaurant, it didn’t look as holiday camp’y as I’d been dreading – so we gave it a go.
So, a little under two weeks ago we set off on our drive down through France, via a one-night stop in Le Mans. And what greeted us when we arrived at the campsite (after a painfully slow crossing of the one bridge that goes on and off the island) was, I’m pleased to say, much better than we had been expecting.
I’m not sure to what extent the campsite we stayed at (the glamorously-named Les Chenes Verts – or in English, ‘The Green Oaks’) represents ALL Huttopia sites, but it was certainly good enough to make me want to try others in future.
We were indeed less than 50 metres walk from a beautiful sandy beach – so close in fact that you could clearly hear the waves crashing, in the peace of the night. The site itself is nestled in an (as the name would suggest) Oak forest – we were given pitch 7, which seemed to be one of the biggest. Our neighbours were a mixture of other campers, caravan owners and some semi-permanent huts – and were a seemingly pleasant bunch.
Bizarrely, the mixture of nationalities around us – French, German, Netherlands, even Russia – was quite a good indication as to the quality of the site. The Eurocamp sites of my youth seemed to be filled with mostly other English families, giving them a definite holiday camp vibe. This site, on the other hand, had visitors from all over Europe – meaning you actually felt like you were away from home.
Not that the plethora of languages presented any communication problems, I hasten to add. The onsite staff seemed able to cope with anything thrown at them – particularly impressive during activities they put on for the children, such as archery or craft groups.
A few of the reviews we read before we left mentioned issues which worried me slightly – including, bizarrely, the mosquitos, which doesn’t feel like something you can blame on a campsite! I’m pleased to say, though, that the only one which turned out to be true was the occasional lack of hot water in the shower block. But as luck would have it, the weather was so hot, a mildly-cold shower was actually quite refreshing. And I’m sure they’ll fix that before too long.
After a week of exploring, beach days, card games, far too many croissants and wine – plus a lot fewer screen-free grumbles from the kids than I was expected – we headed home again, happier, a little bit browner and a tiny bit more relaxed.
The tent faired very well (the forest setting protected us well from the one night of rain we had), the coolbox stayed cold for the majority of the week, I learned a few new camping hacks and the kids had tonnes of fun. All of which means I’d definitely not be averse to camping in a Huttopia site again.
I doubt it’ll turn us into regular big-site campers – next weekend will see us back in a farmers field, for instance – but it certainly makes me think twice about some of my preconceptions.