France: Where camping is pitch-perfect

Karen Glaser never felt outdoor holidays were for her — until she tried a week at a campsite in Brittany


By Karen Glaser, July 23, 2009
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The beach at L’Atlantique, a 10-minute walk through pine trees and white dunes from the campsite

The beach at L’Atlantique, a 10-minute walk through pine trees and white dunes from the campsite

‘Fab place — sort of kibbutz in the Breton countryside. Swimming and cycling, communal barbecues. Kids insanely happy. Am reliving those long childhood kibbutz hols!”
That is the text I sent my parents at the start of what turned out to be a wonderful week at a self-catering holiday park in southern Brittany.

Yes, of course, I was being fanciful. Very. A holiday park in France is hardly an exercise in Zionism and Socialism or, indeed, any ideology except, I suppose, mild hedonism.

But, superficially at least, the holiday park-kibbutz analogy is valid. With their shared laundries, showers, swimming pools and a solitary, essentials-only shop, holiday parks do espouse a communal living of sorts.
Plus — like kibbutzim — they are usually in remote, rural locations: ours, called L’Atlantique, was next to a nature reserve and was a 10-minute walk through pine trees and blinding white sand dunes to a little-visited stretch of the Atlantic coast. 

Most significant, the well-being of children is at the centre of both the kibbutz and the holiday park. 
As I watched Leah, my eight-year-old, cycling barefoot and carefree along the pathways of L’Atlantique, and my sun-hatted toddler, Aaron, splashing excitedly at his first communal swimming lesson, I was back in ’70s Ma’abarot and Ein Carmel, two kibbutzim where I have close family and at which I spent the Garden of Eden summer holidays of my youth.

When we were considering whether to go, however, I found it hard to reconcile the Keycamp offering with my self-image: I had never been on a package holiday in my life, let alone a glorified campsite with more “fun activities” than you can shake a mini-golf club at.

No matter. I had told friends — a tad defensively, I admit — that the kids will be in pastime heaven and, as all parents know, happy children equals happy parent.

In the event, my Keycamp enjoyment was much more than vicarious. First, I was impressed by the accommodation. As its name suggests, a Keycamp vacation can be in a tent. That was never going to be for me: when I am on holiday I want to sleep at least as comfortably as I do at home. Which I did. The beds in our chalet-cum-caravan were virtually hotel-standard.

What’s more, there were lots of them: two doubles and four singles. It’s all part of the company’s policy of being truly family-friendly and to encourage grandparents — who holiday for free — to come too.

I know my gastronome mother would give the kitchen a thumbs-up. It was small but so well equipped and cleverly designed that my partner, Francesco, and I could chop, steam and sear in it at the same time. Self-catering is the only real way to holiday with young children: far cheaper and healthier than family meals in restaurants, where the kids’ menus rarely seem to extend beyond goujons and frites. Plus, hands up who doesn’t love shopping in foreign supermarkets?

Not all our food shopping was done at the local Carrefour, however. The small grocery store at L’Atlantique baked baguettes and croissants on the premises, and seeing Leah trot off to buy them for breakfast every morning was an unexpected highlight of the trip. Back in north London, I don’t let her cross a single road by herself, let alone pop out to the local Europa Foods.

But my anxiety evaporated in the palpable safety of a holiday park where, as on a kibbutz, the unwritten rule is two wheels good, four wheels bad, and stranger-danger becomes a distant nightmare.

In fact, I very much encouraged Leah to talk to all and sundry. The daily kids’ club proved a highly convivial place, but the outdoors lifestyle of the park meant it was also easy for her to strik up conversations with the scores of children playing ping-pong, go-karting or simply scampering outside their chalets. And where Big Sister went, so did a highly excited little Aaron.

I also yakked plenty: to, among others, tattooed scouser Monet who was sunbathing next to me at the poolside, and to Harriet, a retired headteacher from Norfolk, whose holiday reading was, appropriately enough, The Tribes of Britain by David Miles.

By attracting people from all walks of life, Keycamp — again, like the kibbutz — proved to be a bit of a social leveller. The fact that is so family-friendly was the real draw, though. I’ve already booked to go back — next time with grandparents as well.

TRAVEL FACTS

Keycamp (www.keycamp.co.uk; 0844 844 1000) has mobile home holidays at L’Atlantique in southern Brittany from £176 per week (low season) for a family. The basic price covers two adults and up to four children under 18, or four adults (parents and grandparents) and two children. Eight-bed chalets are also available. Dover to Calais return ferry crossings with P&O Ferries start at £50, available when booking accommodation.

JEWISH BRITTANY

- A 1206 charter is the first official document referring to Jews in Brittany, though there has never been a large community in the region and was banished by Louis XII in 1651.
- The nearest Jewish community is in Nantes, around 75 miles from the holiday park. It has a rue des Juifs dating from the Middle Ages.
- The town has a 700-strong Jewish community. There is a combined community centre and synagogue with daily services, which you can call on 0033 (0) 2 40 73 48 92.

    Last updated: 5:32pm, July 29 2009