Camping is never easy. It is a great adventure but it’s always challenging. The reasons are obvious. You spend hours packing your car and a crucial roof-box or trailer with basic survival items, drive for hours and then spend hours unpacking at a campsite.
You hope fervently that you’ve booked a perfectly flat spot, pitch your tent, set-up a field kitchen and then pray for good weather. You are exhausted before your holiday even begins. In England, there’s the weather to contend with too.
Thankfully, it’s easier in France. Much easier. At Les Castels campsites they do an incredible job of making it feel incredibly effortless - even with two young children to entertain.
We spent a full week at Les Castels L'Orangerie de Beauregard (now part of new French camping brand Le French Time) - 15 miles from Tours in the north of France, I cannot recommend it highly enough.
Firstly, the campsite feels new. Everything is clean and works perfectly. Regular campers often rant about the state of communal kitchens and bathroom blocks at most campsites: here they are spotless.
Secondly, the campsite is the perfect size: small enough that you can let your children wander off and feel confident they will be safe – but not so small the pitches feel crammed together.
There is a warm swimming pool, a good (if pricey) onsite-shop and a restaurant for evenings when you feel too lazy to get a BBQ or camping stove up and running, plus a few other bonuses.
Top of the list: woodpeckers. Our tent was pitched by the edge of woodland. Waking up every morning and hearing a chorus of birds rather than a monotonous buzz of motorway traffic was a real joy.
After that wake-up, the treat of picking up a fresh croissants or pain au chocolat from the shop sets the day up nicely.
There is a kids club that runs for a couple of hours on weekdays and, one night a week, a film evening with a child-friendly flick. If you wish, there are DVDs you can borrow to watch on laptops.
The comfortable barn has two table tennis tables and table-football too. Unlike almost every other place I’ve visited there are also plenty of spare bats and balls.
There’s even perfect wifi. It might be nice to be disconnected from the outside world but the reality is that most people want to be checking in easily and not hunting for a signal in a field.
We took our own tent but if you fancy glamping, there are plenty of options depending on your budget. The best, to my mind, were the large barrel-shaped wooden cabins.
Finally, the campsite owners Jane and Tim are perfect hosts: they have created a site that is welcoming and relaxing.
If you do venture out there are plenty of family-friendly attractions nearby. Without doubt, the best was the Clos Lucé chateau in Amboise where Leonardo Da Vinci spent the last three years of his life.
The 15th century house is well laid-out, with signs in English and French, and includes displays of Da Vinci’s models and explanatory videos. In the garden, you can interact with full-size models.
My only criticism is a feeble one: as the site is close to Dieppe, it attracts a lot of holidaymakers from the UK who can’t face a long drive south - we felt like we were in Hertfordshire rather than the heart of the Loire.
But we’ll be back at Les Castels L'Orangerie - or another site in the Les Castels group. For anyone planning a family camping holiday in France, they know what they are doing.
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