Wednesday, 5 August 2009

A-camping we will go...

So I promised you more detail about our holiday. Buckle-up campers, here it comes; and consider yourselves warned, Review ahead...

When Husband and I were planning our journey to the South of France we wrestled with the ‘to fly, or drive?’ question for a while. Having never done the latter we thought it might be a good time to give it a shot (never again – see my previous post), and once we found out that we would have family staying in the Dordogne, that was the deciding factor. We would drive, and break our journey there to spend a day with them.

So when Keycamp contacted me and offered us a free holiday in one of their parcs in France (in return for writing about the experience), and then turned out to have not just one but two sites in the relevant area, it seemed too good an opportunity to pass up.

First though, let me start by saying that I know a little about caravans and mobile homes. And that’s not an attempt at understatement, it’s a bald statement of fact; I know a little about caravans, but I’m certainly no expert.

What I do know is that we often sat behind them on the long A-road to Devon for our summer holiday in the 1970’s and ‘80’s as they – almost invariably towed behind Volvos - crawled up the shallowest of inclines. I know – having stayed in them on more than one occasion – that they are usually cunningly laid out with space-saving measures that whilst sensible are not necessarily hygienic (a shower whilst sitting on the loo, anyone?). And I know that I spent more than one summer in my youth cleaning caravans for pocket money in my family’s static caravan site on the south coast of England. (Suggestion; if at all possible, never – repeat NEVER – draw the short straw and end up cleaning a caravan that has been occupied by a group of men on a weeks’ fishing trip. The fridge full of maggots and flies is not an image I will ever forget...)

So I had no illusions when I accepted their invitation, which is lucky, because they would probably mostly have been wrong.

We stayed in St Avit Loisirs near La Bugue in the Dordogne for 2 nights. No fishermen and their scuzzy habits here; this camp was full of families, sparkly clean, and seemed to be very smoothly run. The site comprised a mixture of various types and sizes of accommodation, from teeny tents to some very swanky timber chalets. Despite it’s reasonably large size, it didn’t feel that way mainly due to the wooded aspect and the fact that it was built on the folds of a gentle hill.

What the Boys called our cottage - but which was in fact a Villagrand 3 bedroom mobile home - had a lovely view over open fields, and even though it was quite close to other units was not noisy at all. It was well equipped with 3 bedrooms (one double, two twins), a separate loo and shower-room, enough crockery etc for 6, and even a proper oven (rare in this type of accommodation in my experience) along with a microwave and a fridge freezer.

And I didn’t really question the importance of that last item until I saw a Dutch family two pitches along packing up their ‘super-tent’ to go home, and loading an actual fridge into the back of the trailer along with the rest of their kit. My practical – Dutch – husband didn’t bat an eyelid, by the way. I’m so last century; apparently a fridge is just one of the necessities you take along when you camp in style these days...

There were also two sunloungers, an outside table and chairs, and a gas-fired barbeque; all in all, everything you need to make a home from home for a comfortable couple of weeks. Or nights, in our case...

Other pluses... I thought the pool complex was pretty good for a campsite, and would keep kids happily entertained for hours with water shutes, loungers and three pools. There was an onsite shop for emergency purchases, a self-service restaurant for the nights you couldn’t be bothered to cook (PM sheepishly puts her hand up), where the food was pretty ordinary but OK, and also an a la carte restaurant that I didn’t have the opportunity to investigate.

Minuses (well, there had to be a couple, surely, or I wouldn’t be doing this review properly)... The live dinner cabaret went on until 11pm which I know is nothing compared to some resorts. However, whilst earlier in the evening it provided background ‘holiday atmosphere’ and gave doting parents lots of time to photograph their winsome kids dancing prettily to various ersatz hits from the ‘80’s, it was still audible from where we were situated. By 10.30pm I would definitely have preferred to have been listening to the cicadas than ‘The Boys of Summer’ accompanied by a synthesiser. But maybe that’s just me.

Also, the parc gates were shut in the evening from 10pm, meaning that if you had been out for dinner (say, with family not far away, ahem), you had to park in the visitor’s car-park and carry your heavy disgruntled and still sleeping children the 10 minute walk back to your chalet. I wouldn’t have minded but the night watchman was actually there when we arrived 10 minutes late and could easily have let us in with proof of accommodation.

Overall though we had a comfortable stay and the staff were very accommodating. I would have been very happy to have stayed another couple of days and explored the beautiful surrounding area a little more than we were able to.


  1. Call me a snob but I stay well clear whenever I read "Live entertainment" in the brochure.

  2. Sounds pretty good on the whole. The question is: would you book it again?

  3. Good question, Kat. If you had to part with cash, would you choose it again?

  4. Yes - would you do it if it wasn't a freebie?

    I love the sound of your holidays, PM, and I'm glad someone else is into driving small children to southern France. I know no-one else who does this and most people think we are mad. Mind you, I don't envy you the lack of airconditioning with the boys. We drove to Tuscany in our mid 20s before kids with no a/c, and that was bad enough. So we swore that the next car we bought would simply have to have it.

  5. EPM, yes, I know what you mean...

    Kat, Iota, NVG, very good question. I think that the answer is yes - maybe when the boys are a few years older. There were so many activities for children, and I know from family and friends that they anywhere kids get the chance to meet up with and race around with others usually goes down well. Although I have to say, it wouldn't be our only holiday of the year. There would have to be some adult-friendly down time too...

  6. That place sounds awesome. The pool alone would have got me. But...that doesn't sound like camping. Isn't camping putting up a tent that falls down, having bugs crawl into your sleeping bag, having a bear claw at your tent door, and tripping over tree limbs to find the outhouse to pee in in the middle of the night?

  7. Lisa, you're right of course. But bearing in mind my big strong husband can't handle sleeping on the ground (even on top of two bed rolls) as discovered on a long-passed camping trip in the Rockies, I don't think a 'proper' camping trip will be a part of our holiday schedule anytime soon, sadly.

  8. I'm mildly obsessed with the super tents that every other nationality seems to have. The last time we were camping in that fashion (with very loaded car driving down to Bosnia with EVERYTHING we owned stuffed into the back) we saw an even more laden car than ours - and their tent had a fridge, tv, garage, veranda and FLOWERS to hang on it. Real ones and everything. I couldn't believe it!

  9. I sense that you had fun during your holidays. Glad that you enjoyed it.


Go on - you know you want to...