So its possible to camp with less on a short trip, but how about a two week camping holiday abroad? A common approach for the annual summer family holiday would be to squash everything that moves into the biggest vehicle you have, kids packed up to their eyes in duvets and outdoor toys on the back seat, a massive 'family sized' tent strapped into the roof rack and everything else... salad bowls, wine coolers and fold-out kitchen piled up high in the boot. It probably involves an enormous list, two exhausted stressed-out adults, fractious bored children and possibly an argument or two. Does it have to be this way?
With our own home rented out on Air BnB for most of August we needed somewhere cheap to go to maximise our profits, and wanted to have a big adventure with our children. So we decided to take our mini camping kit on tour, and booked two weeks in France, with a day trip to Disneyland thrown in for our two young kids. The idea of camping for Disneyland was a revelation to me, think how much money we could save by not staying there! Could we still have a good time and really ‘do Disney’ without spending a fortune? Only one way to find out.
Having only camped for 3-4 nights at a time previously, I wondered whether our minimalist grab-n’go camping kit would be enough for two weeks. Surely we would need more things? As France is generally warmer than the UK I knew we didn’t need any extra bedding, a SIM, and sleeping bag each would be fine, and we left our wellies at home, hoping that France, being drier, has less dew than the UK.
The only extra item I purchased in advance was a very compact folding BBQ (Outwell Cazal - see review) and everyone had a new very small backpack from Decathlon to carry their packed lunch at Disney. Apart from packing a few more clothes the other large item we took along (hardcore minimalists look away now…) was a massive princess dress my 5-year-old daughter insisted on bringing to wear at Disneyland!
Despite this everything fitted into the boot of my small car, nothing in the footwells, no roof box or trailer. Our ‘three box system’ held all the small bits n bobs we needed and with our passports and euros ready we kissed goodbye to Dover and set off on the ferry to Calais.
A 3-4 hour drive took us directly south towards Paris and Disneyland, to Camping Le Chêne Gris.
Camping Le Chêne Gris
When researching french campsites online, we’d been excited by all the fab waterparks we saw at the sites and although this one was just a small pool with slides, shallow paddling areas and water jets, it was ideal for small children and ours were jumping with joy as soon as they saw it.
Many french campsites offer cabins (caravans) as well as tent pitches and I admit we had booked one for our short stay (at a cost of 100 euros a night), hoping to get a good rest before a hectic long day at Disneyland the next day. Camping Le Chene Gris is a small busy campsite, with the cabins packed in fairly close together along small roads, with good facilities including a pizzeria, bar and shops, plus kids entertainment by the pool. So it wasn’t an escape to nature but it was perfect for our tired hungry family after a long drive.
A small kids pool with slides at Camping le Chêne Gris, nr Disneyland, Paris
We did need some of our camping gear as the cabins are sparsely stocked. We used our sleeping bags, washing up bowl, tea towel and cleaning products.
Its a popular site as its only 20 minutes drive from Disneyland, and also right next to a train station with direct trains to central Paris in 45 mins. It would have been a good base to explore the area but we were only there for Disney and left after two nights, heading west towards Brittany to meet friends.
Camping for Disneyland is definitely possible and a great way to get the disney experience on a budget. I was delighted to be able to take our children aged 5 and 8 while they were still young enough to enjoy the ‘magic’ and tie it into our camping tour of France. Our campsite was fantastically close so we arrived early feeling bright and full of anticipation after only 20 mins in the car. I’d bought tickets in advance, choosing just one park (Disneyland Park, not Walt Disney Studios) as we only had one day.
We queued for an hour to get in and got extremely frustrated trying to get our tickets printed out, However, once past that hurdle we did have a fantastic day. Yes there were plenty of queues but always ways to avoid them (Fast Pass) and so much to see while waiting. We were so glad we stayed until the illuminations and fireworks, although it was a very late night it was utterly worth it. Our children were interested in different rides so we split off, I took our daughter to the gentle rides and princesses, my husband took our 8-year-old son to the faster rides (his favourite was Buzz Light Year).
For me, one day at Disneyland was enough and we were glad of the short journey back to our campsite at midnight.
The next day we drove to Brittany, meeting friends at Camping Du Letty, Brittany.
Camping Du Letty, Brittany
This spacious site stretches along a shallow beach, and like many french campsites has great facilities, including a wonderful waterpark. While I would usually prefer more basic campsites at home, it was actually quite fun to have a bar, pizzeria etc on hand. What we loved about this place though was that pitches (‘Emplacement Standard’) were enormous, and divided into groups of 4 with tall privacy hedges so it felt quiet and natural, and even though there were lots of other campers you couldn’t see them! As our tent is so small we had loads of room on our pitch for the children to run around and play and our friends in their camper van had lots of space for all their gear too.
Generous 'standard' pitch was privacy hedges
We spent several days in the sunshine just chilling by the pool, eating pizza and french cheese.
We would go back, it was thoroughly relaxing and the pool was great. We loved getting the fresh croissants and baguettes onsite every morning. Next time I would book ‘Emplacement Mer’ to be right next to the beach, but it was only a short stroll from where we were.
So our little tent was fine here, we had enough equipment, although I did buy a length of washing line from the onsite shop to string between two trees to dry our swimsuits on.
After a few days exploring the area in Bluebell (our little car!) we headed to our next destination.
Camping Ker Eden, Larmor Baden
This felt quite different to the previous site. Instead of european tourists it was packed with french campers, with tents and cars pressed in close together on small pitches. It had a laid-back vibe and I was interested to note the french campers had small tents too, but with large dining tables and fairy lights. Clearly it was all about eating and drinking together under the stars for them.
There was no pool and just a simple shop, but the shower blocks were brand new and the staff were helpful. I had found the pricing online a bit complicated and was surprised to be charged an extra 50 euros on arrival because we had two kids with us!
On the edge of the Gulf de Morbihan, this was a great location to explore this beautiful area. We loved our boat trip out to the islands in the bay and could happily have stayed longer.
Family camping in France
The ease of taking your own car on a quick ferry across the channel opens up France as a simple stress-free camping destination for us Brits. After packing up your gear at home you will have everything you need with you, wherever you end up. The climate is generally better and better the further south you go, or you could choose to ‘chase the sunshine’ using weather forecasting apps on your phone.
The food is fantastic. We loved cooking delicious french sausages on our compact BBQ, followed by cold tarte tartin and washed down with local red wine. Fresh croissants for breakfast with fruit and salades with endless cheese for lunch. Seafood is plentiful by the coast. Our children had plenty of things they liked to eat and to our surprise we discovered our son loves moules frites.
Although we only visited a few french campsites I noticed several differences between them and english campsites.
I found them generally more expensive per night, but enjoyed the pools and facilities this brought. In fact just having a pool made it feel like a proper holiday!
None of the campsites had toilet roll, or if they did it was outside the toilet block and you had to remember to take some in to the cubicle with you. And while on the subject of toilets, all the sites we visited had had unisex toilets although thankfully they were mainly upright style toilets, not the traditional ‘hole it the ground’ squatting type popular in France. Phew!
There seem to be thousands of campsites in France, and you would have lots of options if you decided to try a camping holiday there. If there is a particular place you have always wanted to visit, be it Versailles, Mont St Michel, Paris or Disneyland, with a small grab’n’go camping kit there is no reason why you can’t book that ferry and head off on an adventure with your excited children and little need for planning. And if you have packed light its easy to pack up and move on whenever you like.