A little Brit special: Beautiful Brittany and the Loire valley have cracking campsites
French campsites can be incredibly varied and sophisticated, as Paul Connolly found on a two-centre Keycamp driving holiday in rural Brittany and the Loire.
In an arc 350 miles through north western France, it is possible to explore two lovely regions in a couple of weeks.
Both are very different, but both radiate the unique charm of rural France in their individual ways.
We travelled via Rosslare, first to Brittany; for many the Donegal of France: at times damp and windy, but when the sun shines, hey presto, it can feel like heaven on earth.
Quaint villages, beautiful countryside and harbours, great food, and that unique Breton friendliness combine to make the region a fine holiday destination.
If ever there was a campsite with it all, it's Domaine des Ormes. This extensive woodland site lies deep in the Brittany countryside, about two hours from the ferry ports that are directly accessible from Ireland: Roscoff and Cherbourg.
Domaine des Ormes is snuggled around a historic chateau, presumably one where the French equivalent of Ruth Watson in TV's Country House Rescue came to visit long ago and recommended that the only way to survive was to establish a super-holiday camp, one that could hardly be bettered in all of Europe.
For this parc does indeed have everything. There's an 18-hole golf course, plus driving range, pitch 'n' putt and crazy golf. And that's just for starters. Don't fancy golf? Worry not. What about horse riding, everything from toddlers' pony trekking to cross-country paddocks with jumps. No? Then check out the four swimming pools including a fab wave machine and a covered pool (with slides and lazy river) for when it's raining.
You could also check out the volleyball/badminton courts, or the tennis and table tennis. Hate racquet games? Fear not, I'm just getting started.
Zip-line adventure playground, cricket, fishing in the many on-site lakes, archery, climbing wall, paintball, pedalo, kids' playground, massages. There's even a circus tent, for heaven's sake, with weekly visits by the performers.
Our favourite pastime was cycling -- we'd paid extra on the ferry to take a trailer with our five mountain bikes -- along the 250-acre site's extensive system of trails, which are used for walking, bikes and horses. We also loved taking off into the countryside, to the lovely nearby villages like St Leonard. Sleepy places, but with an innate charm and envious ambience.
The nearby town of Dol-De-Bretagne (population approx. 5,000) is also worth checking out. It has a particularly lovely, and ancient, main street packed with charming shops, restaurants and bars. After six glorious days in Chateau Des Ormes, it was time to move on. Five hours on France's efficient motorway system, and a stop-off at a McDonalds later, we reached Le Chateau Des Marais campsite in the Loire valley about 85km east of Tours.
To our delight, this was another charming and sophisticated campsite set around an old stone chateau. The owners are very friendly, and allow guests to take morning coffee inside, and even use their Nespresso machine (buy your pods and baguettes at the site shop).
Chateau Des Marais is a lovely woodland parc with excellent pool and slides/lazy river, small indoor spa, sauna, and jacuzzi. There's a very decent restaurant, takeaway, bar and games area and overall a very laid-back atmosphere.
This site, too, whilst not as extensive as Chateau Des Ormes, has lots to do. The surrounding region is, however, even more attractive. The Loire valley is, famously, packed with stunning chateau, and one of the best is nearby: Chateau De Chambord, a renaissance giant completed in 1547 (some say Leonardo da Vinci helped out).
You can also walk to the massive Chambord park -- one of the biggest in Europe -- with its nature trails and long walks (keep an eye out for the wildlife, which includes wild boars).
The local villages, including Muides-sur-Loire five minutes away, have lots of appeal, and if you've bikes there are plenty of safe cycle lanes to discover the Loire's banks and its vineyards, in, what you'll discover, is rightly known as the "Garden of France".
Keycamp offers self-catering holidays to 99 top parcs across ten European countries, including Sardinia, Austria and Croatia, plus the USA. Each boasts excellent facilities and a choice of stylish mobile home, chalet, Supertent and even tree house accommodation.
Seven nights from August 26 2012 for two adults and up to four children staying in a two bedroom Villanova mobile home at Keycamp's La Chateau Des Marais parc will cost from £830, including return Dover to Calais ferry crossing. Alternative ferry crossings and fly-drive packages can be arranged though Keycamp at a supplement. Visit www.keycamp.co.uk or call 0844 406 0319.