Recently, I asked my seven-year-old if she remembered Sequoia Parc, the campsite we stayed in, two years ago in France.
“Of course I do – it had a dragon pirate ship thing beside the pool,” she said. “No,” I said, “That was Clarys Plage, last year.” She was sure I was wrong. I was sure I was right. But I was less sure about the painstaking effort we put into researching campsites before booking holidays – all that work and they’ve forgotten most of it!
In another couple of years, they’ll probably have little more than fleeting snapshot memories of any of our trips – mostly linked to actual snapshots. But notwithstanding that, I’m glad we did the research and that each of the holidays was so good when we were there; when we were in the moment. It doesn’t really matter if eventually none of us can distinguish between the different places we stayed – when we were there, we were happy.
So if you’re thinking of travelling to France, this might help you with your research – here are the good bits and the bad bits of the three campsites in which we stayed.
La Grande Metairie, Carnac
Where is it?
La Grande Metairie is just a couple of hours from Roscoff, so a great option for anyone travelling by ferry. The campsite is a short drive from the town of Carnac, a coastal town in Brittany.
Carnac has a long, sandy beach, plenty of family restaurants, some lovely boutiques, and a carousel – much adored by my kids when we were there. Coffee, ice-cream and pancakes are in plentiful supply, and there’s a lovely “old town” too. Grande Metairie is about a ten minute drive from the town.
The campsite – It’s very prettily laid out and very well-kept, with excellent facilities and a very strong sense of being in a safe, family-friendly environment. There’s a great pool complex and a good playground.
The farm – there’s an onsite pet farm so we had the pleasure of walking past Alpaca sheep every day on our way to the pool.
The horse-riding – there are good horse-riding facilities for even very small children (ours still talk about Apricot the pony three yeas later)
The kids’ disco – our kids loved it, and still remember the “moves” they learned. Apart from that, the nightlife seemed relatively quiet when we were there, which suited as when we weren’t going to get to enjoy it anyway. No FOMO!
The journey time to and from ferry – a huge plus especially if you have small children
What’s less good?
The weather! The downside of that short journey from Roscoff is that you’re not far enough south to be guaranteed good weather (not that there are ever guarantees)
The pool is very, very cold when the weather isn’t particularly hot, as was the case when we were there (June 2012)
I’d definitely recommend La Grande Metairie, especially for families with small children, and in particular because of the proximity to Roscoff, and the lovely beach in nearby Carnac.
We did lots of day-tripping to places like Sarzeau, Trinité sur Mer, Locmariaquer and Concarneau. Brittany may not always get the weather, but it’s very, very pretty.
Sequoia Parc, La Rochelle
Where is it?
Sequoia Parc is near the small town of Marennes, in the Charente-Maritime region, which is about six hours from Roscoff. The nearest big town is La Rochelle – a beautiful city that was one of the highlights of our holiday.
Everything! This was our favourite campsite and best holiday. OK, to be more specific:
The campsite – it’s beautifully laid out – flowers everywhere, very well-kept, very pretty. A really, really pleasant place to walk around and live in. There’s a good playground and a lovely courtyard cafe too.
The pool complex – five or six pools, plenty for small children (our youngest was eighteen months at the time), loads of slides, and a wonderful lazy river.
The kids’ disco – the staff organised a really good disco for the kids every night, on a stage at one end of a courtyard which is filled with tables and chairs. So parents could have a glass of wine, while kids follow routines on stage. Bliss for families with small kids for whom night-life is almost non-existent.
The playground – good facilities, sandy floor, right beside pool area.
The restaurant – well, it looked very good but we weren’t brave enough to try a family meal out – we ate on the deck of the mobile home every evening, where it didn’t matter if the baby knocked over a drink or the four-year-old ran off half-way through the meal.
The weather – OK, nothing is guaranteed, but we had two weeks of non-stop golden sunshine, with temperatures of about 28 degrees. At the time (July 2013) there was a heatwave all over Europe, so that was certainly a large factor in why it was our holiday of a lifetime. But realistically, the further south you’re prepared to drive, of course the better your chances of getting some sun.
What’s less good?
Mosquitos. They’re everywhere. This will be irrelevant to some (none of my kids, nor my husband were bitten) but challenging for others (I was COVERED in bites)
The journey – it’s long if you’re driving from the ferry. I texted a friend when we were an hour away from the campsite – she had just spent two weeks there and was leaving on the day we arrived. She told me it would be worth the journey, but at that stage, I wasn’t convinced. Three hours later, sitting on the deck with a glass of wine in warm evening heat, I had to agree – it was definitely worth it.
Sequoia Parc is a perfect campsite – there was nothing I didn’t love (well, except for the mosquitos, but they sort of come with the territory). The area surrounding the campsite is wonderful for day trips – we loved Ile d’Oleron, and in particular, La Rochelle. We usually go somewhere new every year, but Sequoia Parc is on the list for a return visit in a few years.
Le Clarys Plage, St Jean de Monts
Where is it?
Le Clarys Plage campsite is right beside a beach, and a ten minute drive from St Jean de Monts, a coastal town in the Vendee region. We took the ferry to Roscoff – the drive is about five hours from there.
The beach – it’s just a five-minute walk from the nearest beach (well, ten if you’re smallies are very small)
The town – St Jean de Monts is a lovely spot, with plenty of cafés, ice-cream shops and restaurants, as well as a long beach and boardwalk. I was there as a child, so retraced my steps – including a stop-off for ice-cream in La Belle Epoque, a café I’d visited twenty-five years ago with my parents and sisters.
The pool complex – the kids are still talking about the hours they spent on the slides and in the lazy river.
The playground – it was a huge hit with my kids; we went there every night. It’s right beside the bar, so lots of parents of older kids went for drinks while the kids played (ours were too small to be left alone, so we didn’t get to try it)
The shop – there’s no on-site shop but there’s a walk way though to a big Super-U supermarket where we got everything from goggles to colouring books as well as our daily wine and cheese (and of course, other food too – I’m just remembering the best stuff)
What’s less good?
The campsite overall is great, but having had pet-farms, horse-riding, and restaurants the previous two years, we were surprised at first that Clarys Plage has none of these. The belated wisdom is that if you’re near the beach, there are likely to be fewer facilities.
The night-time entertainment – there are different events in the bar each night (karaoke, a magician, and memorably, mechanical bull-riding) but there’s no nightly disco for smaller kids.
The restaurant – well, there is none! We didn’t eat in the restaurant at all the previous year in Sequoia Parc, and just once the year before that in La Grand Metairie, so we didn’t miss it. But if you’re used to eating out, it’s best to know in advance that you’ll need to leave the campsite.
We had a fantastic holiday in Le Clarys Plage – we were spoiled with almost non-stop sunshine for two weeks, and spent lovely afternoons in St Jean de Monts and the stunning town of Les Sables d’Olonnes. The fact that the campsite was less polished and had fewer facilities than those of the previous two years took getting used to, but twenty-four hours in, we were mad about Le Clarys Plage.
A note on mobile homes:
Mobile homes on campsites are usually supplied by one of a number of holiday companies. So for example, on any given campsite, there may be Canvas, Kelair, Eurocamp/ Key Camp, Al Fresco, Thomson and Matthews mobile homes. I don’t know that there’s a universal rule that says one is better than the other – I think it probably varies to some extent from site to site. We didn’t love our mobile home in La Grande Metairie, and looking around the site, we thought the KelAir (Campotel) mobiles looked nicer than the others, and that their kids’ clubs looked better too. So for Sequoia Parc and Le Clarys Plate, we booked with KelAir, and they were fantastic. Both mobiles were lovely, the staff were excellent, and the few mornings our kids went to kids’ club, they loved it.
That’s not a definitive verdict – just my two cents.
So if you’re thinking about France, a few final tips:
- Word of mouth is a great indicator so talk to others who have gone to France
- Weigh up how far you’re prepared to drive (how happy your kids are in the car)
- Ask yourself how important sunshine is – it might be worth driving further to increase your chances of some proper sun
- Mobile homes are great when it’s sunny, but a lot less fun in the rain
- Campsites are fantastic for kids, especially once they’re past the baby stage, and able to enjoy pools and discos. Happy kids = happy everyone
So happy researching and bon voyage! (sorry, couldn’t help it)
If you’re travelling by boat, this might be helpful: Tips for taking the ferry to France