There is also one moment on a motoring trip to France they don’t tell you about in the welcome pack. “Look out the back window” said the wife to the teenage daughters, “and tell us where we are supposed to be going.”
We didn’t know it, but we had just embarked on 120km of extra road we hadn’t bargained for.
Eventually there comes a day when you have one motorway ramp too many and head the wrong way. Distraction, a crying child, an unexpected toll booth, or the sheer exhaustion of it all are usually to blame. They say it is an essential part of the holiday experience.
The idea was that we would go as far as we could within our beloved France for our camping holiday. Yes, it involved a day of driving, but we reckoned that with a stopover in the familiar Vendee region, all would be well. The campsites around St Jean, St Hilaire and St Giles are six hours from the ferries at Roscoff and Cherbourg and have become Gaelified by Irish Gallophiles in recent years. We love the beaches, restaurants, attractions, and safari parks of the Vendee. They provide and ideal jump off for the Dordogne or, in our case, a campsite beyond Biarritz in Bidart.
It was an audacious success. The pelota matches (how DJ Carey should give it a go), the trips to San Sebastian where everything is cheaper and so different, the beautiful pilgrim village of St Jean Pied de Port, the second empire splendour of St Jean de Monts, and the cliff beaches of Biarritz were all within short drives of our campsite at Le Rouisseau de Pyrenees. Campsite life is a family thing, for people for whom pools and waterslides and kids clubs still matter. Getting it all with a Basque accent was an added advantage (one of my daughter’s prize possessions is her copy of Harry Potter in Basque).
Our family were contributing to a growing trend. It is likely that 2006 will see further changes in the camping market. Irish people are going further to find that ideal camping location and more people are using fly-drive because of cheap air fares.
At the welcome game of boules it was interesting to review all the options. The fly drive people with car who found it about Eu200 cheaper than the ferry. The old salts like ourselves, who love our direct ferry journey because it is part of the experience.
And the fly drive people who didn’t rent a car (young children, pool lovers) and found themselves a little more immobile than they wished. A key to village France is the eating out options, particularly if you sneak away from the tourist traps. It is much the same all along the coast. Point the car inland and drive for 10km and you save a fortune.
Things are changing fast for the 40,000 odd Irish people who go camping each year. Ryanair, Aer Lingus and Aer Arann all have new French routes they didn’t have last year.
Italy is growing very fast. Campsites on Garda and the Laguna of Venice are reporting a steady influx of Irish visitors. As are campsites even further than we went, in northern Spain. Campsites in Slovenia and Croatia are also being used by Irish people.
Camping had a bad reputation for a certain generation of Irish people, meaning that Irish customers are most likely to use mobile homes, conditioned by Irish weather.
The numbers of customers staying in mobile homes ranges from 85-90pc of those using camping operators Keycamp and Haven to 60pc of Canvas customers. The tent is apparently making a comeback, but most of us like our creature comforts and the mobile homes we use are getting ever more luxurious with cookers, fridges, microwaves and outdoor barbecues to invite the Dutch neighbours round.
Irish customers are more likely to use mobile homes than English and Scandinavians, and more likely to use parcs rather than campsites.
Tents can be wonderfully cool but an increasing number of mobile homes have air conditioning especially on the Mediterranean. And remember tents are pre-erected and all the facilities are there. You can save a lot of money staying in a tent. The major difference is that your tent doesn’t have private facilities but mobile homes do.
The four big camping operators report that 20pc of customers do not use their landbridge ferry option, those that do not include the growing fly drive market and those travelling with the slightly more expensive direct ferries.
Despite the arrival of fly-drive, ferries haven’t gone away. They have been looking at shifts in the market, and are reducing fares over the past two years. Peak season is still expensive but travelling via England by landbridge can be significantly cheaper, about Eu600 per package, meaning that 80pc of Irish customers use the landbridge ferry option.
Ferry companies never discounted in high season. That may change in what is increasingly a cut throat market. Irish Ferries are going low cost even on French route. And Brittany Ferries have the luxurious Pont Aven on the Cork-Roscoff route.
Another trend, a strange migration into July by Irish people. Our peak date used to be June 23rd, before England got its school holidays.
This creates a problem for campsites in the south. England, Ireland Denmark Holland and Germany used to travel at different times. This helped spread out demand and keep prices down, If the Irish move out of June into July all this could change.
And while tour operators report that June is softening out of Ireland, August is softening out of UK.
It will all lead to a great campsite bulge unless we are all careful.
When and where
BRITTANY First holiday stop for most Irish campers, usually at a site close to a direct ferry service to Cherbourg or Roscoff. A magnificent array of beaches, pre-historic sites and close access to interesting cities such as Rouen. Don’t mind what they say about the weather being unpredictable, Brittany has baked in eight of the last ten summers.
VENDEE The king of camping holidays as regards the Irish market, with enclaves settled on some of the biggest sites particularly in June and early July, when the Irish like to travel a little earlier than British. Vendee is very close, a four hours’ drive from the ferry. Having got there you have got much better weather, meteorologists say that the Vendee gets more sunshine than destinations further south, the most sunshine on the west coast, and as many sunshine hours as the Cote d’Azur. It is not as hot but they get just as much sunshine. The amount of sunshine decreases and the amount of rain increases as you go south.
DORDOGNE A favourite with the English that has recently been discovered by the Irish. A longer drive, it requires a stop if you travel by ferry, (usually the Vendee or Loire) but remember that the majority of campers down here use fly drive. The river is one of the most scenic you will find anywhere and the canoe trip a must-do. The history is breath-taking, especially the Lascaux prehistoric cave, and this is the heart of French cuisine.
LOIRE Lots to do here, the chateaux are breath-taking by day and stage spectacular light shows by night. Chinon was once the heart of the Angevin landscape, and the river has carved a place in all our shared heritage. The wine isn’t bad either.
MED Traditionally the Irish never went to the Med but that has changed in the past two years. Irish customers are going much further afield, and Spain and Italy are both becoming favourite destinations. Aer Lingus now has flights to Venice and Bilbao.
Check before you go
FERRY Tour operators offer a landbridge option through England which involves two ferry trips, the Brittany ferries and Irish ferries options to Cherbourg and Roscoff are more expensive.
LINEN. Some operators now offer a linen service, otherwise you bring your own.
KIDS CLUBS. Are they in operation on the weeks you are in holiday. This can be an issue in June on many sites. Are they for the correct age?
POOLS and waterslides. Children have elaborate tastes in their swimming pool experience nowadays.
DAY TRIPS. Make sure you have wet and dry options, because even the Vendee gets a rainy day sometime. Many are worth booking in advance at times of high demand.
- Eoghan Corry travelled with Canvas Holidays to Le Rouisseau de Pyrenees campsite near Biarritz.
- There are Aer Lingus flights to Seville and Bordeaux, Air France to Bordeaux and Ryanair and Ryanair to Biarritz.
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