14 days, nine campsites, six countries and one unbeatable family holiday… This is the best way to explore Europe!
Load the car up with tents, cooking gear, sleeping bags and enough clothes for two weeks worth of adventures: we’re crossing the channel and exploring the continent in pursuit of the ultimate family camping trip. French rivers, Italian lakes, Croatian beaches and Austrian mountains here we come!
Stop 1. Normandy, France
Kick off your summer holiday with a ferry to the Normandy coast |Valerie Joannon
First things first: cross the channel. Avoid the hordes travelling from Dover to Calais and ferry it
from Newhaven to Dieppe instead. The crossing may be longer (four hours) but it also takes you
further south, straight into Normandy, which will cut the journey time of your next leg considerably.
30 minutes down the coast from Dieppe, Isolette is a small (25 pitch) campsite just 900m from one of the biggest sand beaches in the area, and is a good place to stop for the night before heading south. Situated on farmland, there’s goats and hens to keep young ones amused as well as a bowling lawn and ping pong table. From €11 per night.
Sleepy seaside villages, dramatic chalk cliffs and meandering river valleys make up this section of the French coastline, offering a gentle introduction to your grand roadtrip. If you have time to spare, explore the cliff-top footpaths or head to the wide, sandy beaches for a (brisk) dip in the channel.
Stop 2. Ardèche, France
Canoeing under the Pont d’Arc – a must-do! |Rhone-alpes Tourisme
The longest leg of our two-week itinerary, this eight-hour drive will take you through the heart of France, past Paris, Dijon and Lyon to the dramatic, river-carved landscape of the Gorges del’Ardèche nature reserve.
Camping Le Clapas is sat right on the Ardèche river and comes complete with its own private beach (pack your togs), along with table tennis, volleyball, bbq sites and that all-important onsite bar. Pitches from €15.
Known as Europe’s Grand Canyon, the Gorges de l’Ardèche is the big attraction here; a 300m high limestone gorge with some of the continent’s best kayaking running through it. Kayak tours run directly from the campsite, leading you to the famous Pont d’Arc, a perfectly formed 6om arch which has been carved out by the roaring river below. There’s also via ferrata, caving and canyoning nearby.
Stop 3. French Riviera, France
Roqueburn sur Argens and its distinctive red cliffs | Fotolia.com
A short journey south takes us back into the RhÔne valley and south to Provence for a touch of the French Riviera on a budget. Skirting past Avignon and Marseille, the three hour drive ends just a pebble’s throw from the Mediterranean coast at Roquebrune sur Argens.
Village Camping Les Pêcheurs has both a lake and a river on its doorstep, with the coast just an easy bike-ride away. On site activities include archery, canoeing, football, volleyball and petanque, as well as a swimming pool and wellness area.
The beaches here are some of the most beautiful in France, a perfect medley of sparkling sands, azure waters and rocky faces; but unlike nearby St Tropez and Cannes, this stretch of coastline is both quiet and (relatively) inexpensive. Behind the campsite there’s a lake with a watersports centre overlooked by the red cliffs of the Roquebrune Rocks — well worth exploring.
Stop 4. Lake Garda, Italy
Garda, Italy’s largest lake and a summer playground
It’s a long but beautiful five hour drive to Lake Garda, Italy’s largest lake. Follow the coast of the French Riviera past flashy Cannes, Nice and Monaco before crossing into Italy and turning inland just before Genoa for the
San Biago is set in its own private (and sandy-beached!) peninsula, with many of the pitches positioned right up against the water’s edge. There’s all the usual facilities here (shower blocks, wifi, washing machines), plus a riverside bar and pizzeria. Prices from €15.
The 370km2 lake is the focal point of the region, with endless swimming and watersports opportunities available straight from the campsite. Away from the lake, there’s hiking, biking, canyoning and climbing to be found. Verona is also just a short drive away, and a visit to both the Roman Arena and Juliet’s infamous balcony is a must.
Dalmatian coast, Croatia
Diving, sailing and swimming galore on the Dalmatian Coast | Fotolia.com
Onward to Croatia by way of Venice and Trieste — both worthy stops in their own right, but we’re on a schedule! The route (briefly) travels through Slovenia before winding down to the coast and crossing the bridge to Krk, one of the Adriatic’s largest islands.
An eco-friendly campsite sat right on the edge of the Dalmatian coast, expect to hear the waves lapping against the island’s cliff walls as you lie in your sleeping bag. It’s large, with 330 pitches (book early for a sea view) and plenty of evening entertainment. From 108kn (€4) per night.
This is the spot to relax by the beach, thrash around in the sea and enjoy good, cheap food and wine. Adventurous types (that’s everyone, right?) should try diving, with instruction available on site, or you can simply walk around the hamlets, monasteries and churches that surround this perfectly-situated coastal campsite.
Stop 6. Bled, Slovenia
The lakeside campsite at Bled comes complete with views like this |Coppo di Marco
Just a 2.5 hour drive today, though you can make it longer by stopping off in Ljubljana, Slovenia’s small but picturesque capital with its magnificent hilltop fortress. Have the camera ready as you approach the lofty limestone peaks of the Julian Alps, the scenery here is breathtaking.
Set right on the lakeshore, Camping Bled is a 5 star campsite offering all the luxuries that go with that title, including free wifi. A nice touch are the picnic baskets that can be delivered to your tent at any time throughout the day. Pitches from €23.
The crystal clear waters of Lake Bled are perfect for
all manner of activities, such as kayaking or even swimming out to the church on Bled Island. There’s great hiking, canyoning, rafting and biking to be had in the surrounding mountains, and if one lake isn’t enough, the more rustic (and possibly even more gorgeous) Lake Bohinj is also only a short drive away.
Stop 7. Tirolean Alps, Austria
Natterersee Campsite, complete with its own lake | TVB Innsbruck
Head north into Austria via Lienz and the stunning
Hohe Tauern National Park, home to Austria’s highest mountain, Grossglockner, and other similarly majestic peaks. The medieval town of Kitzbühel is a good spot for an afternoon pit stop — strudel, anyone?
With its own onsite swimming lake (complete with water slide and free paddle boards) Natterersee is a family-friendly campsite with an unexpectedly stylish shower block and far-reaching mountain views. Guests also receive free bus travel to Innsbruck city centre, just a 15 minute ride away. Prices from €8 per adult.
Accessed via the nearby gondola, Muttereralm Park offers numerous family activities in the summer, like treehouses, playparks and a rather speedy mountain cart track for the adrenaline junkies in the family. Innsbruck is always worth a visit for some city sightseeing and there are plenty of hiking trails for all ages and abilities starting right from the campsite itself.
Stop 8. Black Forest, Germany
The Black Forest is a great choice for bikers |Bitou GmbH
One of the prettiest legs of the whole trip, heading over the dramatic Arlberg pass and down to beautiful Lake Constance. Avoid the sat-nav preferred route through Switzerland and take the scenic road along the German side of the lake, before heading west towards the Black Forest.
Another lakeside campsite, this time on the edge of the amusingly-named but very beautiful Titisee. The plots at Camping Sandbanks are arranged on the hillside so that each one has stunning views over the lake and surrounding area. The campsite does not take bookings in advance, so if you’re travelling with a big group, ring ahead to check for spaces. Prices from €5 per adult.
There’s a wealth of family fun to be had in the Black Forest, with everything from high ropes to zorbing within a short drive from the campsite. Cycling enthusiasts will love the bike routes around the lake, forest and beyond and if you’re unlucky with the weather, a day at the Badeparadies water park could be just what you’re looking for.
Stop 9. Forêt d’Orient, France
Another day, another lake – this time complete
with pedalos |Fotolia.com
Located just over four hours from both the Black Forest and Dieppe, Lac d’Orient is the perfect stop off on your last leg home. The journey is fairly unexciting so we advise heading out early and spending the afternoon by this pretty little gem of a French lake.
A great spot to finish on, the Kawan Resort not only has spacious pitches and good facilities, but also indoor and outdoor pools and even a couple of water slides. In July and August, kids can enjoy a range of organised games and activities, or simply let off steam in the jungle themed playground. Prices from €25.
The lake itself is the main feature here, and there’s plenty to do without leaving its shores. Just 100m from the campsite is a wonderful sandy bathing beach with buoy-marked swimming zone for safe fun in the water. Pedalos and electric boats are available for hire and you can try your hand at sailing or windsurfing at the nearby watersports club.
Taken from our camping issue, out now
Words: Mary Creighton and Fiona Park