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Child friendly but no glamour; A Waikiki in Provence introduced TAMZIN LEWIS to the glories of a French campsite.


BEFORE 'staycations' were invented my family would merely go 'on holiday' to the British seaside. Therefore, as a child I never experienced a European holiday camp, and in my mind a certain glamour was attached to camping abroad.

So when I was offered a week at a Vaconsoleil camp, I thought it would be a wonderful opportunity to take my two young children on an easygoing holiday. After browsing through the 260-page brochure full of campsites across Europe, I chose a camp in Alps de Haute Provence.

We flew to Nice direct from Newcastle with easyJet, and after picking up a hire car we headed up into the foothills of the Alps. I guess the omens weren't in our favour when half way up a mountain the road ended in a roadblock with no warning signs to inform us of the imminent potential for being squished by rock-falls.

So we made a lengthy detour, by which time the Haribos were running out along with the patience of three-and-a-half year old Iona, who could only be pacified by the repeat playing of her Sing-along-with-Disney CD. I, on the other hand, was beginning to lose my marbles on hearing the opening bars of The Lion King's Hakuna Matata (No Worries).

It was with immense relief that we arrived at Camp International and downed a drink with Vaconsoleil's Jacques and Anne van Deutekom before being led to our plot.

We were kindly given a Waikiki, which is a three-bedroomed mobile home packed with pretty much everything we needed for our holiday (although you have to remember your own linen).

It was a dramatic setting near Castellane, and from our wooden verandah we had a spectacular view of the tiny chapel, Notre Dame du Roc, which perches precariously on a giant cliff above the ancient town. I would have loved to enjoy the views, like the laid-back middle-aged Dutch couple next door, who sat on their decking smoking...and, well, smoking. But sadly the Scrabble board barely made it out of our rucksack and my reading sessions tended to be with eyes propped open over a glass of wine.

Camp International is set in an incredibly beautiful valley, surrounded by wooded mountains, and lies east of the Gorges du Verdon, the largest canyon in Europe. We had toured the canyon on a previous holiday, so the furthest we got this time was the nearby Lake Castillon. An artificial lake, it was perfect for children to splosh around, build dams, throw sticks and go wallowing in mud. My husband hadn't intended to swim but did have a refreshing dip to the other side of the lake on one occasion to rescue our beach ball. Lake Castillon also had an excellent snack bar where you could hire pedalos and canoes for a relaxing lake tour - or just climb in and out of them if you're aged two.

The region is famed for its sports including kayaking, white-water rafting, canyoning, horseriding, mountain climbing, cycling and parasailing. But the closest I got to sport each day was running around after my children, which was usually enough to warrant a pizza and ice-cream at one of Castellane's many restaurants.

From our Waikiki, my kids could reach the playground in about 20 seconds; a journey made even easier after Iona wrestled our wooden gate from its hinges, nearly crushing Reuben in the process. I admit to being a bit spoilt in Newcastle by the excellent playgrounds, but the camp's equipment was a little sparse (with its one swing) and definitely past its heyday. However, the adult fitness equipment kept children entertained and the big attraction was the bouncy castle, which did fly the colours every day.

There was also an occasional visit to the (always empty) games room, curtailed after my bemused husband was told 'normal noise only' by a member of staff. Fortunately there was no such rule at the family-friendly pool where we swam every day and both my children became confident at jumping off the side into the water. Next to the pool was a decent restaurant and well-stocked shop where Iona loved to accompany me to buy fresh bread and croissants each morning.

The campsite had an impressive mix of different types of mobile homes, some of which were beautifully maintained, and pitches for tents and caravans set in woodland. And there was also a huge mix of people from hairy bikers to lads' groups; retired couples to young families.

There were all sorts of organised activities including aqua aerobics, hiking, bingo and boules, but the pool and playground were good enough for us. We were blessed with incredible weather and although my ideas of 'glamour' weren't actualised, Camp International is a wonderful place for children.

It was a shame, therefore, that we left the camp with a flea in our ears. On the final morning, after banishing my husband and children from the Waikiki, I got into Mrs Mop mode, which admittedly does not come naturally to me. However I made a sincere effort as our deposit of 150 was in the balance.

"Not good enough," said Jacques, taking a stern look around. Suddenly I was a schoolgirl sitting at the back of a dreaded domestic science class. "You haven't cleaned the dust from under the beds."

Dust? Beds? Now then, how about that staycation?


PLAY TIME Top, Will, Iona and Reuben visit HOLD TIGHT Reuben has fun on a bouncer Camp International's children's playground. right, the family enjoy the fitness equipment MAN MADE Lake Castillon near Castellane in the Alps de Haute Provence, offers all kinds of water sports
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Publication:Evening Chronicle (Newcastle, England)
Date:Aug 13, 2011
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