By Gary Phillips
In all honesty I was a novice when it came to camping, so to spread my tourism knowledge I decided to take my wife to France to stay in a series of luxury camp sites operated by Siblu Villages. I had heard a lot about this concept from friends and family but had yet to try it out for myself, so who better to ask than Siblu, one of the largest campsite operators in France. We visited three different locations: Domaine de Kerlann in Pont-Aven, Brittany, Bois de Dormant in the Vendee, and finally back inland to Domaine de Dugny near the beautiful town of Blois, in the Loire Valley.
Siblu Villages has 14 locations across France, all four star campsites with various levels of mobile home, the Esprit, the Elegance and the Excellence. Each of the mobile homes they let out is owned privately, making mobile homes an investment opportunity to consider for many while on holiday. Many holiday makers become regular visitors to a park, fall in love with the area, become friendly with other owners, and hence they end up buying their own. For most though, renting is a flexible option with many benefits.
All of the sites operate in an identical way with mobile homes very similar in standard and layout. What make them all different from each other are the regions they are located in. We visited just three parks, but all seemed very different because of the local activities, culture and sights.
To summarise I would say this kind of holiday is exceptionally good value for money and ideal for families with young children. It is safe, convenient, more economical and more accessible than a Mediterranean resort, or most other family-friendly options available, particularly when you bear in mind the experiences of getting through an airport these days.
All Siblu sites have excellent swimming pool and multi sports facilities of equal standard, they all have bars, games rooms, and a supermarket which tends to be a bit pricey, so shop before arrival. The only downer for me was the price of the WiFi. There are no TV’s in the mobile homes, but you can get internet access via the camp’s own WiFi system at 7 Euro for 1 hour / 20 Euro for 3 days or 35 Euro for 6 days. I found that rather expensive, the same price that business standard hotels are charging across Europe. Leisure hotels generally offer WiFi for free. To cover a whole camping area with WiFi is not easy, or cheap, but I maintain that internet should be free for guests.
The whole point of a camping holiday is to get away from it all so you are actually well advised to leave your laptop at home.
Domaine de Kerlann, Brittany
Domaine de Kerlann is on the outskirts of the picturesque town of Pont-Aven in Southern Brittany in between Lorient and Quimper. Set back from the main road to Nevez, the park is set in established woodland mostly consisting of oak and silver beech trees. We had driven there from Caen, where we got off the Brittany Ferries service from Portsmouth overnight. The drive down via Rennes and Lorient had taken us over four hours through some heavy traffic and bad rainstorms , so were pleased that it was so easy to find. You simply turn right at the bridge in Pont-Aven, drive about a mile to turn left at the roundabout and the park is just a half-mile down that road on the right. The flags in the wide entrance make it difficult to miss.
At the entrance you’ll see a traditional Breton House built from local granite, which is used as a sales and maintenance centre for prospective and current owners of mobile homes. On the right as you enter there is the reception where we were met by a friendly and attentive lady who checked us in and gave us the run-down of all the facilities. Note that on arrival you are requested to provide your card details as a deposit for EURO 80 in case of damages. No money is taken, and thankfully we managed not to wreck our mobile home.
Our accommodation was only a short distance from the security entrance where we needed to tap in a security number to gain entry. Each mobile home is surrounded by a rhododendron hedge creating a comfortable border from your neighbours, and in front is ample parking space for the car. In our case we had an attractive decking area outside the door with two reclining chairs and another table and chairs. The home itself was immaculately clean with tea and coffee-making facilities already laid out, which we made immediate use of. The kitchen was fully stocked with plates, cutlery, pots and pans, a gas hob and a small oven.
We were especially pleased to find a double bed already made out with fresh linen and a warm duvee, with bath towels wrapped in plastic. What really topped it off was the complimentary traditional Breton cider and cake which was duly cleaned off in a matter of an hour.
Walking around the park we came to discover that it was a pretty large concern, which probably 500 mobile homes in all, but you wouldn’t know it, due to the spacing of each home and the trees that surround each of them. There seemed plenty of socialising going on, with many homes looking like they were near to permanent for many inhabitants with carefully manicured gardens and satellite TV. I have to say my wife did miss the TV, but that was probably a good thing.
Our first night’s sleep came pretty easily after a tiring drive. The park was so quiet, all you could hear was the baying of cattle some distance away, which was softened down by the gentle swaying of the trees. It was also pretty dark, very dark in fact which made a change from the well-lit road where we live in central London. Morning was somewhat cold, the point when you realise you are in fact camping. Luckily the heater took the edge off what was an unusually cold June morning, to prepare me for a pleasantly hot shower. My wife mentioned the absence of a hair dryer, which in my view is unlikely to be provided in most self-catering mobile homes, so you need to take your own.
As it’s a self catering holiday, you will need to get some shopping done before arrival. Note that the larger supermarkets are some distance away in Quimper or Rennes, so don’t leave it until you get to Pont-Aven or even the camp site itself. Unbelievably the Intermarche in Pont Aven closes for two hours at lunchtime, and the campsite shop offers essentials only at a premium, in the morning only.
Things to do in the area
On the way to the campsite I noticed Pont-Aven was definitely worth a second look, so went down the next morning to take a proper look around. It’s a very picturesque small town with art galleries and restaurants to keep you occupied for hours. It’s definitely worth following the stream up river to discover some of the hidden bridges and pathways amongst the medieval buildings.
Just down the road past the village of Nevez is Port Manec’h where you’ll find a superb beach with white sand, rock pools and safe swimming. Port Manec’h continues to act as a small fishing port so it’s worth visiting in any weather. Parking here is an issue so get there early if you’re expecting fine weather. Bike hire is available at the park, so consider this to save the hassle of parking, and to get some fitness work in. If the car is a must, head for Trevignon, just around the coast from Port Manec’h. Here there is plenty of parking for free, the beach is pristine white, and the sea crystal clear, with many interesting rock formations to roam around. It forms part of a headland where there’s a pretty old lighthouse and miniature castle (privately owned).
The small town of Concarneau is about 10kms away, which is France’s third largest fishing port. If you get up at 6am you can go and watch the fish market at work. Otherwise you have the 15th century fortress to explore and the attractive shops inside.
The onsite activities are enough to keep a family busy if the weather is fine. You have a large swimming area, tennis courts, a volleyball court, boules, a multi sports pitch for both basketball and football, archery, or if the weather turns really bad, you can relax at the bar to watch TV.
Kids of all ages are catered for at the park. Club Bubbles takes care of the 1-4 year olds, Club Pirates for 5-9 year olds, while for the older kids Club Barracudas are taken for team tasks and sports competitions.
Evening entertainment is provided from 7pm to 12pm
Bois de dormant
Bois de dormant is a Siblu Villages camp site just on the outskirts of St. Jean de Monts in the Vendee region of central France, a traditional destination for French holidaymakers and now increasingly popular with us Brits as well. Just over the road from it is another Siblu property, Le Bois Masson.
We drove straight from southern Brittany to get to Bois de Dormant via St. Nazaire. To reach the campsite you simply follow the ring road around St Jean de Months for Les Sables D’Olonne, in other words to the southern end of the town. We didn’t do that, instead we turned into the town on the northern side and went right along the seafront, which is a really slow route, and great way to get lost.
At first glance the campsite of Bois de Dormant seemed a lot more compact than the Domaine de Kerlann, but the level of service and accommodation was identical. Again, checking in at reception was really quick and easy, although the receptionist had to deal with me at my most miserable after having got completely lost in St Jean de Monts.
The mobile home allocated for us was with an attractive covered sun-deck area outside with a gas barbecue and plastic table and chairs. Inside, there was a small kitchen, a shower and toilet, a double bedroom and another bedroom with two single beds and a bunk bed. The two of us therefore had a mobile home sufficient to accommodate a family of six. The double bed was already made with clean, fresh towels laid out ready. Generally speaking I would say there is no need to bring any of your own linen, but on the odd night when it gets colder than usual it can be useful.
If you find that the shower in your mobile home is occupied, with a queue, you have the additional option using a free-standing shower which was just around the corner where, importantly, there was also a shower and toilet facility for the disabled, one with ample space for a wheelchair user, and helper if necessary, to manoeuvre.
Having settled down we took a walk around the Bois de Dormant to find the bar area, the multi sports facility and race track, and the supermarket. What impressed me most of all was the exceptionally impressive pool area with its water slides and acres of space for sun lounging. From a personal standpoint, the sauna and hammam at Bois de Masson was a winner – I can’t imagine a holiday without one.
Things to do
In hot weather, it’s a no-brainer to decide what to do. You go to the beach of epic proportions just 1km away from the campsite. With clean white sand, and safe swimming, it stretches for 8km, so there is ample space for everyone with free parking practically all the way along it. Local festivals and events regularly take place on the beach with a youth rugby tournament going on while we were there.
Being right beside the Atlantic, you might expect the occasional gust of wind and showers of rain, even in June, so be prepared. In any case you can explore the markets in St Jean de Monts at Avenue de la Mer and Avenue de la Forêt. You can visit the other local towns of St. Hilaire-de-Riez or St Gilles Croix de Vie with its picturesque fishing port straddled by inviting restaurants and cafes.
Many visitors to the vendee tend to drive north to the Island of Noirmoutier which has two access points, a stone causeway 4km long which is washed over by the sea at high tide, Le Passage du Gois, or by the more predictable bridge route, which is faster and closer. Stop at the pointe de la Fosse right underneath the bridge to take a walk around the forest and the estuary there. You’ll see the half-hourly ferry to l’Île d’Yeu, a wild island 30 minutes away. On the island head straight for the village of Noirmoutier where you’ll find an immaculately kept medieval Chateau with the impressive 11th Century church of St Philibert beside it. Just around the corner from there you can walk out to the sea along a sea wall to look out or to look back at the village. While driving around the island you’ll notice small paddocks with piles of sand beside them, these are “les Marais des Salants”, or salt marshes, the traditional way of producing salt for over a 1000 years.
You may also want to see the Oceanile Atlantic Park, the Butterfly farm or the Sealand Aquarium on Noirmoutier.
The kids would enjoy a day trip to Le Puy de Fou, a popular theme park where many visitors to the Vendee make the effort to go to, despite being 125 km away.
Domaine de Dugny
Domaine de Dugny is a campsite unlike many of Siblu’s Villages as it is brand new and established on the site of a farm. The complex itself is long completed but the campsite is still being extended well into the fields beyond. It is also at the heart of the Loire region littered with Royal Chateaux which is a big draw for many visitors, myself included. The chateau of Chaumont-sur-Loire can be seen from the field above the campsite itself.
Reaching Domaine de Dugny is really straightford. On the road between Amboise and Blois you cross the river at Chaumont-sur-Loire into Onzain from where the site is well signposted. About a mile outside Onzain you can see the campsite perched on the edge of arable fields, and hard to miss. The turning into the campsite is on a tricky corner, so be careful.
As with all Siblu campsites, the checking-in process reception at Domaine deDugny was straightforward and organised. A pack with all your passes and entry codes is pre-prepared and handed over by friendly staff.
Driving through the barriers and round to the mobile home, I saw that the camp was noticeably less well established than the others I’d visited. The hedges were newly planted, as were the trees, with an absence of taller oaks and beech trees I had seen Domaine de Kerlann. The home itself, on the other hand, was identical to the one we had at Bois de Dormant with a central reception area and a bedroom at either end. A shower / toilet tucked into the corner. As usual the mobile home was fully kitted out with everything we might need from bed lined, to towels to kitchen utensils. The only concern I had was its proximity to the neighbouring caravans, one which had teenagers, who actually turned out to be fine, but the point is that some privacy should be expected at a campsite, but this had a lot less than the previous two. The balcony of our nearest neighbours was just feet from ours, and conversations could be heard too easily. At Bois de Dormant layout was configured cleverly so that balconies would not face each other. At Domaine de Dugny this factor was sadly absent, and therefore not such a favourable arrangement.
The gas was empty in our mobile home when got up the next morning, so we had no hot water, but much to the credit of the staff the problem was sorted out within minutes, as maintenance staff are constantly at hand to iron out problems like that.
The campsite has a supermarket at the side of what used to be the farmhouse, the bar occupies the other end while in the middle there is the games room. An old barn has been converted into an night entertainment centre if the weather is bad but which is in the courtyard of the farmhouse during the mid summer months, which really works because it involves the bar as well.
If you feel like staying on site, there are plenty of things for you to do with kids if you have them. Tennis courts, swimming pools both covered and otherwise, multi-sports areas, and so on. You also have the fields to walk up through and a really thick forest at the top of the hill from where you can look back at Chaumont-sur-Loire.
It would be a shame to visit this region without visiting a few of the sites. The city of Blois is just 12 km away, the favoured home of the Capetien Kings, while the enormous chateau at Chambord and its park is 10 km the other side of Blois. In the other direction Amboise is about 20km and the prime target of Chenonceau is a further 7km or so. In my view, the best value for money is Chenonceau, on the strength of its beauty and of its superb gardens. Admission was EURO 10.50 while Chambord charged EURO 9.50 for the house which was practically empty and had no managed gardens to speak of, in fact I would go as far as to say it was a disappointment. If chateau are not for you then try the Zoopark at Beauval, or take a boat trip on the Loire from Chaumont.
A great attraction for many is the beautiful lake they have at Domain de Dugny. It covers something like 15 acres and is used frequently by anglers. I don’t think the campers hiring kayaks and small leisure boats on the lake would be too popular, but that’s a matter for them. On and around the lake you’ll see many varieties of birds and insect life, and you’ll see lots of fish jumping in the mornings. Some pitches on the campsite look right out onto the lake.