Historic chateau, Normandy
Since its commission – by none other than William the Conqueror – Château de Monfréville, 10km from the Normandy coast, has housed everyone from Walt Disney’s whole family to invading German soldiers. Today it is limited to just 25 tent pitches, with ample room for little ones to roam and Bert the donkey to graze. There’s a natural swimming pond, an honesty shop (stocked with organic veggies from the garden) and fresh pastries delivered each morning. It’s a 30-minute drive to the medieval town of Bayeux, home of the world’s most celebrated tapestry.
• Tent and 2 people from €26.50 (tents only)
Rustic retreat, Midi-Pyrénées
About 50km south of Toulouse, the aptly named, Country Camping is surrounded by the sunflower fields of the Haute-Garonne region. There are only 30 pitches, 20 of them dotted among fruit trees, ideal for providing extra shade and for those who fancy picking ripe peaches. There’s a swimming pool, paddling pool and small playground, plus a shaded barbecue area with a wood-fired pizza oven. It’s an easy cycle to the old military village of Saint-Ybars, or drive south into the mountains – the Pyrénées Ariégeoises natural park offers endless outdoor pursuits.
• Tent and 2 people from €16
Boules and boats, Dordogne
The family-friendly Camping Le Mondou is roughly divided into two areas in a figure of eight. In the top of the loop is a swimming pool, playground and small restaurant; the lower area has the quietest pitches, broken up by trees and shrubs. Despite the modern touches (the wash-block is brand new, wifi is available and there’s glamping accommodation), old-fashioned tent camping rules, with the quintessentially French atmosphere coming to a head on Tuesday evenings when campers can compete in a relaxed boules tournament to win a bottle of wine. It’s a five-minute walk to the river Dore, where the campsite organises canoe trips.
• Tent and 2 people from €13
There’s an eco-friendly focus at La Jaurie, with a naturally filtering, salt-water swimming pool, composting toilets and rainwater harvesting among the farm’s green credentials. A friendly donkey (rides available in summer) grazes the main camping meadow, bordered by bushes and walnut trees, and the site produces its own honey. Cycle the voie verte track – an old railway line – into the Périgord Limousin natural park, stopping at the activity centre in Bussière-Galant for ziplining and treetop games, or borrow sieves from the campsite and try panning for gold in the river.
• Tent and 2 people from €14
B&B, food and camping, Limousin
Tents, campervans and caravans can all be pitched on the grassy tiers below popular B&B Domaine La Chapelle. It gets busy in the summer holidays, as families capitalise on the swimming pool, playground and games courts – volleyball, badminton and more – but as there are only six camping pitches, there’s limited scope for overcrowding. The restaurant at the top of the site is excellent, with food freshly prepared by the campsite owners and far-reaching terrace views. Brive-la-Gaillarde, 7km away, is out of sight but drive the 10 minutes into town and you’ll find an enlightening museum of art and history inside a 16th-century mansion.
• Tent and 2 people from €17.50
Swim, paddle, cycle, Burgundy
Perfect for water-lovers, the riverside Huttopia La Plage Blanche campsite in the foothills of the Jura mountains has outdoor and indoor swimming pools and a covered hot tub for those who tire of paddling in the Loue river itself. Kayaks and canoes are available to hire, and an activity centre next door can finish off anyone who isn’t already worn out. Hire bikes from a central wooden lodge (where there’s free wifi and a shop) to cycle the riverside path to Dole, 20km away, where there’s a slew of good restaurants and an excellent science-history museum inside Louis Pasteur’s old home.
• Tent and 2 people from €15
Lakeside action, Dordogne
Helmed by personable Dutch owners the van Osta family, Camping Lestaubière is a true gem of the Dordogne camping landscape. With 100 tent pitches scattered around its verdant fields, it somehow manages to feel both sprawling and intimate. The action centres on the reed-fringed freshwater swimming lake, with a floating diving platform a short swim from the stretch of sandy beach. There’s also a swimming pool and shallower toddler’s pool. A beach volleyball court, five-a-side football pitch and summertime animations are just some of the bonus offerings, and the village tennis courts are within walking distance.
• Tent and family of 4 from €35.75
Countryside chic, Lot-et-Garonne
Under new management for 2017, La Parenthèse Les Ormes successfully carries off a friendly, intimate vibe despite hosting up to 100 camping families in peak season. The mostly flat pitches are spread around a mini-valley, some of them among trees. The facilities are superb and presented with unexpected style, including a chic pool with cool black sun loungers, and an airy designer restaurant with separate, supervised kids’ corner. Activities as diverse as yoga, reiki, fishing, horse riding and table tennis are all on offer and the site is well placed for exploring Bergerac and the Dordogne.
• Tent and 2 people from €18
Merry days, Burgundy
Merry by name, merry by nature, the bucolic Camping Merry-sur-Yonne site is as tranquil as the river on whose banks it sits. It’s mainly tents, campervans, and caravans, with a couple of recently added modern glamping pods. There’s also a gîte, if you fancy something slightly more plush. Not short on facilities, the site has a cafe-bar restaurant, tennis courts, games room and play zone with giant outdoor chess. Nearby, the 50-metre-high Rochers du Saussois limestone cliffs offer great photo opportunities.
• Tent and 2 people from €12
Messing about on the river, Dordogne
The peaceful riverside is the focal point and sets the tone at Camping La Chatonnière, with lazy days of paddling, boating and river swimming. That’s not to say there aren’t other distractions, too (badminton, boules, bikes … and that’s just the bs) but retro water fun reigns supreme, especially in the hot summer Dordogne sun. Most pitches are car-free (although unloading is permitted), which adds to the simple, natural feel of the site. The surroundings are obscenely pretty and sufficiently pristine for this to be a designated nature reserve – the Perigord-Limousin natural park.
• Tent and 2 people from €14
• For the full range of camping options, to search instant availability and to book online, visit coolcamping.com.
The definitive Cool Camping: France 3rd Edition (Punk Publishing; £16.95) is out now available in bookhops, or at co?o?l?camping.com/books