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Camping Sites in Cote d'Azur & Provence in general

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      01.03.2003 07:02
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      Easter 2002 in the South of France... bliss! Goodbye dull grey skies and, hopefully, hello sunshine - well we are talking about the end of March/beginning of April here, so we were living in hope a bit! We had been advised from various sources that it was about a 12 hour drive from Calais, plus rest-stops. Unfortunately it took us over 15 hours, including a couple of very quick rest stops and over an hour stuck in a traffic jam at the Lyon Peage. In future, we would take the opportunity to split the journey and stop overnight. THE SITE The campsite itself is nestled on the side of a hill (or if you're like me, a mountain) amongst some old cork oak and stone pine trees. Most of the pitches are cut into the hillside and offer a great deal of privacy. It is a very large site (31 hectares), although the true size of it is not realised unless you take a drive round. Many of the mobile homes are privately owned and have been personalised, making most of the pitches very ndividual, rather than the uniformity that is often displayed on campsites. There are a wide range of facilities and activities avaiable, although going at the time of year we did, many of these were either not open or only open for limited periods. It may be worth checking before you book what is likely to be available. A large complex towards the base of "the hill" houses the grocery, bar, take away, games room, swimming pools, launderette, and kids club. I believe there is also a gym and a restaurant, although neither of these were open during our stay. This complex forms a series of terraces at varying heights, so be prepared for some climbing. There are two pools, a childrens pool (which was not open at all during our stay) and the main pool (which only opened from Easter Saturday). The main pool is fairly large, although it does get crowded, even at Easter. There were plenty of sunloungers both around the pool an d on a higher terrace. The bar, take away and other facilities are accessed from the top terrace which has numerous tables and chairs, some of which are under cover for those who prefer a more shady spot. Obviously going at the beginning of the season, the bar only had limited opening hours, but was very reasonably priced with a large assortment of drinks to suit every palate. To one side of the bar there is an alcove housing a satellite TV (although this did tend to be in French, naturally) and on the other side is an area used for discos (of which there were a couple during our stay). The take away served very generous portions at reasonable prices. The chef (he was too good to merely be called a cook) prepared a special each day, ranging from roast beef to squid to lasagne (and it was the best lasagne I'd ever had), so you were not limited to the usual hamburger or sausage and chips! Be warned, if you order a hot dog it comes in between a third and half of a baguette, so don't go thinking it's just a light snack! Although we didn't venture into the games room, we did spy pool tables and a number of video game machines to keep the teenagers happy. The kids club has a separate building and a small fenced in garden but is only open during July and August. There is a childrens play area which our kids went to a couple of times but it is not totally enclosed and the main road from reception runs alongside. Also the ground is the stone chippings often seen in French squares etc, so be prepared for the occasional grazed knee. The launderette costs about the same as over here, although detergent and conditioner are included in the price and are pre-loaded into the machines, so there's no need to buy any while you're there. The grocery carries all the basics, but like most on-site shops, cheaper can be found at local hypermarkets (the nearest one being a Geant Casino about 5 minutes away). It also has fresh bread and pastries daily. Entry to the site is restricted and you need a key card to get through the barrier. Our travel company provided ours for nothing, but if you go directly you have to pay a deposit for the card which (I believe) is returned to you when the card is returned. There are various sports facilities (which we didn't try out), including tennis and petanque and I believe during the summer there is badminton and volleyball as well. The only real drawback I found with the site was that being on a hill, with a large number of the pitches set above the facilities, you had quite a climb to get back to your mobile home. I must admit that, despite being only about a third of the way up the hill, I used to drive to and from the pool/bar etc (although I will point out that I was 34 weeks pregnant at the time, so think I do have a slight excuse)! However, we were the exception and most people did manage the climb. It is definitely a site I would visit again, but probably when our children are a little older (the oldest is currently 6) since it seems ideal for young teenagers, although this could also be down to the time of year we went. THE AREA The surrounding area is mainly vineyards and forests. It is quite mountainous (okay, hilly, but mountainous sounds better), so be prepared for some interesting driving experiences - with sharply turning roads and suddenly sheer drops next to you, sometimes with little or no barriers! St Tropez is between 15-30 minutes away, depending on traffic (although during the high season this can take considerably longer - even hours). It's well worth a visit, although we found that our visit was marred by the two or three beggars we came across. One highlight was stumbling across the patisserie that invented the Tarte Tropezienne and, of course, indulging in one (imagine a fresh cream victoria sandwich and improve it by abo ut 1000% - the sponge was as light as a feather and the creamy custard filling was to die for)! Although these tartes can be bought in supermarkets, none of them matched up to the one bought in St Tropez. Eating out is quite expensive in St Tropez, especially around the port. For an experience similar to St Tropez but without the beggars and the high prices, St Maxime just along the coast on the other side of the bay is well worth a visit. We actually found this far more relaxing and less crowded, and takes about the same length of time to get to. The St Tropez beaches are about 30 minutes away. Unfortunately, the day we picked was cold and windy, and being out of season most of the facilities were closed. There are numerous places to eat, although parking would probably be a problem during high season. Italy can be reached quite easily, and can be done in a day trip. Our neighbours on the site did this, and stocked up on spirits which cost even less than they do in France. It's well worth taking the time to drive around and visit the local towns and resorts since they are all very different and have their own individual characters. For those addicated to hypermarkets, the Geant is about 5 minutes away and, although not the biggest one we have visted, still manages to have a vast array of products and a wonderful wine section. On the same complex are a large variety of other shops including a pharmacie, opticians, DIY store, cashpoints, numerous clothing stores and furniture to name but a few. In another section of the complex is a McDonalds for those who just have to have one! There are many roadside stores in the area selling everything from bread to terracotta and furniture. All in all it's a very interesting area and one that we will definitely be visiting and exploring further in the future, but when our children are a bit older and don't need buggies!

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