Tootlafrance looks at a few camp sites at Argelès-sur-Mer that offer the best of both worlds.
For those looking for the sort of thing that made France famous back in the early 1960s, you won’t really find it where it all started – i.e. on the Côte d’Azur. Instead, the spirit of charming fishing village turned chic coastal town is to be found in the much less crowded and more laid-back area of the South-west Mediterranean Coast and specifically at the town of Collioure in the department of Pyrénées-Orientales.
With good value flights still operating this coming summer both into Toulouse Airport and over the border in Reus and Barcelona, the number of Irish discovering this part of France is set to increase. Whilst the accommodation facilities in the immediate area are of the B&B and hotel variety, families are well catered for a few kilometres up the road at Argelès-sur-Mer.
There are quite a few camp sites in Argelès – a strung-out developed coastal spot with a pleasant if not entirely beguiling centre – but there are three sites in particular that have been firm favourites with Irish holiday-makers for a number of years.Situated right across the road from one another, Hippocampe and La Sirène are a kilometre or so away from the centre of Argelès-sur-Mer but close to the beaches and large hypermarkets and served by a good bus service.
The twin parks offer the best of both worlds in many ways. The smaller one is Hippocampe (the name means “sea horse”). This is a site with plenty of shade and good facilities. It has a bar/restaurant and a decent-sized swimming pool (in main picture above), regular organised events for children of all ages from kids club type stuff to soccer tournaments. You could be quite content in it as it is, but for the fact that there is a much larger site just a hop and a skip in the Mediterranean sunshine across the road.
La Sirène (the mermaid) is vastly bigger in size. Again, you’ll find plenty of fellow countrymen, women and children here, but the scale of the place is much bigger. Their pool, for example, is a larger noisier version of the Hippocampe one. It makes for a more lively atmosphere but I think that staying at Hippocampe is the better option because you can retreat to the quieter life of the smaller parc when you’d had your fill of the fast lane across the road.La Sirène has a number of facilities that aren’t in Hippocampe. It has a supermarket, for example. It’s quite a decent-sized one as camp site shops go, but again, there’s a series of large hypermarkets within a couple of kilometres (Aldi and Intermarché are the nearest), reachable by the regular bus or with your car. They also have larger restaurant where you can get internet connection in exchange for buying something in the bar. If you are bringing a laptop to do some work/browsing with your morning coffee, do make sure to ask permission to use the power first: from personal experience, this particular establishment takes great umbrage to clients presuming that a trickle of their electricity comes free. There is an outdoor stage attached where they put on regular musical shows. We went to see their version of The Lion King and it was impressive in terms of professionalism and entertainment value.
If you want a few extra spills and thrills, there’s a fun park within a 10-minute walk from here, complete with Kart track, bowling, outdoor amusements and a couple of paintball parks nearby. It produces a certain level of noise on weekend nights, but Hippocampe still has enough serenity within its boundaries to be recommended.
Located in the heart of the village of Argelès-sur-Mer itself is the three-star Camping La Chapelle. This is a large and very mature site where the accommodation is a little bit more squashed in than in the other two. It isn’t uncomfortably so, however, and its proximity to everything more than compensates.They have their own pool – complete with a cover in case of inclement weather – but you’re a short walk or morning jog from the sea and the long sandy beach, as well as from the main strip which comes to life pleasantly in the evening for that saunter in the balmy Mediterranean evening complete with ice-creams and souvenir tee-shirts.
One point of discovery is that of the Dutch Tub. It is a fairly costly extra to get with your mobile home and Keycamp have a few placements with this facility. Having never tried one before, I had my doubts about the benefits of sitting in warm bath in public of an evening. This design works by burning turf in a large coil through which the water flows (I kid you not). The water heats once the fire gets going and you get that unbeatable combination of turf fire, barbecue atmosphere and hot-tub experience that I never knew existed before. All five of us climbed in and every single family member from 11 to 41 concluded that it was just about the most wonderful thing ever invented.
Tootlafrance were guests of Keycamp holidays (www.keycamp.ie). There are various direct flight options to the region and over the border in Spain during the summer and have a look at the Keycamp website for some interesting combination deals with Brittany Ferries. Brittany Ferries runs weekly from Cork to Roscoff, from where it’s a ten-hour drive on smooth roads.
Click the play button below to hear an interview with Conor Power on Dublin City FM talking about this article on the 5th of March 2014