Time spent on a campsite lends itself to outdoor activities of all sorts, from ‘conventional’ sports like tennis, to activities often more associated with a holiday, such as kayaking or rafting, through to outward bound pursuits like orienteering and more specialist activities like sand yachting.
Recognising this, campsites have evolved hugely in recent years, investing in new sporting facilities, developing new services and attracting new activity-minded holiday makers. This is partly due to leisure trends, partly to the influence of organisations like Center Parcs and the Duke of Edinburgh scheme and partly to commercial needs. In a commercially competitive world, a campsite has to play to its strengths and appeal to the right kind of camper.
Many campers are first and foremost activity enthusiasts, for whom staying on a campsite is simply a convenient means of enjoying their chosen activity or sport. Others are more ‘serious’ campers and caravanners whose primary motivation is the enjoyment of their chosen hobby, rather than any particular outdoor activity. They simply enjoy being out and about in a caravan or motorhome.
Choosing campsites for outdoor activities
The quality of sporting activities offered by campsites is often remarkable but it’s clear that it is no longer enough for a well-run campsite to offer the bare minimum – proper investment, modern infrastructure, quality equipment and qualified professional supervision are all essential.
Some campsites offer a wide range of quality activities, aiming for a wide appeal to all age groups and interests. This kind of campsite can be a great idea for families of different ages to cater for.
Camping Ty Nadan in Brittany is exemplary, offering quad biking, aerial zip wires and treetop adventure trails, mountain biking, archery, paintballing and sea kayak excursions. There’s a wealth of choice and it clearly is aiming to appeal to active families.
Some people choose their campsite with a particular activity in mind. The lakes of the Landes in southwest France offer superb conditions for windsurfing, while many waterside campsites in Holland are popular with sailors for their facilities.
Other campsites have become expert in a specific activity, perhaps by virtue of location or personal interest of the owner. Camping Wulfener Hals in northern Germany is ideal for sailing and water sports. Camping Jungfrau in Switzerland is ideal for climbing activities. Camping Seiser Alm in the Italian Dolomites and Glen Nevis Caravan and Camping Park in Scotland are great bases for mountain pursuits.
Activities for everyone
Campsites for swimming
Most family campsites these days boast a swimming pool, often an impressive aqua park with slides and pools. But for that ‘at one with nature’ feel, you can’t beat splashing around in a river or lake. Try the tumbling waters of the Ardèche, with pebbly beaches and buzzards wheeling overhead above the craggy cliffs. Or enjoy the cool expanse of inviting waters of a shimmering English lake.
Up in the trees…
A relatively recent innovation is aerial adventure parks, built up in the treetops of mature woodland. Increasing numbers of campsites have their own (Ty Nadan in Brittany). Others have their own zip wires - La Grande Métairie’s is one of the longest. And there are easily 40 campsites in Snowdonia from where it’s possible to visit Zip World and career down a one mile line at 100 mph.
Campsites for riding
Some campsites, like Stowford Farm Meadows in Devon, have their own stables and offer riding for all levels. Domaine des Ormes in Brittany is especially well equipped with stables, horses of all sizes for all abilities, and suitable trails for pony rides for even the smallest equestrians. Many others are close to riding facilities and you can search on the Alan Rogers website for these.
Campsites for canoeing
Canoeing is a great activity on many French campsites, especially in the Ardèche and Dordogne: it’s easy to paddle downstream and fun for all the family. Some campsites offer proper tuition, then set you off with lunch in waterproof containers, arranging to meet you downstream and return you to the campsite by minibus. Most stretches are dead easy, easy to navigate for beginners while other stretches of the gorges can be more exhilarating and great for white water canoeing and even rafting.
Campsites for watersports
Many campsites are well placed for sailing and windsurfing, some even have their own dinghy launching slipways. Others offer more esoteric activities like kite surfing, scuba diving and water skiing.
Certainly, on most coastal stretches throughout Europe, there are sailing schools where it is usually possible to hire boats or have lessons. Some campsites set beside large lakes have their own dinghies and windsurfers for hire – always bear in mind local wind conditions and safety measures. The magnificent Lake Garda has a number of adjacent campsites, some with jetties, where you can sail and windsurf.
Kayaking has become popular in coastal areas, with mostly straightforward conditions allowing participants of all ages and abilities to take part. Depending on location and conditions you may find you can take kayaks out and explore the coastline on your own without a guide, or it may be that guided excursions with an instructor are the only option (perhaps where it involves paddling out of sight around a headland or similar).
For those who know no fear, some campsites, especially in the Belgian Ardennes, are well placed for underground activities involving caves, potholes, ropes and flashlights. For those who prefer the rustling pages of a paperback and the clink of ice beside a swimming pool, you are no doubt part of a very large majority!
Campsites for skiing
Skiing is always popular and a little snow should never stop anyone from enjoying a camping holiday! A number of Alpine campsites in France, Austria, and Scandinavia are open all year round and offer great skiing and snowboarding. Essentials like ski passes and equipment hire are often available while specially adapted mobile homes and accommodation are the norm.
Camping Seiser Alm Trentino enjoys a stunning setting in the Alto Adige, and offers fantastic ski packages. Camping Attermenzenis in a picturesque setting just 10 km from Zermatt where you have a choice of 360 km of piste, not to mention the Matterhorn ski safari.
Campsites for fishing
From youngsters with a bamboo cane and simple line, through to serious anglers with all the kit and an eye on the records, fishing is possible at many, many campsites. Whether in the river, lake, pond or sea, the options are huge once you have your permit, if required. Check at most campsite receptions for local advice.
Castel Les Bois du Bardelet in the Loire Valley even offers fishing lodges at the water’s edge of their fishing ponds and within walking distance of the bar and restaurant.
Campsites for cycling
Road cycling is hugely popular and easily enjoyed while staying on a campsite. Many rurally located campsites are surrounded by peaceful lanes where you can cycle in safety. Off-road trails for mountain bikes can be found, for example, at Natterersee in the Austrian Tirol or Rivendale near Ashbourne in the Peak District. Keen cyclists often take their own gear but cycle hire is possible on many campsites.
Campsites for climbing
Campsites are often used as a base for keen climbers too. Of course, these will be in climbing country like the Dolomites, the Scottish Highlands or the Pyrenees. That said, climbing and bouldering can be enjoyed wherever the conditions and terrain allow, not necessarily a towering peak.
Trollveggen Camping Møre og Romsdal in the Western Fjords of Norway is hard to beat for visual impact.
Campsites for walking
There can’t be many campsites where some form of walking or hiking is not recommended. Be it walking into the village along a woodland trail or following one of the great long-distance waymarked paths of Europe (the French Grandes Randonnées or Portugal’s Rota Vicentina, for example), walking is a great way to get to know your surroundings.
Follow coastal walks around Cofton Holidays in Devon or the passes near Camping Residence Corones Trentino in north Italy. Pick up maps from tourist offices or the campsite’s own reception, pack a few essentials like water and sunscreen, and off you go.
The activities covered here are mostly sporty, to a degree. But of course, activities can be rather more sedate affairs and not ‘sporty’ at all. A majestic hot air balloon ride over the Loire châteaux at dawn, a chance to pick grapes on a vineyard adjacent the campsite, skimming stones across a mirror-smooth lake in Sweden, or even an open-air painting workshop makes for a wonderful activity and a memorable holiday experience.
And the very nature of being on a campsite enables certain activities that you are unlikely to do at any other time. Sitting around a campfire, singing songs or telling stories, might not sound your thing but once you’re immersed in the camping ambience things change. Forget football or reality TV for an evening, suddenly star gazing becomes a fascinating way to spend a couple of hours.