‘Glamorous camping’, as we know it, was born amid the new-age hedonism of music festivals, nurtured on back-to-nature ideals and then propelled into the public psyche by Kate Moss, colourful Hunter wellies, Cath Kidston trappings and a few fur throws.
But is this the accurate picture? Well, no. Glamping has been around for centuries since the days of Kublai Khan’s Xanadu, the first famous glamper’s paradise. His lavish summer dwellings were the epitome of ‘home away from home, though Cath Kidston adornments were not his thing, as far as we know.
Fast forward to the Edwardian era and we find they too saw the appeal of the great outdoors, but with a certain comfort guaranteed. One Edwardian household was renowned for elaborate camping excursions, with piles of equipment and even a large harmonium as essential kit.
Like modern glampers, they aimed to make themselves comfortable but without losing the essential appeal of the outdoor, ‘in touch with nature’ experience. As an old camping sage of the times observed, “We do not go into the woods to rough it, we go to smooth it”.
So the fundamental appeal of modern camping has remained constant since the days of these early Edwardian ‘gentleman’ travellers: the enjoyment of the open air and the great outdoors, the chance to get up close and personal to nature and the desire to explore beautiful surroundings. Also, frankly, the opportunity to break with usual routines and just do something a little different from everyday life – simple premises that are just as relevant today as they were over 100 years ago.
Modern glamping is a wonderful twist in the tale of camping: while the core ideal is no different from that of previous generations, it does breathe new life into a pursuit we all know and love.
But consider carefully what kind of glamping experience you wish for. Often, we hear from would-be purist glampers who, while enjoying the novelty of their glamping accommodation, find that the children miss having other kindred spirits to play with, a swimming pool to splash around in and all the hubbub and activities that only a well-run campsite can provide.
Glamping with a twist
So how glamorous is glamping? Well, this can vary: it might be a lavishly constructed yurt with a solid wood floor, fur throws, log burner, insulated walls and sprung beds.
Or it could be a more straightforward tent with a twist – perhaps raised wooden floors, electric lighting, a safari awning and hammocks.
Purists may expect their glamping experience to include a daily visit to the farm to collect freshly laid eggs, but there are plenty of places where you can expect to find more going on for families – after all, the excitement of collecting eggs can only last so long.
The trick is to tread carefully: one man’s romantic ideal is another’s abject misery.
We are familiar with stories of disappointment among those for whom the glamping sizzle promised more than it delivered. You may fancy something a little different but do not necessarily want to share your space with a fragrant alpaca or find yourself on a far-flung hillside with no immediate neighbours. Problems can arise when high expectations of romantic surroundings, idyllic locations and a unique environment are not met – or, indeed, are washed away by the cold shower of a reality check.
Luckily, many places now offer you the opportunity to glamp and still benefit from the buzz of a campsite. The novelty of camping with a few creature comforts is combined with the activities, great facilities and interaction with like-minded people that only comes from staying on a well-run site. You also benefit from the knowledge of the reception team – walking and cycling routes, the best local attractions and which restaurants to visit are all things they can help with, ensuring you get the best from your holiday.
A child’s eye view
Campsite life is made for children. They love the freedom, the space and the ability to run around and explore in a safe environment. There’s also ample opportunity for getting grubby and the chances of a bath are slim, which is even better news for most under 12s.
Whatever their age, the kids can learn a little about the big wide world and the forces of nature, meet flora and fauna close up and personal and interact with others, perhaps taking on a bit of social responsibility.
They can play hide and seek, create dens and make new friends, and at the end of the day, parents can see their little treasures sleeping soundly in the fresh air (after staying up later than usual, of course!).
It’s a cliché, but if the kids are happy, Mum and Dad are happy too. Glamping is about doing what you want when you want. Take a midday wander around the campsite and you’ll find children splashing in the pool, and toddlers enjoying the swings before lunch; some excited jabbering in the distance might herald a treasure hunt.
Over in the corner, under a shady tree, parents recline in companionable silence, quietly getting stuck into their paperbacks.
For some it’s barbecue time, for others it’s not long since they were breakfasting in pyjamas. Some, young and old, are getting ready for an afternoon nap, while others are planning a trip to the beach, a pony ride, an ice cream treat… There are choices for everyone and it really doesn’t matter, there’s no fixed itinerary – this is glamping.
Glamping with real comforts
Glamping may be all about going back to basics but it is very much about comfort and luxury too.
To complement this, many campsites offering a taste of glamping also have developed high-quality facilities: you may be sleeping under the stars but you can still indulge in wonderful sporting activities, enjoy excellent cuisine on-site and even pamper yourself in a fully equipped purpose-built spa. You don’t even have to dig your own loo.
Life in the easy lane
On a glamping holiday, the necessities of everyday life ensure a relaxed pace. You’ll quickly establish your own daily rhythms, and it’s good to know there are no hotel restrictions, formalities, and set meal times to conform to.
It’s a refreshing change of pace, a liberating opportunity to break from the daily domestic routine. It’s a chance to take time out, enjoy some breathing space and remind yourself of life’s simple pleasures, whether it’s enjoying a late-night drink under the stars or racing the kids down the waterslides.
With glamping, so much is new and unfamiliar. There’s always the excitement and anticipation of arriving at your campsite – home for the holiday. Setting up camp, meeting the neighbours and getting organised is always fun. Then there’s unpacking all the outdoor games and trying to play everything at once, then clamouring for a swim, or an ice cream… probably both. But gradually the excitement settles down and you get into the swing of it.
Glamping gives a different perspective on the mundane aspects of everyday life. For children, this is an adventure, and for younger children just beginning to stretch their wings, a campsite provides a perfect environment (safe, friendly) to enjoy such adventures. The simple task of buying bread from the campsite shop often becomes a fun part of the holiday for the intrepid seven-year-old.
Handing over some coins, saying ‘Hello’ or ‘Bonjour’ and returning to base without nibbling too much is often a small milestone in the early years.
The washing-up ritual is peculiar to camping. At home, this is no more than the routine drudgery of everyday life, but on a campsite somehow it can become part of a family bonding exercise, enlivened by banter at the sinks with your neighbours. Kids seem to love it!
How do you glamp?
There is a huge range of accommodation that falls into the glamping ‘camp’.
It is, after all, a heady cocktail of escapism, novelty, convenience, romance and fun, all mixed with a little glamour.
So pack your bags and try something a little different: all the joys and benefits of traditional campsite life, with a chance to experience a taste of sleeping somewhere innovative. Of course, by their nature, these forms of accommodation are immensely varied and individual.
Part of their appeal is their lack of consistency – so don’t assume that what you get with one yurt applies to all yurts
What are your options?
Perhaps the epitome of glamping, these substantial structures provide the feel, but not the whiff, of the Mongolian nomad.
The iconic silhouette as dusk falls puts boys of all ages under the spell of a little Native Indian magic.
Large family tents, with separate canvas compartment ‘rooms’, and equipped with all the usual domestic paraphernalia. Usually on a raised platform deck and with a covered porch from where you can recline and survey the passers-by.
Very similar to the safari tent, but decidedly retro in style and with a ‘frontier’ feel about them.
Relatively new on the glamping scene, these combine the sturdy timber structure of a cabin with the novelty and romance of a canvas roof, allowing bedtime star gazing on balmy nights. They come with wood burning stove and a trapdoor to the stairs.
Based on the traditional Romany-style horse-drawn caravans of yester-year, these offer similar levels of comfort to a modern mobile home but with a large feature window that opens out onto a raised terrace on the end.
Similar in concept to certain gites, these are made of timber and come equipped with all mod cons – apart from the usual equipment, wood-burning stoves and dishwashers are not uncommon – and some have mezzanine levels too.
Mobile homes with a twist
Some progressive campsites now offer more imaginative mobile homes, enhanced with quirky features. You may find hot tubs, four-poster beds, or even roll-top baths, in addition to the high-spec features of a contemporary mobile home.
These are usually single-roomed, with wooden steps up to the canopy and great fun and a real novelty. On some campsites, breakfast is brought to your treehouse and you haul it up in a wicker basket on a long rope. Made of timber and most definitely evoking a Tarzan lifestyle, they are, obviously, not for the infirm.
The iconic silver bullet-shaped caravans, steeped in rootsy road trips of vintage Americana, are occasionally found available to hire on European campsites.
Uniquely shaped and sensibly constructed, these are generally fairly Spartan in terms of fittings (electricity is usually provided, but you are likely to need bedding and other equipment). They are immensely varied and individual, meaning you’ll never have the same experience twice.
France, Val de Loire, Eure-et-Loir, Senonches
Huttopia Senonches is a ten-hectare site hidden away in the huge Forêt Dominiale de Senonches, and, in keeping with other Huttopia sites, combines a high standard of comfort with a real sense of backwoods camping. There are 84 touring pitches here, some with 10A electricity. The pitches are very large, ranging from 100 sq.m. to no less than 300 sq.m. There are also 36 Canadian-style log cabins and tents available to rent. A good range of on-site amenities includes a shop and a bar/restaurant. The chlorine-free natural pool, with terrace, overlooks an unfenced lake and is open from early July until September.
Châteaux dans les Arbres
France, Aquitaine, Dordogne, Nojals-et-Clotte
This is a unique site and a good example of luxury glamping. There are three wooden castles (2-6 persons) constructed among the tree tops. Each château has been assembled from locally sourced timber and is equipped with TV, WiFi, tea and coffee making facilities, minibar and a terrace with hot tub. Rental packages include linen and towels, and breakfast is served from 09.00-10.00. Each unit is fully insulated, with heating and air conditioning. Children are welcome and security features are installed to ensure their safety. Sitting out among the trees, surrounded by greenery and serenaded by birdsong is an unusual feature. Please note – there are no touring pitches here.
Belrepayre Airstream & Retro Camping
France, Midi-Pyrénées, Ariège, Manses
The Belrepayre Airstream and Retro Campsite only has 12 touring pitches. It is situated south of Toulouse between Carcassonne and Foix, near Mirepoix in the foothills of the Pyrenees and at the heart of the famous Cathar region. The owners are enthusiastic Airstream fans, and only allow Airstreams or vans over 30 years old to stay on the site – strictly by reservation only. There are 11 original Airstream caravans from the ’40s to the ’70s available to rent. These are fully equipped for self-catering and are ideal for anybody wanting a real retro camping experience.