Are you a ‘casual’ camper? Perhaps you have acquired a tent in the last year or so and used it for a festival or an exploratory weekend away? Now, perhaps, you’re fancying taking it to the next level and heading off on a proper tent camping holiday. Maybe a camping holiday in Europe. If so, and you’re feeling a tinge of trepidation, allow us to help you on your way and allay any fears.
Choosing your tent
Your tent will be your holiday home away from home, so choose wisely. That shabby tent you took to Glastonbury last year may have been fine for a damp, if hedonistic, weekend but it could be a different matter on a two week holiday.
If you decide you’re in the market for an upgrade, it’s a good idea to visit a camping show or a major store to see a range of tents fully erected before buying. This is not the place for an exhaustive guide to buying a tent (that will come!) but it pays to check the zips are sturdy and non-rusting and ensure the flysheet has strong seams. Sizes can be snug so if there are two of you sleeping in the tent, go for a three-berth option to make sure of having plenty of room for belongings too.
Families will also want something large and sturdy – tunnel tents with loads of headroom have become popular, as have inflatable tents (or ‘air tents’) which do without poles. A tent with a porch (sometimes called a vestibule) is a useful investment – handy for keeping footwear and other items outside the main sleeping space. Also, think about double-wall or single-wall tent construction – single-wall tents can allow condensation which means things inside can get damp.
It’s always a good idea to have a dummy run in the garden before embarking on a long holiday. It will mean you avoid any unwanted surprises on arrival and also that you can hopefully get set up in double-quick time on the campsite – important after a long journey when all you want to do is jump in the pool!
The joy of camping in a tent
There’s something about the open air, laid-back atmosphere of campsite life that brings out the best in everyone. You’ll find you quickly befriend the neighbours and feel part of the scene and totally at home. You’ll enjoy going with the flow of campsite life and the whole family benefits from a change in domestic rhythm. The kids just love camping: the adventure of sleeping under canvas, the freedom from the restrictions of hotel holidays (eat when you fancy - no fixed mealtimes here!), and the novelty of mealtimes enjoyed in the great outdoors.
Continental campsites are very tent-friendly, offering amazing locations, often with special areas for tents which can be especially attractive, being too small or not suitable for caravans or motorhomes. You might find yourself in an old walled garden or among the apple trees of an old orchard. The Glen of Aherlow Caravan and Camping Park (IR9400) in Tipperary and Camping Beau Rivage (FR64120) in Aquitaine are two sites with pitches set aside for tents.
Many also offer services like fridge hire – a real touch of luxury when you want fresh milk and chilled beers. And don’t worry about the kids - they never seem to find language barriers on a campsite and, besides, there’s always too much to do.
There are many factors to consider when choosing your campsite but the number of pitches will give a good idea of the general size of the campsite. This, in turn, can be a good indicator of the ambience on the campsite: how many people around, how much noise, level of activities and so on.
A campsite with up to 120 pitches can reasonably be called small, while the biggest parks may have over 1,000 pitches. If it’s your first time with a tent, size of campsite may be a determining factor: a small campsite might feel more relaxed and be calmer, less frenetic and altogether more personal which can appeal to the novice camper. Equally, others prefer a larger campsite with plenty going on that will keep the whole family entertained.
When camping in a tent you’ll want a nice, level pitch with plenty of space. Sizes are not standardised and can range from 60m sq to 150m sq or more, with some campsites offering a choice of size.
The tent pitches are generally cheaper than those for caravans and motorhomes and do not have water or electricity. Some campsites do offer electricity on the pitch, examples being Camping de Haro (ES90400) in La Rioja, Spain or Klüthseecamp Seeblick (DE30080) near Hamburg in Germany.
Nothing beats unzipping the tent in the morning to reveal a stunning view. The ubiquitous Instagram shot taken from within a tent and showing a pair of feet at the entrance to the tent, with a stunning view behind, is easily achieved - if you’re pitched in the right place of course! Ferienparadies Natterer See (AU0060) is set in the Austrian Tyrol and has pitches surrounded by majestic Alpine scenery, looking out over the lakes. Camping Le Châtelet (FR22040) on Brittany’s Côtes d’Amor has sea view pitches available for a modest supplement.
Tips for pitching your tent
- Check your pitch for items like discarded pegs or sharp stones which could damage your tent.
- Pitch your tent with the entrance facing away from the prevailing wind to avoid unwelcome take-off!
- Consider your sleeping position: the general preference is for the feet to be slightly lower than the head.
- Depending on the style of tent, insert any poles carefully – no matter how desperate you are to run to the beach or jump in the pool, do not force poles through!
- Avoid pitching in a hollow – you don’t want to wake up waterlogged if it rains in the night.
- Use strategically placed solar-powered nightlights to enable you to navigate to your tent in the dark, and avoid tripping over any guy ropes.
- If camping on hard or stony ground you may well need special rock pegs. Take some with you or check locally.
- Either way, a rubber tent mallet is always a good idea.
One of the main attractions of camping is the chance to cook and eat outdoors. Campsite cookery is great for introducing the kids to new tastes and local flavours, with plenty of excellent markets and local producers to tempt you. Many campsites allow barbecues and there are plenty of options for hearty meals. Don’t forget the campsite takeaway is a useful way of supplementing your own menu.
There’s a wealth of choice when it comes to campsite cuisine, wherever you are on holiday. Campsites in France might offer a daily special, the plat du jour. Campsites in Spain and elsewhere may hold weekly themed nights with giant paellas being the focus of attention before music and dancing. Campsites in Cornwall might hold beach barbecues while many campsites in Europe offers wood-fired takeaway pizza – always a winner!