Camping: Truly pitch perfect

Estartit port, Costa Brava, Spain.
Estartit port, Costa Brava, Spain.
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Do campsite breaks make for the ideal family holidays? We look at options home and abroad, sleeping under canvas in historic Warwick and in a mobile home in sunny Spain.

Warwick by Emily Shelley

I’m calmly sipping gin and tonic in the evening sunshine while watching my four-year-old son yell “die!” as he rages toward his opponent with a lance, 
before decapitating him with a broadsword.

His enemy may be stuffed full of straw, but to this budding warrior, Knight School at Warwick Castle is 100 per cent real.

It’s quite easy to keep up the illusion; lute music is playing out in the background, and his instructor is completely in period and in character. And we’ve just unpacked our modern-day gear inside our immaculate “campaign’ tent, complete with banner, bow and arrows, storage trunks and fur throws.

Welcome to medieval “glamping” at Warwick Castle.

There are 38 campaign tents like ours, and three kings’ tents (with four-posters) dotted among the trees in a wooded glade along the banks of the sleepy 
River Avon, on the edge of the castle grounds.

As part of our overnight stay, following a whole day exploring the castle, we’ve just eaten an enormous feast in the banqueting tent. Now the evening entertainment has captured the children’s imagination and attention. It’s 10pm before we coerce them into bed, with castle staff on hand to supply warm milk.

One of the added perks of our glamping weekend is exclusive access to the castle earlier than the masses, which means we have half an hour to savour to climb the battlements and walk the ramparts unfettered by crowds.

There has been a castle here since William the Conqueror built one in 1068. Owned by Henry VIII and Elizabeth I, among others, and involved in the stories of Joan of Arc, Lady Jane Grey and Emma Hamilton, a visit here is a vivid immersion in British history – from the War of the Roses to the Civil War, Georgian largesse to Victorian engineering.

Merlin Entertainments, which bought the castle in the 1970s from the Greville family, has used all its theme park experience to bring the juiciest aspects of this history to life.

Our first call this morning is to pick sides (we go for Yorkist) as we watch the raising of the portcullis. With the Horrible Histories challenge in situ at Warwick all summer, we then have a go at the game of operation, Middle Ages-style, and experience the terror of the Victorian schoolroom.

A two-day pass comes with the glamping experience and means you can plan and pace your activities.

Fresh from disappointment at the longbow challenge (arrows landing a country mile from the £1,000 bullseye) 
we watch our children gaze open-mouthed as an enormous fireball is hurled through the air by the ‘knights’ below.

It will make other history lessons, and other camping holidays, seem incredibly dull by comparison.

Spain by Caroline Davison

What do you think of when someone says “campsite”? I used to picture freezing in a tent with two jumpers on and a long drive across Europe to get there.

Fast-forward to lazing on a sun lounger in a warm Spanish breeze, sangria in hand, outside my air-conditioned mobile home, kitted out with all mod-cons – having got there by plane. Bliss!

We’re staying at Costa Brava’s Castell Montgri – a huge, upmarket campsite.

So, what has it got? Well, the Ombra pool complex has water slides, as well as a restaurant where we enjoy paella on the first night.

Up the hill is Panorama – with a huge pool that attracts serious swimmers who take a dip early in the morning before the kids get stuck in. But my favourite is La Bassa, which has waterfalls and looks like a rock pool.

Another bonus is Eurocamp’s Base activity club for teenagers, perfect for my 14-year-old stepson Joe.

Once fully settled in, we check out the nearby town of L’Estartit. It has the usual shops, restaurants, bars and ice cream parlours, but the posh marina means it’s a cut above the typical Spanish seaside resort. The main attraction is the vast sandy beach.

Having a hire car gave us the freedom to explore more towns further south.

If you fancy some history, visit Pals. It’s a hilltop rabbit warren of medieval streets with an ancient church, castle, and stunning views.

Also highly recommended are Llafranc and Calella. Tucked away in a rugged section of coastline, the two towns are linked by a lovely seaside walk.

We stumble upon the ancient Iberian settlement of Sant Sebastia de la Guarda in the hills above the two bays, with magnificent panoramic views. The site dates from the sixth century and has been recently excavated.

On our last full day, my partner Dave, and Joe, get up early to climb to the hilltop Montgri Castle, which towers above the campsite and L’Estartit.

If you’re interested, it’s 45 minutes of hard slog. I wasn’t, and made full use of the mobile home’s sun lounger and a cool drink from the fridge. OK, I admit it, I could get used to campsites...