Family camping trips, in my childhood memories, nearly always ended in disaster. Long, dull car journeys, squabbling in the back with my big sister, cranky, hot and sunburned. Too small tents, the scent of wet logs and barbecues.
There was the time we locked the car keys in the boot, and had to smash it open. The time my father forgot, once again, to pack the ground sheet or the camp-stove or, on one memorable occasion after a long, heavy hike, the gas to power it all.
But there are also the memories of the long, hot days spent poolside, splashing and racing and learning to dive, exploring in the woods and the taste of red ice pops, melting in the sun.
As my own young children grow out of toddlerhood and begin to demand their independence, the lure of camping begins to draw us back. This time though, we’re doing it in style.
We travel by Brittany Ferries – a joy in itself, the children delighted with the on-boat disco, me favouring the peace of a cabin and just very grateful we don’t have to drive all this way.
It’s certainly quicker than travelling by car from Calais, and easier, and with ample entertainment to distract the kids.
And Eurocamp, with more than 180 sites across Europe, offers us options. At Domaine des Ormes, in Dol-de-Bretagne in north-western France, we get the joy and freedom of a campsite holiday, without the too small tent.
Instead, we have a luxurious holiday home, complete with sleek modern kitchen and power shower. Critically, it comes stocked, with pots and pans and sheets and a freezer, cute coffee pots and wine glasses. We can’t possibly mess this up.
There are shops on site, and a bar. Three pools, in a stunning setting, where the children spend all their free time. There is horse-riding, waterskiing, a children’s activity centre and play parks and holiday camps. And there are other children – the one thing my own really want.
We reach a compromise; evenings are for their friends and the delights of the campsite, and daytimes are for family, and exploring France. There is such a lot to see.
The glorious white-sand beaches of Brittany and Normandy, and the tragic history they hold. Medieval monasteries, steep cobbled streets, towering chateaus and quaint market towns. And the food – cheese and wine and fresh-baked bread. Croissants, dunked in thick black coffee for breakfast, crepes, drizzled with melted butter and a sprinkle of sugar, and oysters, cracked in front of you at salty beachfront market stalls, fresh from the traps.
An absolute must-see is Mont Saint Michel, a magical island rising ghostlike from the mists, ascending in steep steps to a towering tip and magnificent medieval monastery.
For centuries this was one of Europe’s major pilgrimage destinations, and the holy mount is now a Unesco World Heritage Site. Crossing to the island, its sheer height is astonishing, while the climb to the monastery through winding cobbled streets, though arduous, is worth it.
In nearby Dinan, dubbed Brittany’s prettiest town, there is a warren of narrow streets, overlooked by tottering half-timbered houses, hundreds of years old. The old town, surrounded by ramparts, is home to art galleries and craft shops and is a gift of a place to explore.
In Cancale, a picturesque fishing village, it is all about oysters. Here, more than 15,000 tonnes are produced every year and there are many fine-dining seafood restaurants lining its main street, drawing foodies from across France.
To a true foodie, I’m assured, the only way to taste them is at the town’s seafront stalls, a dozen for e5, cracked open on demand by weathered fishermen and served with a squeeze of lemon.
A trip to Saint Malo, a busy ferry port, offers an authentic glimpse into Brittany’s seafaring and pirating past. Much of the old town was destroyed by bombing in the war, but has since been rebuilt including the stately cathedral. We sit quietly for an hour or more just listening to the organ playing and watching the light fall through its striking stained-glass windows.
A visit to the Normandy beaches, site of the D-Day landings on June 6, 1944, as an armada of Allied troops descended on France for the liberation of Europe after years of Nazi occupation, is also well worth it.
The pristine, white sands stretch for miles, a distinct lack of the usual tourist shops and cafes a dignified salute to the horrors that happened here. Simple, sombre tributes remain, a posy of flowers at the base of a memorial, a sea of plain white crosses at the American Cemetery honouring the tens of thousands who were killed.
We were here for a day, and could have a stayed a week.
We will return, to the Normandy beaches, to Brittany and to Eurocamp. To our kind of camping holiday – free to explore France and its history. To enjoy the best bits of campsite life, but with the luxury of power showers and our own space.
Ruby and family stayed with Eurocamp, at Domaine des Ormes in Dol-de-Bretagne. Prices, for seven nights in a three-bed, one-bath Azure + Deck from May 1, 2019, from £246.40 per party. www.eurocamp.co.uk.
Brittany Ferries operates the longer routes from Portsmouth, Poole and Plymouth direct to Brittany and Normandy in as little as three hours. Fares for an outward journey from Portsmouth to Caen and returning from St Malo to Portsmouth in mid-season 2019 start from £340 return for a car and family of four. Book online at brittany-ferries.co.uk or call 0330 159 7000.