Favorite Campgrounds in Europe – A Guide
This is a guest post by Carol Mickelsen, the author of Camping Europe.
Giving a little sip of travel to your children can open up immense vistas, stimulate curiosity, and provide an appreciation of life beyond oneself. Travel changes people. It broadens their perspective of the world and their understanding of their place in it. Upon returning from travel, you’ll notice that thinking and problem-solving abilities are sharper and children will find schoolwork more interesting.
Camping is one of the easiest ways to appreciate Europe with kids. Its relaxing pace makes it easy to take time out. Use mornings for learning and afternoons for playing. Open up the guidebook and make a list of possible activities for the day. Take turns planning chunks of time, and abide by the choices. Every two hours, interlace activities with some wind-down time. Allow some independence within boundaries. Come to an agreement on what happens when someone goes “out of bounds.” Have a “meet back here in 20 minutes” agreement. Synchronize watches. Be silly. Take funny photos and have them printed enroute so you can savor them along the way. It’s easier to be organized but not rigid if you keep your plans simple. Relish the unexpected and spontaneous.
Your kids will join European kids having fun at the swimming areas and playgrounds and you’ll enjoying chatting with European parents while you spend time watching the kids. Make meal preparation easy. European markets are filled with plenty of easy-to-fix foodstuffs, and deli-cases are loaded with mouth-watering choices that make meal preparation easy.
Camping for a family costs much less than staying in inexpensive hotels or hostels, eating at inexpensive cafes or fast-food places, and taking public transportation. Sizably less! The luxury of a vehicle enables you to go wherever whim takes you, whether it’s to a local festival, a breathtaking location, or better weather. Instead of just looking at all the delectable food in open markets and grocery stores, you can purchase some and fix yourself a delicious meal for very little expense. Then enjoy it at a scenic campground.
Catering to demanding Dutch, German, French, and British campers, popular campgrounds must have well maintained warm showers, clean toilets, common kitchen and laundry facilities, a well-equipped children’s playground, grass, shade, and if close to a city, nearby public transportation. Location is important to popularity, so many are close to the lakes, rivers, or the sea, or are on a hillside with a view. They are generally large grassy lawns under shade trees. Safety and theft are simply not issues. You are camping alongside people who have their own camping equipment and are not interested in your gear.
Contemporary camping gear is very comfortable and easy to assemble and pack. Go to a sports store that sells camping equipment and lie down on the new self-inflating mattresses and see the new easy-to-put-up rainproof tents. You’ll be surprised how comfortable, easy to pack, and set up the new equipment has become.
Favorite Destinations and Affordable Campgrounds for Family Vacations
Historically one of the most important places in the world, Rome’s history crowds in and over every corner of its twisting cobblestone streets, grand piazzas, cathedrals, and ancient ruins. It’s a city that is best savored when you’ve immersed yourself in its history before the trip so use your library a couple of months in advance. Pick a few major sites that are important to you and savor them slowly. A visit to the Vatican is a must. But instead of waiting in line for the Vatican Museum, Sistine Chapel and the Basilica, be one of the first to ascend to the dome in the morning. Take the elevator to the Cupola. Then start the strenuous but unforgettable climb up between the very narrow winding space between the inner and outer shells of the dome to the Lantern where the views are glorious. Wait until 2 PM to see the richness, which is almost beyond belief, of the Vatican Museum and Sistine Chapel. You’ll miss the morning crowds. As you explore the Coliseum and climb Palatine Hill, take time to sit on a broken wall and talk about the sounds, smells, and life of 2000 years ago. Follow the labyrinth of ancient pedestrian-only alleyways and bridges being mindful to enjoy the details of everyday life in Rome. Public transportation is well organized and safe. The campground office sells tickets and is happy to help with detailed information.
Camping Roma (066 623 018) is the closest campground to the historic area with a bus stop right outside the entrance. So it’s a favorite. Its newly upgraded facilities include a beautiful pool; restaurant, grocery store, bar with sports screen, separate Internet room and inexpensive bungalows. Driving directions: Off A1 exit onto the GRA. On the west side of the GRA take exit 1/Via Aurelia in the direction of San Pietro-Citta del Vaticano/Centro. Drive east on Via Aurelia for just over one kilometer. Watch for the pedestrian walkway over the Via Aurelia. Then look for the camping sign on the south side. The campground is on the south side across from a large supermarket.
PYRENEES NATIONAL PARK, FRANCE
Picture-postcard-like and an icon for the park, Cirque de Garvarnie, an enormous mountain amphitheatre, is stunning. The wide well-worn trail to it passes through a beech and pine forest before it opens up to a scenic open meadow with a creek running through. The gorge deepens as you climb higher. After four kilometers from the meadow you round a curve to face the curve of the cirque. A full 180 degrees wide, it rises up in a series of gigantic steps to more then 3000 meters. A great waterfall, the Grande Cascade, rushes down in one leap of 423 meters, the longest in Europe. A narrow but not overly steep trail leads to the mouth of the cirque bowl where a snowmelt creek tumbles through an area stunning with lichen covered boulders, wild flowers, and grassy pockets that are perfect for a picnic.
My favorite campground is next to the trailhead just beyond the miniscule village of Gavarnie. Camping La Bergerie (0562 92 4841) has a fabulous location on the river with full view of the Cirque de Garvarnie. Located on a grassy slope there are some level areas for tents and a flat area for campers. Toilets, showers and dishwashing areas are basic but tidy. Its café with indoor and outdoor tables makes a good place make new friends with fellow travelers. Driving Directions: Gavarnie is 53 kilometers south of Lourdes. From Lourdes drive 15 kilometers south on D821 to Argeles Gazost. Continue south on D921 for 38 kilometers to Garvarnie. Drive up the hill through the village and then continue towards the mountains on a smaller road to camping.
BAVARIAN ALPS, GERMANY
Towering mountains, a Ludwig’s castle and well-marked hiking trails make this a great family destination. The Alpine hike to the Gorge of Hollental, close to Garmisch-Partenkirchen, is especially dramatic. The trail hugs a tiny cleft in a narrow rock gorge carved by a powerful waterfall. Members of the German Alpine Club constructed the Hollentalklamm in the early 1900s. Sometimes it seems more like a mining tunnel than a trail as you traverse the slippery but safe path through tunnels lit only dimly with an electric light bulb or window carved out of the rock wall. Throughout the narrow gorge, the cascade plunges with pounding force over immense mossy boulders. At one point the trail is a cantilevered bridge over the torrent. Gradually the power subsides and what was once a great torrent becomes a gentle stream bordered with grass and colorful wild flowers leading into the beautiful glacial basin of Hollental. Here, in Bavarian style, is a very pleasant terrace and cafe where you can sit and eat your own picnic lunch while sipping a well-earned cold beverage and chat with fellow hikers about the beauty of the scenery.
The only castle King Ludwig finished and lived in was Schloss Linderhof, so it is more intimate and fun with amusing quirky touches. It’s picturesquely located in the sunlight dappled forest close to Garmisch-Partenkirchen. Here King Ludwig dressed like a sultan and smoked a hookah in his Moorish pavilion. Late at night, in the cavernous Venus Grotto decorated with “before-Disney” stalactites, he floated in a pretty conch shell in the middle of an illuminated lake accompanied by musicians playing the music of his favorite composer, Wagner.
Simple and affordable, Campingplatz Zugspitze (088-21-3180) is located in Graineau, three kilometers west of Garmisch-Parkirchen. It is convenient for both the hike to Gorge of Hollental and a visit to Schloss Linderhof. Driving Directions: From Munich drive south on E533 for 92 kilometers. Turn west onto 23 in the direction of Garmisch-Parkirchen. Pass through town and following signposting to Graineau. The campground is on the north side of the road by the river and bridge.
About the Author: Carol Mickelsen has enjoyed car camping through Europe for over 30 years. She is the author of the definitve guide to Camping in Europe.