Camping: Tents Without the Nervous Headache

• Think carefully about the type of site you want to stay on, especially if you are camping for the first time.

• If you want lots of organised entertainment, a mega-site in France might be the best bet, but these are not always very peaceful. Decide whether you want to meet other British families or avoid them. The Brits tend to congregate in France, less so in Italy or Austria.

• Bear in mind that the physical setting of an individual campsite is of huge importance; some are more exquisitely placed than even the most upmarket hotel. To get the best pitches at the good sites, enthusiasts apply on January 1, but you might be lucky if you turn up at 10am just as the free spirits are moving on. If you're not happy with your pitch, complain and ask to be moved.

• If this is your first camping trip, don't go too far. A three-day journey into Italy or Spain might sound adventurous; it won't feel like it on the way home.

• It's wise to book ferry crossings well in advance; going Club (£8 per person) is a sensible extravagance.

• For single-night stopovers the roadside chains (Ibis, Formule 1, Novotel, Campanile etc) are happy to have trailers parked overnight.

• Towing is not as difficult as it looks, providing you avoid hairpin-bend routes through the mountains and go slowly downhill (that's where most accidents happen). Reversing, however, is particularly tricky.

• Don't move too often; the effort of putting up and taking down the tent might overshadow the experience.

• Don't take too much. Extra weight makes travelling heavier and expensive - and you have to pack and repack everything. But make sure you have a washing line and a dustpan and brush - few sites seem to sell those essentials.

• Budget for plenty of restaurant meals if you can; evening washing-up can be extremely tiresome. Try to choose a campsite with its own restaurant or cafe.

Alan Rogers Guides

(01308 897809,

www.alanrogers.com

). Established British guidebooks to camping in Britain, France and Europe, available from the website, from £7.99. Every site has been checked and the descriptions give a chatty picture of what you are in for. The website covers all sites and gives tips.

Alan Rogers Travel Service

(01892 559898). Part of the Mark Hammerton group, it also arranges short hotel breaks in Europe, and books ferries and campsites at preferential rates.

Camping Cheque

(01892 559855,

www.campingcheque.com

). Set up by Christophe Gay, who inherited Chateau de l'Eperviere 10 years ago and transformed it into the ultimate camping experience. Camping Cheque is a grouping of 250 sites, in 15 European countries, that keep open all year. The network extends from Cork to Cadiz, and as far east as Hungary, but the distance between the sites can be covered in no more than an hour. These can be booked through Camping Cheque (off-season for £8.50 per night per pitch); and you aren't tied to a prearranged schedule.

Ready erected tent

The soft way into camping through a company such as Canvas, Eurocamp or (more select) Mark Hammerton (01892 525456,

www.markhammerton.com

). The tents sleep up to six and are equipped with electric light, fridge, sprung beds and gas cooker.

Plus point

No need to put it up.

Minus

Can't move on when the rain tips down or the campsite proves dreary.

Conventional tent

A tent large enough for all of us (seven) would cost £200 if we went for a Dome, £800 with a fixed frame. On top, of course, you need airbeds, stove, table, etc.

Plus point

Can stay in wilder sites; easy to transport; cheap.

Minus

No luxuries; no end of trouble to erect.

Trailer tent

Folds into a smallish trailer. Costs £3,000 new - or available second-hand through magazines such as Practical Caravan.

Plus point

Still camping but more comfortable; can be slotted on to a garage wall.

Minus

A lot of work to put up; no electricity; can't rent.

Folding camper

Roomier than a trailer tent, it emerges from the chrysalis of the trailer, with some shoving and clipping so you are left with two beds at either end, another bed that can be made from the seating area, a loo, cooker and fridge. Costs from £5,000 new.

Plus

point

All the comforts of a caravan with the thrill of putting it up; most cars can pull them.

Minus

Hard work to put up and down; a big lump to store.

Motor homes

You sleep in the van. Everything on board, which means you can use the facilities while you drive along. Costs £10,000 upwards.

Plus point

Neat, no need to collapse it when you move on; weatherproof; can tow a smaller car and bikes.

Minus

Hard to drive up steep roads - and what do you do with the petrol guzzler for the rest of the year?

Caravan

Available in all sizes, from tiny and basic to gin palace. Can be hired, although as with motor homes you have to hunt around.

Plus point

Comfort when it rains; storage; just plug in on arrival.

Minus

Slight image problem.

• Camping International (01634 577326,

www.camping-intl.com

) sells trailer tents and folding campers, first- and second-hand, as well as caravans, ordinary tents and all the equipment to go in them. Cotswold Outdoor (01285 643434,

www.cotswold-outdoor.com

) is equally comprehensive.

get in touch with us
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