Camping. It's the family holiday staple. Cheap, cultural and one of the best ways to ensure your kids get out of the house during the summer holidays. Lucky European kids get to take one more thing for granted on their camping holidays – the fact that they're able to combine camping with international travel – which is going to make a WAY more interesting story for when school goes back.
With the continent a relatively inexpensive ferry or train ride from the UK, and not even that if you're already living on the other side of the channel, camp site choices are pretty endless. The lush green valleys hugging France's rivers are a perennial favourite – not only because they're picturesque, but also because for adults they also equal good food and drink, and pretty medieval towns with churches that somehow become fascinating once you get to parenting age, but for kids appear to be identical to the church in the last village. Without any more controversial comments, France's Dordogne also has the value adding features of chateaux, palaces, canoeing, spectacular gorges and fascinating cave systems: features that appeal to both ends of the familial scale.
Périgord Noir of the dark oak forests, famous cave systems at Lascaux, Grotte de Rouffignac and Grotte du Grand Roc and medieval town, Sarlat-la-Caneda, is canoeing country, along the ribbon of the Dordogne River.
Périgord Vert has to be the green region then, with all the rain (and the name), and less towns per acre of green hills and stretch of Dronne river. This region's comparative lack of medieval churches is made up for by the memorable castles of Richemont, Bourdeilles and Jumilhac.
Périgord Pourpre, which is purple for the grape vines which are pretty spectacular in the autumn around Bergerac. This region is also known for duck and goose farms – which are needed as an accompaniment for the vin – so the menu is rich.
As well as a selection of perfect spots, the Dordogne offers plenty of options when it comes to the type of camping your family is into. Larger sites with chalets or permanently erected tents are good for social families. Kids can hang out with other kids doing kid stuff and adults can get down to the serious task of relaxing. These kinds of camps also offer organised activities – canoe and bike hire, maybe even a balloon ride over the river?
If you want some time alone with your family then there are smaller sites where you bring your own gear, luxury private camps and the option of asking a friendly looking farmer if you can camp in his field. The climate varies between regions, but is about seven degrees warmer than the UK, so it's perfect weather for sleeping in tents if the rain holds off.
Foodies and market browsers will be impressed to hear that there's a market happening somewhere in the Dordogne every day. The biggest one is Sarlat's Saturday Market, which also has a smaller preview on Friday. Perched precariously on a cliff overlooking the Dordogne River, the Château de Beynac is one of the best preserved castles in this part of France – and might be familiar to people who've seen the films 'Ever After' or 'Chocolat'. Built in the middle ages it looks like a castle that may have kept a prisoner in the attic, sandstone, and austere, but with lovely crenelated towers that give it a romantic feel as well – maybe this is where Rapunzel was kept by the witch? For the best views of the chateau admire it from Chateau Castelnaud, another worthy visit.
Not quite as famous as the caves at Lascaux, the caves of Gouffre de Padirac are a little out of the way but well worth taking the trip out to them, especially if you have kids, 'cause you're all going to enjoy touring these grand limestone formations above an underground lake system in a gondola! The archaeological site at La Ferrassie will help you keep up with the Indiana Joneses, and the ancient Marqueyssac Gardens make for a nice afternoon strolling - while wishing your garden at home was as beautiful.
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