Wild and free: five camping holidays in Europe to help you reconnect with nature

Aaah, camping. A chance to slow down, unwind and gently ease back on the throttle of daily life. So it makes no sense to bookend the experience with stressful airports and conscience-troubling flights. Thankfully, there are plenty of great campsites that are easily accessible by ferry, a far more relaxed way of travelling that can become an enjoyable part of your holiday …

The Traiteur Van Bladel fish shop in Antwerp

Person Standing Next To His Bicycle In The Forest And Looks Up.Light by autumns morning light shining through the leaves

Yacht marina and quayside, Dunkirk, FrancePERE84 Yacht marina and quayside, Dunkirk, France

Mini Camping de Hooiberg, the Netherlands
The Dutch are inveterate campers and so it’s no surprise that so many campsites in the Netherlands are run by people who really get the whole “life under canvas” vibe. Set on an idyllic organic dairy farm, Mini Camping de Hooiberg is one such site. It’s not just any old dairy farm, either, but an organic one that produces its own unpasteurised cheeses. They’re for sale in the farm shop along with locally made bread, and fruit and vegetables from nearby farms. Open all year, the tree-lined campsite, which has just 25 pitches, has its own cafe, and is situated in Brabantse Kempen, a region of forests, heathland and meadows criss-crossed with walking, cycling and mountain biking routes. And if your idea of camping heaven means not being woken at the crack of dawn by yelping children, then you’re in luck – this site is for grownups only.

How to get there
P&O Ferries operates daily overnight crossings from Hull to Rotterdam. Mini Camping de Hooiberg is a one-and-a-half hour drive from there.

Camping Scheibeekhoeve, Belgium
Belgium isn’t a country that one automatically associates with camping, but this makes Camping Scheibeekhoeve an even more joyful find. Set on a farm, with the Scheibeek waterway running around it, the campsite offers some welcome peace, tranquility and fresh country air. There are excellent facilities for those with disabilities, while children can burn off some energy in the play barn or on pedal-powered go-karts. The campsite is situated in rural Sint-Rijkersstraat, half a mile from the small village of Alveringem. It’s also less than 15 miles from the coast, making it well placed for those who fancy a swim in the sea, or a visit to Dunkirk and Ostend, both within easy reach. On the doorstep, there are some excellent cycling routes through Alveringem and the neighbouring municipalities of Veurne, Diksmuide and Lo-Reninge.

How to get there
P&O Ferries operates daily overnight crossings from Hull to Zeebrugge. Camping Scheibeekhoeve is an hour’s drive from the port.

Forest camping in France.

A row of traditional period houses in the Picardy town of Amiens, France

Wild horses, France.

Camping du Val-d’Oise, France
Set among woodland where the deer roam free, Camping du Val-d’Oise has just 40 spacious camping pitches, so it’s never overcrowded. Bread is delivered straight from the ovens of a local bakery, and there are waymarked hiking trails through the Thiérarche countryside to the region’s rather magnificent fortified churches. Or you can follow in the paddle strokes of Robert Louis Stevenson by hiring a canoe and setting off down the often frisky waters of the Oise River.

How to get there
P&O Ferries operates up to 23 crossings a day from Dover to Calais. From here, Camping du Val-d’Oise is two and a half hours’ drive away.

Etangs du Moulin, France
A little farther afield, in the Aisne countryside, the Etangs du Moulin campsite is truly one of a kind, and perfect for those with children who are resistant to conventional camping. A soupçon of the wild west come to Picardy, the site resembles an old frontier town and offers accommodation in wagons, tipis, log cabins and gypsy caravans (but if you’d rather take your own tent, there’s plenty of space for that too). Twenty-first century comforts include a heated outdoor swimming pool and a Texan-style pub and restaurant, while just beyond the grounds there’s the 9,000-hectatre (22,000-acre) Saint-Gobain forest to explore, which is perfect for both hikers and casual walkers.

How to get there
P&O Ferries operates up to 23 crossings a day from Dover to Calais. From here, the campsite is less than three hours away by car.

Mussenden Temple as viewed from Downhill Beach. Built in 1785 as an estate library, this small building was modeled after Rome’s Temple of Vesta, Northern IrelandDownhill, County Londonderry, Ireland

Maddybenny farm, Northern Ireland
Run by the White family since the 1950s, Maddybenny farm makes an excellent rural base for a coastal adventure. The campsite, tucked behind trees beyond a 17th-century farmhouse, enjoys views down to Portrush, a seaside resort two miles away. There’s a playground for children and, if the weather doesn’t play ball, a games room too. Nearby attractions include the clifftop Mussenden Temple, with its vistas along Downhill Strand, while the pretty seaside town of Ballycastle comes complete with a sandy beach and a harbour. Boats leave there for Rathlin Island, a must for both nature lovers and fans of Robert the Bruce (he reputedly stumbled across his “try, try, try again” spider while in hiding there). The Roe Valley country park is a great place for rambling along the riverbank for a summer picnic; or you can head to the ancient market town of Limavady, famous for the Londonderry Air, the tune to Danny Boy.

How to get there
P&O Ferries has the shortest, fastest and most frequent crossing between Cairnryan and Larne, with up to seven sailings a day and a journey time of two hours. Maddybenny farm is just over an hour’s drive from the port. Alternatively, take the train from Larne, then cycle or walk from the station at Dhu Varren (two miles) or Coleraine (four miles).

What to take

The lighter you travel, the happier your holiday will be. But even if you take a car, try to resist the temptation to pack it to the gunwales so that you can recreate your home environment easily once you reach the campsite. After all, camping should be about getting away from it all and living more simply. So the essentials are a tent (Vango’s Hudson 500XL is great for families), sleeping bag and mat, pillow, clothes (try an ethical outdoor clothing company such as Páramo), toiletries, towel and a torch (Petzl makes some excellent head torches). Food is at least 50% tastier if cooked outdoors, so take along a little stove (you can’t go wrong with the MSR WindBurner series), then drop by your campsite’s nearest market for ingredients to eat like a local.

Sail away
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