Sunday, December 6, 2015

Camping California in Le Barcares, France

Once we finally finalized our vacation dates, the next question was where to go. Personally, it doesn't take much to make me agree to go anywhere - I love travelling and discovering new things. But after talking to my dear husband, I could sense that for our first family trip since arriving in France, he wanted to stay local. France is a beautiful country and there is so much to explore and see. Like I always say, there's more to France than Paris!

If there's one thing we miss about the Philippines, it's definitely the beach. Going either to the west, southwest, south, southeast of France ensured us the water and like most French and Europeans,we opted to go to the south of France. Next point was, where to stay? MR mentioned something about "French-style" and I asked myself, what exactly is that??? But then I saw him watching "Camping Paradis" one Monday night and I knew that's what he meant. That's pretty much how the whole planning process went. We chose Le Barcares as our destination like we could have chosen any nearby cities and Camping California just because it was on a list of recommended places online.

After a 2-hour drive from Le Pont du Gard, we were finally at our destination. First things first was the registration which was pretty quick. Camping California is one of the few French camping places that accept newcomers on Wednesday. Most places do Saturday-Saturday.

We went to check out the pool area before we even went to see our rented chalet mobil-home. There were 4 water pools - one pool for the adults, one for small children, another water area with games, and the fourth one with a slide.

SO enjoyed the pool area very much. When she wasn't in the water, she liked to lie down and rest on the pool chairs like in the photo above.

MR and I liked it less. The adult pool was obviously too small for the number of guests, without mentioning those that took extra space playing catch-and-throw the ball. The lifeguards didn't say anything about that and when they did for guests who liked to play the human ladder fights, their warnings were barely heard. It was a bit chaotic at times. Forget about being able to do laps.

Something else is worth mentioning too - on the website it says that the pool is heated. It might be equipped with the system, but personally, on days when it was rainy and cold, the pool was freezing. :(

Aside from the pools, there were several other activities for children. There was a giant human foosball (in the photo above). I didn't take photos, but there was a trampoline (SO has been begging to have one at home), a ping pong table, a bouncy castle, and outdoor fitness games. There are also some areas designed to play Petanque.

Apparently, there are also areas for sports like soccer, volleyball, basketball, handball, and tennis. I can't honestly recall seeing any of them.

Another possible activity for the children was the Club Enfant. It's a program of activities to occupy your children prepared by an experienced supervisor. SO wanted to try one morning, but was told that the slots were full for the week. Needless to say, she didn't join the Club Enfant once during our one-week stay.

When we stayed in the camping site, we tried to enjoy the pool area in the afternoons. Well, mostly, it was SO playing with new friends and enjoying the water, while MR and I rested on pool chairs. Afterwards, SO liked to enjoy a Crepe with Nutella at the terrace. The personnel were friendly and smiling. This was definitely a plus point.

Apart from SO eating her crepe, we unfortunately didn't spend a lot of time at the terrace. Apparently, there was a restaurant who catered the guests of the camping site and even hosted special themed nights or "soirées" such as Paella night, Mussels and Fries night, and Grilled Catalan Meat night.

We thought the prices were a bit steep and instead preferred to buy local ingredients in the market and prepared it ourselves. From time to time, we bought take-out food or ate out in the city center.

This was the type of accommodation we had - The Chalet Mobil-Home. I totally forgot to take a photo of the exact one we had. This is taken from the camping website (Camping California). Other than the color (ours was yellow), the rest was exactly the same. I later found out that we had the cheapest accommodation on site, but truthfully it was alright. We were comfortable.

The chalet was fully-equipped. We brought along stuff that in fact was available. Plates, utensils, glasses, and even liquid soap!

We especially enjoyed eating outside on our balcony. I regret that it's something we're not able to do back at home.

Concerning our location, I thought it was perfect. We had a little shortcut that permitted us to walk to the activity area and we weren't too close to our neighbors. On one of our last nights, we unfortunately heard two of our neighbors screaming insults to each other late at night. Thank God SO was sleeping in bed already and didn't hear anything!

On our last day, we had to clean the chalet ourselves. Paying housekeeping was horribly expensive and if the cleaning wasn't done paying the fine was horribly expensive too. I took the opportunity to take photos of our accommodation then because I didn't do so when we first settled in.

I realized the reason why we were comfortable is probably because we rented a chalet too big for us. There were 2 big beds for 2 people and a bunk bed for 2. So, in reality, this chalet was good for 6 persons, but we were only 3. Pillows, bed sheets, and blankets were provided for.

The rooms had closets which was practical to store our clothes.

It was nice to have a little cabinet in the entry way to store our shoes. Plus, the mirror on top to take a final look as we headed out.

The kitchen was tiny. But we didn't use it that much. I had the clever idea to bring our Moulinex Plancha and so we ended up grilling a lot of our food in the balcony. The kitchen was equipped with a small refrigerator, which we stored with lots of drinks. Since we took the advantage to eat out on the balcony, the dining table was mostly used by SO when she was doing a bit of her summer homework, when I prepared the food, and when MR looked over our notes of possible activities of the day.

We were even provided with a microwave, but we didn't use it much. We did, however, use the storage spaces.

Personally, the negative point of our accommodation came from the toilet / bathroom. We had hot / cold running water all throughout our stay, but taking a shower was not exactly the easiest thing to do. I'm very difficult about showers or bath, and I personally don't like holding the shower head when washing myself and having the shower curtain stick to my bum at my every movement. No, no, no!!! Thankfully, we brought along shower rugs, otherwise water was everywhere and we were at risk of sliding. We also noticed that if we weren't extra careful, water would enter our bedroom. Shower or bathtime is my moment of relax and this wasn't it at all unfortunately!

Checking out was just as breezy as checking in. The friendly receptionist asked how our stay was and I replied "It was alright". At the moment, there was only one thing I was concentrating on .....

..... and that was of finally cutting off this ridiculous bracelet the camp insisted we wear all throughout our stay! I assume it was for security reasons or to trace who were customers or not, but after a week it was wet, itchy, and worst of all smelled bad! Oh the relief to finally cut this shit off. But then I was left with a tan line.

If you look at the reviews online on tripadvisor (click here), you will see a lot of mixed reviews. Pretty much like how we felt. There were good points, but there were also not-so-good points. I will retain the friendliness and kindness of the personnel. But like a lot of the guests, I am puzzled as to why and how did Camping California get its 4 Stars.

If there's one thing we realized during this trip is that this kind of vacation - French camping / Mobil-home - is really not our thing. MR wanted to try this French experience, and like me, he would agree we were not made for this. We noticed our neighbors getting up late, staying by the pool the whole day, eating dinner at the camp restaurant, participating at the themed nights, joining the night activities, having drinks with others, and staying up really late. A lot of them already knew each other from the past years because for some it was their umpteenth year to come and stay at the same rental spot.

We were the exact opposite. We woke up early, ate breakfast, went out to the fresh fish market, visited the daily markets in the city center, we stayed by the beach taking afternoon naps under our parasol, we took our car and drove to neighboring cities, we checked out local landmarks, watched shows, and came back to camp late at night. We didn't make friends. We didn't even manage to catch our neighbors' names. Point is we were never on-site. Which is really quite a shame because we paid for these services (aside from the food in the restaurant), but we could have joined the club enfant (if there was enough space), the day activities (zumba, fitness class, ...), and the night shows (comedy show, magic show, ...). But we didn't.

And that's why we're thinking of renting an apartment for next year. I think it suits us better. We'll see then. Otherwise, we're just too difficult. ;p

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