Camping in South-west France with Canvas Holidays

Lakeside umbrellas at the campsite. Picture: Kirsty Hoyle
Lakeside umbrellas at the campsite. Picture: Kirsty Hoyle
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Camping Mayotte Vacances on the shore of Lake Biscarrosse

We are driving from Bordeaux airport to our campsite at Biscarrosse when a song booms out of the radio: “It’s gettin’ hot in here (so hot), so take off all your clothes.” Never has a lyric by Nelly seemed so apt.

Mobile home and hot tub at Camping Mayotte Vacances. Picture: Kirsty Hoyle

Mobile home and hot tub at Camping Mayotte Vacances. Picture: Kirsty Hoyle

Modesty, and the horrified looks on the faces of my wife, our sons aged 16 and 15 and our 12-year-old daughter, prohibits me from heeding the US rapper’s instruction, but it is a close-run thing. For we have arrived in southwest France in the middle of a record-breaking heatwave and the temperature is nudging 40C as we arrive at Camping Mayotte Vacances on the shore of Lake Biscarrosse one hour later.

It’s literally hot enough to fry an oeuf on the bonnet of the car but, mainly because of the hire company’s punitive insurance excess charges, I decide not to risk it.

First impressions of the campsite are good. There is a 1,200sq metre swimming complex, with four outdoor pools, a heated covered pool and waterslides, adjacent to a vast bar/restaurant. Nearby is a takeaway outlet, small supermarket, bike hire shop, kids club and spa centre.

We have booked through Canvas Holidays and are staying in a secluded three-bedroom Privilege Club Mobil home Balneo on the edge of a songbird-rich pine forest and a hundred yards from a soft and sandy lake beach. Over the years we have experienced all manner of accommodation but this is the first one to come with a private hot tub (maintained every day by diligent staff) and it turns out to be the hit of the holiday. The youngsters spend hours chillaxing/bickering amid the bubbles, while in the evenings the oldsters enjoy a glass of wine accompanied by ornithological tweets rather than the usual social media distractions.

Hope Hoyle in the hot tub at Camping Mayotte Vacances Picture: Kirsty Hoyle

Hope Hoyle in the hot tub at Camping Mayotte Vacances Picture: Kirsty Hoyle

The mobile home has other firsts that are less welcome, in that it lacks an oven, a barbecue and – quelle horreur – a kettle. For a holiday that is meant to be largely self-catering, these are hindrances. On the plus side, there is a dishwasher, air conditioning, a fridge freezer, and a generously proportioned shower room. The biggest bedroom has a large and comfortable double bed, though it takes up almost the entire room. The two other bedrooms which each have two single beds are ideal for young children, but our trio manage fine too.

As ever on this style of holiday, most of the time is spent outdoors. We get our bearings on the first day, splashing about on a pedalo on the pristine lake, which is ideal for young children as the water only reaches waist-high hundreds of yards from the shore. Next we head to the pool to soak up some rays, where for the first time in all our foreign holidays, a common campsite rule demanding the donning of trunks rather than swimming shorts is actively enforced. This necessitates a hasty trip to the supermarket to buy three pairs of “budgie smugglers” (fellow bathers will be struggling to “unsee” me for years to come).

The next day we drive an hour south to the bustling seaside town of Mimizan, ambling down a pedestrian thoroughfare lined with restaurants and shops selling beachwear and souvenirs until we reach the wide sandy beach which stretches as far as the eye can see. The Atlantic waves are ferocious but it’s great fun for determined bodyboarders, while more sedentary members of our party are happy to snooze under the hot sun.

At 5pm we pack up and, as the Mimizan restaurants don’t appear to start serving food until 7pm, head back to Mayotte to enjoy a special paella-night feast.

The town of Arcachon and its bay, which is famed for molluscs.   Picture: Kirsty Hoyle

The town of Arcachon and its bay, which is famed for molluscs. Picture: Kirsty Hoyle

The campsite bike hire outlet has all manner of velocipedes, from tandems and electric contraptions to hoverboards and bmxs, and the next day we saddle up on five mountain bikes to follow the traffic-free Velodyssey path to Sanguinet. After a leisurely tree-lined cycle of about 13km along a well-maintained and incline-free surface, we reach an idyllic lakeside beach, park our bikes and tuck into well-earned poulet et frites at a convenient café. The rest of the afternoon is spent paddling about in the crystal clear water, while small shoals of curious fish dart about between our feet.

In the evening, we are impressed by a covers band playing live on stage back at the campsite. Some form of entertainment is provided every night, most of it entirely in French, and it’s all part of the enjoyable holiday experience.

We leave the best to last with two amazing excursions, both within an hour’s drive. The first is to the largest sand dune in Europe, the Dune of Pilat, which is 110 metres high and almost 3km long – eat your heart out Gullane. We join the more than 1.5 million visitors who climb to its summit each year to marvel at the sheer scale of the landmark, which commands breathtaking views of the Arcachon Bay. After regaining our breath, we slither back down the sandy slopes and cool off at one of the myriad beaches nearby.

The last outing is to the elegant town of Arcachon, the seafront of which is lined with beautiful villas, while the boulevards behind are filled with imposing mansion houses. We join the inaugural English-language boat tour of the bay, taking in the ornithological highlight of L’Ile aux Oiseaux and learning why oyster cultivation is of paramount importance to the area – the bay produces 10,000 tons of the barely penetrable bivalve molluscs a year. Later we feast on them, plus other crustacea, in one of the town’s many brasseries. True aficionados, however, should head to Le Port Ostreicole, where oyster farmers sell the freshest possible shuckable delicacies – plus obligatory vin blanc and bread – direct from their historical wooden huts.

The Dune of Pilat, the largest sand dune in Europe at 10m high and 3km long, attracts 1.5m visitors annually. Picture: Kirsty Hoyle

The Dune of Pilat, the largest sand dune in Europe at 10m high and 3km long, attracts 1.5m visitors annually. Picture: Kirsty Hoyle

Next morning we check out of Camping Mayotte Vacances, and it occurs to me that should this turn out to be our final family holiday with a full complement of offspring, then we will have gone out on a high with happy memories that we will treasure forever.

FACTFILE

Andrew Hoyle visited Mayotte Vacances, Biscarrosse, France, one of the new AMAC campsites, with Canvas Holidays (www.canvasholidays.co.uk / 0345 268 0827).

Open until 22 September and again in April 2020. w/c 27 July Prices start at £1,360 per week for three bed, mobile home, or £2,058 for a mobile with a hot tub.

Or grab a September break – under £500 for a week in a three bed mobile with hot tub.

Scotland-based Canvas Holidays has been arranging holidays for UK holidaymakers for more than 55 years. Canvas is part of the Vacanceselect group which is No1 in the outdoor camping market in Europe with over 900 sites.

Join MyClub loyalty programme for the chance to win the cost of your holiday back (one winner each week) and extra discounts and offers.