Deep in the heart of the protected Parc Naturel Régional Livradois Forez, hidden from view up the pine-clad slopes of Laval-sur-Doulon, Camping Auvergne Naturelle is earthy and magical. The sound of the babbling brook at the bottom of the wild-flower meadow here conspires with birdsong and wind chimes to create a symphony of peace.
Imagine leaving the majesty of your Genghis Khan yurt in the brilliant-blue dawn to gaze down the valley, birds of prey circling overhead. This campsite is truly off the beaten track, in the same region as the famed 18th-century Beast of Gévaudan; a wolf-like creature of the forests that claimed over 100 lives.
With its alpine feel, the area reminds one more of Switzerland than France. A campfire burns throughout the night, inviting story-telling and bread-making for nocturnal kids, plus the chance for you to get to know your fellow guests. That’s easily done, for though the site has its own natural forest and is anything but small, the facilities themselves are within close proximity of one another. They include a funky wood shower block, which has been designed to maximise the mountain view; between soaping yourself down you can look out of the open-slat shower on to the woods beyond, as if you’re in a Timotei ad.
The kids love it here, perhaps because the owners have their own child and set about enriching the site with as many child-friendly enchantments as they could think of. For a start there are child-only trails; one such route leads into a little glade strung with bells, hammocks, and fairies. (Your kids can even email the fairies on return to the UK.) Children particularly love whittling their own walking sticks in the morning bushcraft sessions and they can also learn how to build a fire. For the adults, there are a few colourful pastimes to throw yourself into on site, from yoga to axe-throwing. The days stretch out lazily here. After your morning croissant and café au lait, you’ll feel those wildman genes firing up so that apart from exploring the forest and surrounding meadows for the Beast of Gévaudan you might want to have a crack at exploring your inner bushman, along with the kids. There are courses for both age groups.
The yurts themselves, of which there are four, have been subtly positioned to create maximum privacy and give you the finest views. Inside they look like a summer shoot from an edition of Homes & Gardens, with cream throws, wood floors, fresh wild flowers, and rustic furniture.
And did we mention the owners? Rob and Katherine, a young couple from Manchester, make for perfect hosts: he’s a joiner by trade who also studied bushcraft under Ray Mears, while Katherine turns her eye for detail to the interiors of the yurts, and is also a great cook.
The communal barn, charmingly tumbledown, is magical, with fairy lights, candles, and a huge beamed ceiling and long dining table, giving it the impression of aViking longhouse. The space also doubles as a playroom for kids on stormy days – there are creative materials and stacks of board games to have a go at. The self-catering kitchen and fridge are also here. A favourite aspect of this place, apart from the wonderful continental breakfasts, comfy yurts, killer views, and soporific pace of life, is the owners themselves and all the thought they put into ensuring that their guests never forget their stay here. Camping Auvergne Naturelle is intimate, amazing value for money, and destined to become one of the best sites in France for making your great escape to.
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The closest major towns are Clermont- Ferrand and Le Puy-en-Velay, about 1 hour away. Get off A75 at exit 22 and head for Brioude, from where D588 wiggles to Laval-sur-Doulon – follow signs for La Chaise Dieu. From here take N122 to Brioude, from where you’ll head up into hills following signs for La Chaise Dieu and Laval-sur-Doulon on D588. Finding the place can be tricky, so a satnav is useful. Check the website for coordinates.
Yurt (maximum 4 people) €140 for 1 night, €360 for 3 nights, €770 per week based on 2 people sharing. Extra €5 supplement per child per night.
The site has 4 deliciously decorated yurts. Each one with solar-powered lighting and a luxury en suite toilet, plus a washbasin outside. The yurts are also family-friendly, with 2 extra camp beds per yurt for the kids. Campfires are tended by Rob, who, according to his dad has been building fires ever since he was a little ’un. The shower block is simple, sparkling clean, perfectly located just a short walk from your yurt, and close to the communal barn. Each yurt is allotted its own personal shower. The water is lovely and warm (it needs to be as it can be chilly in the mornings). For babies there’s ample room for nappy-changing in the yurts. The toilets and facilities don’t lend themselves to wheelchairs, nor do the grassy slopes of the grounds. Other facilities include: self-catering kitchen, fridge, fairy trail, swings, wild meadow, and 20 acres (8 hectares) of woodland to lose yourself in. Morning bushcraft courses are available (adults €20 and kids under 12 years €10).
Donkey walks and horse-riding can be organised. There are markets in Brioude every Saturday morning (8am–1pm). The magnificent countryside is begging for you to hire a mountain bike from Oléon Motoculture, Brioude (00 33 4 71 50 10 07) and ride around like the Von Trapps. Half an hour up the mountain, La Chaise Dieu is famed for its beautiful abbey (1043 bc) and bijou antique shops, cafés, and restaurants. A world-famous classical music festival takes place here in August. An hour-and-a-half away are 80-odd dormant volcanoes, the most dramatic of which is Puy de Dôme, a mecca for hiking and paragliding.
1 June 2013 – 30 September 2013
Kathryn makes homely grub 3 times per week including dishes like boeuf bourgignon, chicken chasseur, and sausage and mash local-style. Dinner costs €16 and includes delicious homemade desserts like tarte aux pommes (apple tart). For supplies there’s a supermarket in nearby Brioude (half-an-hour away). If you fancy exploring the local area for foodie delights why not try Auberge de Chassignolles, 20 mins drive www.aubergedechassignolles.com, a favourite for its authentic Auvergne cuisine.
September 2013 Special discount offer
September is a fabulous time to visit - warm days, much quieter and with great opportunities for cycling and walking to see the beautiful countryside.
Only 90 Euros per yurt per night based on 2 people sharing
This is a yurt-only site, so you can’t turn up with your tent. And because of the steep gradient on which the site is situated, campervans cannot be admitted. Dogs are welcome so long as they’re on a lead.