Its camping Jim, but not as you’d know it! Spaceage, golfball-like domes have landed in South West France to provide an ultra cool option in the family glamping scene. Sick of saggy z-beds, soggy socks and barrack-like rows of mobile homes, young parents Simon and Zoe have come up with their ‘Glisten’ glamping concept to help families just like themselves fall back in love with getting back to nature.
On their mission to whoosh camping into the 21st century, the couple have struck upon clever ‘geodesic domes’ to give families the feel and freedom of real camping but with all important mod cons and funky finishing touches. The structure of the domes means they ‘do more with less’, ie. more space and headroom, more stability and more comfort than other family tents. From the layout to their choice of furnishings and equipment, Simon and Zoe have also put their experience as parents into finishing the domes with great thought and flair to ensure fun and stress free family holidays, even with babies and toddlers to cope with.
The domes have two bedrooms and, while parents can get a good night’s rest in a king size bed, the kids will actually be nagging for a nap in the cacoon-esque hanging beds that gently rock little ones to sleep. Realistic fake grass carpets the whole dome, that’s both soft for tiny toes and easy to clean in case of spillages, plus everyone will want to lounge around on huge Fatboy bean bags, looking out through the window wall or lazing on the decked verandah. The dome’s kitchen/dining area is right alongside for cooking and eating al fresco, featuring a really versatile gas-fired Plancha grill, microwave, fridge and a proper dining table and chairs, as well as all the vital pots, pans, utensils and crockery.
Deciding where to put their domes has been the other big part of getting their Glisten concept just right and the couple checked out loads of sites before settling on Col d’Ibardin near St Jean de Luz and Domaine des Mathevies in the Dordogne. The sites are in very natural settings, independently owned and run by friendly staff who are just as committed as Simon and Zoe to giving families really happy memories of their camping holiday in France. The pitches provide privacy and space for children to play by their dome and the sites also have lovely swimming pools, play areas, onsite bar/restaurant and laundry facilities. Col d’Ibardin also has a campsite shop, friendly farm animals to feed and kids club activities through the summer months, plus fabulous beaches and refined resorts are less than 10 minutes away. Read all about the site in the Location section.
Glisten geo-domes are cleverly partitioned into two bedrooms and a living area which provides maximum space and privacy for a family of up to 6 plus a baby in cot, which can be provided. The ‘master bedroom’ has a king-size bed with a comfortable mattress that will be made up with fresh linen on arrival and there’s a hanging wardrobe and space under the bed for bags and belongings. The children’s bedroom has two fab hanging beds which children of all ages will be clammering to climb into and adults can have a sneaky snooze in one these cocoons too. The living area has a ‘window wall’ of transparent panels and the sides of the dome roll up to let a cool breeze blow through, plus there are other ventilation flaps to leave open when everyone’s out and a solar fan if temperatures really start to soar. The living area is furnished with a sofa bed and Fatboy bean bags which can be pulled outside to catch some sun or gaze at the stars. There are lots of electric sockets in the dome for charging gadgets and plugging in a tablet, plus the whole thing is carpeted with soft astro turf to give the feeling of camping on grass without any of the damp or dirt. The dome opens into a separate kitchen/dining area with sides and roof that open up for the full al fresco experience. This is fully equipped for family self catering and includes a dining table for 6 (with high chairs available), kitchen work units, fridge, microwave, electric kettle, pots, pans, utensils, crockery and a gas fired Plancha grill which heats up quickly and provides a more versatile, cleaner and healthier alternative to a barbecue. Both the dome and kitchen/dining room are slightly raised on a timber deck which includes a verandah with a double hammock and there’s a grass area in front of the dome for children to play under the watchful eyes of grown ups. The domes do not have ensuite facilities but the toilets, showers and washing up area is close by and regularly checked for cleanliness.
Col d’Ibardin is a well established, independent campsite in the Pays Basque, near St Jean de Luz, where South West France sneaks round the Pyrenees into Spain. The 8 hectare site has been designed to be as natural as possible, with the pitches and accommodation sensitively set out amongst gnarly centenary oak trees, with a little stream and pools babbling through the site, against a mountain backdrop of ‘La Rhune’. A small farm is at one end of the site so the occasional roaming goat might pass by in search of a snack.
Besides having grassy areas to play immediately in front of the Glisten domes, children will make a bee-line for the site’s adventure play areas, including a new toddler playground where even very young ones can climb, slide, run and jump into soft, forgiving sand. In July and August, children will also burn off even more energy on a bouncy castle. Also, throughout the summer months, a free kids club means parents can have some precious time to themselves while children have fun making new friends and getting involved in all kinds of events and activities, from arts and crafts to puppet shows and discos. Bear in mind the kids club is run by a local team so the language spoken is mainly French but English is spoken to.
Everyone can take a dip at Col d’Ibardin, with a children’s pool, a paddling pool and a swimming pool for grown ups which is over 20 m long. The pools are enclosed in a fenced area and surrounded by loungers for soaking up the sun. Overlooking the pools is the terrace of the campsite’s cafe bar and restaurant, La Kantina, which serves freshly made snacks and meals to eat in or take away, from locally caught seafood to moules frites and pizzas. The restaurant also has a games room so parents can eat in peace while children occupied with the pool table, pinball or table football.
Col d’Ibardin has a well stocked shop, which is open every day in July and August for all the essentials, including fresh bread and pastries for breakfast such as the Gateaux Basque. The refined resort of St. Jean de Luz is just 10 minutes drive, set in a splendid sheltered bay with beach club activities in the summer, fantastic restaurants serving fresh caught seafood and old winding streets crammed with boutiques and pinxto bars – the Pays Basque version of tapas. To get fired up about Plancha cooking, pay a visit to Bodega La Plancha on Rue
Overlooking the bay of St Jean de Luz, the beach at Socoa is especially ideal for small children, being sheltered by a breakwater to provide warm, calm water for paddling and playing in the shallows. The Atlantic coast of France, however, is world famous for surfing, and the beach at Hendaye (10kms) is a great place to let children have a go or take some lessons at a surf school which glisten can organise.
The grand old resort of Biarritz is 20 minutes drive, renowned for its Victorian elegance and casino but also designer shops and a buzzing surfer scene – this is the gateway to France’s California coast after all. 20 minutes in the other direction from Col d’Ibardin, just over the border into Spain, the historic city of San Sebastian is highly recommended to soak up the atmosphere of the old quarter sample superb Pinxtos and relax on the sheltered beach. 25 minutes inland from the campsite is the capital of the Basque region, Bayonne, which is world renowned for its ham but also where France first mastered chocolate and families can pay a visit to the chocolate workshop and try the best hot chocolate ever.
Nearest Medical Services (GP & A&E): Urrugne (5-10 mins). Main large hospital (Bayonne 20 mins).
Getting There: Biarritz (20 mins) is the nearest international airport with services from regional airports across the UK. Brittany Ferries also offer an overnight 24-hour cruise-crossing from Portsmouth to Bilbao (1hr 30 from Col d’Ibardin).