'Contemporary camping' in the rural Basque region


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PH

A contemporary dome in its ancient setting

Now the buzzword on the groundsheet is “contemporary camping” or, as I like to call it, camping with style. 

Piling the children into the car we cross the Channel and snake down the western coast of France to the Pays Basque region, the cusp of the Atlantic coast where France meets Spain. 

Nestled in the mountains between the glamorous resorts of Biarritz and San Sebastián, Glisten’s geodesic domes (round frames of interlocking triangles with thin, taut skin) are as stylish as they come with not a tealight or a Moroccan rag-rug in sight. 

From a distance these white structures look like giant golf balls dotted against the baize-green slopes of the lower Pyrenees. “Whoah! Are we staying in one of those?” shout the children – Angus, 14, and twins, Nancy and Lola, 11 – excitedly. 

No strangers to glamping, my children know their hand-knitted yurts from their goat hair bedouin tents but they’ve never stayed in anything quite so, well, space-age.

Saint-Jean-de-Luz

The beach in Saint-Jean-de-Luz

Launched in 2014 by Simon and Zöe Thomason, a couple from Falmouth in Cornwall, Glisten aims to be a new kind of camping.

We wanted to do something modern and style-focused, yet comfortable and child-friendly

Simon Thomason

“We wanted to do something modern and style-focused, yet comfortable and child-friendly,” says Simon, who used to work as a designer.

“We’ve holidayed here for years and love the Basque region and its combination of vibrant cities, beautiful beaches and strong culture.” 

There are six domes here in Col d’Ibardin, an independent campsite which also has safari tents and cabins as well as standard pitches. Tucked away under a gnarly oak tree our big, white, bauble-esque home for the week is perched, rather peacefully, next to a babbling stream. 

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TRACEY DAVIES

Angus sprawls out with a book

Right on cue, a trio of startled black and white mountain goats trip-trap noisily over the bridge chased by my wild-eyed twins. The geodesic domes, which stand 10ft tall, are constructed from a steel frame covered in a white, rubbery tarpaulin. 

A good third of the dome is transparent,which infuses the (fake) grass-lined interior with sunlight and each comes with a separate kitchen tent kitted out with a plancha (a Spanish-style hot plate), fridge and a dining table. All come furnished with Fatboy beanbags and big hammocks, as well as designer camping gear (think collapsible kettles and espresso makers). 

It is modern and minimalist, and, in the words of my brood, “It’s well cool”. While technically still a tent, the inside has been cleverly partitioned off to form bedroom areas. The girls bag the sleeping pods, a pair of fl at-bottomed canvas bags which hang from the roof and, stuffed with duvets, are cosier than a pixie’s pocket.

Angus opts for the double sofa bed and we claim the proper kingsize bed. 

We fall into an easy routine of eating, exploring and generally lazing about on beanbags. Each morning we walk to the local boulangerie for warm bread and croissants. There’s an on-site shop which sells the basics and a bar and restaurant which serves good French food such as confit duck as well as wood-fi red pizzas if you fancy a night off cooking. 

If you can drag the children away from the pool there’s no shortage of things to do in the area. Saint-Jean-de-Luz, a charming little seaside resort, is 10 minutes away and ideal for grabbing lunch in one of the quaint, whitewashed bistros which line its cobbled streets. 

I’m keen to join the locals in a glass of cloudy pastis and a bubbling crock of bonito marmitako (tuna stew) but traditional Basque cuisine gets a refusal from the younger ones so we opt for gourmet raclette burgers in Macadam Café, a stylish Daily Express Saturday January 28 2017 53 meets France celebrity traveller Sara Cox joint just off the main drag. 

camping
TRACEY DAVIES

Nancy gets a surfing lesson

After lunch we head to the beach. Bookended by stern walls, this custard-coloured sweep of soft sand is lapped by the whale-blue swell of the Atlantic yet sheltered from the stiff breeze and shallow enough for nippers to safely frolic in the waves. 

Which is what my lot do for the rest of the afternoon. Back at the camp, as the sun starts to dip behind the trees, I tip the children off the hammock and kick back with a book and a glass of the local grape, while Antony knocks up a Basque feast of padrón peppers and Toulouse sausages on the plancha.

Exhausted by all the salty sea air and goat-bothering, we’re all in bed by 9pm where we sleep like the dead until dawn. 

To sate the pre-teens’ surfing aspirations we spend the next morning in Hendaye, a laid-back surf town near the Spanish border. 

According to Simon, a keen surfer, you can’t come to the Côte Basque and not ride a wave. 

The area attracts legions of surfers each summer. Hendaye’s wide, fl at sands and brisk but gentle waves are ideal for the kids’ fi rst surf lesson. 

The afternoon is spent watching proper surfers in Biarritz. As glamorous as the name suggests, with grand belle-époque architecture and couture boutiques the city exudes haughty French glamour but with a relaxed, indie undertone brought by the surf scene. 

On our last day we nip across the border into Spain to lunch on pintxos and vino blanco in San Sebastián. 

This ornate city by the sea is renowned for its gourmet food and coupled with its blonde crescent beach and cool, clear waters makes for an idyllic afternoon. 

Forget glamping, contemporary camping is much more my style.



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