30 years on… family camping holidays on the Costa Brava - Al Fresco Holidays

Manchester blogger, Adam Moss, took his family on an Al Fresco holiday to Estartit in Spain last summer and wanted to share his experiences with us considering it had been “a full three decades since [he] last took on the challenge of a family camping holiday.”

Here is his story…

Back then, in the early 1980s, I was the kid – the awkward teenager delighted at the chance of a foreign adventure with the parents without the restriction of actually having to spend every waking minute with them.

Campsites were distinctly old school back then. Rows of orange and blue tents laid out in neat lines, watering points, CampingGaz lamps, twin-burner camping stoves and two or three communal shower blocks for those kids who didn’t conduct their daily wash at the campsite’s centrepiece swimming pool.

What they did have was space. Lots of it from what I remember. Big fields around a central focus point of a bar, shop and games room. And there were enough nooks and crannies, even in the communal areas, for this long-haired teenager to sneak a Camel cigarette or two in relative secrecy while his parents were discussing which local town was next on the cultural agenda.

Boy have things changed.

They don’t even call it camping these days.

Today’s modern campsites are more like huge open air hotels and you don’t camp – you Glamp.

Glamping – or glamorous camping if you require the full title  – is a world away from the ultra-basic foreign camping holidays I enjoyed as a gawky teenager in Spain and the South of France.

I took my clan – three kids ranging from seven-years-old through 12 and 13, my wife and yours truly, now resplendent in his mid-40s with not a trace of that long teenage blonde hair on his shaven head – to Camping Castell Montgri, snuggled on the leafy tree-covered base of a mountain that spills into the Mediterranean at the coastal town of Estartit on the Costa Brava.

Back in the day, we had to drive a red VW Beetle through France, over the Pyranees and into a family-run campsite in Spain in order to enjoy an affordable bit of time lapping up the summer sun of the Costas. This time it was all arranged by those nice folks over at glamping specialists Thomson Al Fresco. And we flew from Liverpool to Gerona, a mere 20-odd kilometers or a 20-minute car journey from the site.

Camping Castell Montgri is just a ten minute walk from the centre of pretty Estartit town and it’s incredibly long sandy beach.

It is a huge site, hidden from the glare of the Estartit-bound traffic underneath several acres of mature trees on the ankle of a mountainside, with an incredible 1,350 individual plots – most featuring fully featured mobile homes on hard standings with their own garden area, balcony and even a gas barbeque.

The park itself features a large sized fun pool with waterslides and attached baby pool near it’s entrance, large well-stocked supermarket and a variety of restaurants and bar-type takeaways selling everything from paella, the local spit-roast chicken delicacy through to pizza and chips.

The Castell Montgri centerpiece though, is its colossal ‘Panorama’ pool with adjacent entertainment area. This is the real ‘heart’ of the vast complex and offers incredible views across the Catalonia coastline.

It’s also where you’ll go if you want to stay on-site for some cheesy variety-type entertainment with your fellow glampers when the sun goes down.

Action packed days, if that’s how you like your holiday, start with the lovely swimming pools, either splashing down the slides in the dedicated fun pool or taking in the views from the elevated ‘Panorama’ pool.

We tended to mix a bit of this with regular trips to Estartit beach which was clean, golden and even had a bar-shack selling the coldest San Miguel in the region plus soft drinks and ice-cream for the kids. For us, it was  about striking a balance – somewhere between giving the kids licence to enjoy the seriously fabulous on-site activities and giving mum and dad the opportunity to completely unwind at the edge of the ocean.

It was all within touching distance of our mobile home.

So well-appointed was the mobile home – microwave, fully-specced gas hob and oven, hot shower, toilet, dining area, lounge, air conditioning, three double bedrooms, loads of storage space, a garden, a raised decked balcony outside with large dining table and chairs – that it took us the best part of two hours to convince the kids to come outside and see the rest of the complex.

And the rows of mobile homes are arranged among tree-lined avenues in such a way that each looks a quaint little village street. That ambience obviously rubs off on its inhabitants too. The sense of community despite the mixed nationalities – we had French, Belgian, Spanish, German and Dutch living within a few yards of us – is tangible. Evening and morning pleasantries were exchanged daily in several different languages.

In many ways, though this glampsite is a million miles away from the spit and sawdust camping experience of my youth – it is no different.

Though beautifully manicured, spotlessly clean and impressively appointed, lets forget the glamorous surroundings for a minute shall we?

The essence of my fond memories of camping holidays past is rooted in the camaraderie, the friends I made, the strange foreign words I learned and the experience of being outdoors, under a green canopy of trees with the warmth of the sun fuelling the relaxation.

That’s not changed a bit, despite the modern appointments and the nouveau luxury of the 21st Century campsite.

I’ve never been so chilled in a hot country. It was early September, the temperature was hitting 85 degrees and I couldn’t have been more relaxed.

The secret to a happy family holiday is keeping the kids entertained. If the children are happy then the holiday is fun for everyone.

It’s not a new theory. But Castell Montgri has this mantra written in its DNA.

Some things are best left unchanged, I guess.

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