Luxury camping hit the buzz-word happy travel press like a rushing pounding wave three years ago. Cue saccharine sweet write ups in the travel sections and D-list celebrities rushed out on freebies to give their half baked verdicts. At its peak the term glamping was coined and the movement had a name, a home, nay a bandwagon!
So once you peer past the soft focus photographs, overly-matey language, outsized fonts, faux birdsong and media hype is luxury camping actually any good? Is a family yurt holiday family-tastic or family-hell? Is a romantic luxury camping break amorous nirvana or simply smelly & cold? We've visited a selection of sites for our warts'n'all guide to what works in the world of luxury camping and what doesn't - and we've figured out what to look out for if you are planning your own luxury camping holiday.
We once drove three hours to Norfolk on a Friday evening with two teeny toddlers in the back, only to struggle manfully with a supposedly easy-erect tent in fading light, in the end we gave up, and thoroughly embarrassed at our ineptitude, beat a hasty retreat back home. Unless you are camping regularly, putting a tent up and down is a hassle, and a significant cause of marital discord.
Ok, not all yurts have proper beds. Inexcusably some insist on only providing camping mats (why?) but a select few go the whole distance and provide four poster beds! As anybody who has struggled with a plastic foot pump for the best part of an hour to inflate a woefully uncomfortable air bed will know, good beds are worth spending money on.
The four poster bed at the Really Green Holiday Company yurt site on the Isle of White
A philosopher might argue that fire, cultivation, food gathering and cooking are the four essential levelers that reduce all mankind to their base states, root us to our evolution and instill a calm on the most troubled of minds. Gathering wood, assembling a devilishly flammable structure, igniting it and then sitting back with satisfaction is deeply relaxing - the struggle to keep the flame going is genuinely addictive. Mercifully most luxury camp sites encourage the great art of fire, with outdoor fire-pits for each tipi, some even go the whole hog with both an outdoor and an indoor fire place!
Note: ok, I know I cheated with the firelighters.
At danger of coming across a little, well, Kevin Mcloud - yurts and tipis, each in their own way are incredibly uplifting and exotic architectural spaces. Tipis offer a smaller footprint, but the lofty vaulted space, lit from above is almost church like, whilst yurts have a cheerful spacious cosiness complimented by the central peak and latticed sides.
Everything about glamping is aligned for a perfect family camping holiday, no tent to erect, loads of outdoors, wood to gather, forests and streams to explore. However there is one great big hic-cup, you will be sleeping in the same room as your kids. What is doubly hard about this, is that yurts and tipis (and even geodesic domes) are well complimented with romantic feng shui, from the fire-place to the copious quantities of tea lights and sheep-skin rugs. So not only will you be tormented by the romance that might have been the night before you will also be awoken unseasonably early by the kids the next morning!
Oh, the romance, shame about the kids sleeping out of camera! This is a shot of the incredible interior of the out-of-this-world yurt at Eco Retreats in Wales.
Washing facilities in luxury camp sites range from shared toilet and shower blocks (akin to most normal camp sites) to 'en-suite' solar bucket showers and composting loos. Whichever way you skin it, nipping to the loo in the middle of the night isn't going to be pretty, and washing in the morning isn't going to be reminiscent of a stay at a boutique hotel.
The en-suite facilities at Eco Retreats yurt and tipi site in Wales, solar shower (not so good in October!) & excellent compost loo on the left, wash basin on the right.
A lot of people think camping and assume it will be a budget holiday, but prices are more akin to a quality B&B or mid-range cottage starting at around £200 for 2-3 nights for a couple all the way to £650 for a family for a week. There are ways to keep the cost down though. Families of 5 can often squeeze into one yurt, so even the high season cost of £600 odd when shared across the family is reasonable. Beware though most luxury camping sites tend to be booked solid for August. For couples, the price is much reduced if you go for a mid-week or weekend break in the off season (September is a great time) - and arguably the earlier nights are a perfect excuse for snuggling up around the fire with a warming bottle of wine.
The world of food writers is full of late evening sun light, free-range local produce, 100% organic cotton, slow motion living, pastel colours and arran jumpers. It seems that this Waitrose Food Illustrated style has been borrowed wholesale by anybody writing about luxury camping holidays. Whilst this saccharine world is appealing at a base level maybe, in reality it can be a little bit smug and trying. Still, if you get past the advertising copy, all the people we have met who run luxury camp sites are nice people who are incredibly genuine about what they are doing. And after all, it is one thing to scoff at the glib writing of Waitrose Food Illustrated and another entirely to refuse an organic hamper or head massage.
We thoroughly enjoyed our stays at glamping sites. We learned that no two sites are equal, ranging at one end from the cheaper option of a couple of yurts simply furnished in a small field with shared washing facilities all the way to the luxury option where yurts are scattered thinly through a large valley, granting privacy and space and furnished opulently with sheepskin rugs, dramatic fireplaces and welcoming head massages. Do your research, figure out exactly what beds are offered at each site, figure out whether there are fire places inside and outside. how much land are they set in, how closely spaced are they and above all, be flexible about your dates to get the best prices. You can compare our range of yurt and tipi holidays online or get in touch if you want some advice.
ooo, do i want to try glamping?? this warts and all expose has thrown a wee spanner in the works. i have been looking at the glamour part and some what ignoring the camping!!!
josie 7th July 2010
Hi. Can you tell me which sites offer "where yurts are scattered thinly .... welcoming head massages" . Many thanks
neil cadwallader 21st July 2010
Great review! If you like this then do check us out as we have a few more creature comforts but one of those owners that don't offer head massages! www.wildluxury.co.uk on the Norfolk coast
Wild Luxury 1st March 2011
If your looking for a cool Bell Tent, I bought a red colour one with zipped in ground sheet from these people at www.boutiquecamping.com
They do them in 4 different colours inc lime green and sky blue with next day delivery. Very nice ;-)
Boutiquecamping 28th March 2011
Check out www.yurtandtipiholidays.com we are big on recycling lots for the children to do and not too far from the toilets
Shane Farrimond 2nd February 2012
The market for glamping holidays is certainly growing and the choice is becoming somewhat bewildering. So here's what to consider if you're contemplating a glamping holiday: Ambience of surroundings, Proximity of neighbours, Type and size of accommodation, Level of furnishing, Shared or private toilet/shower, Electricity available or off grid, Fires allowed?, Price for your size of party, What’s included (firewood, bedding), Extras (shopping service, head massage!). To see how we used these factors to design our small glamping site see www.midwalestipis.co.uk
Peter Cameron 7th February 2012