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A camping holiday in Spain? Essential tips for a relaxing alternative to the Costa del Sol package holiday

Most people have probably never even considered a camping holiday in Spain (or camping at all to be honest!). This beautiful south European country is often more synonymous with high density hotel resorts and package holidays. As a family, we have had some of our best holidays at some of the many campsites in Andalusia. There are of course campsites all over Southern Europe, however, we used to live on the South Coast, so would often take advantage of this by doing regular long weekends at campsites within an hour or two of our base in Marbella.

  1. How to drive there
  2. Advantages of camping in Spain
  3. Campsite categories and cleanliness
  4. Key tips for camping holidays in Spain
  5. Booking and campsite recommendations
Family camping holiday in Spain

But I don’t want to drive there! We don’t even have a tent!

Don’t worry! You can rent a tent at a campsite when you get there, usually fully equipped. For example, at Rent a tent you can rent a tent on a fabulous campsite on a beach in Spain, that includes raised beds, cooking facilities and your very own fridge freezer! You do need to take your own bedding, but there are lots of compact sleeping bags now available that you could even fit into hand luggage. And don’t forget that the weather is mild from May to September at least, so you will not need more than a one or two season sleeping bag. One of the market leaders in pre-installed tent holidays are Eurocamp, and as you can see here, their tents also come fully equipped, right down to a fan, pillows and duvets. 

The most avid of campers would argue that the packing, choosing a pitch and setting up camp are all key aspects of camping. You can still however experience the relaxation, lack of routine and freedom on your camping holiday in Spain (particularly for the kids) that cannot be replicated by staying in a hotel. 

Camping gear for your family camping holiday in Spain

Flying with camping gear?

We have never tried this, however, we were discussing the possibilities of being able to pack lightweight camping gear into a luggage allowance. A good tent comes in its own case and could be checked in as one piece. Sleeping bags and roll mats for a family of four (we are inflatable roll mat converts; we find them far more comfortable, blown up in ten big breaths and easier to transport than airbeds) could easily fit into a suitcase, along with any other small essentials. Don’t forget that the temperate climate means that you will require far less bulk in terms of heavy sleeping gear and clothing. I know that it is very common practice for backpackers to fly with their camping gear, but I would be very interested to hear from any families that have done so…

I may have a little experiment with our camping gear for future reference. If anything it will encourage me to sort out our garage!

How can we drive there?

The most economical way is to drive through France using the Dover to Calais ferry crossing. As an example, for a return crossing August 1st to August 15th 2020 for two adults, two children and a car, it will cost you £151 in total, with a 1.5 hours journey time. Then it is a 20 hour drive from Calais to Malaga, which can easily be split across two days, with either a camping or hotel stop in the middle.

If you would prefer less driving and more ferry time (albeit the far more expensive option), you can go from Portsmouth or Plymouth on the Southern UK coast, and catch the ferry to either Bilbao or Santander in Northern Spain. The crossings take approximately 25 hours, however, there are lots of facilities on board from entertainment to the hire of cabins, which can make it part of the adventure. For a similar quote to the one above, this will set you back £898. Upon arrival, you then may wish to explore some campsites in the beautiful Northern Spain region, or take a 9 hour drive down to the Southern coast. On the whole, you will find that motorway driving in Spain is far quieter and more relaxed than the UK, despite all of the horror stories that you may have heard. Don’t forget that by law, you need to carry a travel car kit which include items such as a hazard warning triangle and high visibility jacket in the unfortunate case of a break down.

Driving to Spain for a camping holiday

So what are the advantages of a camping holiday in Spain?

Being familiar with UK camping, we know that the number one reason to go further afield on your camping trip is obviously the weather. During the summer, you are almost guaranteed to have sun and blue skies. Furthermore, this means that you need less kit and that you will spend less money, as campsite pools and neighbouring beaches and sites of beauty will be where you will spend the majority of your days. There are numerous campsites with water parks, kids’ clubs, restaurants and sporting activities, and you will find that the general vibe is more laid back and relaxing than that of its UK counterparts. And you can easily get a pint for £2.

Campsite Categories and cleanliness

90% of the campsites that we have visited on our camping holiday in Spain have had excellent facilities. They are separated into Categories from 1 to 3, with Cat 1 sites having the best facilities and space, and Cat 3 sites being more basic, although these are becoming less common now as campsites are striving to get into one of the upper 2 categories. We mainly stuck to Cat 1 sites as we always wanted a swimming pool and a larger pitch size. Furthermore, clean and well functioning toilet blocks are non negotiable for me. We only came across one Cat 2 campsite where I refused to visit the shower block until the cleaner had just been in (which was frequently to be fair, but more problematic in the mornings when the Spanish day starts later). Be prepared to say hola to all who you meet, regardless of whether you are brushing your teeth or quietly slipping into a cubicle!

Key tips for a camping holiday in Spain

1.Find a pitch with good shade if you have the luxury of choice. In all campsites, you will find a good range of pitches to choose from outside of the six week summer holidays. If you research your sites carefully, you can also find lesser populated holiday parks even at peak times (for example more inland). Take a good quality tarp that you can use to create artificial shade in an emergency, otherwise, your tent will resemble a sauna for the best part of the day.

Try to not pitch too near to shower and toilet blocks, or other communal areas. Whilst the Spanish are a friendly bunch, their conversations can be extremely loud! And don’t forget, most Spanish will not be retiring to bed until well into the early hours. Do not be surprised to see young children still hurtling around on their scooters past midnight!

2. Take a ground sheet to lay down at the front of your tent. Unlike England where pitches are mostly laid to grass, Spanish pitches have a tendency to be on dry land with stones, pine cones etc. scattered around. Having a ground sheet just gives the kids somewhere to sit on the floor, and allows you to step out of the tent without immediately putting your shoes on. Furthermore, you may wish to use a footprint depending on your beds, however, we have never used one, and have always slept well.

3. Following on from the above point about hard ground, you will need some heavy duty tent pegs and a good mallet in order to negotiate this. Usually there are lots of trees and fencing around to tie some of your guy ropes to, so you should not need too many.

4. Eat the local cuisine. This is an old cliche, however, many of the camp site cafes pose as ‘pizzerias.’ Be warned. There will not be a pizza oven nor an Italian chef in site; these pizzas are supplied frozen from an outside company and are not good. If the restaurant serves local cuisine alongside their pizzas (gambas pil pil, entrecot, patatas bravas), go with that.

5. Hire a fridge freezer. This was my best discovery one baking August day as we were sat drinking warm tins of beer. For a few pounds, you can hire a full sized fridge freezer and one of the maintenance team will deliver it to your parcela (pitch). This is not part of the grass routes camping scenario I am fully aware, but my goodness it was a game changer. Whilst a couple of freezer blocks and a cool box will keep your milk and butter cool for a couple of days in the UK, in Spain you have no chance. Either plan to buy your dairy products every day, hire the fridge freezer, or take your own portable electric cooler.

Hire a fridge freezer for camping in Spain

Booking and Campsite Recommendations

When booking your camping holiday in Spain, there are many sites that you can use in order to choose the campsite that fits your requirements, the first one to consult is Alan Rogers. The extensive reviews on their website are mostly written by people who have physically visited and inspected each campsite. Subsequently, the reviews are objective and accurate.

One of the best booking sites for pitches in the UK and Europe is Pitchup.com.

And a couple of our favourite sites that deserve a mention:

Roseleda Camping in the Costa de la Luz. This part of Spain has some of the most beautiful beaches, and is our favourite area for camping. Roseleda deserves a mention for its great pool, entertainment, immaculate facilities and generous pitch sizes.

Camping Cabapino on the Costa del Sol between Marbella and Malaga. Cabapino was our very first camping trip in Spain, and remains one of our favourite sites. It has great facilities and also the bonus of being able to walk to Cabopino port in order to grab a sunset sangria or a bite to eat for the family. Another big plus is that the fabulous Italian restaurant D’Bruno’s is onsite, offering both eat-in and takeaway options (tip: grab one of their rotisserie chickens that will feed the whole family, and serve with your own salad or rice for a reasonably priced dinner).

So there you go. I hope that I have given you enough to think about, and I really do hope that you would consider a camping holiday in Spain. You will have a fabulous time guaranteed.

Have any of you been camping in Europe? Get in touch, I would love to know your stories and recommendations.

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