FOREWORD: This is not a sponsored feature. We have written this article because we really, really enjoyed our stay at Domaine de Briange and think that others may too. Simple.
There was a praying mantis in our tent, loitering casually on our food storage box.
Now, if you are somewhat appalled by the prospect of sharing your holiday accommodation with a carnivorous insect then, let’s be honest, this article probably isn’t for you. But if you enjoy getting close to nature, then… read on. In fact, if you’re a keen camper, then there’s a pretty good chance that you will absolutely adore Camping Domaine de Briange in the Ardèche, France.
Snugly nestled in a forest of oak trees and surrounded by the lavender fields of St Remèze, the eco-friendly Domaine de Briange is one of the most pleasantly unusual campsites we have ever discovered.
The Ardèche region is a popular, touristy corner of France, and campsites here can be disappointingly sterile and cramped affairs. Not so at the Domaine de Briange, where the eighty – largely unmarked – camping pitches are spread over an area almost the size of Green Park, London! As result, your only noisy neighbours are likely to be the incessant crickets, the dawn chorus of a thousand birds and the gentle buzzing of honey bees.
Domaine de Briange successfully manages to combine a sensation of natural – almost wild – camping with some wonderful onsite facilities and services. Delicious organic food and drink can be purchased at the campsite épicerie, twenty flavours of locally-made ice cream are available at the bar, and campers can escape the heat of the southern European summer by cooling off in the enormous swimming pool. There’s also a fabulous playground, bike and (electric) car rental, and excellent recycling possibilities.
Everywhere you look, Domaine de Briange is full of smile-inducing quirky features and natural splendour. Short of some herbs for your evening meal? Go pick your own from the communal gardens, or venture into the nearby “garrigue” for wild thyme, rosemary and lavender. Fancy a picnic or relaxing in a hammock? Explore the labyrinthine paths lined with buxus, scrub oak and juniper bushes and you’ll certainly find a quiet spot to call your own. Poppy and I started to make a video showcasing some of the best features of the campsite, but a pesky thunderstorm got in the way and we never completed it. Here’s the (incomplete) video anyway:
In line with its close-to-nature approach to camping, you won’t find a traditional entertainment program at Domaine de Briange. But that doesn’t mean there is nothing going on – in fact, the owners, Agnès and Frederic, lay on an ever-changing selection of genuinely interesting activities and events. During our stay, for example, there was stargazing, wine tasting, art and crafts, traditional games, communal dining, a vin d’honneur (welcome drink), and small-scale guided tours of the local area. You don’t have to take your own tent or caravan either – there are a variety of alternative accommodation options such as a tree house, a gypsy caravan and a communal village (three luxurious suites with a shared living room and kitchen – I had never seen this before!).
Honestly, Domaine de Briange is so flipping wonderful that you may not wish to leave the campsite at all. But that would be a pity; almost immediately nearby is the gorgeous village of Saint-Montan, restored tastefully over the past 40 years by a team of over 10,000 volunteers.
Just down the road is a quirky and fascinating Lavender Museum, a little further on is the UNESCO-listed Caverne de Pont d’Arc (which is so wonderful that I will dedicate an entire article to it sometime soon) and cutting through the entire region is the spectacular glory of the Ardèche Gorge (which is so touristy that I won’t).
But nowhere is absolutely perfect, and Domaine de Briange is no exception. For starters, it is admittedly a bit pricier than normal campsites, but well worth the extra few pennies. The toilet facilities can feel a bit cramped during busier periods, and Briange shares the same bizarre aversion to toilet seats as many other campsites in this part of the world (why, France, why???). And living this close to nature means that you inevitably have to deal with nature’s little nuisances: for example, guests at Domaine de Briange had better keep their food well sealed and out of temptation of the several billion ants who also call this place home.
However, these are minor prices to pay to experience a unique natural camping experience with a splash of luxury.
Oh, and just in case you get a praying mantis in your tent, don’t panic – they are completely harmless to humans. Simply move the little guy calmly back into the great outdoors. He’ll thank you for it.
Daisy the bus avoided the crowds in the Ardèche in July 2018.
(c) Jonathan Orr 2018
Disclosure: We are a tester family for Outwell, who provided us with our tent and certain related camping equipment.
Website of the Camping Domaine de Briange can be found here.