Our Acorn Adventure Camping Holiday in the Ardèche, France
Where we went
Acorn Family Adventure Holidays, Ardèche, South of France
Saturday 6th – Sunday 14th August 2016
£399 Adult £349 Kids, All Inclusive
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There’s nothing quite as satisfying as setting your out of office email responder, so late on Friday afternoon, as I set mine, my head is immediately in holiday mode. On the way home from work I nip to my nearest outdoors shop, and purchase a just-in-case mosquito net I reserved online that afternoon in a panic. Once home, I finish off my last minute packing then call to book a taxi to take us to the station for our 8:20am train up to Manchester the next morning.
Having the option of traveling by coach makes life very easy, leaving us with very little to think about. We grab breakfast when we arrive at Manchester Piccadilly and are among the first to join the coach, along with the Ball family (name check for the mischievous but lovely Regan!).
The coach journey was a long one, but I loved not having the stress of driving
The hours pass by as I read my way through The Knife of Never Letting Go, enjoying having time to read something purely for pleasure. The second pick-up point is Birmingham International, and we are joined by more families, including inspirational Sam and her lovely boys, who we get to know well over the course of the week.
The coach has air conditioning, reclining chairs and a toilet on board. I’m relieved that despite the swell in numbers at London Victoria, it isn’t full and I take advantage of the extra space, fully reclining my seat so I can get more comfortable. I manage to doze on and off, finding it much easier to sleep on the coach than I ever do when flying long-haul.
Time passes quickly and we are soon in Dover for a final pick-up at the dockside.
Mr CWS rocking his ‘adventure hat’ on the evening ferry from Dover to Calais
For those that would prefer to self drive, the holiday does provide the flexibility to do that, so you can choose the travel option that’s most convenient for you.
The ferry crossing to Calais provides us with the opportunity to stretch our legs, and the beautiful sunset entices us out onto the deck to bid a bracing farewell to Dover, depositing us in France some 90 minutes later.
The sun setting over Dover, taken from the ferry
Back on the coach we drive through the night, and I’m feeling nostalgic. As a child, my annual family holiday was always spent in the South of France, on the coast in Cap D’agde. So as the coach makes it’s way south, the route we take is a familiar one, evoking fond childhood memories of 3 sisters, rushing to spend our Francs at the service station near Montélimar, in order to buy endless bars of exotic looking Nougat.
At breakfast time, we stop to stretch our legs and to grab a bite to eat. The sun is already blazing in a blue, cloudless sky and a croissant and coffee later, I’m feeling a bit more awake, anticipating the final few hours of the journey.
The site reception and bar area
As the sun climbs higher in the sky and long stretches of motorway give way to winding rural roads, my mind wanders in that glorious way that only ever happens when I’m on holiday. It’s at this point that I realise with certainty that I’ve left my contact lenses at home. I curse my stupidity as I confront the reality that all water activities will now be a slightly more blurry than anticipated experience.
Despite the journey there taking us some 27 hours from leaving our house to arriving on site, we both agree we’d choose the coach option again.
The welcome sign in the family camping village we stayed in
The campsite and family village
Upon arrival around 1pm, we are welcomed off the coach by some friendly members of staff who proceed to show us to our village and allocate our tents. First impressions are good, and after a drink and a quick tour of the site, we head off to the showers in the hope that clean teeth, a wash and a change of clothes will leave us feeling a little more lively.
One of the shower and toilet blocks on site, which were kept very clean
The first thing that strikes me about the tent, is the material. Instead of the normal fabric or canvas that I’m used to, the tents feel more like being inside a small marquee tent as they are made from thick plastic. Clearly selected for ease of upkeep and durability, unfortunately, in the 30+ degree heat, I’m left longing for a tent made from something breathable.
Whilst I hadn’t expected glamping levels of comfort, throughout the week I do find that the lack of storage makes living from my suitcase a little tedious. With no airflow, we find the tent too stifling and unpleasant to use during the day, a minor inconvenience that does not dent our enthusiasm.
The camp beds inside the tent are fine, but I am relieved (and a little smug) to have my hastily purchased mosquito net to hand, as there is no mesh netting on the door and I invariably prove irresistible to all biting insects. Despite my gripes, we sleep soundly.
The inside of the tent was basic, but we both slept soundly enough
One of several camping villages
The great swimming pool right next to the family village
All meals are taken in the main marquee, and over the course of the week we all seem to stick to the tables we sat on for our first meal. We chat about the day, find out more about each other and we admit to being nicely surprised by the high standard of the food.
Breakfast becomes my least favourite meal, as I don’t eat kids cereal and don’t find fruit alone filling enough. We generally carb-load at breakfast time on holiday, so we are ready for a day of activity, but breakfast doesn’t quite hit the spot for me, whilst Mr CWS who will eat literally anything, is happy enough.
The main marquee where all meals were served
I never go hungry for long though, and despite shunning the usual breakfast Pan Au Chocolate and Pan Au Raisin (why not just a good old Croissant?!), by lunch time, I’m happy. Jacket potato, tuna and salad turns out to be my favourite lunch, though the baguette sandwiches aren’t bad either, though curiously butter free.
Dinner is 3 courses, and includes a carafe of Rosé on each table. Along with fellow diner Kim, we get lucky as we find ourselves on a table with no other drinkers, so we dutifully guzzle wine down each evening; well we’d hate to see it go to waste.
I choose the vegetarian options, and a typical dinner is melon and goats cheese salad with crusty bread, followed by vegetable tagine and cous cous and for desert, tart au citron. It never fails to hit the spot. There’s almost always seconds too, so even those with the heartiest appetites need not go hungry.
Our fantastic village manager Helen having her injured hand dressed by our tent neighbour, the equally fantastic Sam.
The stunning Ardèche, a truly breathtaking location
We love that the Acorn Adventure campsite has access to its own beach, and it’s really close; just a couple of minutes walk from the site. Some of the activities such as raft building and kayaking take place there, and give us the opportunity to spend plenty of time in, and on the banks of the river.
The Ardèche river close to the caving excursion site
As well as the organised activities, we go down to the beach just to swim and towards the end of the holiday, two nights running we lie on the sandy beach watching a meteor shower with some of the other families, who by this point feel more like old friends. A magical memory in itself that will stay with me forever.
The beach at the Acorn Adventure Ardèche campsite
Inside the main marquee there is a board, which details our programme of activities for the week. The board also explains what we need for each activity and which activity group we are assigned to. The activity plan includes raft building, high ropes, caving, kayaking, Mission Impossible, climbing, crate stacking, abseiling and a 2 day kayak trip down the Ardèche, giving us plenty to look forward to.
The activity board in the family marquee
I’m informed that one of the main reasons many families choose the Ardèche location, is for the 2 day Ardèche decent. A challenging, but highly rewarding 2 day long distance kayak mini-adventure, that includes a night spent sleeping under the stars. I love the water and desperately want to spend as much time paddling down the Ardèche as possible, but following the accident in which I broke my back, I still suffer greatly, and know that with the best will in world, there is no way I can manage it. Instead, we talk to others and find out what they thought.
Bouyancy aids and helmets laid out ready for kayaking
The day after the kayaking trip there is an excursion/rest day scheduled, so I take the opportunity to talk to life-long adventurous traveler Kim, there with granddaughter Mia. She tells me it was tough, but she really enjoyed it and would do it again. Little Mia says she enjoyed it ‘a bit’ but Kim confirms she was grinning ear from ear the whole time. I talk to mum Steph too, there with her son (a lovely lad we share Pokemon Go stats and sightings with on the coach on the way home), who tells me she also really enjoyed it, though she found it harder than she’d imagined, finishing by telling me how great the river guides had been.
Me conquering a lifelong fear of heights and absolutely loving the climbing wall and abseiling
With a life long terror of heights and severe vertigo, on the morning our group is scheduled to go climbing, I have no idea why I feel so excited. I’ve attempted to climb once before and failed dismally.
Perhaps it’s the general have-a-go, supportive attitude of everyone there, the reassuring nature of the instructors, or perhaps I’ve taken leave of my senses. Whatever the reason, I’m raring to have a go. I briefly considering elbowing children out of the way so I can climb first, but think better of it.
Crate stacking was heaps of fun
Turns out I love climbing after all. After scaling one side, I then have another go; tackling the other side and even abseiling down once I stop shaking, and instructor Iona has reassured me. And here we come to one of best things about the holiday; it presented me with new experiences that surprised, terrified and delighted – perfect for someone like me who likes holidays laced with a kick of adrenaline.
Me giving archery another try and this time, not totally sucking!
The highlights of the holiday for me turn out to be kayaking, raft building (which is heaps of fun), archery and climbing. Mr CWS reports enjoying the caving (despite briefly getting stuck), archery and making further steps towards overcoming his fear of open water.
Mr CWS having a go on the climbing wall
Kayaking on the Ardèche river with Acorn Adventure
I don’t know if we are particularly lucky with our group, but everyone is happy, friendly and positive. I don’t come across anyone who isn’t smiley and willing to chat, and a few days into the holiday, we feel like a big extended group of friends rather than strangers.
With a grown-up daughter I rarely spend time with kids, and quite aside from feeling irritated as I suspected I might, I’m reminded of the simple joy of seeing kids playing happily; the sound of laughter and I even find I love the general banter and buffoonery of the teenagers in the group – there’s a happy buzz around camp.
The bridge from Ruoms leading to the road that goes back to the campsite
Exploring the region
When the other families depart for the 2 day Ardèche decent, we make alternative plans. Before leaving the site for the day, we let the kitchen know we’ll be back for dinner, and they are brilliant, ensuring we have a packed lunch so we don’t go hungry.
After a dip in what suddenly becomes our own private pool, we start with a walk into Ruoms, the closest town to the campsite. The walk takes us around 40 minutes, taking us across a narrow bridge with superb views of the river.
The view from the Ruoms bridge, with Ruoms on the left
Ruoms is delightful. Whilst it’s packed full of boutiques, souivineer shops, kayak rentals and such like, it retains its essentially French feel and is relaxed and welcoming. Unlike many tourist towns, It still has a strong identity. I calculate that roughly every 12th person we pass in the street is clutching at least 1 baguette, which then amuses us for the rest of the day. You’d think we’d never been to France before.
Going native in Ruoms clutching a baguette whilst strolling through the night market
That evening, along with a small number of other guests who have also not gone on the 2 day decent, we eat in the bar area, and are given an even better dinner than usual, ensuring we still feel looked-after despite choosing to do our own thing.
The Iconic Ardèche arch, Vallon Pont D’arc made for a great day trip
The next day we’ve planned a full day out. Working out where to get the bus is a success even with our rudimentary language skills, so once again we walk into Ruoms, this time to the far side of town and wait for the bus. We head towards the bigger town of Vallon Pont D’arc where the famous arch of the Ardèche can be found. It’s busy; both the beach and river itself is crammed with sunbathers and kayakers, so we stay there long enough only to take some photographs, before catching the free shuttle bus back into the centre of Vallon and walking around the beautifully atmospheric streets, dipping in and out of shops.
Wandering around the streets of Vallon Pont D’arc
We end up visiting Vallon Pont D’arc twice during our holiday. The second time we go on a scheduled excursion from the campsite, stopping for a quick picnic lunch on the beach before moving on to visit the fascinating O’rgnac caves.
We went back to see the arch again on an organised excursion with Acorn
The impressive Aven d’Orgnac
Stuffing my face with an ice cream in Ruoms
Parents will love
- The beautiful location
- Not having to worry about entertaining the kids. No matter what their age, they’ll love it. Whilst most activities are best suited to age 7+ there were families with children from the age of 5 up to 19
- Not having to think about food – the food was largely healthy and the evening meal, hearty
- Watching their kids overcome their fears and anxieties and then gleefully beating them in the activities that have a competitive edge
- The option to travel by coach, which makes for a truly stress-free holiday, reminiscent of school trips
- Provision of a full programme of activities to keep kids entertained so they won’t be moaning that they’re bored
- Lounging in/by the pool
- Very single parent friendly
Kids will love
- Having the freedom to make new friends and run around
- Watching their parents terror (arising for many from, caving and abseiling,) and beating them in the competitive activities
- Messing around in the pool
- The instructors who are great with kids, and teach them endless songs (that might drive adults slightly nuts…!)
Our verdict? Incredible value and memories that will last a lifetime.
Don’t go expecting luxury or a glamping experience and do remember that the site usually caters for large school and scout groups. That said, please don’t let that put you off. At around £399pp including all activities, accommodation, food and transport, we felt Acorn genuinely provided excellent value for the money.
The standard of catering was very good, though in that heat, red wine on the dinner tables would probably be a better choice than Rosé…. but if the only negative things I can comment on are minor issues like lack of tent storage and the temperature of wine, that’s got to tell you something!
The equipment we used was in good condition, and the staff there all take safety very seriously (a little too seriously for the likes of some of the parents). The staff were all very good at their jobs, and bar one (a river guide on the Ardèche Descent that a couple of people complained about to me, who shall remain nameless), were all friendly and helpful with great attitudes.
Special thanks to Iona who kept me calm at the top of the climbing wall before my abseil down, and Helen who made us laugh and was a general pleasure as our village manager.
If you are thinking of booking, all we can say is DO IT!
You’ll have a family holiday like no other, and shared memories that will last a lifetime. We found our week to be more fulfilling than we’d ever imagined, making the Acorn Ardèche Adventure a superb holiday that we very highly recommend for all fun-loving, adventurous families.
Oh and one last thing…
I LIKE TRAINS!!!! (thanks Freddy).
Bobbing around in the Ardèche, we didn’t want to get out!
A big thank you to Acorn Family Holidays who invited us to join them in the Ardèche.