Article by Alexandra Sutcliffe
It all started two years ago, when my partner, a rugged outdoorsy type, requested a camping trip for his birthday. He dusted down the trusty old tent with which he’d toured New Zealand many years ago, gathered together some mats and an old sleeping bag, and picked the spot, near a picturesque lake about two hours away from our home in France.
Now, for my birthday trips we’ve visited the likes of Istanbul and Barcelona, so this was something way off my radar, but I was open to the idea. The welcome we received at the campsite was warm and friendly, the breakfasts looked tempting and I entered into the spirit of adventure.
What followed was undoubtedly the worst night’s sleep of my life, as I failed to get comfortable on the hard ground, my share of the sleeping bag slipping off me with every fidget. Ours was by far the smallest and least sophisticated tent on the campsite, and the next morning, taking a good look around, he started to get tent envy.
Once home again, he set about improving on our camping equipment. He bought comfy inflatable mattresses, a snuggly double sleeping bag, a stove, a foldable table, two decent chairs and, greatly reduced on Ebay, probably the biggest tent manufactured that isn’t a wedding marquee. I began to feel nervous.
I’m a city girl at heart
To put all this into context, I am a city girl whose idea of the great outdoors, at least until I moved to France, was of a pavement, preferably heading towards Sloane Street. As friends my age are booking luxury boutique hotels and glamorous villa rentals, it might seem odd to be embarking on camping trips at this stage in life. But my ego has diminished along with my corporate life, and I have grown both less eager to impress, and less in need of status symbols.
Our next camping trip, to the most beautiful beach just over two hours away, was more successful. As we began to unravel our mighty temporary home, our neighbours looked on in horror, clearly expecting a truck load of squealing kids to arrive at any minute. We chatted with them over glasses of wine and I began to get into the community spirit that is camping. Because campsites out of season are quiet, convivial places for those who enjoy freedom and nature, a no-frills existence on your own terms.
On their recommendation we next took the tent to the Cinque Terre area of Italy, where it provided a wonderful base for exploring the five little villages on the Ligurian coast. We’ve revisited both the beach and the lake since, and our most recent trip was to Corsica, where we stayed in the south and explored the towns of Porto Vecchio and Bonifacio.
As well as being cheap – where else can you spend three nights for less than 80 euros? – camping is an exercise in mindfulness, where every task contributes to your comfort, and there are few distractions. It’s about preparation and planning, and, with no fridge or store-cupboard to turn to, every one-pot veggie meal feels like a triumph. (I invariably lose weight.) There’s no room for perfectionism, as you will inevitably forget things. Camping is about being good natured, especially when things go wrong, and, given that many sites charge a painful amount for wifi connection, it’s often a digital detox as well.
When we finished pitching the tent right on the beach in Corsica, I declared this had to be Peak Camping. Could it ever get better? As we fell asleep to the sound of waves lapping at the shore, and did yoga in the sunrise on the sand, it certainly didn’t seem likely.
Best of both worlds
Will I forsake city breaks in boutique hotels from now on – certainly not – but the two are not mutually exclusive, and camping adds another dimension to our life experiences. If anything, I’m beginning to think that camping, and its philosophy, might keep you youthful, and if I’m right, that seriously adds to the appeal!
Alexandra Sutcliffe is a Riviera-based life coach who is offering three specific course packages: Attracting Love, Attracting Abundance and Making Positive Change. For more details, please visit: https://alexandralifecoach.blogspot.com/