A sea of pale T-shirts soaked with balsamic vinegar and grated Parmesan, part of a smart fashion collection back-to-school style, the students of Brittany University in Nantes rolled up their sleeves like trained amateurs as they clawed at grape clusters lying around the garden with a hammer and crowbar. As they carved gleaming, thorn-free vines into tunnels ready for a summer’s harvest, no one was amused by the sight, just happy to get their hands dirty.
So classic and earnest the old-fashioned labor may be, but there are few better ways to unwind in France. At the Campola school in northeast France, parents send their children, using the term “port scénne,” not “camping,” on a series of campsites throughout the year. Some devotees have camped for more than 40 years.
The “bitches and weeds” no longer secure citizenship under the French French country code but remain fondly regarded as coveted spouses. One woman said her daughter must always wear a zip-up plastic rain jacket to go camping with her parents.
“We have a lot of trouble sleeping at night without our alarm clock and our flip-flops, but as soon as we step outside in the morning, we are happy,” French-speaking French tourist from Vermont, Judith Archer said.
Up by her side, a French-speaking Canadian said she went camping many years ago with her husband. When she began to think about doing it again, her partner took a job in Dallas, Texas, and flew back with her to France.
“It’s very beautiful, the best music around in the evenings and you feel at home wherever you are,” she said, in French. “The whole experience… It’s hard to describe and makes me really, really happy.”
Fifty-year-old French-speaking British tourist David Lawrence, who lives in Scotland, is an avid camper.
“Camping over here is different to doing it abroad,” he said. “The weather can be so good when you’re camping in Scotland or the U.K., but in France they’ll even have sleet, rain, and hail on that gorgeous, beautiful, stunning countryside.”
Just outside Brittany University, at the Chesapeake Woods campground, near the Château de Jasmin in the village of Bisayim-Le-Stan, campers put on their boots and walkie-talkies and get to work. Tourists hit their morning walkers on the way out the door, while workers get to work selling homemade jams and other treats.
Eileen Grano, a nurse, comes to the Chesapeake Woods campground six days a week with her husband, a logger, and three daughters, taking advantage of the comforts of modern life but not giving up the warmth and privacy of childhood camping.
“Camping is one of those unique experiences that I think almost people would rather not explain or tell people about,” Grano said. “We are blessed to have a beautiful part of the world and love going camping every chance we get.”
While the children, who wear yellow t-shirts reading “corsica” and “bnb,” chirp about “progress” and “compliments,” the grownups love their time in the fields as well, though reluctantly. They shower the young girls at the campground with perfumed soap and give them sage advice to help them defeat the sun and mosquitos. As they lay their sleeping bags outside their tents, rain or shine, they rustle their pillows around them and snuggle close together to hear her voice.
It’s not the French way, but their choice. In Europe, camping is all about family.