When people think of going camping, they usually imagine awkwardly putting up a tent in the middle of the wilderness, cooking canned beans over a campfire, swatting away all kinds of bugs and keeping an eye out for bears. That may have been fine for the Brady Bunch but I am a high-maintenance city girl, so if I was to tackle this camping challenge, I was also going to have to completely reinvent it.
Chic Camping 101
How does a high-maintenance city girl and her cosmopolitan boyfriend make camping chic?
It begins with the equipment. We bought a Quechua 2-second self-mounting tent.
It comes in a light-weight, flat, round backpack which, you open then literally throw in the air, watching it land perfectly mounted with your French manicure intact. We purchased one large enough for three people in order to have some extra space for my girly necessities.
Most campers are accustomed to sleeping on the foam lining and sleeping-bag combination. We, of course, are not most campers. We opted for the queen-size air-mattress and electric pump which inflates in under two minutes; the car adapter, which was included, became quite convenient when we needed to recharge it and had no electricity. Although it needs several hours to completely charge the battery, thirty minutes was enough to inflate the mattress once.
The best way to camp chic is to bring your car. If you are biking it, busing it or worse, you will not be able to carry your chic heels, dresses, shirts, flat-iron, etc, thus, eliminating the chic. We used our trunk as our wardrobe and were usually able to park next to our tent. My boyfriend’s crisp ironed designer shirts hung in the back seat and the rest was packed in the trunk.
Our not-so-chic Fiat 600, which I purposely kept messy, warded off thieves. I do not recommend leaving your things in your car if you have a rental or a luxury vehicle. In these cases, whenever you drive off the campsite, it would be safer to move your clothes in the tent, your valuables on your person and leave nothing visible nor in the trunk. If you must leave something visible, make it messy. Make it look like your car is always a pigsty and hopefully the thieves will move on to a more enticing option.
We had also purchased two fold-up stools, but we only used them once; my boyfriend cut open his foot on some rocks and he needed to sit and keep it elevated. The two wind-up flashlights were very handy for reading, for nighttime bathroom runs or when getting in late after a night in the city. In hindsight, I would have preferred to have also brought a pair of book-lights as we needed to wind up our flashlights every two pages.
Leave the wilderness to the Boy Scouts!
They say never go camping if you have your period; bears will come and eat you if you do. This is just another reason to stay out of the wilderness and hit the beach instead. We chose the French Riviera, which is as chic as beaches can possibly get. If you visit the French Riviera during peak season and have not made B&B or hotel reservations in advance, your best option will be to hit the campsites.
Planning your itinerary
Nice, Saint Tropez, Monte Carlo and Cannes are the most popular spots on the coast, which is why I intended to skip them. They may be very chic cities, but we were seeking the kind of undiscovered chic that you have to dig deep in order to find. I googled and researched and even took notes on my cell at the bookstore until I had decided on the most beautiful locations that we would certainly not want to miss: Cassis et les Calanques, Les Iles d’Hyères, Grasse, Ezé and Cape D’Ail.
Next I checked their exact locations and distances from each other using Google Maps. In order to decide which direction to head in first, I checked the weather of each destination for each day. When I was planning I noticed that Lyon and Marseilles would have two days of sun, but then it would rain, so I chose to hit those within the first two days of our trip. We ended up skipping Lyon but by the time rain hit the Marseilles region, we were far away.
We love to snorkel, so we concentrated on rocky beaches. Port-Cros, one of the islands off of Hyères, is a marine reserve and was our top pick out of all of our stops – with Cassis running a close second.
We drove through Provence without a navigator nor a map. We stopped when we wished, which was usually near something gorgeous such as an ice-blue lake that lay at the feet of enormous white mountains which rose from its shores.
We ate in delicious French restaurants in random medieval towns and drove along the scenic route. Provence embraced us with its lavender hues and aromas, which engulfed our senses. We practically floated to our destinations, we were so inebriated by the splendor of it all.
What is chic and what is not?
To me, chic is not about snobbery nor about putting things down in order to make one feel better. In fact, I love to out-snob snobs, who are merely people with low-self-esteem issues. After all, it is all an act, so why not out do them at their own game.
In my opinion, chic, is about surrounding yourself with beauty, on every level; nature, food, perfume, fashion, excitement, music, architecture, design and people who are beautiful physically or internally and enjoying yourself while doing it.
It was exquisite to discover how underdeveloped Provence is. We drove for hours without seeing a town nor even a house. The natural savage beauty of France – how it perhaps appeared centuries ago – fell before our gaze as we cruised its windy paths with permanent smiles on our faces.
We were awed by the unexpected concoction of flowing streams, maritime Alps, lavender fields, endless sunflowers and breathtaking panoramas; most of which we would have missed had we taken the highway.
Keeping bugs at bay…
I hate insects of all kinds and I not only scream but I also want them dead. I am not humane when it comes to insects. Sorry if this offends anyone, but I panic and squash. My fear does not allow me to even attempt to save its life. So how do you keep these icky things from entering your tent?
It is quite easy, actually. The Quechua 2-second self-mounting tent has two layers, each with a zipper. There are sections with micro-netting which allows air in but keeps the bugs out. You simply have to always remember to zip it closed, whether you are in or out. Ants will crawl on your tent, spiders will explore, bees will buzz and flies will do what they do best around your tent. None will ever gain access if you keep it zipped up.
Night-time bathroom run? Zip open, zip closed. Need something from your car? Zip open, zip closed. Oops, forgot to take off your shoes? Take shoes off, zip open, place shoes outside, zip closed. We were immersed in insect infested shrubbery, but never got any unwanted visitors. We also placed a roll-up mat outside the entrance of our tent, in order to have a clean place to step on barefoot.
Campsites or Stealth?
One might think that it would not be very chic to go stealth camping, but it would certainly be an adventure that one could try once or twice. This would definitely be your dress-down day. You would also need to pack a small shovel, so you can bury your excrement and some baby wipes for obvious reasons.
Having a car makes stealth camping more difficult, but if you happen upon the right spot, it could be quite romantic. Just remember, stealth means being covert and undetectable, so the only thing that should give away the fact that you were there at all should only be the flattened grass and nothing more. Stealth camping is frowned upon in Provence and the French Riviera, so we kept to the campsites.
Campsites are all over Europe and about half of them are in France alone. The higher the stars, the more features they have. The two-star campsites we stayed in were lovely. They had clean bathrooms and all you needed, but no pool. A pool would make it a three-star campsite. When you are on the French Riviera, pools are merely redundant, besides, the kids probably pee in it.
Upon arriving in the general area of our destination, we followed the campsite signs. In France, campsites are called ‘Camping’. Yes, they use our verb as their noun. When you think of all the words we have assimilated from French and later butchered, we are far from even. Some cities have several and if you find a Tourist Information booth, ask for a map of campsites or ‘campings’ in the region.
Although campsites could usually always fit a small tent such as ours, in some cases they only had a large plot available, so it cost a little more, but we had more space. Most usually included a spot for your car right next to your tent, otherwise, they had parking nearby.
We packed toilet paper, filled a squirt bottle with laundry detergent, had a cleaning rag handy to wipe the tent down before folding it away and had a clothes-line, which we tied to two trees in order to hang our wet towels and laundry. This also added some privacy to our camp-plot.
I was able to dry and curl my hair in the bathroom, which had electric sockets for your appliances. There was always a full-length mirror as well. We usually came back from the beach before dinner, got all dressed up or threw on something flowy, then drove to the center and dined somewhere beautiful. Other times, we kept it casual and went on romantic walks with our steaming baguette sandwich in hand.
Most campsites offer electricity for a small fee, but you will need a very long extension cord, which I had a little difficulty in detangling. We only got electricity once. We recharged our electric pump, our cell phones and watched a film on our laptop. The rest of the nights, we read until one of us got sleepy and forced the other to shut off the light.
Baked beans are perfect for Boston, but on the French Riviera, you must indulge in its local cuisine!
I love to eat and one of my main reasons for going to France was to experience its decadent cuisine again. After several years of non-stop Italian food, I was in dire need for a change. The baguettes were a delicate start to our days, lunch at beach-side restaurants were the norm and dinner varied from Michelin recommended restaurants to baguette sandwiches of steak and Roquefort on the go. No matter where we ate, we were always impressed and my mouth is now watering, just at the thought of it.
Making camping chic is easy and was a lot of fun. We each kept our toiletries, bath-towel, toilet paper and change of clothes handy so we could easily slip out in the morning – zip open, zip closed – and get ready for a gorgeous day at the beach.
Read more about our adventures in the South of France in my upcoming articles:
Exploring the French Riviera
Cassis et les Calanques
The Island of Port-Cros
French Riviera vs. Italian Coast
The French Riviera’s Most famous cities: Saint-Tropez, Cannes, Nice, Monte Carlo