Domaine la Sabiliere - France

In September 2002 Marc, Andy R and Ian discussed this resort in the uk.rec.naturist news group.

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Marc wrote...

Since 1994, apart from 2 years, we have spent every summer holiday at Euronat, most of those years on the same camping pitch for the same three weeks, meeting and re-meeting old friends year by year. Gethin learnt his first words of French there, had chicken pox there learnt to rode his bike there, we loved it. The storms of 1999 altered all that, the site that we loved was almost unrecognisable, we drove past "our" pitch 3 times , Rachel was almost in tears after seeing the damage. We couldn't go back last year, that was meant to be Scotland (until F&M) but we went to Holland instead , it rained. By this year we were desperately in need of a warm holiday. Gethin was off to the US with his grandmother leaving us the chance to try somewhere new without the risk of having a bored proto-teenager on our hands. One phone call to Suzanne Piper got us the France4 naturism brochure within days . We decided on Domaine la Sabiliere based partly on the recommendations of Tim Forcer and Ant with a quick flick through the brochure , but the brochure whilst big on details of how much chalets are to rent are a bit vague on descriptions, there are only so many "sun soaked" " Family atmosphere" and "pleased to helps" that you can put up with.

We booked a campsite pitch leaving the choice of it Suzanne Piper and crossed our fingers that we wouldn't be sharing the site with Mr. Evans. Suzanne nagged me slightly asking " what sort of pitch ? Close the river/pool, quiet/near the bar, shady/sunny, we didn't have a clue and left it to her.

The trip down was long, we couldn't leave until 10am on the Friday (Gethin not leaving until then) so had booked a 2pm Sea France ferry (never again, if you have time for the details please ask). This was the day that the M25 was closed due to a overturned tanker, we just caught the ferry by the skin of our teeth. Overnight we stopped in Rheims, then tried booking a Campanile in Macon to find out that Macon (all of it ) was full, Le Tour was in town ( Bugger missed it) so we stayed in Dijon instead. The navigation was a lot easier going south than it was going west-southwest-ish to Euronat.

We arrived opposite Pont l'Esprit on the west side of the Rhone via the N road from Dijon, turned off and in our normal, "We must be almost there" spirit waited for Domaine la Sabiliere to appear around every bend but it was long way from that turn off. It gradually sank in that none of the maps of Domaine la Sabiliere gave any real clue where the site was, to us it was just an amorphous blob somewhere left of the Rhone. Nevertheless we arrived as planned at 5 pm, just as it was starting to cool enough to put a tent up. We booked in, paid, were asked for a INF card, explained CCBN's policy, weren't bothered about one again. The booking in process was undertaken in flawless English (on both sides) and was completed in minutes (a lesson for Euronat). We drove into the site following the one way system and our gobs were smacked. The view was incredible, I stopped the car and just looked, I then moved on again when the Bavarian behind reminded me who actually did own the road. Nothing in the brochure does the site justice, all of the photographs flatten the landscape, and hide the glory of the gorge. We continued down the VERY steep road through one hairpin right and then through what in a rally car I would call, "Downhill hairpin left with opposite camber to immediate slot right steep over gravel (CARE "yump"!). We were only doing about 10mph with the trailer tent behind but some others don't drive as slowly around the site. Booking in was no problem, Monsieur showed us the facilities including the showers, bar, etc., told us that he had some emergency supplies for sale in his hut and also told us about the flood and fire procedures. He finishing by telling us about the new guests' night, with free drink tonight at the pool.

The pitch that Suzanne had booked for us was perfect, shaded (I hate the sun and burn like prawn) but with more than enough light and space. We had French by the side of us, German across the road, Dutch behind and German underneath there was not a British car within 200 metres! We got the tent up quickly (4 pegs held it all the time we were there) and went for a wander round, heard the water and walked to the river. I didn't know that rivers liked this existed outside of Lord of the Rings. It's clear and bright and full of light, smooth and peaceful in the wide shallow bits , but bubbling and playful through the (very) gentle rapids. We saw a couple walk past with a pizza box, walk through the ankle deep water and sit on the other side on the warm rocks and decided that this was our sort of place. To cut an increasingly long story short, (Yeah I know too late) the bar that was 200 metres from us was wonderful, served very cold beers, very nice take-away frites (bring your own pan) and very reasonable meals. The site is incredibly hilly, so much so that I got off and walked each of my bikes down on separate days, and Rachel didn't even bother using hers. The restaurant service is poor, but I have yet to see a naturist site that has a restaurant with good service. The supermarket is small but has enough to keep you going until you get to Barjac. The canoe hire is free for 2 hrs, but if you get a canoe at 11  you get it for three hours (no Frenchman is going to give up his lunch). The pool is a long, hard, sweaty slog from the river, I only did it once on the first night (the welcome party can be missed unless your French is good enough to understand Provencal through a PA system) but the bar is worth visiting at least once for the view. The Archery has one of the best beginners coaches I have ever seen. The showers and toilets are gleamingly clean , but I must say I prefer the communal style shower rather than the door-less cubicles. We will book for next year (Gethin will love it) but it will be earlier to coincide with Le Tour.

Marc


Andy added...

We also went there this year for a few days and agree with all the positive comments you make, especially about the scenery, river, pool and clean facilities. The staff were particularly helpful explaining everything and pointing out every available pitch for us to choose from. Having said all this however we would not go there again however until our children were older (only 4 & 7 at present). We camped at the bottom near the river which was lovely but young children being what they are need to do something different every couple of hours and going anywhere else on the site involved a hike up some very steep paths which put them off or made them whinge. You mentioned the sweaty walk to the pool, imagine trying to go from the pitch by the river, up to the kids club, back down to the pitch for lunch, back up to the pool for a couple of hours etc., etc. On the pitch there is no open space for the kids to run around due to the fact the whole site is on the side of a gorge. All this makes for a holiday which is in no way relaxing so we left after three days. However, if we were to have a break on our own without the kids we would definitely consider going there again, the steep gorge which makes it a pain in the backside with the kids is the same thing that provides the scenery and a lot of the attraction for adults.

From Sabliere we went on to a site by a lagoon in SW France (can't remember the name but it's in the Alan Rogers guide) then on to Le Couderc in the Dordogne (which just gets better & better) and finally on to CHM Montalivet.

Andy R


Ian's contribution was ...

Our family have spent many happy holidays at both La Jenny and Sabliere and can endorse them unconditionally.

La Jenny is due west of Bordeaux on the coast (40 minutes from the airport). Sabliere is a good hour's drive north west from Nimes (RyanAir).

La Jenny is all chalet and not cheap. This year, the weekly rate for a top of the range chalet were this year;
from 29/06 to 12/07/2002 : 780 euros
from 13/07 to 26/07/2002 : 1000 euros
from 27/07 to 16/08/2002 : 1110 euros
from 17/08 to 23/08/2002 : 860 euros
from 24/08 to 30/08/2002 : 826 euros

Bottom of the range is about half this. By comparison, Sabliere's most expensive chalets are 730 euros in high season but are smaller and less well equipped - but nice anyway (we went back for four consecutive years). Of course you can camp at Sabliere.

Walking (or cycles if you are a fit) are a feature of both resorts - in Sabliere its almost mountaineering. Sabliere's river in the Ceze Gorge is truly breathtaking, but our kids also really enjoyed La Jenny's surf body boarding. The pools, sports, entertainment, food etc. at La Jenny are a serious quantum jump better than Sabliere's - which are still very good.

There are more tourist activities around Sabliere - but they all involve at least 60 minutes in the car - whereas the bay of Arcachon near La Jenny is traditional French seaside enjoyment. There were several seriously good eating out places near Barjac and Sabliere, whilst they were harder to find near La Jenny.

Both resorts demonstrate that 'punters' are more than happy to pay for quality and could teach other naturist camping sites and clubs all over Europe (especially in the UK) a trick or two about how to provide the naturist holidaymaker with what they want. It also seems that the furtive days of naturist passports may be on the way out.

Sabliere ( because it is in the hottest spot in France ) is probably France's most 'naturist' site in France. Night time temperatures often remain in the low 20s and daytimes peak into the low 40s regularly. At Sabliere it would be completely normal to come across people stripped off at midnight struggling up the hill. Clothing at the disco was obligatory at Sabliere but otherwise its unsurprising to see half the restaurant unclothed until after dark. At La Jenny, though the restaurants are around the pool, because as soon as the sun disappears behind the pines it can get definitely chilly, nearly all were in their woolies well before nightfall. However this year in peaked at 41C on our verandah at La Jenny. La Jenny is definitely naturist but in practice only during the heat of the day did nearly everyone strip off.

Neither resort has a good on-site shop. Barjac (near Sabliere) has a poor local mini-market and you need to get down to Bagnols for the serious hypermarkets. By comparison only 15 mins from La Jenny towards Arcachon is a good hypermarket.

Both resorts are excellently patrolled and we had no worries about letting all our kids loose and unsupervised for hours at a time. Both resorts accept dogs on leads and under proper control away from water and sunbathing areas. We were impressed how good the French are at keeping to the rules on pets.

Sabliere has the most potential for interesting naturist walks. Its perfectly possible to leave the resort boundaries and walk for miles on marked paths unclothed but carrying some shorts or a sarong. This is a lovely feature of Sabliere. La Jenny had miles of walks also but they are along the marked coastal path through the pines and uninteresting compared to Sabliere.

The Dutch have discovered Sabliere in a big way which is part of the reason we haven't gone back. They don't speak French and their teenagers were decidedly boorish - but that's a feature when any national group predominates in a resort but cannot communicate in the local language. La Jenny is largely owned by French and rented out to French and Belgians. There are some Dutch and Germans but few British.

Madame Gaby manages Sabliere with a hands-on approach. She brooks little nonsense from her staff and I've seen her at 7am in the morning already stripped for the day and picking up the previous night's litter from around the pool. There is an uneasy tension at La Jenny between the needs of the 'residents' and the commercial - but its still excellently managed and indeed response times to 'blown bulbs' etc at La Jenny were significantly faster.

In summary - both resorts are relaxed naturist environments and we will certainly be returning to both soon.

Ian


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