It’s no surprise to us that when one of our favourite campsites from the Hipcamp France book was put up for sale in 2014, it was snapped up immediately by a pair of avid fans. After all, the site is nothing short of a masterpiece and today it continues to be a fully-fledged, award-winning work of wonder. It’s certainly not lacking in space, nor is it lacking in stonking views and excellent facilities. So what a joy it is that new hosts, Corinne and Patrick are just as welcoming and friendly as the last.
The first thing you notice about Camping La Serre is the sheer amount of room. This is no higgledy-piggledy campsite with people heaped on top of each other, but an orderly, manicured place with masses of trees, well-kept grass, and wide-open skies. There are 14 wooden chalets on site as well as an area for caravans, but the high hedges mean they’re generally unobtrusive. Plus the 48-pitch tent area is entirely separate and comes with similarly vast, enclosed terraces that are shaded by ancient oaks, thoughtfully placed so as not to obscure the views. The newly-built Cabane dans le Arbes ('the hut in the trees') offers a charming alternative if you’re on the hunt for something different. A timber treehouse that comfortably sleeps a family of five, the fully-equipped lodge offers perfect sylvan seclusion and a sweeping panorama of the Pyrenees.
The rest of the campsite is connected via large walkways that have their own names, underlining the impression that you’re in a self-contained universe here. The reception area is fairly simple – a small cabin with an adjacent basic laundry room, a naturalist’s library, and tourist information leaflets – and the owners are always at hand to give out advice, maps, cycling circuits, and more. Around the corner there’s a decent-sized pool, a badminton net, slides and a football pitch, while, on the other side of the reception wall, a huge warehouse is filled with old farming equipment – an eco-museum started by the previous owners and later expanded through local donations. It gives a thorough picture of France’s farming practices over the years and, in the summer months, the site also organise weekly programmes, including slide shows, eco-tourism days and a local product-tasting evening with farmers bringing wine and produce for campers to sample.
Large and spacious as it is, the campsite only takes up a small portion of the total 170 acres on offer. Much of the remaining space is grazed by skinny, summer-shawn sheep, but 15 acres have been set aside and turned into a wild nature reserve that houses various species of orchids, birds, and butterflies. Campers can head off on foot to walk the well-marked (and informative) trails that run throughout or, if you’re looking to head further afield, the surrounding countryside is awash with dips and peaks for cyclists to take on. There are pretty villages to discover and larger cities, such as Toulouse, to visit. You can even be at the Mediterranean in an hour and a half! Something tells us, though, that you’ll be in no rush to get away. After all, we think there’s nowhere better.
Bikes can be arranged through the site, or you can make a call to Vélomondo (0033 631 94 24 91), who deliver bikes and can advise on routes. Adults and kids alike will love the Parc de la Préhistoire (0033 561 05 10 10) in Tarascon, which has outdoor installations showing how caves are formed by water flowing over rock, examples of the types of shelters used in Magdalenian times, and replicas and photos of drawings and paintings found in other caves. There’s also a restaurant and picnic area. If you enjoyed La Serre’s eco-museum, the Forges de Pyrène (0033 534 09 30 60) in Montgailhard comprises several different areas in a pretty park that’s set in some beautiful scenery. There are exhibitions on sabot-making, and horn-comb manufacture, plus an old forge and bakery. The 10th-century Château de Foix (0033 534 09 83 83) is a one of the key Cathar sights located near the town of Foix, but castle-lovers really shouldn't miss the formidable Château de Montségur, which has been listed as a monument historique by the French Ministry of Culture since 1862.
The site sells fresh baguettes, croissants, and coffee in the morning, as well as excellent bio-wines from local producer Coteaux d’Engraviès (0033 561 68 68 68). There are local food- and wine-tastings once a week on site during July and August. In the tiny town of Léran you’ll find a very nice British-run bistro called Le Rendezvous (0033 951 42 47 91) which has good lunches and evening meals as well as free Wi-Fi access and regular music nights. Mirepoix has several decent restaurants, the best perhaps being Le Comptoir Gourmand (0033 561 68 19 19), whose elegant meals are made from regional produce.