Europe France Aquitaine Pyrénées-Atlantiques
It’s not hard to see exactly what Marianne Hessels fell for back in 1980. Equidistant from both the epic Atlantic coastline and the foothills of the Pyrénées, this one-time stud farm just outside the charming town of Salies-de-Béarn had her hooked at first sight. Today, thanks to the enterprising endeavours of this affable Dutch ex-pat, a sprawling slice of rural Aquitaine has been transformed into a campers’ paradise – the wonderful Domaine d'Esperbasque.
Campers really are spoiled for choice here. The five different fields (The Park, The Hill, The Vineyard, The Oak, The Sheep Meadow) all have a unique charm and character. Take the Hill, with its beautifully terraced grass pitches set aside exclusively for tents, which boasts panoramic views over the valley into Salies-de-Béarn. Or the more family-friendly Park field, shaded by mature trees and just a gentle canter from the nearby riding school – a vestige of the former farm’s equestrian heritage. They also offer bright and airy safari tents, complete with complimentary deck chairs that are perfect for reclining with a glass of wine from the neighbouring vineyard and soaking up the view. Indeed, wherever you pitch up in this spacious site, the views are unbeatable.
There's a relaxed, hippified air to Domaine d'Esperbasque. With plenty for the kids to do (from trampolining and boules to swimming and darts), mums and dads are free to soak up the pleasingly lazy pace of life from the scenic terrace. As the sun descends over the surrounding Pyrénées, painting the tranquil night sky in warming hues of purple and sunburst, you'll know exactly what so enraptured Marianne on that momentous day over thirty years ago.
The Owner Says
Our campsite, situated in the hills of Béarn, is surrounded by spectacular views of the valley of Salies and of the Pyrenees. We welcome all campers to contribute to the family-like ambience, and to take coffee on the terrace or to picnic together when horse-riding. Having been in this Medieval French area for over thirty years, we are well known for a laid-back atmosphere which was successfully summarised by one guest who said ‘no rules, only love’. Children love to help catch and groom the horses and ponies, then can enjoy numerous activities including splashing in the swimming pool, go-karting, singing round the campfire, football and volleyball matches and stroking our tusked pig Basco and the little bunnies. Those who want a break from the bustling barn often wander the nearby markets which are hububs of food and chatter, go walking or cycling through beautiful scenery, visit San Sebastian and Pamplona. The best family-day is rafting, canoeing and swimming in the wild water in the Sauveterre river. René, one of Marianne’s sons, also has his brewery onsite for those who take an interest in proper home-brewed beer. If you prefer wine, our neighbour does wine-tasting, or you can enjoy his wines from our veranda. Each evening, you can watch the sunset from the terrace or on horseback, riding through hilly countryside and meadows. The evenings also host ping pong and boule competitions offering opportunities to make friends with enthusiastic people from all over Europe.
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Reader ReviewsAdd Your Review
A well-run, beautiful place but I would not go back
August 2017 – Sunny summer stay
A great start to our motorhome travels
We stayed at Esperbasque just for a couple of days as a trial run for our new (and first ever) motorhome but left wishing we could have stopped there longer. It's a lovely site, well-placed for the town (a 30-minute walk away) and Marianne was as friendly, welcoming and helpful as you could wish for. She also bakes great bread! We were there right at the start of the season so it was very quiet with just three other camping cars for company. There is a bit of traffic noise in the morning and evening but that shouldn't spoil anybody's enjoyment of a really lovely site.
This is a truly beautiful campsite with a great hippy and friendly vibe to it.
Very usefully, the campsite hands out leaflets of all the events and trips they organise and also everything to see nearby with how to get there and even where to park which is very handy when new to an area. We drove down to sauveterre de bearn and spent a blistering hot day paddling in the rivers there which was absolutely beautiful. There are numerous supermarkets near by which is also handy!
The reason I have only given 4 stars is that on our last night all the staff stayed up drinking very very noisily till about 3:30am and we just barely got any sleep that night which is a real shame as otherwise it would have been a perfect stay.
Wonderful memories made here !
We arrived very late on a Sunday night and were given a very warm welcome. We had only booked for 10 days but ended up staying for 5 extra days. We had a lovely big sheltered pitch at the bottom of a hill which meant a bit of a hike to the toilet block but I felt much healthier by the end. The kids were Happily free range (twins 9, 11) and loved helping look after the horses, they also loved the pool, the ping pong and the opportunities to make new friends (and learn a bit of Dutch). For me, I loved the sunrises and the locality. We went on a day trip topamplona which involved and epic 7 hour round trip across the Pyrenees, well worth the drive, also capbreton beach superb surf. Also lots of places to visit nearby.
I would definitely recommend this friendly site for a relaxed family holiday, especially with a hired fridge in your tent , doesn't get much better than that !! Thank you Marianne and your team for a truly great holiday.
Noisy party campsite
Our stay was tainted by the staff partying to 2am, drunken shouting and loud music. Next morning a car was left stranded across a bank, can only guess a drunken mistake the night before.
Don't expect to feel part of France while here, maybe the fact no French seem to stay might be a clue.
At esperbasque the welcome is as warm as the camping is cool. Staying here made me wish I was 10 years old as well as thankful I am old enough to appreciate the ambience of this lovely campsite. Marianne has created a place where tranquillity is never compromised by the array of activities available for young and old alike: horse-riding, swimming, talent shows, campfire evenings, home brewed beer and space to just play. We enjoyed days on the vast sandy beaches and walks in the mountains all within an hour of leaving the site. We drove to the village of Salies de Bearn within 10 minutes for evening strolls ,restaurants and amazing take-away pizza's. To complete the magical feeling when it got dark a glow worm shone a few feet from our tent!. We are so grateful to have stayed here; for us it was the perfect camping experience.
Cake, craft beer... convivial camping
Thoroughly recommend Marianne's wonderful campsite in the Pays Basque - fantastically located just outside the lovely spa town of Salies de Bearn, close enough to the coast to get some big-wave body-boarding action (no need for wet suits here), and equally close to the stunning Pyrenees mountains. But its Marianne and her amazing team of helpers who really make the difference. Endless energy is given to keeping all happy - from the welcoming glass of beer after the long drive, to horses galore, table tennis, archery, swimming, trampolining, football, talent contests, boules and more - and Marianne also bakes lovely cakes daily and her son sells his own craft beer! Marianne also wants her guests to explore the area and suggests among other things gorgeous locations for river-swimming, rafting, canoeing, local markets and of course the coast. The facilities are excellent - modern, clean and enough of them to mean that there's never really a need to wait for a hot shower. The location is beautiful - great views from all pitches - which are spacious and flat. And it's quiet after 10pm - unless of course you're enjoying a convivial glass or two in the lovely and very friendly bar! Perfect.
Laid back camping
My wife and I, along with our 4 boys, have recently returned from a 7 nights stay at Domaine d'Esperbasque in our motorhome. We arrived at Domaine d'Esperbasque totally frazzled and with a completely empty diesel tank, after enduring a 50 hour, 1200 mile drive from southern Scotland, experiencing some epic thunderstorms en route.
Serendipity brought us to this far flung corner of France. We hadn't made any holiday plans until a week prior to departure due to having to cancel holiday arrangements at the last moment over the previous 3 years - we didn't want to tempt fate again. We had tried some of the coastal sites further north but our requested dates weren't available so, unsure if the driving would be too much, I merely made an enquiry on Domaine d'Esperbasque's website to find out if our dates were available. In return we received a very welcoming email from Marianne, announcing that we were booked, wishing us a good journey and with the hope of seeing us soon!
Maybe something had been lost in translation. We hummed and hawed a bit but eventually thought 'what the hell' and set about booking the ferry, etc.
On arrival at the campsite we were immediately struck by the very laid back, casual atmosphere of our surroundings. It was like entering an overgrown, rustic farm steading crossed with a cottage garden. Reception was next to the indoor riding arena in the small, very relaxed, slightly haphazard and quirky bar area. We found Marianne amidst a throng of Dutch children, midway through that evening's talent competition. It shouldn't surprise you, given Marianne's nationality, that Domaine d' Esperbasque is very popular with Dutch campers and, indeed, Dutch registered cars made up the majority of vehicles parked around the site during our stay. From a British point of view this turned out to be a great thing as all of the Dutch people that we met spoke excellent English and were very friendly and helpful.
Marianne was very welcoming and directed us to our pitch. When asked when she would like to be paid she gave a shrug of her shoulders and with a wave of her hand said "och, we'll sort that out tomorrow"!
Our motorhome is a fairly large 6 berth coachbuilt, big enough to accommodate our 4 children but, unfortunately, wasn't particularly suited to the pitch we were allocated. The track into our pitch was lined with straggly shrubs and trees with low hanging branches and, though very pretty, this meant slow, careful manoeuvering to avoid damage to the van. Once parked up we found that the potable water tap next to us didn't work, our electric cable, despite being 30 feet long, didn't quite reach the power socket and when we eventually found the chemical toilet emptying point it was a considerable trek away. Those with tents will be wondering what the big deal is! Well... motorhoming is really camping for softies and, in my opinion, we tend to be a lazier bunch. You get used to being able to drive to a service point to empty out your grey water tank and the toilet cassette then refill your freshwater tank with 100 litres of water. None of this is really possible on this site due to the location of the various services and the narrowness of the tracks leading to them - in fact I didn't find a drive-over, grey water emptying point on the site. This isn't a huge problem however as there are motorhome service points in the beautiful nearby towns of Salies-de-Bearn and Sauveterre-de-Bearn. It shouldn't be an issue either for couples or those with a smaller, younger family. The facilities that were available on the site though; the toilets and showers, were modern and were kept very clean.
Slightly irritated by one or two of these things though and a bit cranky after the long drive, we headed to the bar to see if any food was available. On reaching the bar I was amused to see quite a number of adults sitting in the terrace area outside the bar with their heads down, staring at the screens of various mobile phones and tablets whilst their children were all running around having a great time. This, it turned out, was because of the free WiFi available there and this is obviously a great ploy to help sell lots of beer! There wasn’t officially food available but Marianne’s son – Rene, very kindly made us all a round of croque-monsieur, which was most welcome considering how tired we were, he then introduced us to the beers that he brews in the next door barn. The one I tried that night; a wheat beer, was spiced up with the heat from chilli peppers and was really excellent. Over the course of the week I tried his other brews that were ready, finding them all very (too) good and I’m now kicking myself for not taking a few bottles home! Anyway, this began to relax us and we finally began to feel as though we were on holiday.
That night however, it began to rain. In the morning the grass area that we were parked on had become a bit muddy and slippery which made turning and driving out from the pitch very difficult, especially as the ground was slightly rutted and narrow. We decided that as we would be leaving the site every day to go on day trips we would have to request a different pitch more suited to the motorhome. Marianne was very helpful when asked and gave us a gravel surfaced pitch just off the main track through the site with better access to water and electricity (though Rene had offered us an extension cable). This was a better solution but not quite perfect as we still wanted to erect a drive away awning for the kids to sleep in and the parking space was too stony to do this. Marianne came up with a good compromise, letting us pitch the awning as a separate tent on the grass on the other side of the track, above the pool. This worked out very well and as soon as we were able to erect the awning and get unpacked we finally relaxed completely and could get on properly with the business of being on holiday.
Over the next few days we had a thoroughly enjoyable, relaxing time taking in the picturesque surroundings of the campsite and it’s laidback (bordering on horizontal) ambiance. From waking in the morning and strolling down to the bar terrace to buy fresh croissants and other delicious goodies from the baker that visits the site every day, to the late evening, watching the sunset over the hills whilst drinking one of Rene's brews, Domain d'Esperbasque is a very tranquil, chilled place to stay. One evening was particularly enjoyable as a local musician played a guitar and sang late into the night, accompanied and then followed by one of Marianne’s staff on the piano (sorry I didn’t get your name - dark haired chap, midway through an engineering course, very friendly and helpful). During the day there are plenty of things to do. A lot of people come to the site specifically to go horse riding and for riding lessons. If horse riding isn't your thing though there are other organized activities you can take part in or you can just have a splash about in the pool. If you prefer to explore the local area then the site is ideally situated for exploring the Pyrenees or for a trip to the beach, both less than an hour away. Northern Spain is also easily reached and one regret is that we didn't have more time to explore San Sebastien (take a bike if you do, there are bike paths and bikes everywhere). There are of course plenty of local markets to visit and the small, weekly farmers market a short walk away from the campsite had plenty of tasty, locally produced treats on offer and was especially good if you love pâté and cheese. The site was perfect for the kids too. It felt very safe and they had a great time left to their own devices to make new friends with the other kids, with them all hanging out together late into the evening on the trampolines adjacent to the bar terrace. Prepaid soft drinks vouchers could be purchased for them at a discount (same for alcohol – though not for kids!) to enable the kids to buy their own drinks and have a bit of independence.
Regarding the campsite - If I was looking to improve anything then I would like to see a few, easier to access, dedicated pitches for larger campervan/motorhomes with the room to erect an awning, free from overhanging branches and with easier access to water (and please, drinking water taps not adjacent to chemical toilet emptying points - us Brits are a bit squeamish about that!) but I suppose motorhomers probably aren't Marianne's main target market. However, that would be all, with everything else being pretty perfect for us.
Based on our subjective experience and how we felt at the end of our stay at Domaine d'Esperbasque I'd give the whole experience 5 stars. I would add however that the laid back style might not be to everyone's liking, especially those with motorhomes looking for space and proper
facilities but I think for those with tents or caravans then the site is pretty idyllic.
A lovely friendly site
We stayed for 5 weeks during September and October 2013.
Marianne the owner greeted us with a big smile. We felt so comfortable straight away. The site is very spacious, with lovely views over the countryside. There is a lovely large country house with apartments and also safari tents, along with Gites.
We had a caravan and had a very good electric supply which was very reliable. Water was close to hand and drinkable.
There were excellent toilets and showers all very clean.
The site is suited to most people with many things for children to do. The pools were very warm in a sun trap and even I braved the water – first time for years!
I was so thrilled to go riding on the horses Marianne has and went about 4 times a week, 2 hrs each time. Also I was allowed to be hands on. Able to help collect them from the fields, groom and tack up. After if it was hot the horses had a hose down and then a roll in the ménage, they absolutely loved it. Elina took me out each time and was extremely professional and competent. Also very patient as I am not that good a rider.
As it was the low season, once a week Marianne and her son Rennie assisted by Elina provided a dinner for campers. The food was mostly home grown and home cooked. The meals were always delicious and it was a good way to get to know other campers.
Marianne also made fresh bread which you could buy in the mornings. In the summer when it is busy the baker delivers to the site.
We had the most lovely stay and I was reluctant to leave. The rustic feel to the site is just perfect.
I thoroughly recommend this site to any one.
Thank you to such lovely friendly people....Marianne, Rennie and Elina.
Shirley and Peter Finch