Domaine Les Gandins
1 allée des Gandins, 03140 St-Germain-de-Salles, France
Un gandin, you may or may not have known, is a dandy, an aristo, the kind of guy who lost his head to the guillotine when the French Revolution rolled into town. There were loads of them who lived lives of quiet luxury on little estates, just like this one, until the Revolution came along and recommended that that kind of thing ought to come to a stop.
The estates, of course, remained, even though their owners went the way of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. Of course, once the dust had settled and the cobbles hosed down, most of them eventually found their way back into the hands of a new aristocracy, as is the way with so many revolutions, but thankfully many of them are now little hotels, B&Bs, gîtes, and campsites, open to the sans coulottes – like us lot. And of all the similar domaine-style campsites in France, this one, at Domaine les Gandins, is surely the dandiest of the lot. A magnificent house, dating back to long before the Revolution, sits at the centre of a glorious little estate comprising various gîtes (including one in a converted pigeon loft), a stretch of sleepy river, a fantastic tree house and – this is where you come in – a spacious and leafy camping field.
The main house, with its red-tiled roof and deep-green shutters is postcard-perfect, and the grounds are all immaculately kept by the friendly French family who own and run the site. With all its attendant facilities, Domaine les Gandins is really something of a one-stop shop of a campsite, so much so that you might be forgiven for pitching your tent one day and staying for a whole week without ever venturing beyond the confines of the site.
For a start, the river of La Sioule is a minute’s stroll through the meadow behind the complex of buildings and past the tree house. It’s not the raciest of rivers, so it’s perfect for a paddle or just for cooling off on a hot summer’s day, and there are plenty of shady places in which to lounge around and listen to the birds or the gentle sound of the water. That’s assuming you can block out the sound of the kids. Then there’s the busy kitchen, which is at the heart of the site and always seems to have steam and smells emanating from inside. Whether you just want a morning cuppa to go with your croissant or fancy taking part in the communal table d’hôte meal in the evening, you’ll find that the kitchen is the social hub around which everything else revolves.
If you do venture off the site while you’re here you could do worse than head down to Vichy. This old sulphur spa town gained notoriety during the Second World War, when it became the seat of Marshal Pétain’s government. Thankfully now it’s reverted to being a thermal spa town next to the wide Allier River, where folk come to take the waters in search of a cure for rheumatism or gout, or just for a stroll through the leafy riverside parks.
The Owner Says
On our 3 week campingtour through France, this was one of our favorite places. Even the welcome was sore heartily. We were allowed to place ourselves with our camping bus on the large meadow where we wanted. The campsite is very very well maintained. For the children, there are many specialized tractors such as a tracker or tricycle, a small wooden house, a nice swimming pool, a trampoline and a tree house. The campsite is located directly on the river. There is also a playground and a cable car. The very warm couple who run the campsite is very helpful and friendly and always open to questions or concerns. In the evening there is a wonderful menu including wine and water. At the reception there is ice cream for the children to buy and for the thirst between there are alcohol-free drinks as well as wine and beer. Next to the front desk there is a small "library" with lots of books. Bicycles in various sizes are available free of charge. We felt very comfortable on the pitch, not least because of the really warm and welcoming owners. We would gladly come again and can only recommend the place!
Our favourite campsite!
We travel to campsites across Europe every year but this one is our absolute favourite! So much so that we planned our travel itinerary last summer to ensure we could visit again. It is great outdoor natural fun for kids- our children 9 and 10 years loved swinging from the rope swing into the river and then slowly being swept down to a safe get out- and so did I! In the evening they played on go carts which are left dotted around the ground and had fun playing football where they made new friends. Me and my husband loved the delicious food (we had the set menu- highly recommended!) and sat watching the children play while we ate and enjoyed the wine. Magical camp site!
Brilliant for children
This campsite is brilliantly child-focused - as well as all the wonderful things in the other reviews, it has a slide and a rope swing which shoot straight into the river. There's a bit of a current, so make sure there's a grownup in the water. The go-carts are easier to drive than they look, so you can travel in style round the site, and discover the tortoise and the bunnies as well as the tree house. The owners are extremely relaxed and friendly, and have gone out of their way to make this place a paradise for children. Book in by 12 if you want to have dinner. Its a bit remote so if you get there later, try the pizza kiosk just before St Pourcain sur Sioule, North, near McDonalds on the D2009. Or there are frites on the same road south towards Gannat. I would have given this campsite 5 stars if they'd mentioned either of these options.
A brilliant campsite. Really friendly, delightful owners- French, I think the Dutch couple sold up three years ago. I can't rate it highly enough. The river is a big selling point, especially as it was very hot when we were there, and it's great for children- and adults- to play in.. The facilities are clean and pleasant, and the whole site is really well laid out. We particularly enjoyed the communal evening meal. We were a bit jaded after travelling all day, but were revived by the friendliness of our fellow diners- mainly Dutch. We only stayed one night, but will definitely go back for longer next year. Our ten year old really liked it too.
This site is just gorgeous. So perfect. We went in June so was lovely and quiet (only us and one other VW camper camping, but lots of the tents and huts were occupied). Private bathroom as not busy enough for the whole block to be opened which was great. The grounds are huge, as are the pitches. Our nearly 4 year old boy LOVED this site. Only thing they needed was a paddling pool, though they do have a free standing pool. Good park and swings in amongst the trees. Also a tortoise, cats and rabbits plus chickens roaming around. A lovely tree house and the river is lovely too and far enough away to not concern you while the kids are off playing. really lovely owners, don't speak much english but that's okay with me! The safari lodges are lovely if you want to treat yourselves!
little piece of heaven
We stayed four nights as family this August and found it the best place that we've ever been from cool camping guide france. The camp site near the river is beautiful and spacious and perfectly well maintained. It is a safe place with really nice playing facilites for children and many peaceful areas for adults too. The owners were very friendly and committed and very willing to fulfill small extra wishes. The baker visiting the campsite ever morning offered on request of our daughter to specially bake amandine viennoiserie for her for the next day. We felt perfectly wellcome and would love to visit the place next year again.
We camped for one night here on a road trip south. Thought it was a lovely setting next to beautiful river with lots of fun for the kids. We had the table d'hote meal which was delicious, good value and fun. Found the (new?) French owners very nice and would like to return.
Great place for family with kids
We absolutely loved our stay here. We were two families with children for 12 days. Everyone had a great time, including adults.
We camped here for a week in August 2014. It's a lovely relaxed informal campsite for tents with a good number of trees for shade. Campervans seemed a bit out of place, although fortunately there weren't too many of them. Our kids loved it - a safe space for them roam in and explore and lots of things for them to do (trampolines, play house, pedal karts, the river, table tennis, car-free tracks for cycling, .... )
I think it's worth saying I'm surprised by the criticisms in Sammyoi's review. We found plenty of space; the owner was friendly and accommodating; his entirely non-aggressive son equally so. We spoke to lots of people at the tables d'hotes and did not hear any similar complaints. I wonder how much of it was of their own making.
Fantasitic friendly and quiet
Well first of all this place is familiar peaceful and like paradise. The new owners are friendly and caring, if you have something wrong it is fixed in no time, it´s obvious how passionate they are about their domaine! The location is really nice relaxing and peaceful. The river is calm and not too deep kids love it! Wonderful 4 course meal. Unfortunately we have to leave tomorrow...I cannot thank Laurence and Bruno enough for making us feel so welcome.
Ok the setting is as described a charming little child friendly natural oasis in rural France - which the previous Dutch owners had obviously created through a lot of effort and it really is to their credit. The new French owners are setting about destroying thus legacy in one season. We like many of our fellow campers arrived to find that a reservation doesn't actually mean anything - "it is not a proper reservation as it is only for 2 nights" also that the field that should really only hold about 15 pitches was so over crowded that there was clearly no room however Un deterred the French owner and his aggressive son in law tried to squeeze us to various places most of which were in pathways or essentially in other peoples awnings - It was too late unfortunately to leave and try somewhere else - but luckily the other campers having gone through the same welcoming ordeal themselves were very accommodating. The majority of the other campers were Dutch - I think a legacy of the previous owners and the glowing reviews on Dutch camping sites, however not sure that this will continue. For the rest of our stay we had little to do with the owners and as said the setting is really very nice and we actually enjoyed our stay - however the more people we spoke to the more we realised how common our experience was. I think to summarise a lovely campsite that we enjoyed despite our welcome - but we won't be returning.
Excellent campsite overall
This was one of my best stays ever. This is heaven for kids. Facilities are excellent, very clean and modern toilets/shower/basin, also lots of nice touches such as bilingual signs/notices, daily fresh bread, help-yourself organise herb garden etc. a river and awesome play area for children. The grounds were beautifully maintained and staff worked very hard at all times. We shall return!
Magical for families
We visited Domain les Gandins twice this summer, 2013. We were driving south and stopped for 4 days there. And again in our way back as the place was so nice. The owners are very welcoming, their local sparkling wine is excellent, the river is a dream for my 2 boys who still talk about the crayfish they play with. When I asked the boys about their favorite moment of their 6 weeks holidays, this place is their number one.
Highly reccomended, for us is the best campsite we've been in Europe.
Domaine Les Gandins
My girlfriend and I stayed here in the summer of 2012. It was part of our 2,500 mile trip around France in her Fiat 500. The site is extremely family orientated. We were the only couple there without children and we were often asked by other campers if we felt out of place being there and not having kids. The place has got a real Dutch vibe due to the owners and the majority of the campers. The site itself was fantastic, due to its proximity to a beautiful river. My girlfriend and I felt able to retreat to the river (a little distance from the campsite) and really relax. The owners have hammocks and a 'honesty' fridge full of beer and water by the river. The river had a gentle current and was brilliant for swimming in and keeping beers cool. We had a meal with all the parents in the evening, which to be honest was a bit of a let down food wise, but the company was nice. My advice is if you are going without kids be warned that you might be the only ones there, but it's definitely still worth a visit due to the location