CAMPING IN France

A week after our return from our Alaska trip, we set forth on our first camping trip in France. We would be based in Kruth, a village nestled in the Regional Natural Park of Ballons des Vosges, northeastern France. It was our second time in this Regional Natural Park; the first trip was for our first trail running trip in Spring 2016 in Gérardmer, a town northwest of Kruth.

We would not be renting the camping gear this time, unlike Alaska. We decided to invest in our own camping equipment. The money would be be well-spent as we foresaw the future adventures we could see ourselves undertaking. Camping would provide us the option of parting spontaneously on weekends, without having to search for last minute, expensive accommodation. In addition, when we sign up for trail races in other parts of France, we do not have to worry about accommodation availability.

Gear Shopping

Even though we had a tight budget, we chose not to skimp on our backpacks and hiking shoes and rely on the more expensive, but well-known brands. As such, we set off to Vieux Campus where we purchased two backpacks (Osprey Kyte 36 for me and Deuter Aircontact 45+10 for him), and a pair of Columbia hiking shoes for me. For the other equipment such as the sleeping bags, tent, and cooking utensils, we sourced them from Decathlon, They were relatively inexpensive and seemed to be adequate for our purpose.

The Alaska trip taught me that the complementary Canon shoulder bag used on the hikes were not hike-friendly. After some extensive online research, I settled on Lowepro Photo Sport BP 200 AW II, a camera backpack. My three day hikes in the Regional National Park of Ballons des Vosges, France showed that it was worth the 125€ we paid for it. The camera backpack was ergonomically comfortable and provided easier access to the camera. I could hike fast, and even jog with the camera bag, without much jolting from the bag.

French Camping

Camping has always made me think of adventures in the nature, especially in a mountainous settings. The experience usually means deprivation of creature comforts. No flushed toilets, no hot showers, no electricity, and no internet. Armed with only the bare necessities that I could physically stuff in my backpack, I would then set out for the wildness. My first experience camping in France provided me with another definition of camping.

There are 2 main types of camping in France. My camping definition belongs to “le sauvage camping” or “wild camping.” Under wild camping, you can set up your tent almost everywhere. However, there are certain exceptions which include certain protected natural or historical sites. In certain cases, you need to obtain the approval of the landowner/tenant of the land. In addition, you are can only set up your tent after 7pm and pack up your stuff before 9am the following day. This practise is also called “bivouacking,” as the tents set up are temporary, usually for a day.

The second type of camping is what I called the Glamping. You get to sleep under the stars, in a tent, using a sleeping bag. However, you still have easy access to several types of creature comforts. Communal shower facilities with hot water, hair dryers, flushing toilets, restaurants, pubs, heated pools, water parks, childcare services etc.

It was our first camping in France and we wanted to test our newly minted gear in a safe environment. Hence, we decided to go for type 2 – Glamping. We chose Le Camping du Schlossberg as our testing ground. It did not have the water parks or the heated pools, but it had hot showers, toilets, electricity, wifi, restaurants. They could also help you to order freshly baked baguettes and croissants every morning!

Le Camping du Schlossberg

Le Camping du Schlossberg was located in the little (less than 1,000 habitants) village of Kruth in northeastern France, in the Regional Natural Park of Ballons des Vosges. It was the low peak season when we got to Schlossberg on the third week of August. Still, there were quite a number of summer campers left. There were two types of campers on this campground: campers with their caravans and campers with their cars. We fell into the latter group.

Poor Country Mice

We bought only the necessities from Decathlon, thinking that camping should be “light”, minimalist. When we added folder chairs and sleeping pads to the shopping list of tent, sleeping beds and utensils, I was thinking “Wow, we are getting extravagant!” I put a stop to it when Silviu suggested getting a folding table. It was only when we walked around the campsite, inquisitively staring at the different setups, that we felt like the poor country mice.

What a spread! Big tents with porch areas (though there seemed to be only for two people) and additional porches to shelter the cars (next to the caravans). Folding tables (should have bought one!), shelving units on wheels, bottles of wine with the meals, television sets, fairy lights strung around the tents, bicycles…it was indeed another world.

Camping and Hiking Trip: Our poor country mice camping set up
Poor Country Mice
Preparing our dinner: Korean Udon
Preparing our dinner: Korean Udon

Hikes

It was only 5pm after we set up our tent. We decided to hike up to the ruins of Wildenstein Castle, by using the short Discovery Trail, It was a hike of 2km, less than 200m elevation gain one way. The trail began from Lake Kruth-Wildenstein.

Le Camping du Schlossberg was located next to the Lake Kruth-Wildenstein, 6km around.
Le Camping du Schlossberg was located next to the Lake Kruth-Wildenstein, 6km around.
Camping and Hiking: FIrst Day
Day 1: Short Discovery Trail. Led up to the ruins of Wildenstein Castle, View from the ruins.

The second day was cloudy, with a little drizzle. We stayed on one side of the valley, in the Natural Reserve of Massif du Grand Ventron (Strava), and hiked 21km with 1,100m elevation gain.

Blueberries
Day 2: in the Natural Reserve of Massif du Grand Ventron. We found lots of blueberries on the trails as we hiked up from Kruth to the peak of Grand Ventron in the Regional National Park. We happily supplemented our trail mix with the wild blueberries. However, the rule here is that each person is allowed only to pick 3kg of blueberries per person per day.
Day 2: Peak of Grand Ventron
Day 2: Near the end of our hike, we found a little waterfall near Wildenstein, a tiny village of less than 200 habitants

The sun smiled at us on the third day, sunny but not too hot. Today, we were on the other side of the valley. The Vosges Mountains are not “huge mountains;” the highest peak hitting only 1424m. However, the undulating terrain with its different peaks can still be a good workout. On our third day, we hit 4 peaks (Le Schweisel, Batteriekopf, Rothenbachkopf and Rainkopf) (Strava), totalled 24km with 1,200m elevation gain.

Photo taken from the 3rd or 4th Peak, looking back at the peaks we had climbed.
Lake Kruth-Wildenstein in the background. Foreground: the tiny village of Wildenstern.
More undulation hills, reminds me of my trail running days in Hong Kong.
Some of the rolling hills we passed. Abundance of little red flowers decorating the hills.
I loved the Vosges cows. They are so pretty!

I love the camping and hiking experience, but I think I might be spoilt by the Glamping facilities . It is going to be hard for me to sacrifice the little creature comforts from Glamping, and embark on the “Wild Camping,”

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