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‘Running our Normandy camper van site is a holiday that never ends’

A couple’s determination to beat French bureaucracy and open their dream camper van site pays off

Patric and Catherine Chamballu wanted green hedging and lawns on their site; they love sharing food, drink and time with campers Pic: P Chamballu

A couple of early retirees have completed an unusual project: turning an old storage area they own into a fully functioning camper van site.

Patric and Catherine Chamballu got the idea after many years travelling in their own camper van.

“Many of the places we stayed in were not very well laid out, and not very nice,” Mr Chamballu told The Connexion

“When we found a good one, it made a huge difference, and from that the idea of having our own camper van campsite came about.”

Read more: Explore France in a campervan or motorhome 

‘The bureaucracy was terrible’

He retired from his business, which specialised in erecting pylons and posts for utilities, when his son reached his 30s and was in a position to take over from him.

His son moved the business to larger premises, which meant a storage area in the small commune of La Goulafrière in Eure, Normandy, was vacant and the couple decided to convert it.

“The bureaucracy was terrible, even though we had the full support of the mayor,” Mr Chamballu said.

“Everything from getting more water to the site by having a larger pipe to upgrading the electricity or getting permission to install fire extinguishers took pages and pages of form-filling. It had to be done, otherwise we could not be insured.

“I am used to a certain level of paperwork because I was the head of a business, but even so, if I was not determined, I would have given up – it took two years.” 

‘I built the site myself’

Building the site took another two years, although he admits he took a risk and started work before getting the final sign-off from authorities.

“We wanted green hedges marking out the pitches, green lawns, a play area, showers and toilets, and a small shop so people do not have to go out hunting for croissants for breakfast or other necessities,” he said.

“I have picked up all the skills and had access to machines such as diggers for trenches, so I was able to do it all myself.

“Now we have four individual pitches and a double pitch for people who are travelling together.”

Read more: Brittany town takes harder line on campervan parking

‘We feel like we are constantly on holiday’

The couple invested around €80,000 in the project. Campers pay €12 a night, of which, after deducting overheads, the Chamballus have calculated they see €3.50.

“We certainly did not do it for the money,” said Mr Chamballu.

“What we liked most about our camper van travels were the exchanges and camaraderie with other people doing the same thing. Now we have that all the time with the people who stay with us – it is as if we are constantly on holiday.”

Word-of-mouth recommendations in the camper van community mean the site is full most of the time, even though the village is not an obvious stopping point, being very rural and 40km from the sea.

“But in Normandy you have wonderful food, wonderful drinks, and wonderful people,” said Mr Chamballu. 

“Those are the main ingredients of a good holiday.”

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