Website: florealgroup.be/en/ | Phone: +32 (0)800 11 505 | Postcode: 6980, Belgium
We chose this site to be the main destination for our big European summer camping trip in 2018. We had a few criteria to satisfy when searching: it had to be within two to three hours of our ferry port (Dunkirk); it needed to be within a one hour drive of Spa-Francorchamps (as we had tickets for the Grand Prix); finally, as we planned to stay here for the majority of our holiday we wanted good on-site facilities and ideally a play area or pool to entertain the children. Read on to find out how Floréal measured up.
We had planned this trip around spending 3 days at the Belgian Formula 1 Grand Prix (part of Tom’s entire year of birthday celebrations!). Given that we would have already been travelling for around 10 hours when the ferry arrived in France we didn’t want to drive the breadth of France and all across Belgium too. We found this site after quite lengthy online research and it was a 3 hour drive which was at the top-end of how long we wanted to go but put us closer to the F1 track. The drive from Dunkirk was an easy one. The ferry arrived on time at 11am and we were efficiently directed off and out of the port complex. Our sat-nav recommended a route travelling through France on the E25 past Lille before crossing into Belgium as this would avoid midday traffic around Brussels and it worked out perfectly. We were only surprised by how little fanfare there is when you leave one country and enter the next – barely even a sign, and definitely no customs checkpoint.
We knew we had arrived at the campsite because we instantly recognised the grand chateau from the photographs on the website, but it wasn’t entirely clear where we should go to check-in. I sat in the car with the boys while Anna went to investigate. She returned saying that we had stopped at the Floréal conference centre and the campsite was either Floréal 2 which was 500m further down the road, or Floréal 1 about 1km away. We drove on further down the road for Floréal 2 but there was nobody there and no office to be found. I (eventually) turned the car and trailer around in a tiny layby at the bottom of the steep drive, and we went on again to Floréal 1. We’d finally found our campsite! This site is also accessed down quite a steep drive and there are security barriers at the bottom (a deposit is required when you arrive for the access token) so again Anna had to jump out of the car to check us in while I tried to pull over with the trailer so as not to obstruct other vehicles arriving while still making sure I could manoeuvre us out again or turn around if needed. We thought the arrivals process could be improved with better labelling in the confirmation emails and directions to the actual site that you have booked.
First impressions of the campsite were a bit disappointing. This site is enormous – I think there are 400 pitches at this one site, and a similar number at the other Floréal location. Individual pitches are quite spacious (we had no trouble fitting in our trailer-tent and car and still having space to sit around the barbecue without feeling cramped). The pitches are quite tightly packed together though, and there is no planting or pathways to separate the pitches. Some campers might crave a bit more privacy. The pitches are laid out in a grid system with roads between each row. There were also a lot of caravans and entire sections of the site filled with statics. This is a very large, functional campsite, with good (but not great) facilities in a picturesque part of the country, but the site itself is not particularly picturesque.
A river flows through the site and this was one of the things that attracted us to it as it’s usually suitable for canoes and kayaks. Unfortunately we visited just after the summer heatwave and the water level was too low and so to protect the wildlife nobody was allowed to enter the water. Bad timing that couldn’t be avoided.
There’s a shop on site that sells practically everything you could want. Fresh baguettes and croissants in the morning. Beer and wine. Fresh meat for the barbecue. Camping equipment – not just gas bottles, but tent pegs, mallets, guy ropes, several different types of sweeping brush and everything in between. Toys, tennis racquets, water pistols. Even oars for your canoe!
The on-site play area is pretty good, with swings and slides for the younger children, a few tennis courts, and several petanque pitches. The only downside is that it’s at one end of the campsite and with the site being so big we found it to be a 10 minute walk with 2 small children in tow.
There’s also a bar & restaurant on-site – we visited for a beer on our first night but didn’t try the food – and a Belgian Friterie open until 9pm most nights.
There are plenty of brick-built toilet and shower blocks dotted around the site (we never had to queue). They are a little dated, but well maintained and clean. We soon discovered a couple of annoying features though – the lights are set on a short timer, seemingly set to guarantee that you will always finish your shower in the dark! Also the showers are of the push-button variety and also don’t last very long. As with many campsites in Europe, there is no soap or toilet paper provided in the toilets.
One final negative worth pointing out was the pool. There is only one pool that serves two campsites and the conference centre, and as (bad) luck would have it, it was located at the conference centre which is the far side of the other campsite which itself is 500m from the site where we were staying. This meant we had to walk the length of both sites, through a field and part way along the road to get to the pool. It meant that it took all morning and wasn’t suitable for a quick morning swim before leaving the site for the day. When we arrived at 12:30 we found that the pool had just closed for an hour, and when we got into the pool it was just a single small rectangular pool. No slides, fountains or separate pools for swimmers and children.
Although we didn’t take part, on a couple of mornings we heard announcements about various organised children’s events – face painting and a treasure hunt. A nice and unexpected touch.
The nearest town is La Roche, about a 30 minute walk away, 10 minute bike ride or just a few minutes by car. It is a very pretty town with the river running the length of it. There is ample parking (unless it’s market day) and cafés and bistros aplenty. There’s also a large Spar supermarket as well should you need to buy that one rare item that isn’t available in the on-site shop. Given its location, La Roche played a significant role in the war and there are several old tanks dotted around the town which the children loved. There’s also a wartime museum. We were pleased to find a great beer shop, La Cave du Vénitien, and stocked up on enough local beers to last the holiday and have a few left over to bring home.
Up on the hill is La Roche Castle – walkable from the town centre but beware of the steep cobbled path. We spent an afternoon there exploring the ruins and enjoyed the falconry demonstration. There’s also a small bar in one of the remaining rooms of the castle where we savoured a nice cold beer while escaping the sun for half an hour.
The campsite is in an ideal location to use as a base for walking or cycling trips and is also a popular choice for various watersports. There are a couple of places to hire bikes and canoes right by the entrance to the campsite.
The town of Spa (home of the Belgian Grand Prix) is a one hour drive from the campsite. It’s bigger than La Roche, but a nice town with plenty of opportunity for alfresco dining. We were pleasantly surprised that the town didn’t seem especially busy just a couple of days before the Formula 1 circus descended for the annual race. On our way back from Spa we made a stop at Lac de Warfaaz, took a walk around part of the lake and then hired a pedalo for half an hour. A lovely place to stop to break the journey and there’s also a waterside bar and restaurant if you wanted to stop for refreshments.
A twenty minute drive away is Lake Nisramont, a dam on the same river that flows through the site. It’s a popular destination for kayaking and canoeing as well as walkers.
We had 3-day tickets for the Grand Prix so went to the circuit for the first time on Friday for the first Practice sessions. We thought this would be a good opportunity to check out the route and get our bearings before it got busier on Saturday for Qualifying and Sunday for race day. We set our satnav for the side of the track we wanted to be and followed it until we picked up signs for the event. The great thing about the setup of the Grand Prix at Spa is that they don’t funnel all traffic down one or two main roads and there isn’t just a single entrance to the site so the traffic arrives and can disperse in all directions. The track is set in a very rural location among the Ardennes mountains so the last couple of miles can be along country lanes depending on your route. We had a really easy journey on the Friday but expected more traffic on Saturday, which fortunately didn’t turn out to be the case. As all four of us were going to the track on all 3 days we were conscious of not spending the full day there and making the children bored by race day. On the Sunday we arrived at the track a couple of hours before the race so just caught the end of the last support race. Again, arrival was easy. We were able to park fairly close to the track and walk through a field to an entrance to the circuit. We all enjoyed the experience and after the race we walked part of the track, down the famous eau rouge corner and even sat on a patch of grass and ate our picnic between the track and the exit of the old pits. We didn’t stay late but the journey home, including getting out of the car park took, at most, 30 minutes longer than on previous days. Perhaps we were unusually lucky though because our neighbours on the campsite had made the same journey and been stuck in traffic for 6 hours!
There were a few people that stayed at Floréal and went to the Grand Prix, but it was by no means taken over as a Formula 1 campsite for the week which was exactly our intention when we chose to stay in this area.
This is another of those reviews where it’s difficult to mentally separate our memories of a great holiday from the quality of the campsite. This was our longest ever stay at one campsite and we loved the places we visited and the experiences we had. I’m finishing this review almost a full year after our trip and I remember great weather, fantastic food and lots of laughs but most of my memories are away from the campsite. The site itself was functional and the facilities were adequate – much of our criticism is because of the size of the site and how far away things like the pool and play areas were. During our research we struggled to find any smaller independent campsites online. Driving around the area when we arrived we saw several sites that we wished we had been able to find online. We would definitely go back to this area of Belgium, but I think we would try again to find a smaller, more secluded campsite that is a little more “us” next time.