Pyrenees wild camping with kids
In July we spent a couple of days camping and foraging in the Pyrenees in France. It was one of our favourite spots on our journey so far. It was great for our daughters with a pebbly mountain stream to play in. There were ponies and cows grazing through the forest, wild strawberries if you looked carefully, and a bakery van!
What you’ll find in this post
In this post we share:
- Details of the place where we camped
- The flora and fauna we discovered in the forest
- Things we loved like the mountain stream, wildflowers and a bakery van
- Details of a kids rope course by the lake
- And my adventure foraging for wild strawberries
Lac de Payolle wild camping
Nick had found the spot on park4night. It turns out the spot we found and stayed in, wasn’t the official aire, which we missed the turning for. We assumed that we were in the right spot due to the large numbers of other campervans parked in the forest. Our family stayed for a few days (before we ran out of food), but I’m not sure what the ‘rules’ are about camping here.
We picked a spot next to a mountain stream – I’m sure everyone with kids can relate to this being a popular spot to choose. Water generally equals hours of play, and therefore less work for parents. During our 3 day stay we did move to a neighbouring spot after another camper left, which put us in the sun more for our solar panel.
Exploring the forest
There are giant ants in the Pyrenees! That was one of my first observations on staying at this spot. They were incredible, much larger than anything I’d seen in the UK and they created stunning (and huge) ant hills. With our littlest daughter crawling I was a little concerned that she might get bitten. If she did, she never seemed bothered by it.
These forests were a truly magical place to explore. When you just slowed down and let you eyes adjust to the life on a micro level, there was so much beauty and colour. A truly tiny world humming with activity.
The mountain stream
What a treat to be parked up by a mountain stream. It was just the right depth for our daughters to paddle in, lots of stones and fallen logs to cross, and grassy banks to jump to. A number of people had been ‘rock balancing’ creating these beautiful towers of precariously balanced pebbles in the middle of the stream. Whilst they appeared precarious, they gave off a wonderfully calm vibe.
Mornings on the mountain
In the mornings we were woken by bells, as the cows headed down the mountain towards the lake. These were the moments I was dreaming of for our children when we embarked on this journey. Those moments that are specific to a place, that tie your memories very specifically to it.
Most mornings a local bakery van turned up selling croissants, pastries and baguettes, which we were delighted about. Very welcome when you’re running low on food and don’t want to drive off and lose your spot. The most perfect breakfast in many ways. The van also sold a few other items, like honey and pate.
Wildflowers and ponies
Up in the mountains the weather changes quickly – one day was bright blue cloudless skies and warm, whilst another was grey and misty and we bundled up in our coats. After some of the previous hot days we’d experienced it was refreshing to have cooler weather.
There were herds of ponies that grazed the slopes around the lake and beautiful wildflowers to spot.
There were wild herbs growing amongst the grass that we found when we slowed down enough to notice. For our eldest daughter who was 5, this spot was one endless playground – water to splash in, trees to climb and hide behind, animals to watch, and interesting plants and insects to discover.
Kids rope course on Lac de Payolle
One sunny day we decided to go for a walk around Lac de Payolle. It was quite busy with other families out for a walk, and there were children having pony rides around the lake. We didn’t even mind that it was busy and not really ‘wild’. On the other side of the lake we found a kids rope course up in the trees.
After watching some other children go round, our eldest daughter decided she’d like to have a go. She put on a harness and learn how to clip herself onto the course. Some of the sections were pretty challenging – like sitting on a bike attached to a zip wire to cross between trees – but she loved it. It was definitely worth the cost (about €12 for two of the three courses) and nice to do something just for her, considering all the driving we’d done.
Foraging for wild strawberries
One thing I love to do is searching for wild foods and discovering what flowers and plants are growing in a new place. So one morning I took my camera and went exploring up the stream. The woods were so beautiful and peaceful as I meandered through the undergrowth following the path of the stream.
I knew there were wild strawberries and wild blueberries (or myrtille sauvage in French) as I’d seen them around our camping spot. I decided that I would continue foraging until I had a blueberry for each of us. This turned out to be trickier than I imagined! As I wandered through the forest I noticed how my eyes adjusted and started spotting the tiny red spots of wild strawberries hidden amongst the leaves.
The further I went I also noticed where the wild blueberry plants best liked to grow. They seemed to prefer outcrops of rock or large old treestumps, covered in moss. Most of the wild blueberry plants I found seemed quite young, although I don’t know if this was an accurate assumption. By this point I had a good handful of wild strawberries, but still no wild blueberries.
My favourite find was a patch of wild strawberries that were growing half way up a tree (picture below). The wild strawberry plants had taken root on a flat stump about chest height, and had sent long dainty tendrils out like a waterfall.
I did eventually find enough wild blueberries for us each to have one. Perhaps I was less attuned to their favourite growing spots when I set out, because I had passed the blueberry patches earlier without noticing. For me, this forage was one of the highlights of our adventure so far. The only downside to my foraging expedition was the acquisition of two ticks! Ick! One which I didn’t discover until about two days later.
Lovely Lac de Payolle
We loved our 3 days at this spot in the Pyrenees, it met all our family needs and allowed us to slow down for a bit. It is definitely a spot we would return to if we’re down in the south of France in the future, and would recommend it to others as a place to stop a while.