As far as we know the history of the area, which is near the village of Salies de Béarn in the Pyrénées Atlantiques of France, goes back as far as the 14th century. Marianne Hessels who has run the family tourism business for 15 years now explains that this area’s rich history has always been intrinsically bound to Domaine d’Esperbasque.
“The basic idea has always been the same,” she says, “Having a farm and a campsite in one, and giving guests the chance to escape from their busy and stressful lives and reconnecting them with nature. In today’s hectic climate the chance to reconnect with nature, one’s family and oneself couldn’t be more relevant.”
According to Marianne, the original founder was Pieter, a farmer from Holland who after wandering around in France fell in love with this area and started a basic “Hippy-style” holiday location in 1980. Offering activities such as painting, yoga and weaving, everything was based on a farm and a few years later, after a holiday on site, Marianne quit her kindergarten teaching job in Holland to live the dream in France.
Unfortunately, the pair separated about 15 years ago which was when Marianne took over the business on her own with the help of her two sons.
Today, during the low season, which is nine months of the year, Marianne is on her own handling the maintenance of the business and the animals. René her son lives close by and lends a hand if needed while the eldest, Johan is based in Australia and helps with communication, the website and marketing. During the busier high season there is a team of over eight and to Marianne, it is very useful to have people able to speak multiple languages.
“We have a majority of Dutch and English customers,” she says, “So we have employed from Holland as everyone speaks English as well. This year we had a very mixed team with people from Czech Republic, Iran, France and Holland and this creates a great dynamic with up to seven languages in total.”
There is a vibe at Domaine d’Esperbasque that is difficult to describe and best to be experienced. According to Marianne returning visitors often ask how they create and keep such a special sense of freedom and a wonderful vibe going?
“Maybe it’s down to the hippy-like mindset that we’ve retained with a modern edge,” she considers, “Of course, it could also be this region of the Pyrenees with the Atlantic coast just around the corner, the great views we have or the fresh air.”
Postulating, she believes that the relaxed feeling people are looking for is something that goes beyond mere surroundings. Marianne appreciates that people work all year round to go on holiday and she feels blessed to be able to help make their experience here as memorable as possible.
“Many people have to cram eleven months or more of work stress and pressure into a week of relaxing and recovery,” she says, “So it’s important to me that we offer them the best and fastest ways for them to relax.”
A unique offering is the guided horse riding, as they are one of the few campsites in the region that offer a horse riding school on site. And as most families have only one or two members interested in horses, they also have plenty of options with the pool, table tennis tables and sports fields.
She adds, “And when we see people who came here as a kid in the 80’s now return with their own kids, that is the best feeling you can get!”
It started with the campsite, which has 100 spots distributed around the two houses and buildings. They are all spacious and thanks to the terrace setting all enjoy great views.
Then there are 6 apartments in the two historical houses. The Manor house dates to 1732 and the Gîte used to be the carriage house of the domain. Marrianne explains that they have refused to install mobile homes because they want everything to fit within their natural setting.
“Around 2013 we installed the first safari tents, we were feeling that the holiday makers were looking for something special in-between camping and housing,” she explains.
“We chose the spots with the most beautiful views on the campsite and since have heard quite a few times that it is like a scene from “The Sound of Music,” it’s been a hit since then,” she adds.
In 2018 they finished building 2 semi-underground houses which are their Tree-log homes. This project came about because they were looking for something truly unique and a summer season employee who had studied architecture came up with the idea. Immediately the brainstorming began, starting with the idea of building an Earthship, the project was shaped according to what we have, our environment, and lots and lots of internet research.
“This year we have an employee who just finished at a modern architecture school in Barcelona,” Marianna exclaims, “So who knows what we might be doing for 2020!”
One thing is certain is that the camp’s vibe will ultimately influence everything. The houses are decorated in classical French style, the underground houses are built with lots of clear and light wood, but Marianne says that they have a look and feel of their own, something that could be called the Esperbasque style.
“We like to honour the history and nature of our region,” she says, “And we’re always looking for that one detail that’s going to jump out.”
The people capacity is about 10 persons for the tree log houses, 25 persons spread over the apartments and 25 for the safari tents. The campsite sleeps 100 families, so that makes 300/400 people for the campsite.
All the rental accommodations are self-catering and equipped with a kitchen. There are three sanitary blocks on the campsite while the apartments and log houses are equipped with their own bathroom and kitchen. All spots and rooms have electrics.
WHAT GUESTS CAN EXPECT
The human factor is the one that really makes a difference, and Marianne doesn’t see her guests as just a number. In fact, she does a stunning job remembering people by name. And every family that arrives at Domaine d’Esperbasque is welcomed with a drink, after a long trip.
“We feel it is really important to just forget about setting up that tent straight away or unpacking,” she says, “Just sit down for a minute and breathe in the holiday feeling while sipping our neighbours’ wine!”
Additionally, to the horse riding and table tennis mentioned earlier, they also offer onsite scuba diving, shooting or petanque contests, kayaking and rafting. There are loads of walking maps from the campsite and guests can walk to Salies de Béarn from the camp. And, for the total relaxation, guests can get a massage session on site!
THINGS TO KEEP IN MIND
Domaine d’Esperbasque is in an area where guests can climb a mountain one day and jump in the Atlantic the other, lots of little towns surround the area and all the rivers are perfect to swim and relax in the shade. Bring your bathing suit and a jumper.
Also, if you don’t want to drive all the way, a rental car from Biarritz Airport is a great option, or bringing your own on the ferry to Santander.
PRICE. See site: www.esperbasque.co.uk/rates
ADDRESS: Chemin de Lagisquet, 64270 Salies de Béarn, France
TELEPHONE NUMBER: +33559382104