Domaine La Mathonière
How much nicer when, instead of that kind of welcome, a campsite owner stands in front of a green field, opens his arms out wide and says ‘Anywhere you like. Just don’t scare the donkeys.’
Thankfully that’s more the kind of welcome you’ll find at Domaine La Mathonière, a complex of buildings and a campsite set amid the forests and lakes in the heartland of the old Dukes of Bourbon. Behind the fine old rustic farmhouse there’s an expanse of green field, broken up here and there with the odd hedge and tree, but essentially an open area, where you can pick a pitch to suit your mood. There’s a large tree in the middle, which provides a heap of shade, and there’s a large (heated) swimming pool too.
Elsewhere, closer to the farmhouse, there’s a great little café-cum-bar with a sheltered seating area. Here you can enjoy a café au lait or something stronger, if you prefer, while the owners can cook a three course meal for you (also known as table d’hôtes). Once a week they also organise a ginormous barbecues for every camper on the campsite.
It’s a tried-and-trusted French formula, this. A few old farm buildings converted into a lovely owners’ home, some gîte accommodation, an open field for the camping and the cooking of communal barbecues, if you want. No worries if you’d rather do your own thing, but it’s good to meet the neighbours. There’s also another common feature of these kinds of places; large, luxury safari tents with an en-suite bathroom inside and views too die for. If you want something more basic, you can book a large bell tent instead. Closer in style to camping but still allowing you to travel light.
This may all make Mathonière sound a little formulaic, but honestly, it’s not. It’s a simple, wholesome, unpretentious site that’s a great place to bring the kids to, but with enough space to stretch out if you don’t want to be pestered.
Round and about, this region is dotted with forests and copses and has loads of interesting old towns and villages to explore. While it is possible to get to places on foot, by bike, or by donkey, the farther-flung destinations are really only accessible by car, there’s a sandy beach in the vicinity and loads of forest trails that are great either on foot or by bike. Just don’t get lost. Perhaps it’s best to lay a trail of breadcrumbs behind you and hope that you manage to find your way back before the birds eat them. Because you’ll want to find your way back to La Mathonière, and probably more than once. It may be based on a simple formula, but then all the best formulae are simple. Like E=mc2; and it doesn’t come much simpler than that. At least in theory it doesn’t. But then, when you think about it, in practice, making things look as effortless and simple as this is often the hardest trick in the book. And you really don’t need to be Einstein to figure that out.
There are all sorts of goodies. In addition to the usual facilities of hot showers, WCs, and washing facilities, there’s a great little café-cum-bar with a sheltered outdoor seating area, where the communal meals are served and where you can sit and play some of the games available, from chess to dicey board games. Next to it is the lounge area with free WiFi. Then there are the animals, the pool, and the large kids play ground to keep the little ones happy. And if none of that works, then the site is big and secluded enough just to let the kids run amok on their own.
Suitable ForTents, campervans, caravans, dogs – yes.
NearbyWhere to start? There are some great little towns and villages in the vicinity, such as Hérisson and Bourbon L'Archambault. In the former, for example, there’s a wonderful ruined 14th-century castle with a crumbling keep. For something a little more adventurous head to the Plan d’Eau de Vieure, it’s a T-shaped lake just off D11, north of Vieure, that boasts a small section of sandy beach, but also offers kayaks, canoes, and pedalos for hire. In the opposite direction is the 27,182-acre (11,000-hectare) Forêt de Tronçais. It’s so old that Julius Caesar is said to have passed through it. Today it contains oaks that are hundreds of years old. Just don’t get lost. Or take some breadcrumbs.
Food & DrinkIf you don’t fancy partaking with the table d’hôtes or the BBQ at the pleasant café-cum-bar on site, head into Cosne-d’Allier where you’ll find a large Carrefour supermarket with everything you need to cater for yourselves, including garden furniture if you’ve forgotten to bring your own. Just remember, when you go, that French supermarkets don’t offer plastic carrier bags, so make sure you take something to put your baguettes and bottles of wine in. Unfortunately the town’s not that hot on restaurants or bars. For those you’d be better off going the extra miles to Montluçon or Moulins, where there’s a much better choice on rue Grande in the medieval part of town.
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