The 7 best camp sites for this summer’s staycation


With travel restrictions still in place, campers countrywide are chomping at the bit to hit the road, with reports of heavy demand and brisk early bookings for the popular campsites for the summer season ahead.

Reviews are supposed to be objective. But that’s not the case. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

For instance, when it comes to music or movie reviews, you are getting a personal opinion. It’s subjective.

The best you can hope for is that the reviewer knows their stuff, has some experience of what they are on about and can put their take on things in some context.

I was recently listening to new film and TV series reviews on a flagship radio programme on RTE when one of the guest reviewers said they couldn’t comment on one film up for discussion as they had not seen it; could not talk about a new series which had been screened for critics as it was under embargo and for a third show announced they weren’t really into period dramas so they weren’t really interested in the upcoming series. That turned out to be the Netflix hit, Bridgerton.

I must confess that as my Netflix options ran low I gave Bridgerton a go and thought it a load of nonsense. But that’s my point. Each to their own.

In camping terms here’s an example of what I mean.

I have a routine, more like a ritual when we rock up to camp for the night.

Suss out the lay of the land, the setting sun, shelter, the neighbourhood, the view and pick a good spot. Set up.  Sort out the gear. Fire up the BBQ. Batten down the hatches in case the weather changes. All set.

With all bases covered, I pop that first cold beer from the fridge. The campervan is worth the price alone for that fridge. I look forward to that moment on every trip. It says we’ve arrived safely, have secured a good spot and set up, and that our latest adventure is underway.

One such evening at a campsite, while chilling over that refreshing cold beer in the glow of a setting September sun, the charcoal barbecue embers doubling as a campfire I was happy out in camper heaven.

Across the campsite, a man struggled on with a portable TV aerial on a tripod desperately looking for a signal. He wasn’t alone. This was a team effort. His wife inside the motorhome was collaborating and issuing progress reports on when the picture reception inside the vehicle was better or worse. That’s true love.

For better or worse, till death do us part, I thought.

By now I was on my third beer, we were tucking into the barbecue and all this was still going on. The quest for fire didn’t take as long as this exhaustive effort to get a better signal to watch Coronation Street.

I’m not making this up. It literally went on for hours. I know it was all about Coronation Street to begin with as I heard them shouting as much to another curious camper, who enquired as to what was so important on the telly. Had it been a match, I could have understood!

But that’s my point. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and so each to their own and all that. One man’s meat is another man’s poison but from the outset we decided no TV and no microwave in the campervan. For us it’s against the spirit of it all. The joy of getting away from it all.


No TV, no microwave. The beauty of camping and the great outdoors is getting away from it all.

That brings us to the Vanhalla recommendation of the top seven locations to head for in what is shaping up as another staycation summer, or home holiday, no foreign travel or whatever is the in vogue phrase for enjoying  the delights of your own country this year.

The point is, you have to know your reviewer and what turns them on, as no one is really objective. Just as with people’s favourite songs, it’s very often about their own personal experience at the time, the emotional connection. Campsites can be like that special kiss, that first time, when you were swept off your feet. It’s different for everyone and each to their own.

Beauty, even when it comes to campsites, is in the eye of the beholder.

The most fantastic camping experience in the world, that thrill, that buzz, that connection, that excitement can be hard to replicate or relive, if the sky is grey, the soil is grey and the people are grey and your heart is as sodden as the heavy mist, which means you can’t even see the edge of the road much less the splendour of the Skelligs, the sunset in Strandhill, the turquoise waters of Keem Bay or that awesome Connemara countryside.


A point of view. Typical Kerry humour at a tavern on the Ring of Kerry.

However, for any review to have even an ounce of credibility there are some basic ground rules.

The reviewer must have personal experience of the campsite and the locality. So we’re only including places we have personally stayed and not spots which others have recommended and that we also believe are really good. To be fair and fair-minded with feedback is also vitally important, to be able to put the experience and location into some sort of context on what and why it impresses and appeals.

So with that in mind and in no particular order - you can discuss and argue and decide later for yourselves - here are Vanhalla’s recommendations of the top sites for this summer’s camping season, which is already simmering with heavy advance early bookings. Campers countrywide are chomping at the bit to get on the road again with the indications that it could be the May bank holiday at the earliest before we can hit the road.

Eagle Point, Cork

And on the 8th day God said he would create a campsite and he made Eagle Point.

There is a good reason Eagle Point is so popular. It’s just got this majestic location on the shores of Bantry Bay. The campsite is so well run and the set up and facilities are top notch. Popular with families, it is on the water’s edge and yet so safe for beginners learning how to kayak, wind surf or sail.

It’s really well laid out with secluded spots reserved for those who like it a bit quieter.

The folks here run a tight ship. They are big on recycling and there is a shop which stocks absolutely everything just across the road.















Eagle Point is just out the road from Bantry which is a mighty spot, with a great weekend market and if the campsite is not your style Bantry has a very good Aire facility over at the port area.

Eagle Point is also a great jump off base for some of the other great attractions of West Cork in places like Baltimore and Glengariff.

For more you can read our original review here: Eagle Point a great spot to paddle your own canoe

 

Sleepy Hollow, Donegal

If I was to look for a place to save my soul or mend myself it would be Sleepy Hollow in Donegal. For no particular reason that I can point to, Sleepy Hollow just has a good feel to it, and makes you feel good too.

It may have something to do with Nicola and Ian who clearly put their heart and soul into running this oasis of calm and it rubs off.

Last year they were one of the few spots taking tents and to their credit pulled out all the stops with hard work to maintain a site with all services including the campers’ kitchen, showers and toilets fully operational, despite all the restrictions and protocols, which saw most other sites retreat to restricted services and self-contained units only.


Important to note that this is an adult only site, so that may have something to do with the calm around the campfires. There’s so much to do, explore and enjoy in this area you’d need the whole summer to put a dent in it with surfing, kayaking, pony trekking and lots and lots of music.

I just love Donegal.

Remind me to tell you about Dunfanaghy, that’s just something else, with a great base at Corcreggan Mill. I so want to get back there for some surf and blues…

See also: Sleepy Hollow the best wee campsite in Donegal

                 Dunfanaghy and the weekend you never want to end

 

The Apple Farm, Tipperary

In the interest of balance, if I don’t include the Apple Farm my granddaughter Kayla would kill me.

It’s one of our favourite spots which we return to each year and is unusual in that respect as it’s not on the coast.

Being from a landlocked county, we head for the coast every chance we get, with one eye also on the surf conditions as a bonus.

So what keeps bringing us back to the Apple Farm?

I did have this thing for robbing orchards as a boy so maybe it’s something deep down to dwell among the rows and rows and rows of ripe red apples and resisting to reach out…

The Apple Farm campsite is slap bang right in the middle of a working orchard with a strong emphasis on environmentally friendly cultivation.




We love to go during the harvest and share the early autumn atmosphere with the sheep dogs, donkeys and rabbits that hop between the rows and rows of apple trees in this adorable Traas family-run camping.

Instead of struggling to find a TV signal I much prefer to pop open a bottle of Con’s Cider one of the specialities of the site.

If you like it here then we’d also recommend Parsons Green in Clogheen, Tipperary and Nore Valley Park, Bennettsbridge, Kilkenny as all three are really good for children.

For a flavour of what I mean: The Apple Farm campsite is well worth the trip to Tipp 

Nagle's, Clare

Nagles in Doolin is easy to recommend.

This well-established family run concern is perched up on the edge of the Atlantic. Tantalisingly close enough to see the ferries pull away from the pier as they head for the Aran Islands and to catch a glimpse of the Cliffs of Moher, yet safe and secure in all seasons.

It’s just a short walk into the village itself with all its musical and other charms and a great staging post to explore The Burren, the rugged coastline and the delightful villages of west Clare.




The facilities here are top notch and the spacious pitches make it a popular stop off for Irish, UK and European tourists alike.

Your neighbours will include the cows peering over the stone walls.

We always have an interesting time here as you will see from this earlier review: On a Clare day you can see the Aran Islands.

 

Ferrybank, Wexford

I usually avoid town located campsites as I’m normally looking to hug the coast and avoid crowds and traffic noise.

Ferrybank in Wexford town makes that a rule worth breaking.

It’s a really well appointed and managed campsite in the heart of Wexford, just across the bridge from the town centre.

There’s a playground at the entrance and a leisure centre, which is run in tandem with the camping facility.

You can stroll into the town centre and harbour area at your leisure while Ferrybank is such a great base to check out the rest of the county and what the sunny south east has to offer.

Many motor homers also find Ferrybank a good overnight stand when heading for the ferry in Rosslare, or indeed a place to regroup after disembarking before an onward journey.







There are plenty of other camping options around Wexford and one which we have no hesitation in recommending is in the fantastic Kilmore Quay where Alice runs a great show. You can take in a trip to see the loveable puffins on the Saltee Islands and treat yourself to a nosh-up from The Little Saltee Chipper.

If that sounds like your thing then you’ll want to read up more here: Wexford is for the birds and Saltee dogs 

 

Goosey Island, Kerry

Goosey Island is an aire style camping facility on the Ring of Kerry in the picturesque village of Sneem.

I could leave it at that and simply suggest you go and see for yourself as words fail me to do justice to this magical place in the Kingdom.

It’s the sort of spot you could simply hang out all summer or if the humour takes you, there is that spectacle that is Kerry to be delved into and explored.

People have been known to visit here and never leave and I can perfectly understand why.



The scenery is breath-taking, the landscape is stunning but there’s something about the pace of life here, the atmosphere, the people and their ceád mile fáilte that sets Sneem apart as a special place again.

It’s safe to say Goosey Island left an impression and is etched in our hearts forever: Goosey Island - a real gem in the Ring of Kerry.

 

The Beach Bar Camping, Sligo

The Beach Bar Campsite in Sligo saved the summer.

We arrived up here on a wing and a prayer towards midnight last August, half in hope, and half in desperation.

The next morning the sun rose and didn’t set for a fortnight as we tucked in to our little parcel of paradise with Ben Bulben waving over at us from the shore across the bay.

We had landed on our feet in an out of the way Aughris Head and this easy-going, fend-for-yourself facility was the perfect antidote and cure for all.






We had such a glorious, fun and interesting sojourn at the Beach Bar Camping that it will forever be engraved in our hearts as a special memory and never off our list of places must you go to before you die, and go to heaven.

Beach, bar, campsite - I died and went to camper heaven.

So that’s our perfect seven, the Vanhalla recommendations for Camper Heaven.

If your favourite spots are not on the list, don’t worry.

Next week’s blog, a Valentine’s special, will be the places we have yet to be and would love to see this summer.

Any suggestions?