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Happy days at Camping Playa La Arena

Happy days at Camping Playa La Arena

If there’s anything that says holidays to me, it’s a good beach bar. The dress code is footloose and fancy free, bare feet or flip flops, shorts and sangria, surfboards at the ready, braided hair, and art on bronzed bodies are the staff uniforms; a soundtrack of summer anthems and of course some reggae to instil the chill…

€41.90 per night. You read right. €41.90 per night. Not big money compared to some of the telephone numbers being quoted by some hotels this summer, but for a camping pitch, yes, it’s saucy. It is the most we have ever paid per night for a campsite anywhere.

Even by Irish, UK or French standards that’s a pricey overnight at a campsite for a campervan and two adults, and this was in Northern Spain, Camping Playa La Arena on the Cantabrian coast. I realise that the tariff is going to raise the eyebrows of many, and even the ire of some. Will it help if I say that it was worth every penny?

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The acid test of any campsite or trip I guess is, would you recommend it to a friend, and would you return? Absolutely.

It’s not just the classic case of, you get what you pay for, although that does also apply in this case. But also, the enjoyment and experience in this pristinely appointed campsite, with its own direct access to a glorious beach and tidal estuary in this idyllic Eco Parque.

Even though it was July neither the campsite or the surrounding area, the quaint village of Isla were overrun or overcrowded. The breezes off the Bay of Biscay ensuring an appealing and pleasant temperatures in the low 20 degrees, as much of the rest of Spain and France sweltered in the scorching and even dangerous heat.

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There’s also some context. We had just departed Camping Derby Loredo not 45 minutes back the road where we had put in an ‘interesting’ fortnight to say the least. (Watch out for separate review here next week for all the details). In Loredo the campsite was badly run, poorly maintained,, with substandard services and descended into a virtual free-for-all.

Camping Playa La Arena (  is the polar opposite in terms of standards. We needed the respite, the rest and recreation without worrying about what might happen next.

Once we had drove along the coast with lush forests stretching either side of the road which hugged the shoreline and descended the serpentine roadway out of Isla towards the hamlet below, the big red sign for Camping Playa La Arena was like a beacon of hope. I’d have paid twice as much.

The facilities here are superb, with over 100 pitches to choose from, some with excellent sea views and the entire campsite has direct access to the stunning beach below. It is also possible to rent wooden bungalows or a room in the boutique 10-room hotel on site which also has a good shop, bar, and terrace restaurant. We were offered pitches 102 or 103 which were fine but with restricted sea views, pitches 99 or 69 looked better.

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One peculiarity to watch out for is that the electric hook-up connection via a padlocked junction box is via a European round two-pin plug connection. Fortunately, we had picked up such an adaptor on a previous trip to France when it was required, and it came to the rescue again and ensured our EHU. (See photo for detail).

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A quirky encounter at Playa La Arena was with an English couple, Nick and Rebecca, who rocked up and pitched next to us in their Spanish reg motorhome. Turns out they are based in Madrid for 30 years, but on sussing our number plate detected we were from Laois, where they had a best friend in Brian O’ Neill, a fellow teacher, who they had previously visited and produced the proof with photos of their excursion to The Rock of Dunamaise and The Round Tower in our home village of Timahoe. Small campsite. Small world.

Just 500m down the road is the Hotel Campomar (, with its extensive menu and appealing Chillout Gardens. Paella de Marisco is one of the house specialties, is worth waiting for as it’s made fresh to order with a minimum portion for two for €32. There are children’s menu main courses for €6.

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Down the road there’s a spacious public car park where the No Overnight Parking for motorhomes is blithely ignored by those in the know. There’s also a few other off-grid park-ups in the vicinity. The facilities are good here with lots of bins and the public toilets are well maintained and far cleaner than the facilities back at Camping Derby Loredo. There are showers on the beach and an obvious emphasis on disability access to the beach and other services. The whole area is a credit to the authorities in this Arnuero district.

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The beach itself is a compact and sheltered horseshoe with a vigilant lifeguard team. It opens out on to a series of shallow sandbars and as the tide recedes it reveals an extensive sandy shoreline along the Ria de Ajo, the Playa Los Nudistas and on to the vast wilderness along the Rio Campiazo estuary making for a more extensive and secluded sandscape. It’s ideal region for hiking, kayaking or Stand-Up Paddle boards. The region is popular too with cycling enthusiasts who enjoy the scenery as they tackle the hilly climbs.

If there’s anything that says holidays to me, it’s a good beach bar. Here the dress code is footloose and fancy free, bare feet or flip flops, shorts and sangria, surfboards at the ready, braided hair, and body art on bronzed bodies are the staff uniforms; a soundtrack of summer anthems and of course some reggae to instil the chill. Welcome to Playa Madre (

A cold beer and a glass of Rioja for €5.50, Bob Marley in the background, the sunset yet to work its magic, and the campervan a short stroll back home across the beach.  This is the life.

€41.90 per night for two, with EHU, worth every penny.

SEE ALSO: Somo time and the living is easy

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About The Author

John Whelan

John Whelan is a vastly experienced midlands based journalist and editor who has contributed extensively to the country's leading national and regional titles, as well as broadcast outlets. He runs the media services company, Communicate Ireland John is a keen camping and campervan enthusiast with an interest in music, culture, heritage and outdoor pursuits. He has written for the Sunday Times, Sunday Independent and the Woman's Way on these topics. He is also an author, and his latest book, The Last Beekeeper, reflects his love of nature, the landscape and our shared responsibility to protect the environment. The Last Beekeeper is available to preview and purchase at Safe travels...

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