A handy guide to camping and caravan holidays in Spain
Spain might be as large as France but it boasts only a tenth the number of campsites - some 1200 or so in total - mostly located in the main tourist areas along the coast or in the Pyrenees. Inland sites are more sparse, largely because high summer temperatures make it too hot to sleep in a caravan or under canvas.
Campsites in Spain are categorised on a regional rather than national basis, and categorisations can vary. Most regions have Category 1, 2 and 3 sites in descending order of quality, while some also offer Luxury or Grand Comfort categories. Most sites you will see on a camping holiday in Spain fall into Category 2.
As a rough guide expect Category 3 sites to be fairly basic, with little more than toilets and showers; Category 2 sites will often include extras like a cafe, shop and swimming pool; Category 1 sites will have a restaurant, supermarket, swimming pool complex, often with flumes, tennis courts and other sports facilities, and entertainment programmes.
Spanish sites are licensed according to the number of campers rather than pitches. Some sites are very large, some on the coast accommodating a thousand campers or more. One in the south can take almost 6000 people but some are small enough for you to feel you’ve really got away from it all on you camping holiday in Spain.
Most visitors head for the Mediterranean Costas, and as coastal sites come under great pressure in peak season you would be well advised to book ahead. Most sites open from Easter to the end of September or October, though some, especially in areas renowned for winter sun or winter sports, open all year. A few sites open only from mid-June to mid-September.
Campsite guides covering Spain are thin on the ground in British bookshops, but worth investing in is the annual Alan Rogers Spain & Portugal, which has in-depth reports on around 230 Spanish sites. Otherwise, in Spanish bookshops the Guía Oficial de Campings de España details most of the country’s sites by province. Complete with a CD version of the guide plus a map showing site locations, it retails for €11. Alternatively, the Spanish Tourist Office’s website has campsite details, or, when you arrive at your destination, the local tourist office (Oficina de Turismo) can provide information.
Site category is not always a good guide to what you’ll pay, as there can be considerable overlap from category to category. Generally, Category 3 sites are cheapest - reckon on around €16 a night for two adults with a tent and car, sometimes a little more for those on a caravan holiday. That same couple could pay considerably more on a premium pitch on a Category 1 or Luxury site, perhaps as much as €100. More usually, however, expect something like €30-€40 per night in high season on Category 1 and 2 sites.
Spain’s most popular camping area is the Mediterranean coast from the French border south to Tarragona. The Costa Brava with its rugged coast is particularly attractive. The farther south you go, the more arid campsites are likely to be. To avoid high summer temperatures, head for the north, or Green Spain, anywhere from the Basque country west to Galicia, which is readily reached by ferry from the UK – Bilbao being the obvious port of arrival. This is still a very Spanish part of the country, unlike many of the Mediterranean resorts, which can seem like they have been annexed by north Europeans. Green Spain has beautiful beaches backed by the Cordillera Cantábrica mountains, which reach their high point in the Picos de Europa, famous for its hiking and wildlife as well as pretty medieval villages. Cultural attractions include Santiago de Compostela and Bilbao itself with its amazing Guggenheim Museum.
The Pyrenees are popular, too, the Ordes National Park especially outstanding, while in southern Spain the Sierra Nevada National Park offers cooling temperatures away from the Costa del Sol. And don’t forget cultural centres inland like Granada, Seville, Salamanca, Toledo, Burgos and, of course, Madrid.
What to take
Aside from camping gear you’ll need documents, including passports, ferry tickets, health insurance including the European Health Insurance Card, driving licence, and Green Card insurance for your car, extended to include caravan or trailer if you are towing. If you belong to the Camping and Caravanning Club, the Caravan Club, the AA or RAC, a useful additional document is the Camping Card International. Valid for a year, it can be deposited at campsites in place of a passport, provides third party personal liability cover on sites and can qualify you for a discount.
A knowledge of Spanish is useful or, failing that, a phrasebook can help. While site staff in popular areas generally speak English, that is rarely the case elsewhere.
For other camping holiday ideas read our guide to camping holidays in France or our guide to camping in Holland
P&Os camping holiday expert
In the past 20 years, John Lloyd has written extensively on travel and the outdoors in newspapers, magazines and books. He also edited Camping Magazine for 10 years and now writes regularly for the Caravan Club Magazine as well as for Living Spain, Destination France and France Magazine. There are few places in Europe and the US where he hasn't pitched at tent at some point. Whilst he's happy to enjoy the luxuries of a top grade campsite, he also likes camping out in remote wilderness areas.