It’s taken me to the grand old age of 30 (something) to become a happy camper.
I have a theory that if you go camping a lot as a child, then you’ll continue to relish starry nights under canvas or a weekend away in a motorhome as an adult.
I wasn’t that child - but now I’m getting married to a man who would quite happily pitch a tent in our garden and shack up in it all year round. The great outdoors is, therefore, something I’ve been getting used to over the last decade.
Add a toddler to the mix - and the need for holidays that are family-friendly and don’t cost the earth - and camping has started to seem a more reasonably attractive option for this novice.
Fortunately, there are places which can tick all these boxes and offer enough comfort for folk who (like me) don’t want to spend a full week on a lumpy airbed.
Norcenni Girasole campsite in Tuscany is one of them.
Nestled in the rolling hills of Italy’s Chianti wine country, this is a huge but homely park which offers almost every type of camping experience you could wish to try, from tents to touring caravans to static caravans of every size.
My other half has always insisted camping is more fun in a warm climate (why he then made me do it in Scotland in September I’ll never know), and this part of the world is blessed with warmth well into the autumn.
There are several companies on the site, renting static caravans and pitches for tents and touring vans.
We stayed as guests of Eurocamp in one of their static caravans, sited in a block at the bottom end of the site.
The three-bedroom Vista van wasn’t one of the newest models, but was comfortable and had plenty of space for the three of us, with a bathroom and well-equipped little kitchen.
Particularly welcome was the decking outside the living area (with a mesh gate to contain toddlers, dogs or anyone else prone to wandering off) and the lovely glimpse of the Tuscan hills through the trees.
And there’s air-con in the living area which helped keep the whole van cool on the warmest days, where it reached 31C.
The only thing that let it down was it wasn’t properly cleaned when we moved in - the sofa had sand on it and some rubbish had been left behind. While the staff were polite and apologetic, sadly their promise to send a cleaner to remedy this never materialised.
Our block was a five-minute walk to the main facilities at the heart of the campsite, but what I really liked about Norcenni were the little bits and pieces dotted around: we had a small playpark a few yards from our caravan which we always had to ourselves (perhaps as we went in mid-September outside of the busiest season).
There were two more play-parks off the main concourse, along with a large selection of good-quality restaurants, a shop selling clothes, toys and shoes, a pharmacy and a decent supermarket which sold bring-your-own-size container wine from kegs (a touch of genius in my book). One of the bars also does wine-tasting nights with delicious looking food.
Also within five minutes were several pools, from a baby splash pool with slide, to a large one for folk keen to squeeze in a few lengths - and a medium-sized one which always seemed to have enthusiastic folk doing exercise classes in it (exercise bikes in swimming pools - impressive).
And that brings me to the spa. Nothing quite makes a campsite feel luxurious than a spa for weary mums (and dads) to escape for a blissful hour. I had a wonderful back massage from a brilliant lady who found and released many knots I didn’t know I had. It’s a lovely little haven away from the outside bustle.
We also caught the sand-train to the top half of the site - a good idea as the site is hilly and pretty steep on the way up with a buggy.
The top area was quieter, with fewer overall facilities but lots to offer - fantastic views, a pizza restaurant, a mini soft play area, and the best pools on the site. They were huge, with fountains and slides, plenty of sun loungers - a great place to spend an afternoon or two.
If we were to visit again, I’d be keen to try staying at the top end of the site. Unfortunately at the bottom section where we were, it was near a semi-dried up river and I got really bad mosquito bites when sitting out on the decking, despite staying covered up and using deterrents, and the same thing happened to my sister-in-law who had stayed the week before at the same spot. It’s not something you can eliminate in a rural park, of course, but we were told by fellow guests it’s much less of a problem at the top end, away from the river.
You could quite happily spend a week at Norcenni without leaving the site, as it has so much to offer for all the family, but with beautiful Florence and Chianti vineyards a short drive away, there is lots to see and do to keep you coming back again.
• Jenny stayed with Eurocamp: see www.eurocamp.co.uk for more details on their destinations including Norcenni Girasole
• Norcenni camp is open from April to October.
• Jet2.com flies Manchester to Pisa, 120km (75 miles) away.