It's camping made a bit more glamorous. FRAN GILLETT looks at the rise in popularity of the glamping holiday.

GLAMPING is a fairly recent phenomenon. Up until around 10 years ago, people wanting to get close to nature had to unroll their sleeping bag, pitch their tent and prepare for a night of potentially wet tent walls and bugs.

But since the idea of “glamorous camping” emerged, sites have been popping up across Wales – and Gwent in particular - offering a much-welcome boost to the tourism economy.

The idea is simple; a weekend or longer spent away in a remote pod, Shepherd’s hut, yurt or Romany caravan, but without the hassle traditional camping brings.

Ruari Macdonald runs Abergavenny-based website Beneath the Stars, which advertises his own and others’ glamping accommodation which is available to rent in Gwent. He said the reason for the success of glamping is straightforward.

“If you imagine you are busy in the city then the whole process of going and setting up to go camping and getting camping equipment, it’s all a bit of a hassle.

“If you can go somewhere which is already set up, which is comfortable and which is a beautiful place in a setting all on its own, that’s what’s attractive to people”.

Mr Macdonald said people book glamping stays through his website from all across the UK and as far away as Germany.

He started the site in 2003 when glamping was just becoming popular. At first it was just him renting out his 1940s Romany Gypsy Caravan on a rural Monmouthshire farm next to the Blaentrothy Meadows, north-east of Abergavenny.

Soon he began to advertise other owners’ glamping properties on the site, and now bookings are taken for wooden cabins, yurts and a “Bee’s Bower” – an odd part-cabin, part-tent and part-treehouse creation with a wood-burner and copper bath.

“It has risen in popularity since we started”, Mr Macdonald said. “It’s because South Wales is a great place for glamping with open spaces, things to do and lots of walking”.

It certainly seems glamping is still on the rise with no signs of saturation yet; the Camping and Caravanning Club said in the last year they have seen an increase of 15 per cent in families taking glamping holidays.

Equally luxurious, but a site which has joined the glamping party a bit later, is Penhein Glamping in village Llanvair Discoed, Monmouthshire, which is between Newport and Chepstow.

Husband and wife Helen and James Hearn had lived and worked in London for 20 years before they decided to move back to Gwent to take over Helen’s 400 acre family farm, Penhein, which had been in the family since 1867.

The couple said they were looking to diversify the farm and on discussing different ideas, settled on glamping, which they started running in June last year.

“We had been thinking about it and talking about doing it around five years ago,” Mrs Hearn said.

“From an anecdotal perspective, back then not many people knew what glamping was, but now I would say about eight out of 10 people know what it is.

“Glamping is a good idea for the farm as it’s low impact for the ground.”

The couple have 10 Alachigh tents (pronounced “ala-cheeg”), a type of tent which comes from Persia. Similar to a yurt, they are still today used by the nomadic Shahsavan tribe in Northern Iran, although the ones at Penhein are custom-made to withstand British weather.

The reason behind the Persian influence, Mrs Hearn said, is her husband James’ Iranian heritage, although the Persian decoration theme in each 42 metre squared tent is only light.

Glamping has often been seen as something for middle-class professionals, and often with the prices and quality of accommodation, it is easy to see why. But there are other Gwent sites who are offering the glamping break away for a little cheaper.

In St Brides Wentloog, the proprietor of Ty Coch Camping and Caravanning is now in her third year of offering glamping accommodation in addition to her campsite which caters for tents and caravans.

Maria Phipps’ calls her two tents – the Khaki and the Lotus – “hotel bell tents” because they come with all the luxury of a hotel room – although hers are a little cheaper at £50 a night.

“We do all the bedding, and put a bottle of bucks fizz in the two-sleeper tent too for the couple.

“They really are fabulous, it’s luxury camping. It’s something different, it’s something quirky. And ours are all kitted out with vintage furniture.”

Mrs Phipps said she does not advertise her glamping tents because of the massive popularity. “If we advertised it would be catastrophic,” she said. “They are so popular, I have a job keeping on top of it.

“But we love it. As soon as they go up people are booking. If I had 10 I could probably fill 10. But we have enough to do with just two.

For the campsite owner, it is a no brainer why glamping has become so popular. “It’s just so much easier. Everything’s pre-erected. It’s posher than camping and the tents are really nice and I think it’s the luxury side of it that makes it so popular.”

Michael Owen, general manager of Cwmcarn Forest Glamping, agrees but said often glamping appeals to a different sort of holiday-maker.

“People who stay in a tent will stay in a tent regardless, but glamping is for the families who will not go in a tent but will get in one of these,” he said.

At Cwmcarn Forest Visitor Centre, there are 10 “pods” which are available to stay in. Unlike the more elaborate yurts and Romany caravans, these timber-framed pods are in the middle – more basic, but not camping basic.

Each of the pods has a heater, light and electric socket – as well as a veranda. There are three standard size pods, sleeping two adults and a child, and six family pods which provides accommodation for up to four people.

Manager Mr Owen said of the forest’s 10 pods, one is now furnished with a full size double bed and two seater leather sofa.

It is clear the term glamping covers a wide remit of accommodation, suitable for all tastes and a range of budgets.

All glamping owners – whether they rent the wooden pods to the Persian-style Alachigh tents – remarked on the popularity of the trade, both with families and couples looking for a romantic weekend alone.

What can be seen for certain is the attraction it gives to busy city workers. Getting out in the countryside, while also keeping home comforts – some sites even promise Wifi – it is clear the business is not showing signs of decline just yet.