The story of one man and one family over 3 generations
The founder, René Bravay, a strong, engaging personality
The founder, René Bravay, a strong and engaging personality, was born in 1932 into a bourgeois family of four from Marseilles. He spent his childhood on a beautiful family estate, La Madone. At the age of 8, he left Marseille to go to school in Sorèze, in the Tarn department. The distance involved meant that he had to go to boarding school. At that time, he only returned to his family during the holidays, once a term. During the war, he experienced food restrictions and the cold in large icy dormitories. The Benedictine brothers imposed extreme discipline and rigour on his life. He stayed there for 4 years, until the end of the war.
The years that followed were marked by his parents' divorce. He was 15 years old. For his mother and siblings, a comfortable life was followed by difficult years.
Necessity took them to the Alpes de Haute Provence, to Oraison, where his mother bought a hotel. There he met Lucette, a lovely young girl, who fell in love with this elegant young man who stood out in the traditional rural environment. Their love for each other led to marriage and the birth of 4 children. His entrepreneurial spirit and his need to overcome his social decline led him to seek an independent professional activity. One project followed another without ever seeing the light of day, as he had no financial resources. He even tried to develop a transport business with his brother in Cameroon, but without success.
In order to cope with his family responsibilities, he worked as a labourer at the Péchiney factory, in the "chlorine" department. For 15 years, he was on duty from 4 o'clock in the morning. Working conditions were thankless, in extreme heat and relative safety. However, these dark years were always driven by the search for another life.
From 1965 to 1982, René and Lucette created and managed l'Hippocampe
- The creation of the campsite, a new idea and a fairy godmother,
The dam built on the Durance had created a 110-hectare artificial lake. René was struck by a new idea - to set up a pedal-boat hire service on the banks of the lake. To do this, he needed to acquire a small piece of land by the lake. But how would he find the money? With no savings and no security deposit, he was unable to get a loan from any bank. His dissatisfaction with his professional life prompted him to ask his Aunt Juliette, a nun, for help. She trusted him and helped him.
Some time after this first step, a friend told him: "The only thing missing in Volonne is a campsite! Always ready to take a leap forward, on 10 August 1965 he opened this campsite, with a very small capacity on a 60-acre plot. Two advertising hoardings on the nearby main road meant that the campsite was fully booked from the very first evening!
It was Lucette who named the campsite l'Hippocampe, in memory of a happy moment shared with her family in a restaurant of the same name.
A woman of character, lively, intelligent and always elegant, she would be at his side throughout his business. As a couple, they would run this establishment with the joy of a family and the discovery of this new profession. Their attachment to family values, to the pleasure of meeting people and to caring for others will form the basis of the Hippocampe's values.
- The opening of the discotheque in 1966,
Reality set in: the newly created Hippocampe could not generate enough income. Ever creative, in 1966 he decided to open a nightclub, also called the Hippocampe. The young people of the time were looking for a place to have fun other than the popular ballrooms. Young people came from all over the region, from Marseille, Aix en Provence and Gap. L'Hippocampe became their meeting place. The music was good, with records arriving directly from the United States and Great Britain. We were in the 1970s, in the middle of the musical revolution... For 9 years, this nightclub was fully booked on Fridays, Saturdays and Sunday afternoons.
This new activity supported the development of the campsite.
- 1967 to 1969 the first swimming pools,
At the same time as the disco boom, the campsite began to take shape.
The first swimming pool was added to the guinguette and water sports activities in 1967. René, with the help of his brother who was living in the United States, imported a prefabricated rectangular pool. To meet the growing needs of his customers, he decided to build another pool shortly afterwards. The events of 1968 called the initial project into question, and in 1969 a curved pool took its place.
1982: the second generation takes over
During these years, the two boys, Jean Philippe and Christian, studied. Jean Philippe studied economics and accountancy, Christian at the International Hotel School in Lausanne. Every summer, they returned to work at the campsite. In 1982, they officially took over management of the campsite, with Jean Philippe in charge of administration and communication and Christian in charge of the technical side. That year, L'Hippocampe was awarded its four-star rating.
- Conquering the lake.
The lake was silting up more and more, a natural phenomenon as the materials carried by the Durance River were deposited on either side of the banks due to the dam located downstream. Authorisation to operate a quarry will give them the opportunity to fill in the area around the campsite. With determination and an old lorry and a bulldozer, they transformed the 5-hectare site into a campsite.
- Developing entertainment.
To stand out and create an identity in the face of competition from the Côte d'Azur, Jean Philippe is banking on the development of entertainment at the campsite, in the "club" spirit. Few campsites offer integrated services with entertainment. Holidaymakers will discover swimming pool games, miss elections, musicals, children's and teenagers' clubs, sports tournaments, evening entertainment and a discotheque now reserved for holidaymakers, all free of charge.
In this spirit, it will develop partnerships with performing arts schools.
In 2002, an auditorium, "the big top", was built, capable of accommodating an audience of over 700 people during the evenings. Guylhaine, Jean Philipe and Christian's older sister, joined them and was in charge of entertainment for many years, from 1992 to 2014.
- Communication on a European scale.
The 1980s saw the emergence of a professional organisation based around the outdoor hotel industry, with the development of guidebooks (ACIS, ANWB, ADAC, Alan ROGERS, Officiel des terrains, Michelin) and trade shows. Jean Philippe took the lead in this French but also European communication and made l'Hippocampe known from Brussels to Milan via London, Antwerp, Utrecht, Stuttgart and Essen.
L'Hippocampe's French and foreign customers were delighted to discover Haute Provence. Rose Marie, Christian's companion, played an active part in this process from the 1990s onwards, welcoming guests at reception during the summer season and ensuring that they were well looked after throughout the year.
- Diversification of camping accommodation.
The first mobile homes arrived at L'Hippocampe in 1987. Jean Philippe's network passed through England, and the mobile homes were decorated in the image of English romantic homes.
The success of this type of accommodation soon became apparent. Today, two hundred and ninety pitches are equipped with them.
Always attentive to the needs of its customers, L'Hippocampe is also installing fully-equipped canvas bungalows to extend its price range. The traditional campsite, with bare pitches where holidaymakers can pitch their tents, caravans or camper vans, has been maintained.
- Joining the SUNELIA chain: a decisive step..
L'Hippocampe, an independent campsite, is taking a fresh look at the diversity of the tourism on offer. The quality of the services offered enabled it to join the SUNELIA chain in 2002, with the Sunny mascot as its emblem.
This grouping of independent campsites is part of a drive to pool their services and organise themselves collectively.
Joining the group means a commitment to offering quality services to customers.
- A commitment to the local environment.
Jean Philippe, deeply attached to his region, will always seek to promote the discovery of Haute Provence. Every year, partner sports and cultural associations make their contribution. Today, this partnership has been extended to include associations that protect the environment, such as the LPO and Cistude. Raising awareness of the environment and education will naturally lead the Hippocampe to open up to green classes.
As part of its commitment to the region, l'Hippocampe was awarded the "clef verte" ecolabel in 2010, a tourism label that includes criteria aimed at respecting the area and the pleasure of experiencing sustainable tourism.
And the third generation is part of this story...
The third generation is taking a stake in L'Hippocampe. Olivier, a cousin, took over the running of the restaurant and associated services in 2006, for about a decade. The restaurant and bar overlook the swimming pools. He then left for other projects in the mountains.
In 2018, Alys, Jean Philippe's daughter, will join l'Hippocampe after studying at EDHEC business school and specialising in a Master 2 in event management. Her first professional experience in a start-up company and in the Disneyland group confirmed her decision to become part of the history of the campsite. She will be taking over from Olivier in the restaurant and associated services sector, as well as in entertainment, events and communications.
- Renovation of the restaurant
In 2018, a new team will be working to satisfy holidaymakers and help them discover the flavours of Provence, while enjoying moments of sharing and conviviality. The terraces will also be refurbished.
- Yurts for a children's club
In 2018, the children's club will be reorganised around a warm and friendly space, with 3 yurts dedicated to each age group of children. Accompanied by committed young professionals, they will be able to share joyful moments around a wide range of activities.
- The development of events
On the strength of her experience, Alys developed this new area as soon as she arrived. She organises family events such as birthdays, weddings, company seminars and sports group gatherings, each request being unique. L'Hippocampe offers "all-in-one packages", a variety of venues for special occasions, a range of team-building activities, different on-site accommodation with hotel facilities, and always professional support in a spirit of quality service and shared enjoyment.
- The opening of the "nature spa
L'Hippocampe's desire to offer a complete range of pleasure and well-being naturally led to the opening of a spa on the banks of the Durance. In addition to relaxing under the expert hands of professionals, or in a whirlpool bath or sauna, you can also enjoy special moments in the heart of nature and observe the surrounding fauna.
And the projects continue, always to better serve holidaymakers and make their holidays and/or events rich moments of sharing and conviviality...
A few dates
1965 : l’Hippocampe opens
1066 : creation of the discotheque
1967à 1969 : creation of the swimming pools
1982 à 1990 : extension of the campsite
1982 : 4-star classification
1987 : first mobile home
1990 : tennis courts opened
2002 : creation of the marquee (big top)
2002 : joins the Sunêlia chain
2006 : opening of the restaurant and associated services, snack bar and boutique
2010 : "clef verte" ecolabel awarded
2010 : installation of water slides
2015 : development of sports fields and children's play areas
2015 : renovation of the water park and creation of the jacuzzi
2015 : 5-star classification
2018 : installation of 4 yurts for entertainment and the kids' club
2022 : opening of the nature spa