Every year, hundreds of thousands of Brits head to France for their annual holidays in the summer, because of its proximity to the UK, economies and easy access for families wishing or needing to travel by car.
France is the European land of camping, and as such, you are spoilt for choice with the varying landscapes, culture and entertainment that is available. Not only that, you can use just one vehicle and pack in the children, luggage, camping equipment and even your dog (remember to make sure they have a doggie passport!), or simply hop a ferry ‘toute seul’ with your backpack ready to experience all that France has to offer.
French campsites in general are clean and well serviced, offering vehicles, motor homes and on foot campers great places to stay. Some may have a small café offering breakfast, or a mini mart for basic provisions. Many are located on the outskirts of a town or village that will have shops, bars, and restaurants to sample the local cuisine. The weekly or bi-weekly markets are a joy to wander around, pick up some food or wine and browse any other goods on offer.
It’s tricky to give a clear definition of the climate in France, as a good deal of it is similar to the UK and subject to the same unpredictable weather, other than the further south you go, the more likely you are to have sunny and warm days. That’s not to say that it doesn’t happen anywhere else, but the more north you are (closer to the UK) the more likely you are to see a variance in conditions.
France has borders along four water bodies – the North Sea, The Channel, the Atlantic and the Mediterranean. The areas close to the North Sea and The Channel will tend to have similar weather to the UK. The further inland you go and certainly towards the more mountainous regions such as the Jura, Central Massif and The Alps, you can experience colder weather in the winter and even extreme heat in the summer – this area is predominantly affected by the lack of the sea to influence the weather. It can be very snowy in the winter months and experience flash and heavy thunderstorms in the summer.
The Mediterranean region tends to be where everyone wants to go due to its moderate winter climate and the long sunny days in the summer. However, you can still experience heavy rainfall here during the summer months, to clear the air when it becomes too hot and humid. A slight word of warning – this area is far more expensive for campers than other parts of France.
Where can you camp in France?
As usual with French laws, there are some clearly defined principles for camping but also some ‘vagaries’. The French have large and regulated campsites, but if you are looking for wild camping, you need to be a little careful. Quite often, it is by agreement with the landowner or farmer, and, the French are exceptionally hospitable when it comes to camping on their land. You just need to get their permission and check with them personally what you can do on their land. Farms or other properties that are privately owned will often have a sign at the entrance to the property (such as a tent or caravan image) showing that they accept campers.
The local Mayors in France have an incredible amount of power and jurisdiction, particularly in the smaller villages and towns, so even though there is legislation, it may not necessarily apply! You are quite likely to find signage on the approach roads to such towns or villages pointing to where camping is allowed. There is always the local town hall (the ‘mairie’) or tourist office to fall back on if you get a little confused on the regulations.
There are some basic principles to follow, which should stand you in good stead and so as not to offend your French hosts.
- Camping close to listed buildings or historic sites is forbidden
- On private land, you must have the owner’s permission
- Never pitch up near water sources for public consumption and block access
- Adhere to the local laws and respect the area you are camping in (i.e. no rubbish left, no destruction of local flora or fauna, no rowdy behaviour)
- If you are a single pitch, make sure you do not take up too much room and prevent others from camping
That is more or less it in a nutshell. Legal requirements are published if you really do want to check into the rules and regulations. However, overall, you will find that it is easy to find great camping areas on private or public sites, so relax but still do your research on the great areas to visit.
It really does depend on what type of camping you are doing. France recognises three different situations:
- Bivouacing – usually for hikers or cyclists with small tent. If there is not a sign restricting camping, you can pitch basically anywhere, including the side of a road, but still adhere to the rules listed above. Generally, campers should stay only one night, and between the hours of 7pm and 9am on public land. Farm stays normally have no time limits.
- Motorhomes and Camper Vans – again, the rules are very ‘woolly’ and differs from town to town on where you can park. From 2004, towns have been advised, but not forced, to designate areas for motorised vehicles to stop overnight, including laybys. Once again, if you do not see any signs prohibiting motor vehicles, you should be fine.
- ‘Aires Naturelles’ (wild camping) – whilst this is wild and often in under exposed areas, they are designated camping spots, as they will have basic facilities such as toilets and washrooms. These sites normally have a capacity of up to 25 spaces and must be adhered to.
It does sound all very confusing, but many laws in France are!! If you ensure you check the local regulations and you should be fine.
Can you get essential camping gear in France?
You certainly can, in several different ways. There are camping shops all over France, but one of the best ideas is to visit a ‘camping hypermarket’, such as Decathlon, who stock an excellent array of camping gear from solo tents to cookers, gas, bedding and smaller items such as torches and eating utensils. Most of the larger supermarkets and normal hypermarkets stock other items at very reasonable prices (such as chairs, tables, rugs, eating utensils and dried food stock). It really does depend on what you need and how you are travelling (plus space and energy to carry things!).
Do not expect to come across a rural treasure trove of camping gear though – you won’t find one in small towns and villages, so best to stock up at the larger towns or your arrival city or take it with you.
When it comes to procuring fuel if you have a small stove, most garages and other outlets will provide propane or butane gas if you are on the road. It is worth stopping to pick some up.
Not sure about taking loads of gear with you?
France has some amazing static campsites, and prices tend to be very reasonable. Many have unusual accommodation, so if you want the freedom of camping without the hassle, these would be for you.
Accommodation can be in ‘tent bubbles’ (sort of space age tents!), tree houses, chalets and other weird and wonderful housing that comes in various shapes and sizes. These sites are always fully serviced, so it is kind of a backhanded luxury or shall we say ‘glamping’ at much less than the UK would charge. A lot of these sites cater extremely well for children, providing play equipment, pools, and other entertainment. Worth considering.
Getting back to basics – camping for the adventurous
‘La Vie en Plain Air’ – life in the outdoors without too many fripperies and frills. France is perfect for this, so forget the big cities and fancy restaurants, Euro Disney (if the children will let you avoid it!) and get out in the fresh air. From eco-friendly parks in Allier to sites on the banks of the Dordogne, France has a huge amount to offer for the adventurous camper.
It is fair to say, these are more economical and away from the heavy tourist spots in the south. Here are some gems to consider and prices can be astoundingly low if you do not travel in high season – these prices are a guideline from 2019.
Camping Le Gibanel, Dordogne, £14 per site, per night
Located in the grounds of a stunning 13th century chateaux on the banks of the Dordogne, campsites really do not come more picturesque than La Gibanel. Overlooked by the magnificent castle, this site offers the best of both worlds with secluded woodland walks and beautiful waterside views. Facilities are comprehensive and include toilets, showers, shopping, and laundry facilities.
Camping Du Pied Girard, Saint Vincent Sur Jard, £8 per site, per night
Ideal for families, Camping Du Pied Girard offers plenty to keep the kids occupied with its zoo, waterpark, go-kart track and adventure park – all within half an hour of the site.
This site really does have something for everyone with activities, a stunning sandy beach and plenty of woodland walks and trails, ranging from two to six kilometres in length. As a family site, Du Pied Girard is well equipped and offers toilets, shopping, an information centre and cooking and shower facilities.
Elevage Joliet, Gouzon, £13.20 per site, per night
The ultimate in French wild camping, the Elevage Joliet site is set in 60 acres of meadow and woodland offering peace and privacy to the unplugged camper. If you get tired of the beauty and seclusion, attractions such as a wolf park and several stunning châteaux are just a half hour drive away.
The site itself features some great trails and hikes, during which you will meet some of the area’s friendly animals including deer and rabbits. On site facilities are fairly basis with simple showers and toilets but, there is a shop selling fresh farm produce within an easy walk from the site in the village of Elevage Joliet.
Le Cerisier Anglaise, Saint-Philbert-de-Grand, £11 per site, per night
50 minutes’ drive from Nantes, Le Cerisier Anglaise is in a pretty and peaceful paddock with some great views. Wanderers will find themselves with plenty to keep them occupied here as the site is within easy reach of a couple of sandy beaches and some of Western France’s most beautiful historical cities.
Bird watchers will be in their element as they enjoy spotting woodpeckers, jays, and owls. The site is not over-burdened with facilities although it does offer bike rental and, for those bringing teenagers, the all-important Wi-Fi. A five-minute drive will take you to the quaint village of Touvois where you will find bakeries, a tobacconist, a small general store and, a weekly organic market.
Camping Naturiste La Genèse, Gorges de la Ceze, price on request
Not for the shrinking violets, this nudist campsite stakes its claim on 26 hectares of stunning riverbank within the valley of the Cevennes mountains. Certified by the French Naturist Federation. Far from the hustle and bustle of everyday life, this site offers a surprising level of privacy and peace within a location which, quite simply, shows off mother nature at her best.
On site facilities are extensive, making this unique site suitable for all ages, including the elderly and, Naturist La Genèse offers on-site, multilingual wardens for extra peace of mind.
Only a stone’s throw from the UK, France is a treasure trove of bountiful beaches, magnificent mountains, and opulent open spaces, making it the perfect destination for those looking for a bit more than a standard package holiday.