Last Updated 16 December 2016
We have been going to France regularly since the early 1970s (then in an old Ford Anglia and tent) and never tire of it. Motorhomes, Aires de Service and supermarkets are very popular with the French. Virtually any village of reasonable size would have a municipal campsite, but now some have been sold off into private ownership, although many still operating as campsites, it seems. The number of 'aires' continues to grow, so finding somewhere 'official' to stop is usually not a problem.
We use aires occasionally, but prefer campsites as one can put the chairs and table out on grass and often the immediate surroundings are more agreeable. We never book sites; even in August in the countryside one can find a space. If you like peace and quiet, the popular coastal sites are best avoided from mid-July to beginning of last week of August. Outside of this period the ACSI discount card is usually valid and good value. In larger towns, a good many petrol stations have LPG pumps.
If you are new to motorhoming and fancy trying a first trip 'abroad', we believe there is nowhere better than France.
Early September 2015 and the Chiltern Group of the Motorcaravanners Club held a 5-day rally at a lovely municipal campsite at Locquirec Bay (east of Roscoff) in northern Brittany.
Such is the length of beach frontage, all 30-odd MCC vans plus a few other folks had a lovely sea view. It was a great way to begin our summer holidays!
There are many campsite books that cover France, but we've found the Caravan Club France campsite guide hard to beat. The entries are sometimes several years old, so the prices may not be accurate, but the site descriptions and comments, being independent as it's members who submit them, are helpful (although we don't always agree!). One does not have to be a member of the Caravan Club to buy the book.
September 2015 and having left the MCC rally in Brittany we were meandering south-east towards Spain. A campsite we had earmarked from the C.C. book was in the oddly-named village of Chef Boutonne, in the Poitou-Charentes region, however we couldn't find the site (it may have closed for the year, as many do in September), but a little further on we spotted a motorhome Aire sign. It led to a circular road in a large grassy area; not at all like the usual aires in villages, which are often more like car parks. No-one came to collect any money.
The small and busy municipal site at Bergerac in the Aquitaine region. Close to the town centre and on the banks of the river Dordogne it cost only 18 Euros per night. The whole site is entirely shaded by trees; it was very muddy. To the left in the pic through the trees... →
... is the Dordogne river. The Dordogne department is popular with tourists and those seeking a home in rural France.
Restful view from the sofa at a small farm campsite at Castelnaudary, near Carcassonne. Those are sunflowers in the distant field.
We've never come across one of these before! It's a 'Kleen-a-Pottee' machine at the spacious municipal site at Villefranche-sur-Saone, just north of Lyon. It was in fact just a metal box around a ceramic toilet; one just opened the metal lid at the top, poured the contents of one's cassette into it, and then, if desired, used the hose hanging down at the side to flush the inside of the cassette. The metal grid at the base was just for standing on if it was muddy.
The 2017 ACSI card/books. These are very popular with the retired motorhoming fraternity! The books come with a discount card that can be used at many sites in Europe for a fixed rate of 11, 13, 15, 17 or 19 Euros per night, depending on the facilities at the site (this for two people with motorhome and inc. electric hook-up). It is particularly good for the large holiday-type sites on the coasts (that would normally cost 30-40plus Euro per night). The card is usually valid outside of the mid-July to end of August high season. One can save the price of the book in just one nights stay. Further info at: www.campingcard.com
Late March 2015 and heading south to Spain for a couple of weeks of warmer weather. This is the municipal site at Brionne, just south of Rouen, one of the few campsites open in north-west France during the winter. We like to stop at campsites rather than Aires in the winter as sites have electric hook-up; we prefer using our mains convector heater, which is silent in operation, unlike the on-board fan-driven Propex space heater.
At Brionne, it took us some time to work out this was not a fire-extinguisher point, but... →
... the mains hook-up distribution box!
The attraction of French 'D' roads.
The European Health Insurance card. If one is an ordinary resident in the UK and have a National Insurance number, this card is very useful to have. It should enable access to state-provided healthcare in European Economic Area (EEA) countries and Switzerland at a reduced cost, or sometimes for free. More details at www.nhs.uk.
Note: The EHIC card is not a substitute for travel insurance, but some insurance companies now insist on the policyholder having the card.
February 2013 and making our way south through France down to Spain for some 'winter sun'. The site at Jaunay Clan, close to the Futuroscope theme park, just north of Poitiers in the Poitou-Charentes region. A popular overnight stop in winter.
To save the grass pitches becoming churned up, the motorhomes and caravans were parked on the site roadways. The 6amp electric supply came from the usual bollard, but the only water was from a tap outside the toilet block. At 22Euro per night it was a bit pricey.
Heading south in February 2013. An unusual electric bollard (8amp if only one van, otherwise 4amp!) at a charming, if somewhat rustic, campsite deep in the Lot valley near Agen, in the Aquitaine region.
Early March 2013, and on our way back from Spain, at Nolay, near Beaune in the Bourgogne region. A very cold morning, barely above freezing, there is snow still piled up against the hedges in the shaded parts of the site. Our electric convector heater worked well overnight keeping the temperature at around 14-16degC. when set just below 2kw - any higher setting would have risked blowing the electric bollard trip.
Although we have been to this pleasant little site in summer, what we didn't realise was it is 300 metres altitude!
Fleurie in the Beaujolais (Rhone-Alpes) region. Popular municipal campsite (perhaps not the cheapest), ideal base for following the wine routes. Village with its restaurants, shops and cave is a short walk (slightly uphill). Wine tastings are held at the site in summer.
Mad Mumsie's favourite pastime - shopping in a Hyper U... The French love their supermarkets, these Hyper U stores are often like mini shopping malls inside.
Two cards worth a mention for anyone just starting out motorhoming who may not have any experience of camping. On the left, the Camping Card International Insurance (CCI) card. The card provides several benefits when camping; the main one being third-party insurance cover of £1.5M. As the card is issued by major camping clubs, or motoring organisations, it can be used as an identity card and left at camping sites in place of a passport. Some sites may also give the holder a discount. Ours cost £5.50 from the Camping and Caravanning Club.
The Camping Key Europe card is, for us, relatively new. Ours came from the Caravan Club when we bought overseas breakdown insurance. The card appears to provide similar benefits as the CCI card, but we have noticed that the Camping Key card seems to be the preferred card by some of the larger campsites in France and Spain.
It is worth noting that some campsites make it compulsory to have one or other of these cards.
August 2012 and heading for Germany along France/Belgium border - an area where campsites are few and far between. We couldn't find the municipal campsite in Cambrai (we think it may have closed), but stumbled on this new aire in Le Cateau-Cambresis. It had water and all the usual facilities and was free. Only downside was the noise from the busy main road, but when your tired and just want somewhere to stop for the night...
September 2012, having re-entered France from our little tour in Germany, and we stopped at this archetypal municipal campsite in Rambervillers. We'd just put the chairs out when the grass-cutting machine appeared and mowed the whole area; the powerful extractor fan on the mower blowing clouds of tiny grass particles into the air, and into our now, green, van...
Pesmes, near Dijon, in the Franche-Comte region. Lovely spot by the river Ognon, pic taken from the bridge. Now pan the camera to the left... →
...on the bridge looking at the medieval town. It is 3.45 in the afternoon - where has all the traffic gone? We should have stayed here longer - it was an interesting place and a little off the usual tourist trail.
It was a very hot day and we chanced upon this lovely shady square in Lussac-les-Chateaux, in the Poitou-Charentes region, at lunchtime. Note the motorhome service point to the right in the pic →
... and here it is. But it's a bit odd. The water and waste pipe all work, but they've made the single motorhome space in front of the service point disabled only! It makes the drain out-of-bounds. (In the 2012 All the Aires France book it shows the space clearly marked: 'Camping Car').
Completely deserted municipal campsite at Chivray. A small river ran alongside the fence on the right →
... and that's an otter/beaver/very big rat disburbing the water. Probably a coypu (ragondin), we've since read in MMM.
Just south of Abbeville, in Picardie; the quiet village of Mareuil-Caubert. Those are lakes close to the Somme river. A useful and little-used municipal campsite. Ideal for stopping the night before taking the ferry/train home as it is about two hours from Calais.
Have you seen a deep red van anywhere?
Popular campsite just outside Honfleur in Basse-Normandie region. There is a huge Aire in the town centre, but very busy and noisy in summer.
We stumbled on this pleasant campsite at Clecy, having seen a sign for a miniature railway (it was shut). Right by the river Orne, in what is called the Swiss-Normandy region, it was a delightful spot. The owner was very friendly and spoke good English. Very fastidious, the site was extremely clean and tidy, even the very large wheelie bins for rubbish had plastic sacks lining them inside.
View of the river from the sofa. Popular restaurants on the other side.
Large municipal campsite by the coast at Fouras, nr. Rochefort on the Atlantic coast. I do hate all the messing about with registration and rules and gate entry codes that sites like these entail! However, this one was very good, the lady was efficient, friendly and spoke English. With beach adjacent, at 18 euros per night inc. electric (and free wi-fi) it was a good price (early September rate).
Our shady pitch at Fouras - we could see the sea from the sofa!
It's 30deg. C. the sun is shining - the beach at Fouras by the campsite. Bathers had to go a fair way out before the water reached their waist. At low tide the water seemed miles away!
All the Aires France book (3rd Edition). Although we generally prefer municipal campsites, it is useful to have a list of Aires. This is a good, clear, easy to use book that is kept up to date (as much as one is able), we got ours from the publishers: www.vicariousbooks.co.uk.. Whilst one can download lists from the internet and install them on your satnav - if you have one - a book does not need batteries and always works!
Mad Mumsie's favourite spot in the whole of France: Villie-Morgon in the Beaujolais. But why? →
... one can't hide anything in a van conversion.
It looks like an idyllic spot, doesn't it? However, zoom the camera lense out and one has...
...this! No, not an Aire de Camping Car, but part of a family-run campsite close to the centre of Cahors. The owners seemed to think all camping cars want to be together!
May 2012 - heading northwards towards home after a few disappointing wet and windy days in Agde on the French south coast - we stumble upon a charming municipal campsite at Montmorillon, near Poitiers. Cost 8.55 Euros (£6.85) per night including electric - surely one cannot do better than this...?
Oh yes one can! Next day - a beautifully kept municipal campsite - in the tiny village of Andouille just north of Laval (nr. Le Mans). Cost 5.8 Euros (£4.65) per night including electric. And, on the other side of the low hedge: a stream and a delightful formal garden with all the plants labelled a la Kew Gardens.
Sommiers, in the south near Montpellier in the Languedoc. In the old town. We have been here many times - a delightful place. Excellent restaurant La Bistou in the background right. Good municipal campsite within half mile. Extensive Saturday market in old town centre. Restaurant has changed hands several times, but was fine on our last visit.
Fine patisserie in Sommiers
Near the coast at Agde, in the Languedoc-Rousillon region. A small pitch, but with its own private facilities hidden in corner behind Deep Red...
...and here they are: sink with hot and cold running water and, inside hut, a shower, washbasin and mirror and English WC. Wot socks..?
Part of the superb pool at Agde - spot Mad Mumsie!
Between Agde and Sete - not far to the beach then. We suspect this stopping place may have disappeared - there were many motorhomes parked along this road. On the last occasion we passed a huge new road and parking area (Aire?) was being built.
Whilst a SatNav system has its uses we much prefer good old fashioned maps! These Michelin ones are excellent.
Lovely, warm mid-October 2011 lunchtime stop on the seafront - at Nice!
At Ouistreham, Normandy. Part of 'Sword' - one of the five beach areas in Normandy used for the D-Day landings starting on 6 June 1944.
The remains of 'Mulberry B', later called 'Port Winston' from the cliff near Arromanches, Normandy. The name given to the harbour built from floating steel sections, concrete caissons, and old ships towed over from Britain during the D-Day landings.
Monsieur Hulot statue overlooking the hotel and beach at Saint-Marc-sur-Mer, nr St-Nazaire. It was here in 1951 that Jacques Tati made the popular film Monsieur Hulot's Holiday.
Arty pic of beach at Pornichet nr. La Baule, Loire. One of the great things about a motorhome is being able to just park and make lunch at any spot that takes your fancy.
Lovely setting and excellent pitches with hardstanding and large grass area at Fougeres municipal campsite, Brittany.
Typical French town square - at L'Aigle in Normandy. We had a super lunch in the Cafe (building on right). Unusually, the waitress spoke perfect English having lived in London for two years.
Friendly sign at the Aire de camping car, Treignac. In a lovely part of the Limousin, and rarely travelled by other Brits.
Using the facilities at Treignac, only two other motorhomes here, both French.
Superb municipal campsite in the grounds of a chateau at Montgivray, nr. La Chatre. Only us and the French Punch and Judy man!
The puppeteers truck, he also towed a large trailer and a smaller trailer with van.
Behind the trees at Montgivray, the chateau - now used as council offices.
September 2010, just south of Gueret, France. Tiny village of la Chapelle Taillefert with a beautiful, empty, municipal campsite. We stayed three nights and no-one came to collect money, just feed some goats.
The hostess, Mad Mumsie, serves dinner al fresco - this is what motorhoming is all about, isn't it? Poix de Picardie campsite, Sept 2009
Avallon, near centre of France. Recently opened and excellent municipal campsite in lovely valley. September 2009.
No sign of Brian Ferry...
Monet's House and tiny part of the extensive garden, Giverny, Haute-Normandie, Sept 2009. Just west of Paris, well worth a visit. Parking not too difficult if you get there early, Aire adjacent.
The oft-painted lake at Monet's garden. Sublime.
The timeless square in Ste-Severe-sur-Indre - where Jacques Tati made the film Jour de Fete in 1947.
English-owned small site in tiny village of Perassay, few miles from Ste-Severe-sur-Indre.
Early days, June 2008 - no roof vents or toilet window. Charly-Sur-Marne municipal campsite, in pleasant river Marne valley champagne area, about 50 miles east of Paris .
Municipal campsite at Vouvray, Loire. June 2008. As we didn't want electric hook-up (we didn't have any appliances then), the site manager put us in a well-screened pitch to hide us as he thought we were not a proper 'camping car', but a 'tradesman' - they are not allowed on this site.
Wine direct from the growers!
For those who like moving pictures - here a short, sometimes bumpy, video clip. In the cab of Deep Red travelling through the Verdon Gorge, Provence. Click on the link.
Lunchtime stop right outside a boulangerie. This ad-hoc pic sums up some of the things we like about France. We've stopped on the corner of a small busy square to buy bread; there are no parking bays, no meters, no yellow lines. The guy with the pickup has parked partly on the pavement - there's no warden (on a bonus scheme) to present him with a violation ticket. Across the road, to the right of the church, is the most delightful group of old buildings, it is actually an auberge - the brickwork is crumbling - but has been doing so for a century or more! There are flowers in tubs, and an old streetlamp. True, the tree needs pruning and a kerbstone is displaced, but the whole place has an air of being loved. The village of Totes. Click on the pic to enlarge if you wish.