A handy guide to French camping and caravan holidays
France offers more spots to pitch your tent or hook up your caravan than anywhere else in Europe with around 11,000 sites ranging from minimal facility farm sites to luxury holiday parks. So whether you’re looking for a quiet spot off the beaten track amid scenic mountains, a pitch close to one of the country’s many historic towns or a large all-singing, all-dancing park with direct access to the beach, with camping holidays in France, you’ll find all these, and everything in between.
Like hotels, French campsites are officially classified by stars. Many are family run, some operated by local municipalities, others by chains, but common to most operators is the desire to improve their sites. One-star campsites (increasingly rare these days as amenities improve) are fairly basic, but two-star sites generally provide a reasonable level of comfort. Municipal sites, often found in or on the edge of towns and villages, generally fall into this category, though increasing numbers are attaining higher gradings. Three and four-star sites are better able to cope with high-season pressures and often provide a degree of luxury, with high quality facilities extending to first-class restaurants and sporting facilities, including beautifully landscaped swimming pool complexes that would shame many top-class hotels. More and more sites these days fall into the three and four-star categories.
France’s main tourist areas cater well for campers and you can usually find a good choice of campsites, though in July and August booking is strongly recommended, especially if you’re heading for the coast. If you can’t find a coastal pitch, turn inland and you’ll almost certainly find space available.
Several annual guides will help you choose a site. The Michelin Camping France 2009 listing 2700 sites, is available from bookshops in the UK and France; Alan Rogers France guide contains around 1000 in-depth reports to quality French camping and caravanning sites; the official Fédération Francaise de Camping et de Caravaning guide, available in French bookshops, lists virtually all the country’s sites, with facilities indicated by symbols.
The way charges are made varies from site to site. Some sites charge an inclusive fee for the pitch, regardless of how many people are staying on it. Others charge for the pitch, each adult and child, for the car and for electricity. The age ranges for child rates also vary. Some sites regard a child as someone aged under seven, others under three. Overall charges also vary, even within star gradings. Two adults with tent and car on a one-star municipal site can expect to pay from around €8 per night. At three- or four-star sites the average is around €25 per night. Some charge less but others could be double that.
Parts of France are a magnet to campers, especially mountain landscapes like the Alps and Pyrenees and scenic river valleys like the Loire, Dordogne and Tarn. Most British on camping and caravan holidays, however, head for France’s extensive coastline. From the Straits of Dover, around the Cotentin and Brittany peninsulas and through the Bay of Biscay to the Spanish border there is mile after mile of fantastic coastal scenery, magnificent sandy beaches and fascinating towns and villages, all waiting to be explored. The Mediterranean coast has an excellent choice of sites, too, especially in the Languedoc-Roussillon region. Sites thin out around Marseille, but farther east, the fashionable Riviera resorts offer many more options.
What to take
Apart from camping gear and documentation (passports, ferry tickets, health insurance including the European Health Insurance Card, and Green Card insurance for your car, extended to include caravan or trailer if you are towing), a useful addition to your kit is the Camping Card International. This can be deposited at campsites instead of a passport, provides third party personal liability cover at sites and can qualify you for a discount of up to 25 percent at some sites. The card, valid for a year, is available for a small fee to members of organisations like the Camping and Caravanning Club, the Caravan Club, the AA and RAC.
A knowledge of French is useful, too. Failing that, pack a phrasebook. While staff at top sites usually speak English, it is usually appreciated when you attempt to communicate in French.
For other camping holiday ideas read our guide to camping holidays in Spain or our guide to camping in Holland.
P&Os camping holiday expert
In the past 20 years, John Lloyd has written extensively on travel and the outdoors in newspapers, magazines and books. He also edited Camping Magazine for 10 years and now writes regularly for the Caravan Club Magazine as well as for Living Spain, Destination France and France Magazine. There are few places in Europe and the US where he hasn't pitched at tent at some point. Whilst he's happy to enjoy the luxuries of a top grade campsite, he also likes camping out in remote wilderness areas.