Campervan Hire France
A diverse country with a unique way of life, France offers stylish cities and sophisticated cuisine to scenic countryside, snow-capped mountains and everything in between. Driving is an ideal way to explore everything this enchanting country has to offer. Read on to find everything you need to know about travelling France by campervan.
France by Campervan: The Essentials
There are few requirements to be able to rent a campervan in France, with rules varying slightly from company to company. The driving age in France is 18, but some companies will only rent vehicles to people aged 25 and over, while others will rent to those over 21. If you are under 25 it is likely you will have to pay an extra charge.
Of course, you will need a valid driver’s licence, and if you are visiting from somewhere outside the EU you may also need to get an international driver’s permit.
Driving a Campervan in France
There are a few items that you are required to carry with you when you are driving in France. You must have a warning triangle and at least one reflective jacket that you must use if your car breaks down or if you are involved in an accident. If you are travelling to France in winter then you should also carry snow chains which you are required to fit if you are driving on snow-covered roads.
The toll system in France is fairly straightforward, requiring you to pay at a barrier before you enter the motorway. While the motorway is great for covering large distances in a fairly short amount of time, if you can, it’s best to avoid toll roads as the costs can add up very quickly. Charges vary according to the region, but you can use this handy route planner to see how much your trip will be. Prices for some of the longer routes, like Marseille to Paris, can go up to a whopping €94.
You might prefer to use national roads to get to your destination. These roads have no tolls and are much more scenic, though of course your drive will be longer and you will spend a little more on petrol.
Best Time of the Year to Visit France by Campervan
Generally, France enjoys mild temperatures throughout most of the year, with a cold and rainier period from November to February and a balmy climate during the summer months. However, despite the lack of extremes, the weather can be fairly unpredictable across the different regions so shouldn’t be used as the only basis for when you plan your trip.
Despite the higher chances of good weather, France should generally be avoided between mid-July to the end of August, as this is when the whole country has a summer holiday and most businesses close. Many French people holiday in their own country and as a result the roads can get incredibly busy.
Autumn and spring are ideal times to visit France, as there are fewer crowds but still a fairly good chance of pleasant weather.
Where to Park a Campervan in France
France is very welcoming of campervan travel, and as a result there is no shortage of great places to stay. Here are your main options.
There is a large selection of campsites all over France of varying standards and prices. Though it is the most costly option, staying at a campsite has the benefit of a wide range of facilities, including warm showers, kitchen areas and washing machines. Some campsites even have their own restaurants and pools, giving you some of the perks of a hotel stay with all of the advantages that camping affords.
French aires are essential parking areas which are located all over the country. While there are a few different kinds of aire, many are designed for free overnight campervan use (just look out for a sign with a motorhome symbol).
Aires are usually located very close to towns and villages, and have been put in place to encourage people to visit the area. They normally have basic facilities including somewhere to empty your waste water and fresh water refills (these normally come with a very small fee). As they are so close to town, there is usually a shop, cafe or bar within walking distance. While some allow you to stay for a maximum of 24 hours, you can stay in other aires for days at a time.
Aires work on a first-come-first-served basis, so if you are travelling through busy areas it’s recommended to get there in the morning or just after lunch. You may struggle to find a space if you arrive after 6 PM.
Wild Camping in France
Another free option, wild camping is where you park up for the night anywhere that isn’t a designated campsite or aire. Wild camping in a campervan is permitted in France as long as you gain permission from the land owner. However, on the occasions where you can’t find the landowner, it’s usually fine as long as you are not on cultivated land or anywhere that is very clearly private property.
Wild camping is not permitted on the coast, protected natural sites like national parks or on the perimeter of historic monuments. In the summer months particularly, this is pretty rigorously enforced.
France Passion Membership
A membership with France Passion is a unique and wonderful way to experience the country by campervan. It is a network of over 2,000 hosts, including farmers, winegrowers and craftsmen, who allow members to park on their land free of charge for 24 hours. Not only can you stay in wonderful locations, but you also get to meet the owners and try some of France’s finest produce straight from the producers like fresh honey, cheese and wine. It’s a great way to support the local economy, get off the beaten track and get a real taste of French culture.
An annual membership costs only €30, for which you’ll receive a Stopover Guide including maps, directions to stopover sites, and profiles of the hosts including what kind of produce they make and whether they include meals in your stay. The only requirements are that you have a self-contained campervan and that you follow a few simple rules
Planning your France Campervan Trip
Whatever route you choose to go, it’s a good idea to have a vague idea of where you will be staying before you set off. The park4night app is a great way to see all of your options at a glance, including aires and wild camping spots as well as designated campgrounds.
Best Campervan Destinations in France
The Great Alpine Road
Starting on the French riviera by the banks of Lake Geneva, the Great Alpine Road stretches 700 km (435 miles) across the country and through some of the highest mountain passes in Europe, ending at the Mediterranean Sea. Here are some highlights along the way:
- Mercantour National Park, with its stunning glacial lakes, wildlife and scenic mountain views
- Avignon, famous for its lavender fields and world heritage listed Palais des Papes, an imposing 14th century palace
- Mâcon, where you’ll find countless vineyards and winemakers and a charming historic centre
- Nice, a vibrant coastal city with a rich cultural scene and some of the best restaurants in the country
Though you can cover the Great Alpine Road in just a couple of days, it’s worth taking at last a week to enjoy everything this route has to offer.
The Jura Region
Located in the east of France, the Jura region offers a great journey off the beaten path, with cascading waterfalls, beautiful landscapes and some incredible cheese and wine production. Here’s what you’ll find along the way:
- The Cascades du Hérisson, a series of 7 waterfalls surrounded by numerous hiking trails for all ages and abilities
- The Gouffre de Poudrey, a colossal underground cave that takes you 70 metres underground
- Arbois the wine capital of the Jura region that’s dotted with delightful villages and flanked by rugged limestone cliffs
- The Maison du Comté, where you can sample some of the areas most famous cheese and learn about its traditional production
The Loire Valley
Known for its incredible chateaus, delicious wine and historical charm, the Loire Valley is sometimes referred to as the garden of France. Here are just a few of its highlights:
- Chartres, a riverside town in a preserved medieval setting, complete with a UNESCO-protected cathedral
- Amboise, Leonardo Da Vinci’s former home, this is a quaint, historic town with a fantastic food scene
- Bouvet Ladubay, a winery with no less than 10 miles of wine cellars where you can enjoy a guided tour and tasting
- With over 300 castles in the region, it’s hard to pick just one! Rest assured that history-lovers will never be short of things to do
With its picturesque landscapes, rich history and not to mention incredible food, France is a great destination for campervan travel and visits can be enjoyed almost all year round. As long as you plan carefully, it can be a fantastic choice for those on a budget thanks to the large availability of free camping spots. Whether it’s soaring mountains, vibrant cities or charming villages you’re after, you’ll be able to find it all in a campervan holiday in France.
About the Author
Karl O’Brien is a writer and adventure traveller from Dublin, Ireland. He has been travelling the world since his late teens. His adventures have taken him to the far reaches of the globe including most of Europe, North & South America, New Zealand, Australia, South East Asia and the Middle East. When he is not planning his next adventure Karl can be found building and renovating campervans.