Over the last few years Brian and I have spent many a happy day chilling out on the campsites in France. In our house, once New Years Day is over the hubby brings up the subject of summer holidays, and the job of deciding dates and researching ferry prices and possible destinations kicks in – a job, I might add, he quite happily takes on, spending countless hours on-line planning routes and reading reviews on campsites. I quite happily leave him to it. On several occasions we have travelled a bit further afield, but even then we will end up spending our last few days in France on the way home.
The thing about France is, that because the country is so big and so diverse, it would be almost impossible not to find a campsite to suit your needs. There are thousands of campsites in France, so whether you are looking for something quiet or lively, suitable for couples or good for families there will definitely be something for you. The first year that we went camping in France we purchased a couple of camping books before we set off. Mine was “The Best Campsites in France” by Alan Rogers. Brian got one called Cool Campsites in France. We didn’t book anything before we headed off and, along the journey, we took turns to pick campsites from each of our books. This was a really fun and interesting experience – one day I was sunbathing by the pool, sipping cocktails and the next day I was sunbathing in a small field with a goat standing over me. I appreciate that not booking a site before you go may not be practical when you have children to consider, but if it is manageable for you, the freedom to move around is fantastic.
One of the things that I have learned about campers over the years is that everybody has their own way of camping and every individual wants something different from the experience. However if you are considering camping in France for the first time then there a few things that you will definitely need to know.
Driving in France
It’s important to be aware that there is a list of items that you are legally required to carry with you in your car or camper whilst driving in France. The things that you need are Driving Licence, Passport, Log Book for the Vehicle, Insurance Certificate, up-to-date tax disc, warning triangle, headlamp converters, spare bulbs, a hi-viz vest for every passenger and an IRL sticker (although IRL on your number plate will suffice). Some people may also advise you that you need to carry a breathalyzer along with these other items and I think that there is often a bit of confusion about whether you do or don’t. My understanding on this issue is that breathalyzers are still included in the list of items that you are legally required to carry with you. However, unlike the other items, there is no fine if you are caught without them. My advice is that it is better to err on the side of caution and bring the breathalyzer. Being stopped by the authorities in France is not quite the same experience as being stopped by the Gardai in Ireland. To avoid spoiling your holidays and paying hefty fines it is sensible to ensure that you comply with the legal requirements. And don’t forget to drive on the right hand side of the road. 🙂
French motorways are known as autoroutes (or A roads) and most autoroutes are toll motorways. The entrance to them is marked with the word “Peage”. There is usually a collective sigh in our camper when we spot the Peage sign. If you are in a hurry to reach your destination it is worth using the autoroutes and paying the tolls. If you are proceeding at a more leisurely pace and would like to see more of the French countryside, then you can use the ‘N’ roads. These are generally dual carriageways and a lot of times run alongside the autoroutes. The ‘N’ roads tend to be busier but they are free to use. There is a website http://about-france.com/ that gives good tips on the type of costs to expect and how to save money on the toll roads. It’s a good idea to check it out before you leave so you can budget for it in your spending. Or you can do what we did one year – set the Sat Nav to avoid tolls and end up on a ferry. But that’s another story.
On campsites in France the pitches are not always as neatly laid as they are in Ireland. Many of the campsites that we have stayed on are in forest settings, which means that the pitch can be oddly laid out and may not have clear boundaries. Often several pitches may be sharing one electricity point. On these types of sites it is practical to have a long extension lead. Usually a 25m lead will be sufficient. It is also a good idea to have a Continental Adaptor as some of the older campsites may have the older electrical connections. If you have booked a site in advance you can check before you go but, if like us, you like to wing it a bit, it is always useful to bring one of these. Campsites may rent them to you but they are cheaper to purchase before you go.
When to Travel
Very often your travel plans can be dictated by many things – school holidays, work holidays and other commitments, but the cost of a camping holiday in France can differ dramatically depending on when you go. Peak season on campsites in France will be from the beginning of July to the end of August, so naturally this is when pitch charges will be at their highest. Deciding on when to go, of course, depends on your circumstances, but you can get great value for money when you go off-peak. One year we were staying on a 4 star campsite in the Gironde region for a few days where the pitch rate was €54 per night. Our stay ran into the last week of August and the rates plummeted to just €19 per night. The risk with going off-peak is that you may not have full facilities on site but if that doesn’t bother you then it is worth looking into when the campsite is out of season. You will also notice that Ferry prices will change substantially once you are out of season. To get the best value for money it is certainly worth doing your homework before you set off.
I just couldn’t write a post on France without mentioning wine – the French practically invented the stuff (actually I don’t think they did but they certainly perfected it in my humble opinion). So my best piece of advice is to make sure to leave some room in your car or camper to take home a few bottles of vino (you may need to leave a couple of kids behind). If you consider yourself a bit of a connoisseur of wine then don’t listen to me, but, if like me, you just enjoy a glass and don’t pretend to be an expert, then I would recommend that you avoid the specialist wine stores and go to the supermarket instead. You can get some great deals on cases of wine in the local supermarkets. Brian and I often stand back and watch what the locals buy. We have decided that if it’s good enough for the French it’s good enough for us. The poor girl on the check-out usually looks a little dejected when she sees us coming with 2 trolleys full of bottles. I don’t particularly enjoy that myself, but sure it will be a whole year before I have to do it again. 🙂
If you are considering a trip to France this year then you will actually finds lots of advice and information online. I just wanted to share a few nuggets of information for anyone who is thinking about going for the first time. Anyway I don’t want to give too much away as that would spoil the adventure.
If anyone has any other helpful info for first time traveller then please share it.
All the best for now!