Motorhome Holidays in France

05 Aug 2012

When planning a holiday, many UK motorhomers don’t even consider the continental option, presumably figuring that it will be either a) more expensive or b) more complicated/increased hassle. However, taking your motorhome to France is not only simple but thanks to the incredibly comprehensive network of motorhome friendly facilities known as ‘aires’, it can also be a far cheaper holidaying option than the UK. In fact, to many, France is considered to be motorhome heaven.


‘Aires’ (the French word for areas or places) are incredibly varied in what they provide but all will offer at least a place to stop and camp overnight. Additionally, some may offer one or all of the following -

  • fresh water
  • electric hook-up
  • grey waste disposal
  • chemical toilet disposal point
  • shower facilities

Much of the signage and instruction labelling at aires are done by pictures to make it more easily understood by non-French speakers. However, an English-French dictionary may come in handy for some translations.


Some of the aires are effectively free camping as they only charge if you wish to use the facilities.

Where their use attracts a fee this can usually be paid on site and most commonly by automated coin machines (costs vary considerably). In some cases you must purchase a ticket prior to parking up and camping which is usually obtained at local town council offices or tourist information centres.

Aire locations and how to find them

The location of aires is also highly variable. For example, some are spaced along auto-routes, some are on farms and some are a set aside area which is actually part of a designated camp ground. You may be staring at concrete or you may find yourself in the most stunningly beautiful locations – by a lake or riverside, surrounded by majestic mountain scenery or looking out at the ocean.

Some of the real gems are well tucked away and, although it is possible to come across aires as you go, you will often miss the best without something to help you. Many of the road maps of France have larger aires marked on them, particularly the auto-route ones but for comprehensive listings buy one of the many aire guide books which include maps and details of each and every aire’s facilities and costs. One of the best of these is ‘Aires de Services – Camping Cars’ by Martine Duparc and Collectif. Most of the aire guides also have a useful section on French words that you may come across at aires to help you follow any instructions for paying or using the facilities.

A word of warning on auto-route aires… may feel safer surrounded by other camper-vans and motorhomes but the crime rate at these sites is alarmingly high. You are highly visible and an easy target and statistics show that opportunistic thefts occur much more commonly in these circumstances. Many motorhomers have returned to their vans after using restaurants and shops to find them broken into and even more alarmingly break-ins do occur while the occupants sleep.

Other Camping Areas

Many French towns provide a set aside area for motorhomers to park up and camp overnight, often for free and with a rather different mentality towards this than you may be used to in the UK. The thinking is simple – get the tourists into town and they will spend money even if it just breakfast at the bakery and of course it works.

Wild Camping

Although this is somewhat of a grey area with regard to French law, there are many who wild camp (a term for camping away from official areas, also called freedom camping) and typically speaking there is a high tolerance to this practice. However, as with wild camping anywhere there are a few unwritten rules that should be observed which could all come under the umbrella of ‘respect’.

  • Don’t park up on private property or where another’s privacy is likely to be invaded
  • Take all your rubbish with you
  • Don’t light fires or otherwise damage and disturb the area you are camped in
  • Be sensitive to any environmental issues such as protected flora and fauna
  • Keep noise to a minimum
  • Observe any signage which expressly forbids overnight camping or gives directions on doing so

Perhaps most importantly of all you might need to question whether in a country that bends over backwards to provide a vast network of cheap (and often free) safe camping options, wild camping is appropriate at all. The decision is yours.

Road systems

These can feel like a breath of fresh air to the average Brit inured to traffic jams and poorly maintained roads. France has a highly efficient and superior quality road network which makes getting from A to B easy and quick.

The express routes or auto-routes will typically attract tolls unless they are near large towns or cities and if you plan to cover a lot of miles these fees can considerably add to your holiday costs. On the other hand they are super-fast and super-clear if not especially inspiring scenically.

There is always a free alternative to the fee paying roads and bizarrely these sometimes run completely parallel to the auto-routes for large sections of the journey. Generally speaking they are prettier routes and although they will usually take longer they are still by no means slow or heavily crowded.

Things can get a little chaotic around cities and trying to find the right road isn’t always simple especially if your French is a little rusty. This is where a Sat-Nav would come in especially useful to avoid taking your large unit into inappropriately small or tricky places.

Ferry Crossings

Depending on which company you sail with, your desired crossing route, the size of your motorhome and the times and dates you wish to sail, prices vary considerably. Paying for the ferry can be the most expensive part of your holiday by far. However, many caravan or camping clubs offer significant discounts and savings to members when making bookings through them. Additionally, some insurance companies also offer the same to their customers so do check with both before making any bookings to see if you can save money.

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