Motorhome touring in the beautiful and varied country of France is a pleasure, you will be welcomed with open arms. From the Cote d’Azur with stunning views of the Mediterranean to the deserted and tranquil interior and twisting crystal clear rivers, France is the perfect place to spend a summer in your motorhome. Read this complete guide to motorhome touring in France and go prepared!
Motorhome Travel in France
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France is a gorgeous, civilised and welcoming country with an amazing array of good food and wine. Everywhere we went in our campervan in France was clean and well kept. But, it is by far the most expensive country we have visited in Europe (other than Norway, which you can read about here in our motorhome, which has to be factored into your plans. Whether you’re planning a France campervan holidays, an Eastern France road trip or looking or a Northern France itinerary, you’ll find the tips and information about how to travel around France helpful.
Routes & Destinations
There are a number of ways of crossing the channel the France in a motorhome.
- Dover-Calais ferry – takes around 1 hour to cross, loading can be time-consuming.
- Folkstone-Calais channel tunnel – probably the quickest and most regular but as with the ferries, the queue can be horrendous in peak season and at peak times.
- Check out the slightly more obscure routes which are a little longer but often cheaper; departing from Newhaven for example or arriving at Dieppe or Le Havre.
- There are longer (and more expensive) crossings from Portsmouth, Poole and Plymouth to France and Spain, which should also be considered. You may find that the added ferry costs are covered by the savings in fuel, tolls and less driving time on your motorhome trip.
Top Ten Motorhome Destinations in France
Jura is a department in eastern France. Wide plains lead to hills and vineyard before rising up to the Jura Mountains in the southeast. The beautiful scenery of the high Jura region makes for spectacular driving. Set your sat nav to avoid toll roads to get the best of this part of France. Find a France Passion vineyard to stay at and enjoy a wine tasting.
Take the Route Napoléon towards Digne and pass through the fortified town of Sisteron on the way. The Route Napoléon was taken by the man himself in 1815 on his return from Elba and meanders from Cannes to Grenoble. So much better and more picturesque than the autoroutes, and free too! We think this is one of the best driving roads in Europe.
Head for the iconic, colourful and fragrant lavender and sunflower filled fields to reach the stunning must see Gorge du Verdon. July & August is the best time to see lavender in bloom and get that all important photograph of the lavender fields.
The Gorge du Verdon is not only picture-perfect, it is renowned for extreme sporting opportunities such as rafting, canyoning, kayaking and via Ferrata. You don’t need to be an expert in any of these sports and some of them are not that extreme!
A great town amid spectacular countryside and sitting at the edge of the Gorges du Tarn, this is an ideal place for a stop if you enjoy the outdoor life and adventures. In Millau you can kayak, hike, paraglide and take part in lots of extreme and a bit more gentle adventure sports.
You will love this part of France if you enjoy wilderness and peace. Vastly de-populated in the 20th century, the Cevennes is starting to spring back to life with younger people eager to try the sustainable lifestyle that living on the land can provide.
We adored Hérault for its’ small villages, wild swimming and great hiking. Visit Pezanas, where there is a wine festival every Friday evening in July and August; walk down the main street and stop for free samples of wine and cheese.
La Cite is large and brutal, towering above the Aude and ‘new’ Carcassonne. Inside the citadel is ultra ‘touristic’ and a beer will cost you your pension, we much preferred the exterior, which you can cycle around.
We loved the new city, the weekly Saturday farmers market in Place Carnot and the great running and walking routes along the Aude and through the local vineyards.
Take a slow drive into the midi-Pyrenees along hairy roads with lots of hairpins and no barriers. Head for Duilhac-sous-Peyrepertuse, home to the spectacular ruined chateaux of the same name and a hop and spit from an amazing wild swimming spot, Gorge du Verdouble.
Visit the valley of the five chateaux, which are all clustered together around the Castelnaud area. Stay at the aire just west of La Roque Gageac and visit the superb and mesmerising Marqueyssac Gardens, who knew Box could be so beautiful?
Visit the beautiful but very touristy town of Rocamadour and sample the local cheese. Then head for the Gouffre de Padiric, a truly incredible underground chasm and can system.
Stay at the seaside town of Archachon with its’ beautifully preserved 19th century villa and the Dune du Pilat just down the road.
Further south, Biscarrosse and St-Girons-Plage are great places to soak up the summer sun, lay on the beach and breath in the smell of hot pine trees. This coastline is wild and unspoilt, with huge waves, miles and miles of pine forests and lots of cool surfer dude hang-outs.
At the bottom of this 200 miles stretch of south west coast beach is the elegant and laid-back Biarritz. Camping Le Pavillon Royal is on the beach at Bidart and an easy cycle into Biarritz.
Enjoy wild camping and some gentle hiking from your motorhome. Check out this seven day Pyrenees hiking itinerary.
If you want to read more detail about this itinerary, places to stay and things to do, head here. Alternatively, if you’re all about getting to the south of France, then you’ll find this ten day south of France road trip itinerary a great alternative.
Driving a Motorhome in France
French drivers are impatient and often rude, particularly when stuck behind a motorhome! They are dreadful tailgaters and really, really dislike being overtaken. On the other hand, French roads are generally in good condition and ideal for motorhomes, camper vans and RV’s, even in mountainous areas.
- In 2019 there has been a significant increase in speeding fines issued by French authorities to Brit drivers. Many get home from a holiday or road trip to a nasty surprise in the post. Be aware and stick to the speed limit when driving your motorhome in France.
- You must carry your driving licence and have a minimum of third party insurance cover for your motorhome or campervan. Post Brexit you will need a 1968 International Driving Permit and a green card as proof of insurance.
- You must carry at least one reflective jacket within the passenger compartment of your vehicle and must put it on before you get out in an emergency or breakdown situation
- You must carry a warning triangle.
- You must fit snow chains when driving on snow-covered roads in accordance with local road signs. A maximum speed limit of 31 mph (50km/h) applies.
- On motorways, French drivers will sit on your outside bumper, almost as if they are intending to nudge between you and the central reservation. Do not be intimidated by this, change lanes only when it’s safe to do so. Make sure you leave a large gap between yourself and the driver in front so that if you do have to stop quickly, you cannot be considered at fault.
- France has introduced ‘clean air’ windscreen stickers as a legal requirement in some of its cities, to identify a vehicle’s emissions levels and to, in some cases, restrict access in order to improve air quality. These are known as Crit’Air Vignettes and you may need one for your motorhome, depending on where you are visiting. Find out more here.
- French tolls are hideously expensive. Often the system will class your motorhome or RV as Cat 3; if you press the telecoms button at the booth and simply say “je suis un camping-car” (I am a camping-car), the operator will change your category to 2, which will be significantly cheaper. The technical measurement of whether you are Cat 2 or 3 is height, anything over 3m is a Cat 3. However, we have never known anyone to be measured and have always been able to get changed to a Cat 2. Try using this European route planner with tolls to get an idea of costs. Why not try setting your motorhome sat nav to avoid motorways and get off the beaten track across France? We’ve found some of our favourite places doing just that.
- You may want to consider carrying an electronic toll pass which deducts the fees from a credit card automatically, meaning you don’t have to stop at a booth or barrier.
- France has very strict drink driving laws compare to UK. The UK maximum is 0.8 mg/ml and the French maximum is 0.5 mg/ml of alcohol per litre in your blood . If you are tested and found to be over the limit, you may face up to €4,500 fine and have to appear in court.
Motorhome Stops in France
France has really embraced motorhome culture and provide great services in all cities and larger towns and most small towns and villages. French aires are place for motorhomes to park overnight, sometimes for free but usually for a small fee. We always try to have a beer or do some shopping in the smaller towns and villages where these are provided, to thank the locals for having us! You can read more about aires here.
You cannot book aires in France, it is advisable in the holidays and in popular places to try and get there early in the morning or just after lunch-time. If you arrive at 6pm expecting a place, then you will probably be disappointed. Always have a second choice in reserve, one of the best resources to use is All the Aires France.
Aires in French towns and villages are super safe, often with several other motorhomes and camper vans around. Avoid motorway aires for anything more than a quick stop to make a cuppa or use the loo. They are notorious for theft, particularly from motorhomes and you don’t want to be broken into when you’re sleeping. Gassing is a myth, about which you can read more here, however theft and break-ins are not.
Arrangements in aires can differ; some have proper services of the Flot Blue et al type, where you pay for water and waste; others are more rural and basic. There are a growing number of ‘commercial’ aires which have barriers and more strictly controlled; these are generally very well run. Check out the best motorhome aires in France here.
Wild camping in France for motorhomes is very possible, we use the Park4Night app to find wild camping spots. Again, it’s a good idea to have a reserve option in case you arrive and don’t like the look of your choice. The authorities in France generally seem tolerant of motorhome wild camping, although there are some places where it is impossible…think all along the Med coast! Read this post about how to wild camp in your motorhome.
Many supermarkets also offer service points if you have been wild camping, you can fill your water and drop your waste for a few euros. Look for the motorhome dump station signage.
France Passion is a popular scheme where you can stay on farms, orchards, vineyards etc in your motorhome, campervan or RV with no charge. There are often no services and sometimes people feel obliged to buy produce, although this is not something we have experienced. We usually do get a few bottle of wine as it is more cost effective than buying in supermarkets and we enjoy the tastings and gaining knowledge from the growers.
Campsites are ten a penny and out of season you will be able to use your ACSI card. In season, you will be robbed blind, only to listen to screaming kids and arguing locals for the duration of your stay! If you still want to stay on a site, you can find some of the best motorhome campsites in France here.
If you want to swim in the campsite pool, lycra speedos or trunks of that ilk are usually required. Apparently it’s for hygiene reasons, we don’t think we believe that!
Life in France is always lived to its’ fullest. French people generally live simply but enjoy good quality and high standards; they will always choose better foods but have less of them, for example. This principle is applied to much of French life. Understanding the French culture is one of the most important things to know about France.
- French people do not say “scare bleu”, “zut alors” or “mon dieu”; although real words they are very outdated expressions used exclusively by the Daily Mail whenever they want to highlight a juicy French story.
- French people are incredibly proud of their country and way of life; any criticism of France, or unfavourable comparison to other countries, is considered rude.
- We can perceive this pride as arrogance but it is really just part of who they are and their culture.
- France is an incredibly cultured environment, with public spaces and building seeming very grand and sometimes regal. As you Tour France in your motorhome, you will see the motto “Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité” on public buildings. Egalite (equality) is considered more important than the latter two and this influences the French way of life.
- French people embody romance and passion; extra-marital affairs are normal and it is the only country in the world where a crime of passion is a defence!
- Everyone in France takes the time to say bonjour (hello) and au revoir (goodbye). To not make time to do so is considered incredibly discourteous.
- If you wear shorts and flip-flops everywhere (and why not?) then you will be spotted as a tourist immediately. French women don’t tend to dress in colourful clothes and people generally dress more formally in France.
- In villages and small towns, it is likely that shops will close from 12 noon until 2pm for lunch. Shops will not be open on Sundays unless you are in a large town or at an out-of-town hypermarket.
- Museums are often closed on Tuesdays…who knew?
- Beware of le pont (the bridge); this is a custom where when a public holiday falls on a Tuesday or Thursday (they are taken whichever day of the week they fall on, unlike the UK where it’s always a Monday), then businesses and shops stay closed for the Monday or Friday. For a list of public holidays in France, click here.
- As tempting as it may be, farmer’s markets are a very expensive way to buy fruit and veg. Buying locally will help sustain the local farmers, but you will get a much better price at a roadside stall, of which there are many.
- France has a temperate climate, the same as the UK. If you want to overwinter in your motorhome in France, you will need heating, even in the south.
Food & Eating Out in France
Food and drink is a HUGE part of French life, I could write a separate post about it! Eating together in France, as family or friends is sacrosanct; eating is seen as intensely pleasurable…why spoil that by rushing or eating on the go?
- Meal times in France are lengthly occasions, with chatter debate and laughter. Often there are three courses involved and the table will be fully set; this slows down the meal, allows diners to relax and digest their food more comfortably.
- The word for breakfast is le petit déjeuner (the little lunch). In France you dunk your croissant into a milky drink of coffee or hot chocolate; the croissant is not buttered as it is made from butter!
- Breakfast or early morning is the only time to drink milky coffee; the coffee is served black and in small cups during the rest of the day, unless you ask otherwise.
- Le dejeuner (lunch) is generally served from noon to 1.30pm. You will struggle to find restaurants open much after that unless you are in a city or tourist area. Lunch is a more important meal than dinner.
- Le diner (dinner) service does not usually start in restaurants until 8pm.
- You will eat a lot of bread in France; all towns and villages have a boulangerie (bakery), often baking up to three times a day. A baguette may only have four ingredients by law; wheat flour, water, yeast, and common salt. As there are no preservatives, the bread goes stale very quickly. There is nothing quite like the taste of a warm baguette slathered in beurre doux (unsalted butter) and local jam, fresh from the boulangerie and eaten in your motorhome with the door open to enjoy the stunning landscapes of France!
- Bread will be offered at meal-times, it is not usual to butter it but to use it to mop up sauce and juices. The only time to butter bread is at breakfast!
- Some restaurants will include a service charge in the bill. If not, you may want to leave a tip although it is not necessary. Locals generally tip only the change from a euro, if there is any!
- Although you may find it upsetting, la viande de cheval (horse meat) is common on French menus.
- If you want to try les escargots (snails) they taste much better with a garlic and parsley sauce! Les cuisses de grenouille (frogs legs) are usually imported and no longer authentic.
- French people drink wine or water with meals. Red wine is usually only ever drunk with food..the two go together, it’s as simple as that! Wine is drunk in moderation and two (small to us) glasses with a meal is considered more than enough.
- There is too much culture around how to choose, serve and drink wine in France to mention here, if you are interested to read in more depth, click here.
- The key to French eating is everything in moderation; a little bit of what you fancy does you good but this is not a country which indulges in sacking or large portion sizes.