motorhome travel in France

The Complete Guide to Motorhome Touring in France

Motorhome touring in the beautiful and eclectic country of France is a pleasure, you will be welcomed with open arms. From the Atlantic and Mediterranean coasts to the deserted and tranquil interiors and twisting crystal clear rivers, France is the perfect place to spend a holiday in your motorhome. Read this complete guide to motorhome travels in France and go prepared!

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France is a beautiful and welcoming country with incredible gastronomy and some of the top attractions in Europe. Whatever sort of motorhome or campervan holiday in France you’re planning, you’ll find our helpful tips and information about how to travel around France invaluable.

Resources for Motorhome Travel in France

Motorhome Routes to France

There are a number of ways of taking your motorhome or camper to France.

  • The Dover-Calais ferry takes around one hour 30 minutes to cross, loading can be time-consuming but you’ll have time on the boat for a meal and be able to rest from driving.
  • Folkestone-Calais is the quickest driving from UK to France route, as well as being the most frequent. As with the the ferries, the queue can be horrendous in peak season and at peak times. This is a good crossing if you’re travelling with pets or are happy not to leave your van. 
  • Check out the slightly more obscure campervan travel routes which are a little longer but often cheaper and with more special offers to tempt you away from the more well know routes. Try departing from Newhaven for example, or arriving at Dieppe or Le Havre.
  • There are longer (and more expensive) crossings from Portsmouth and Poole to Caen and Cherbourg, ideal for the Vendee and Loire Valley, or south west France, with options of overnight and fast catamaran sailings. Taking an overnight crossing on this route is ideal if you’re planning a long drive once you reach France.
  • Heading to Bilbao or Santander in norther Spain, from Portsmouth or Plymouth, works well for the south or south west of France. You may find that the added ferry costs are covered by the savings in fuel, tolls and less driving time on your motorhome trip, making this a cost effective option.
  • For those in Ireland or Northern Ireland, the best routes are from Rosslare or Cork, to Roscoff or Cherbourg.

Motorhome Route Map of France

This motorhome itinerary of France is an idea of what you can cover and some of the best spots to visit in a motorhome in France. We spent ten weeks travelling from Calais to Spain, but you could do lots of this route of this in a month or so. missing the Pyrenees and heading back to the UK from Santander or Bilbao. If you don’t have that long, check out our other guides to travelling in France, you’ll be sure to find lots of ideas and inspiration.

If you just want to get south, then the best motorhome and campervan routes in France are as follows 

  • The A26, A6 and A7 from Calais down the east of France for Provence and the Cote d’Azur. This is also a good route for much of the rest of Europe.
  • The A28 and A10 from Calais, Cherbourg and Caen for the Loire Valley, Bordeaux and the south west France.
  • The A1, A71 and A75 around Paris and over the Massif Central to the heart of Occitanie, the south of France.
Of course, the northern regions of also have much to offer and make for fantastic France campervan holidays, with a lot less driving and no ruinous toll fees. Motorhome touring in Brittany and Normandy will reward you with historic towns, pretty fishing villages, rolling countryside and gastronomic culture. 
Motorhome Map of France

Top French Destinations

Dijon

From Calais head south to the first major stop at Dijon, a small and beautifully formed, architecturally diverse city, famous for mustard (most of which is now made in Canada!). 

Follow the Owl’s Trails (details from the Office de Tourisme) which will take you past all the major landmarks and stop for a glass or red along one of the cobbled lanes, lined with medieval buildings.

Dijon is in Burgundy, one of the famous wine growing regions in France and there are a number of notable vineyards close by, some growing vines that are thousands of years old. Do a few tours and tastings if you can.

Jura (and more wine!)

Continue south into the beautiful scenery of the high Jura region and stop at one of the fantastic France Passion vineyards. We stayed on the banks of the Rhône with Famille Bernard and his family, who have been making Vins Aoc de Savoie et de Seyssel here for generations – apparently you can see Mont Blanc from here on a clear day.

Monsieur Bernard opened the cave and we had a fabulous tasting before dinner, ending with his insistence that we take the opened bottle of our favourite at no cost – that’s amazing customer service! We bought a case of wine here for around €20, an absolute bargain.

Top tip – from here, setting your sat nav to avoid rolls takes you on the most amazing routes, although if you’re new to motorhome driving, or in a precious new motorhome, then proceed with caution and check the route thoroughly before you set off.

Corbonod, Rhone-Alpes
Domaine Bernard Aime, Corbonod

Provence

Pick up the Route Napoleon from Grenoble into southern France, passing through the fortified town of Sisteron on the way. The Route Napoleon was taken by the man himself in 1815 on his return from Elba and meanders from Cannes to Grenoble, much better and more picturesque than the autoroutes, and free too!

At Digne, we stopped in an aire and swam in the fabulous and free

We were heading for Aups, a small Provencal village, where we had a lovely campsite, L’Oasis du Verdon. You’ll pass through the  colourful and fragrant lavender and sunflower filled fields of the Valensole plateau to the pretty village of Moustiers-Sainte-Marie, before reaching the stunning Gorge du Verdon. We spent a couple of nights in a France Passion, La Maison du Lavandin. This gorgeous and secure spot is on a lavender farm overlooking Le Lac de Sainte Croix and was a haven of peace and tranquility.Top tip – lavender blooms from June to late July, if you want to take photos go at this time and get up early to avoid all the other people doing the same!

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! Check out what’s available here and have the adventure of a lifetime!

relaxing by the motorhome in Provence, France
La Maison du Lavandin

Cote d'Azur (and a spot of kayaking)

Onward from Aups, continue south to Frejus and the Cote d’Azur.  This is an incredibly busy part of France, especially during the summer months, aires are packed nose to tail with barely enough room to open your door, and come with premium prices. If you opt for a campsite, expect to pay upwards of €70 a night for a pitch with electric.

If you want to stay somewhere on the south coast of France, then Cassis and Frejus make good spots, with everything in between to be explored, including the vibrant and lively city of Aix-en-Provence and the flashy St Tropez.

We were eager to get our kayak out onto a river, so we made for the Cèze, which runs through Gourdargues in the Gard. A pretty little town, we spent an idyllic day kayaking the river from the Les Plus Beaux Village of La Roque-sur-Cèze, an historic and beautiful spot.

Cevennes

Tracking west towards Millau, you’ll pass through the Cevennes,a gloriously unpopulated and beautiful part of France with a rich agricultural history.

There is a fantastic steam train from St Jean-du-Gard to Anduze which runs several times a day from St-Jean-du-Gard to Anduse, stopping at the amazing La Bambouseraie d’Anduze. Click on the links for more information, and take our word for it; if you are in the area and have even the remotest interest in gardens,  trains or amazing views, then do it! Read about our amazing trip on the steam train and to La Bambouseraie here.

We had located an aire in the town of St Jean-du-Gard and spent a few quiet nights there. You’ll also find a really good museum in town about the history of the region and how it’s coming back to life again.

From here continue to Millau for the beautiful river Dorbie and lots of opportunities for hiking, wild swimming, kayaking and paragliding.

Herault

You’ll love Hérault for its’ small villages, wild swimming and great hiking in the Haut Longuedoc. Visit Pezenas, where there is a wine festival every Friday evening in July and August and a fantastic farmers market on Saturdays. 

Bezier is also worth a day stop, for Les Neuf Écluses, the famous staircase of nine locks on the Canal du Midi. If you have bikes, you can cycle from the great France Passion site here at Domaine Mi-Côte, literally over the road from the locks.

Head inland from here to the Pont du Diable, the point where the crystal clear Hérault river comes rushing out of its narrow gorge into a small lake, ideal for swimming, stand up paddle and throwing yourself off large rocks into the water… yes, we did!

The Gorge ‘d’Heric is next up, for some hiking and more wild swimming in the clear turquoise waters of the gorge itself.

Top tip – park in the car park of the Gorge for three nights for €6. Trust me, this is not your usual car park, we felt like we were wild camping, even in August.

Carcassonne

You will either fall in love with Carcassonne, or hate it – or maybe, like us, it will be a bit of both! The renovated castle of La Cite is vast and pretty spectacular, 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 and loved cycling around the whole citadel.

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.

There is a great aire here, within a 20 minute walk to the citadel. It get’s full really quickly, but they owners also operate a campsite next door, although it costs double.

Top tip – you are in the land of cassoulet, a rich, slow-cooked casserole containing duck, sausage and white beans; it is sublime and must be tried.

Carcassonne, Aude

Aude

From Carcassonne, we headed for the foothills of the Pyrenees, to kayak the Aude. We stayed at a fantastic free aire on the banks of the rushing river in Espéraza, a pretty town known for its hat making.

We kayaked downstream from Quillan, a challenging and adrenalin fuelled trip, marred by the number of dams along the river, which are having a catastrophic effect on the ecological continuity of the Aude, indeed on all dammed rivers in France. Not to mention the effect it had on me portaging the kayak around them! If you visit in spring or early summer, you’ll find lots of white water companies offering rafting or hot dogging from Quillan.

From here, take a slow drive east along some hairy roads with lots of hairpins and no barriers, to Duilhac-sous-Peyrepertuse, home to the chateau of the same name and a hop and spit from an amazing wild swimming spot, Gorge du Verdouble.

This was a stand-out place for us, just what we wanted when we set of on our motorhome tour of France. We stayed in a great wild camping spot just outside the village and soaked up the French atmosphere and sunshine!

The chateau is a triumph of man over nature, people always seem to build these things in the places which present the most challenge, but obviously provide the best defence. The walk up the Route of the Cathars from the village is stunning (you can drive right to the chateau if you prefer), the aire in the village is free with water (and church bells!) provided; this spot is well worth a visit.

The Dordogne

We had to be in Bordeaux by a specific date so decided it would be romantic to follow the Dordogne from Sarlat, all the way to Bordeaux. On route to Bordeaux we stopped at the beautiful city of Toulouse, where we only spent a night, but could have spent a week.

Sadly the drive east along the mighty Dordogne was not romantic. After the valley of the five chateaux, which are all clustered together around the Castelnaud area, it becomes quite industrial and flat. We paused and stayed at the aire just west of La Roque Gageac, swam in the river and visited the superb and mesmerising Marqueyssac Gardens, who knew Box could be so beautiful?

motorhome camping by the Dordogne
Motorhome camping in La Roque-Gageac

The Atlantic Coast

From Bordeaux, we tracked south along the coast, following the mighty Atlantic, an area of France we know well from family campervan holidays in France. We stopped at the seaside town of Archachon with its beautifully preserved 19th century villa  and Dune du Pilat just down the road.

Further south, Biscarrosse Plage and St-Girons-Plage called, where we soaked up the summer sun, lay on the beach and breathed in the smell of hot pine trees. This is a wild and unspoiled coastline, with huge waves, miles and miles of pine forests, cycle tracks and lots of cool surfer dude hang-outs.

At the bottom of this 200 miles stretch of beach is the elegant and laid-back Biarritz, we stayed just along the coast in Bidart at Camping Le Pavillon Royal for a week before heading into the Pyrenees proper.

Hautes-Pyrenees

We spent the final three weeks of our French road trip hiking in the simply breathtaking Hautes-Pyrenees. The weather in September was glorious, blue skies and wall to wall sunshine, perfect for long hikes. We enjoyed some amazing wild camping spots, one of our most memorable was at a cross-roads (I say road, but a track really) at the foot of Mont Ne; we spent the night alone with zero light pollution and were woken by cow-bells in the morning.

If you’re heading south, cross into Spain in your motorhome via Bagneres-de-Luchon, a charming spa town very close to the France-Spain border.

A Seven Day Pyrenees Hiking Tour

A Seven Day Pyrenees Hiking Tour

If you love taking your holidays in mountains and walking, then head to the Pyrenees for some amazing hiking routes! The combination of clean air, spectacular views and well maintained trails make hiking the Pyrenees an absolute pleasure. We think these are amongst the best hikes in the Pyrenees.

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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. And no, you don’t need a right hand drive motorhome to tour France! Follow our tips and advice for driving in France;

  • Recently 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.  Update 2021 – even thought the Uk is no longer part of the EU, there are agreements in place regarding information sharing with the DVLA, so French authorities can still catch up with you.
  • You will require a green card to prove you have motorhome insurance cover when travelling in France.
  • Your UK licence allows you to drive in all EU countries. If you only have a paper driving licence or a licence issued in Gibraltar, Guernsey, Jersey or the Isle of Man then you will need an International Driving Permit.
  • 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 are required to show a GB sticker on the rear of your motorhome and adjut your lights for driving on the right. 
  • A breathalyser is not required – this law has been repealed.
  • Motorhome or campervan in France during winter and 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 when snow chains are in use.
  • From 1st January 2021, all vehicles over 3,500kg are required to display infographic ‘angles morts’ or blind spot stickers. Stickers must be visible on both sides and at the back of the vehicle and must be placed between 0.90m and 1.50m above the ground. Stickers must be placed in such a way that they don’t cover the vehicle’s regulatory plates and inscriptions, any of the lights or signals, and don’t hinder the driver’s field of view.
  • 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 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.
  • Touring France can be hideously expensive if you use toll roads. 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 but be cautious when visiting small villages, most are not designed for large motorhomes, even though your sat nav might find a route.
  • 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.  
  • 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.
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Staying Safe & Legal in Your Motorhome

If you live or travel in a motorhome then you need to know how to stay safe and keep on the right side of the law.  You will find everything you need to know here about staying safe and legal in your motorhome.

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Motorhome Stopovers in France

Motorhome Aires in France

Motorhoming in France is so easy, the French have really embraced motorhome culture and provide great services in all cities and larger towns and most small towns and villages. Motorhome camping aires in France 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 French aires and how to find them here.

You cannot book motorhome camping 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, use All the Aires FrancePark4Night and other free motorhome apps to help you find places to stay in your motorhome.

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 fresh water and waste; others are more rural and basic.  Some services require a jeton (token) which you can buy at the site, local sports halls and the town hall (it will tell you where at the services). Its usually worth getting a few extra jeton so you have a supply, but different services take different ones, just to make life more complicated!  Many more now take a credit card, making life an awful lot easier.  

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

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 for tips on equipment and safety – we would highly recommend additional or enhanced security for your van if you’re planning on wild camping.

Many supermarkets also offer service points if you have been wild camping, you can fill your fresh water and drop your waste for a few euros. Look for the motorhome dump station signage.

France Passion

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.  On a road trip in France, France Passion provides the perfect balance of free overnight stops along with interest in some great off the beaten path French destinations.

Campsites

Motorhome and campervan sites in France are ten a penny and out of season you will be able to use your ACSI card to get really good rates. In season, sites can be quite expensive, often €50 plus per night. During the French summer holidays, even the best French holidays parks and best caravan sites in France will be noisy and the swimming pool will be packed with kids enjoying time out of school. But, there is a certain something about French campsites in summer that we love and you can find some of the best motorhome campsites France here.

France Travel Inspiration

French Life

Culture

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. 
  • 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, even in Paris, 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.  That’s fine for motorhome living in France in the spring, summer and autumn but if you want to overwinter in your motorhome in France, you will need heating, even on a road trip to south of France.
motorhome wild camping in France mountains with orange sunset
Wild camping in the Pyrenees

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.
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motorhome travel in France

Tour France in a motorhome and campervan for the best holiday you’ve ever had. Take your own or hire a campervan in France #motorhometouringinfrance #francebymotorhome #motorhometips #motorhomefrance #motorhomtravelfrance #franceroadtrip
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France by campervan

Take your campervan to France and tour this beautiful country. Find French campervan tips here! #motorhometouringinfrance #francebymotorhome #motorhometips #motorhomefrance #motorhomtravelfrance #franceroadtrip
#campervanfrance #wildcampinginfranceformotorhomes #frenchaires

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