When looking for the ideal country to tour in a camper, it very quickly became clear that France is one of the best European countries for motorhoming and van life. In fact, we think France is perfect for van life, especially if you are still relatively new to life on the road.
While Europe is, on the whole, extremely welcoming of motorhomes and campervans, you will often find that different countries have different views on wild camping, and cheap campsites can be few and far between. For example, Croatia heavily publicises that camping outside of authorised campgrounds is illegal and, therefore, depending on when you travel, it can be expensive. Even out of season, there are very few campsites that charge less than 20 euros a night.
Van life in France, however, is a pleasure and, on the whole, stress-free.
France is one of the largest countries in Europe; the roads are often quieter, and there are more places to stopover. That doesn’t mean you won’t come across problems, but even in the smaller villages, there is often plenty of parking for everyone.
Why is France the perfect country to visit for motorhomers?
Firstly, travel to France from the UK is painless. There are several providers that offer transport across the channel, making it one of the most accessible places to visit, and if you opt to take the Eurotunnel train across, you can be there within 35 minutes.
But to make your life even easier we have compiled this starter guide for anyone who is thinking about taking their camper across to mainland Europe.
A Beginner’s Guide to travelling in France
Entry to France
While France is only 20 miles away, there are certain rules and regulations that everyone travelling via road must follow.
#1 Entry requirements:
France is part of the EU so anyone that has EU residency has freedom of movement. However, for non-EU residents, you will need to remain mindful that it is part of the Schengen Zone, meaning that you can stay for up to 3 months (90 days) over the course of 180 days.
Here is a simple guide for anyone struggling with the Schengen rules. It also includes a handy calculator which is perfect to help with future trip planning.
#2 Travelling with Pets:
Many motorhomers love to travel with their furry friends, and why not, but it is important to remember that there are certain things you need to do ahead of travel. Firstly, dogs and cats both need an EU Pet Passport or an animal health certificate which you will then need to convert when you get to France.
On top of this you will need a vet to confirm that they have had a rabies vaccination, at least 21 days before travel and that their booster is booked in. Finally, all pets must be micro-chipped.
For a more in-depth guide on travelling to France with Pets I recommend reading this comprehensive article by Pets That Travel.
#3 Important Paperwork & Insurance:
On top of a valid passport, you also need to make sure you have:
For you motorhome or campervan:
– your driving license,
– proof you own the vehicle (V5),
– an MOT Certificate
– valid insurance for the vehicle
– a Green Card from your insurer
– An International Driving Permit (only applicable if you decide to travel to other countries currently outside of the EU eg. Montenegro)
On top of this, we would also suggest you take out breakdown cover, but make sure whichever provider you go with they cover you for the full length of time you are in mainland Europe and not just a standard 30 days in any one trip. This is also true for vehicle insurance.
- Travel insurance that lasts for the full duration of your stay
Since leaving the EU, not all travel policies cover you for more than 30 days at a time. Alpha Insurance is one of the few insurers that we have found offering a long stay policy where you can state your start and finish date according to your plans.
#4 Other Legal Requirements:
There are also basic items you need to carry with you at all times when driving in France:
- UK Sticker (a GB sticker is no longer valid)
- Hi Viz Vest
- Warning Triangle
- Spare Bulb Kit
- HeadLight Beam Deflectors
- Angles Morts signs and speed stickers for any vehicle over 3.5 tonnes
Other things to consider include:
- Snow chains (if you are visiting between Nov – March)
- Fire extinguisher
- First Aid Kit
- Red and white warning sign to attach to bikes or anything hanging over the end of you camper. These are not currently a legal requirement in France but if you intend to visit multiple countries, for example Spain or Italy, these are compulsory.
On top of this, you no longer need to carry breathalyzers however, they can still be purchased should you wish to.
#5 Remember your Crit’air France sticker
Firstly, a crit’air sticker is a clean air certificate which you need to affix to your windscreen in order to travel through certain towns and cities in France. It indicates that your vehicle meets the current environmental criteria and that you are not over-polluting an area of heavy footfall.
At present, your motorhome or campervan will need to comply with Euro 6 manufacturing rules, and will be assessed on their emissions output.
You need to apply for a crit’air sticker via the crit’air official website, adding all your vehicle information so they can make a fair assessment. Once this has taken place you will then receive your sticker through the post. This can take up to 10 days so make sure you apply in plenty of time.Your sticker, which comes in six different colours, highlights the classification of your camper and whether you can travel through the low emissions zones in cities currently under the scheme.
Options for overnight stays
Once all of your paperwork is sorted, you can then start planning for your trip. This is often the best part; planning where to go, how long to stay for and what to see. To add to this, you also need to start thinking about what stopovers in France you would like to use.
There are several different options here including:
Campsites – which often require you to book in advance, especially in high season and are fantastic if you want to stop in the same place for a week or two. If you are travelling out of season, we highly recommend purchasing an asci card, which provides you with discounts of up to 60% on more than 3,000 campsites across Europe.
French Aires – these are normally cheap or free alternatives to campsites and are perfect if you are self-contained. You will find these across the country in both larger cities and small villages. While they don’t come with swimming pools, toilets or showers, they often have a WC Chemical disposal, a grey waste grate and a fresh water supply (eau portable). Some aires will even have an electric hook-up (EHU) facility although this is not guaranteed.
Aires are not normally bookable in advance, although Camping Car France do have a few sites where this is possible, therefore it is advisable to arrive early, especially if you are going to a busy location like Honfleur which has over 200 spots but in August will fill up quickly.
Aires are also not campsites and therefore you will often find that awnings are not allowed and it is not a given that chairs and tables are acceptable external accessories. Always make sure you read the rules as you drive in. Likewise, while some aires will happily let you pay to stay for four or five days, some only allow a 24 or 48 hour stopover.
To find the best aires in France there are several apps you could use including Park4Night, Search4Sites, iOverlander and Campercontact. These apps highlight not only the location of the aire but also how big it is, what facilities they have and how much it costs, it may also tell you how to pay. Payment is not always by card and therefore we would always recommend having some cash on you just in case. We were caught out in Saumur when we visited, but fortunately the team visited daily to collect the fees and so we were able to backdate it.
French Passion – if you are looking for some traditional french cuisine, these may be the perfect overnight stops in France for you. Started back in 1993, French Passion allows self-contained motorhomes to stay overnight for free after purchasing a yearly membership which for 2023 is just 33 euros.
Hosts tend to be rural, set within farms or vineyards where they produce their own olive oil, fruit and vegetables, honey, cheese, cure their own meats or bottle their own wine. For those staying you have the opportunity to explore the surroundings and try some of the best that France has to offer, although there is no obligation to buy.
If you are looking to stay off the main tourist track and your France road trip itinerary allows, then French Passion is certainly worth considering and could really help to keep the cost of touring Europe in a motorhome to a minimum.
Wild Camping – while some other countries frown upon wild camping, France is extremely open to the idea as long as you follow certain rules. These include:
- You should seek permission from the landowner where required
- You cannot wild camp on the French Coast, near designated historical sites or in National Parks
- French authorities have the right to create and change rules for their own area at any time which may prohibit overnight camping, although signs should be clearly displayed.
On top of this, you should avoid parking close to residential areas, never put an awning or your table and chairs out and only stay for the night. You should also avoid dropping grey waste and must always take your rubbish with you.
Other Useful Things You May Need
Armed with all of this information, you are now ready to plan your next trip across to mainland Europe but to make your time there as worry-free as possible we have a few recommendations for you.
Sat Nav: A decent motorhome Sat Nav is without a doubt the best thing to purchase. It helps you to navigate unknown roads and avoid low bridges or roads with a weight limit. We have used the Garmin Avtex for a year now and love the fact that we can add in the dimensions of our motorhome so that we avoid any unsuitable routes.
Wifi: Whether working on the road or wanting to keep up with your favourite Netflix or amazon prime shows, a good motorhome Wifi system is a blessing. Working remotely, we need to make sure that we can always get online and for that reason we invested in a Netgear router as well as numerous sim cards.
Sim Cards: While on the subject of sim cards, since Brexit, anyone travelling from the UK into Europe may now be subjected to data roaming charges again so make sure you check with your provider to find out exactly what is and is not covered. If you find yourself in need of a new sim card in France, head to the local hypermarket where you will find several options available to you on a pay-as-you-go plan.
Security: This doesn’t just apply when travelling in France, but it is something important to consider. No one wants to be broken into and therefore, adding some deterrents is always worthwhile. We have added a door lock because the Elddis one just didn’t seem very sturdy. These can also be added to garage doors if you have a larger garage which allows entrance into the main living area. On top of that, we also have a steering wheel lock and a pedal lock.
Refillable gas bottles: Gas bottles are becoming more difficult to get hold of and while in the UK LPG is sometimes hard to find, in Mainland Europe, you will find it everywhere. If you decide to purchase gas bottles as you go, you will also need to change the adaptors when you change country. With refillable LPG you can buy a simple adaptor kit to make filling up easy no matter which location you are in.
Ultimately, for anyone new to motorhoming or van life, trips to France will open your eyes to just how easy life can be. Look for routes that take you off the motorways and enjoy the drive through the French countryside, stopping off at relatively unknown places and waking up to the smell of fresh baguettes on offer at the local boulangerie.
France really is a van life dream.
Have you visited in your motorhome or campervan? What recommendations do you have for beginners driving in France?
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