An expert's guide to motorhome travel in France

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Hannah Spurge of FranceMotorhomeHire gave us this handy and really useful rundown of tips for travelling with a motorhome in France to share with our readers:

Whether you take your own motorhome to France or hire one when you get there, you are bound to be amazed at the facilities provided for "Camping Cars" (that's French for motorhome or campervan). Like no other country in Europe, France has embraced visitors in motorhomes and provides an extensive range of facilities to cater for them.

Places to stay

In addition to 11,000 campsites there are "Aire de Service" (special, often free overnight halts and servicing points for motorhomes) and an excellent scheme called France Passion where you can stay for free at interesting places such as farms and vineyards.

You can also stay just about anywhere else in France without being moved on provided you observe the rare signs which specifically prohibit motorhome parking. Avoid staying in the market square the night before market day too or you'll be woken up very early!

Tips:

  • Modern motorhomes come with everything you need to remain autonomous of campsites (kitchens with fridge/freezers, bathrooms with showers and toilets and leisure batteries to keep the lighting etc. working when you are not plugged into the mains) so you can avoid them altogether if you want to save money or just prefer to be away from the madding crowd.
  • You don't need to book campsite places ahead for most of the year but if you must be in a specific place for fixed dates it's a good idea to do so (e.g. if you are attending an event). July and August do become oversubscribed in tourist hotspots so book campsites before you come if you are travelling then.

Roads

The road network in France is well maintained and blissfully quiet (as long as you avoid big cities and mid-summer holiday hotspots). Autoroutes can be expensive as they are usually toll roads but they are great for covering big distances so budget to use them if you are planning a long drive and need to do it in one go.

Off the autoroutes, travel is a joy as you see so much as you travel. There are over 32,000 villages in France and historic, picturesque sights are everywhere if you travel on smaller roads. Off the beaten track you will also find lovely places to stop for a rest, have lunch, explore or spend the night.

Tips:

  • If your motorhome is over 3 metres in height, avoid the autoroutes whenever you can as they fall into a very high tariff category.
  • Ancient village centres are often not accessible even by car so it's most unwise to try and head through a medieval village in a motorhome. Be prepared to park up at the edge of town and head in on foot or bicycle (you can bring bikes with you or hire them in France).

Safety

It's best to avoid staying outside of big cities and at autoroute service stations, which don't have a great reputation. Generally, break ins are extremely rare in France so you can expect a very unthreatening environment for motorhome travel.

Tips:

  • If you do visit big cities and leave your motorhome unattended, leave it on a campsite as they will have security fencing, secure entry/exit barriers and there will typically be a manned office or someone living on site. Leaving your motorhome in a city car park is never a good idea.
  • Keep valuables out of sight. It's easy to stow electronics and valuables out of temptation's way by putting them in a locker before you go out. Closing blinds/curtains and leaving a light on whilst you are out will also help to mask that the motorhome is unoccupied and deter opportunistic thieves.
  • Theft from motorhomes really is very unusual across most of France as long as you use common sense. If you don't feel comfortable and safe where you have parked, don't leave your motorhome unattended there!

Navigation

Navigating in any foreign country is a challenge. Even though signage works on the same basis as the signs you are used to, not being familiar with the look of signage (e.g. autoroute exit sign) and struggling to remember unfamiliar place names add to the difficulty.

GPS takes the strain out of finding your way about so make sure you have one with French mapping. For trip planning and checking details like height restrictions along your route, a good atlas of France is invaluable too.

Tips:

  • In France there a quite a number of towns that share the same name so if you are heading to a town called "Chateauneuf", make sure your GPS has identified the right one (there are five!).
  • French departments (similar to a UK county) all have a two digit number to identify them which also forms the first two digits of any postcode in France e.g. The Ille-et-Vilaine department in Brittany is department "35" and the postcode for the town of St Malo (which is in that department) is 35400. Make sure you know which department your destination is in and it matches the address on your GPS before you set off.

Whether you visit in your own motorhome or hire one in France, with so much open space, a great road network, and stunning scenes everywhere you look, I think it is genuinely one of the best countries in the world to enjoy a motorhome trip.

Hannah Spurge

About the author:
In 2009, Hannah and Phill Spurge bought two motorhomes and created FranceMotorhomeHire.com. They now have a fleet of 25 motorhomes and campervans for hire at their depot in Yonne, Burgundy (dept 89), which is less than 4 hours' drive from our ports at Le Havre and Caen. Both ports are served by our ferries from Portsmouth.

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