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France is known as one of the most camper-friendly countries in Europe. But what is it like RVing in France?
This blog will share some of the top things you’ll need to know before you hop in your motorhome.
Watch this video for the full scoop ⤵️
French roads can be narrow, especially in smaller villages, to the point where you may find yourself thinking, “Is this really a two-way road?” The answer is probably yes and as you saw in the video, it can get stressful fast!
But for the most part, driving customs in France are similar to anywhere in America. You’ll see speed limit signs (in kilometers), you’ll pass slower traffic on the right, and you’ll stay within the lines of your lane while driving. You wouldn’t think I would need to add that last one, but if you cross into Italy, you’ll immediately find that the lines on the road mean nothing to Italians. They drive where they please! You’ll find cars half parked in the lane, half parked on the sidewalk all over France, but they do at least stay in their lane while driving.
Related: Planning an RV Trip in Italy
Most major roads across France are toll roads (think of interstates or highways in America—they are all toll roads in France).
Often, you’ll grab a toll ticket when you enter the road and will hang onto it until you exit or until you come across a toll plaza. You can easily pay with credit card—often using tap to pay—and if your French is rusty, press the British flag icon to switch the toll machine to English. More rarely, you’ll come to a toll booth with a set fee and a person in the booth. For example, the tunnel in the Alps that connects France to Italy is manned and has a flat fee of around $60.
Yes, French tolls are extremely expensive!
That was our biggest toll ticket, but on days where we spent a couple of hours on toll roads, we usually paid $20-$35 in fees. We opted for toll roads when we needed to cover a few hundred miles or when the non-toll-road option offered by Google Maps seemed a little too long.
The toll roads will offer many rest stops, known as aires, where you can refuel, grab food, have a picnic, or even let kids play on the playground. (If you’re looking for a taste of home, you’ll often see McDonald’s and Starbucks at aires.)
Road Signs and Signals
In general, road signs in France are symbols that can be universally understood, versus worded signs.
For example, a Do Not Enter Sign in the US will say Do Not Enter with a red circle with a white line across the middle. In France, it will just be a red circle with a white line across the middle.
Not all signs are the same as their US counterparts, but they are fairly self-explanatory. The most important signs to look for when RVing will be width, height, and weight restriction signs. These white and red circular signs will have black triangles at the top and bottom for height or on the sides for width and say “2,3 m” to let you know of an upcoming restriction. A weight restriction sign will likely say 3,5t. (Check your RV weight before you rent, but you should be safe with this restriction! 3,5t was the weight limit we saw most often.)
And yes, where we use periods for decimals in the States, they use commas!
Traffic lights in France are very similar to the US with green, yellow, and red lights. Lights are vertical, with green on the bottom and red at the top. Unlike other neighboring countries, you won’t see any flashing green or yellow lights. (Unless you’re in a construction zone—they do set up yellow flashing lights.)
Light posts are often posted on the same side of the street as you are, which can make seeing the light impossible if you pull up too far at an intersection. We had to back up a few times to see the post. However, you won’t see red lights very often in your travels. Most intersections across the country are roundabouts, making driving across the country that much easier.
France is known for being one of the most camping-friendly countries in the world and it lives up to its reputation. During our month of adventures, we never struggled to find a place to camp overnight. (Conversely, when we crossed over to Italy for a few days, it was much harder to find an open campsite!)
There are multiple ways to camp overnight in France and during our first few days on the road (seen in the video above) we tried a few.
More than anything else, we used France Passion to find free campsites across France. France Passion is a membership (about $35) that allows you to camp for free at wineries and farms across France. (France Passion was the inspiration behind Harvest Hosts, where you can camp for free on wineries in North America.) And it was incredibly easy to find beautiful places to spend the night! In fact, after driving across the country, I’m pretty sure 99% of the French countryside is vineyards. Miles and miles of beautiful vines.
(We have an upcoming video showing off more of what camping at France Passion sites is like, but you can also see our very first one in this video!)
Home Camper is where you can stay in your motorhome at people’s homes/on their property—very similar to a HipCamp or Boondockers Welcome. You’ll need a self-contained RV (AKA your own bathroom) and you’ll probably want to know a little French, since you’ll be conversing with locals.
We used Home Camper on our second night in the RV to stay in the backyard of a champagne house in Epernay. (Pictured above) This site offered electricity, bathrooms, showers, and playgrounds, but amenities vary by site.
Boondocking is often referred to as wild camping or freedom camping abroad. In France, we used the Park4Night app to find boondocking spots across the country. In the video, we camped in a forest for free and started our day hiking one of the many trails that started from our free overnight spot. Even better, it was 15 minutes away from a castle and a short drive to a nearby village for morning pastries and coffee.
Related: 31 RVing Terms You Should Know
The first thing that comes to mind when RVing in France might be staying in traditional campgrounds. Similar to an RV park or campground in the States, here you’ll find electricity, water, and sewer hookups as well as amenities like a bathhouse, playground, and laundry. RVing with a baby and a toddler, we spent a lot more nights than we thought we would in campgrounds doing laundry while the kids played.
We were surprised at how kid-friendly many campgrounds were. At one in particular, there was a large outdoor tent filled with toys for kids. Blocks, dolls, a kitchen, bikes, a trampoline—Europe really is incredibly kid-friendly!
Campsites in campgrounds varied. We stayed at one with level, poured concrete sites (above). At another, we had an unlevel grassy area with towering trees on either side. Another, a grassy area with vines separating sites. Actually, a lot of campgrounds used grapevines to separate sites! I told you, 99% of the country is growing grapes for wine.
Generally, your campsite is very simple compared to States, so don’t expect too much. But what the sites lack in niceness, the campground makes up for with fresh baked goods. Oh yes, you can smell the croissants and pan au chocolat from your campsite. Heath swears the best pastries of the month were at a small campground in Lourdes, France just outside Pyrenees National Park. We stayed there for three nights for “the proximity to the national park” but Heath isn’t fooling anyone. It was the croissants.
And lastly, aires. Yes, those rest stops that I mentioned finding off the toll roads? Many of them offer overnight camping. We didn’t actually stay overnight at any aires during our trip, but we spent many afternoons dumping tanks, letting the kids play, and grabbing food. Which brings me to one other key part of RVing in France…
In the States, camping for free creates a few problems. Where are you going to refill your water? Where are you going to dump your black and grey tanks? Where are you going to throw out your garbage?!
For many campers, the answer is to grab a campground for a night and take care of the RV.
But in France, no need. You can find potable water, RV service stations, and plentiful public trash cans in most towns. Heck, you can find sorted recycling bins in almost every town too! France lives up to the hype and it was shockingly easy to find the services we need for the RV.
Related: All the Countries Where You Can RV
This is also where aires really become crucial. They are the best, easiest place to service your tanks, refuel (on gas, diesel, and propane), and even take out the trash while you’re driving down the highway.
RV Camping in France
Have you heard about camping in France before? It’s growing in popularity for international tourists like us and it blew us away!