The ultimate French camping experience.
If you want to take a break from the rat race and explore the serenity of rural France then what better way than to grab a tent and head off on a camping holiday?
France is noted for having some of the best campsites in Europe and there is no shortage of them. From the cosmopolitan west coast to the mountainous south there are excellent facilities on hand to make your stay as comfortable as possible.
Before you grab your rucksack and head off here are a few top tips for preparing for the ultimate French camping experience:
What to Pack
With the variety of campsites available there are plenty of different options for how you spend your time, but wherever you go there are some essentials you really shouldn't be without:
- A tent – an obvious one this, but the last thing you want to be doing is turning up for your first night of holiday fun only to realise that you literally will be sleeping beneath the stars.
- Mosquito repellent – France has lovely hot weather ideal for a summer holiday, but we are not the only species to enjoy it. If you don't want to spend the holiday scratching make sure you pack yourself a decent repellent and apply liberally.
- Toilet paper – Most campsites have shower blocks with toilet facilities, but often they will expect you to provide your own paper, so don't get caught short.
- Black plastic sacks – Once you're forced to live amongst it you'd be amazed how much litter the average family creates in a day, be a responsible camper and always clean up after yourself. Plastic bags can also be useful for ensuring items like shoes stay dry in all weather.
- Warm waterproof clothing – and talking of weather, you may be expecting cloudless skies and baking sun every day, but remember that when camping you are constantly exposed to the elements. Waterproof clothing can help you see out the worst unexpected storms and once night falls the temperature will drop dramatically, so make sure you have something warm to snuggle up in while you drink your cocoa.
- A torch – Darkness in the countryside can be remarkably different to the kind of darkness you find in a city. If you need to make your way from your tent to the toilet at 3am through a sea of guy ropes then you will quickly learn to appreciate your torch as your new best friend.
- Games – A busy campsite can become like a little community and nothing brings people together like a good game. You can quickly make friends with a football (just don't kick it around too near the tents) and a lot of French campsites have a table tennis table, so bringing a couple of bats and a supply of ping pong balls and you could even set up a mini tournament.
Plan Your Route
The great thing about camping is that you can pack up and move house whenever you like, allowing you to explore as much of France as you like.
However, camping holidays are exceptionally popular amongst the French and if you're going during peak season try to book spots in campsites where possible. This leaves you free to enjoy your day taking in the breathtaking scenery, without the worry of turning up to find yourself having to sleep in your car.
Before setting off try to exactly locate your campsite on a map. French country roads are not always brilliantly signposted so if you know what turnings to take then you can save a lot of time potentially driving round in circles.
Remember that you have a tent to put up when you arrive at your destination so try to leave enough daylight to make this relatively easy (at least as easy as putting up a tent can be).
Where to Stay
Best for Adventurers
Le Grand Champ, 167 chemin du Glacier de Taconnaz, Chamonix
Surrounded by the spectacular Mont Blanc mountain range there is plenty for the adrenaline junkie at this scenic camp site.
Pop down to the nearby town of Chamonix to indulge your inner adventurer with everything from mountain biking and hill walking to white water rafting and climbing.
Best to Quench Your Thirst
Le Poteau, Castelnau d'Auzan, Gers At this charming family-run campsite you can practically sleep amidst the vines as you pitch tent in the vineyard's shady orchards.
The owners regularly prepare a four-course meal for their guests in the covered communal eating area, including a plentiful supply of their own label white wine. And if you're not too full for a spot of exercise there are tennis courts and a pool a short walk away.
Best for the Beach
Camping Les Criques de Porteils, Corniche de Collioure, Argelès-sur-Mer It's quite a climb to this cliff-top campsite, but you are rewarded with a breathtaking view of the Mediterranean rarely enjoyed by the wealthiest of hotel inhabitants.
Campers get access to three private beaches and if you get sick of the sun lounger there is also a restaurant, bar, grocery store and tennis court. Situated just a 45-minute drive from the Spanish border there is plenty to explore nearby also.
Best for Getting Away from it all
Camping de L'Ouysse, Le Bourgnou, Lacave Pick your pitch on this sprawling Dordogne farm, from orchards to meadows there is a limit to the number of tents allowed on site at any one time so you're never going to get crowded in with the masses.
There are plenty of peaceful walking opportunities from this site, with expansive woodland just across a rope bridge and the price even includes use of a canoe.
Best for Retro Fun
Belrepayre Trailer Park, Bel Repayre, MansesMore retro-American than French, you can pitch tent here or, if you want the luxury of a roof over your head for the night, rent one of their original Airstream trailers (the silver kind you see in American movies).
The on-site Apollo lounge will have you wondering whether you've somehow travelled back in time to the 1950s and features regular DJ sets from the site owner. Sit back and relax during the day too with the relaxation area, including Canadian redwood hot tub.
There is little greater thrill than stopping in the middle of the wilderness, pitching up your tent and enjoying the serenity of being miles away from any other person.
Legally in France wild camping is a grey area, most landowners tolerate it as long as you ask permission first, particularly in the south around Saintes Maries-de-la-Mer in the Camargue. Just be sure to pack up and be off early, leave the site as you found it and don't light a fire.
Picture sources: Camping in the forest and signpost by
Steve & Jemma Copley; Camping equipment by
wetwebwork; Mont Blanc by
Virginia Manso; Airstream trailer (not at Belrepayre) by
MelvinPrice. All pictures licensed for commercial use at time of publication
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