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Have you ever thought about taking your leisure vehicle across the Channel and exploring France your way? The beauty of having a home on wheels is that you’ll be in control of your entire trip - you’ll be able to stay where you fancy, for as long or as little time as you like!
Leisure vehicle holidays offer total freedom and there really is nothing else like it. With all you need on board to be self-contained, you won’t need to rely on hotels or even campsites if you fancy a bit of wild camping or ‘le camping sauvage’ as the French call it!
This is quite common in France and French law allows wild camping on roadsides and public land (as long as there are no restrictions in place) allowing you to pitch up wherever you find yourself and get a good night’s rest.
It is also permitted on private land with the landowner’s permission. Keep in mind that camping in coastal areas, protected natural sites and historic monument sites are all prohibited. Visit lecampingsauvage.fr to find out more about the rules of wild camping.
In France, local town councils often run ‘aire de services’ which are free, private camping areas. These can be found beside motorways for caravanners and motorhomes who need a place to stop for the night, as well as in other areas for free overnight stays too. Although they may not offer a holiday destination, they are useful if you’re touring the country and need places to park up overnight.
There’s also the option to plan your trip more precisely if you prefer and book campsites along the way. So whether you plan to stay in one place for the duration of your trip, or pitstop your way up and down the country, you’ll find plenty of attractive and well-organised campsites to choose from.
What part should you visit?
When choosing which part, or parts of France to visit, you really are spoilt for choice! The country is made up of 13 regions with Brittany, Normandie, Hauts-de-France and Grand Est to the north, Occitane and Provence-Alpes-Cote d’Azur to the south. There are a further six regions located more centrally and Corsica is off the southern coast in the Tyrrhenian Sea between France and Italy.
Where you decide to visit may largely depend on how far you’re willing to travel and whether you’re after a one-destination holiday or a number of pit stops. You may wish to choose an area and pit stop around it, moving on every day or so, or simply drive to one place and relax! You could also drive down to the south of France with a few stops en route and then hop around different locations once you’re there.
To give you an idea of approx travel times:
Le Harve to Nice (north to south) - 16 hours
Calais to Dijon (north to east) - 8 hours
St Malo to Bordeaux (north to west) - 6.5 hours
Cherbourg to Lyon (north to east) - 10 hours
Dieppe to Limogues (north to central) - 6 hours 45 mins
You could also choose to holiday in many locations in the northern regions which would give you a reduced travel time, but remember the weather won’t be as warm!
Roscoff to Brest - 1 hour
St Malo to St Nazaire - 2.5 hours
Cherbourg to Laval - 3 hours
Caen to Paris - 4 hours
Le Harve to Le Mans - 4 hours
Dieppe to Rouen - 1 hour
Calais to Lille - 1 hour 15 mins
There are many different ferry operators to choose from, with each of them offering different routes with a range of departure and arrival ports, and not forgetting the Eurotunnel! The choice of routes include:
Portsmouth - Cherbourg
Portsmouth - Saint-Malo
Portsmouth - Caen
Portsmouth - Le Harve
Poole - Cherbourg
Plymouth - Roscoff
Dover - Calais
Dover - Calais
Dover - Dundirk
Newhaven - Dieppe
Poole - Saint-Malo
Folkestone - Calais
Planning your journey
Once you’ve decided where you’re going, it’s a good idea to plan your journey. If you’re doing one big journey down or across the country, you should consider breaking it up with an overnight stop. This is a particularly good idea if you’re travelling with kids as they’ll get fed up in the car for hours on end, and also if you’ve had a long ferry journey - driving tired is a no no!
So have a think about where you could stop overnight and pencil it in on your route so you have something to aim for on the first day. Remember that there is the option of the aire de services that can be found on many French motorways for a free night’s stay.
Something else to consider before you go is that you’ll be driving on French roads, which will mean driving on the right hand side! Driving in France is actually a very pleasant experience as there is far less traffic there than there is in the UK and the roads are spacious and well-maintained. Keep in mind that road signs will be in French, but remember that you can use Google Maps to help you!
Remember to take plenty of drinks, snacks and things to keep the kids entertained en route and factor in time for toilet and meal stops.
When’s best to go?
The weather will depend on which part of France you opt for. The north of France is much like England so late spring to early autumn is probably the best time to go if you’re after some warmth! Same goes for the east as the winters are very cold so as far as caravanning and motorhoming goes, it may be best avoided in the winter. In the west, the winters are mild but damp and the south is very hot in the summer and mild in the winter making year-round visits doable, but you may consider avoiding the hottest months of the year - July and August - perhaps!
Top tips for a smooth French getaway…
If you’re new to caravanning or motorhoming, it’s a good idea to do a few local trips before embarking on a trip overseas! This will ensure that you’re 100% comfortable with driving or manoeuvring the vehicle and that you’re familiar with how everything on it works.
Double check that you are covered on your vehicle insurance to drive in France prior to travel.
Whilst travelling around France you must carry your passports, driving licence, V5 and evidence of insurance. You should also have a first aid kit, a warning triangle and a UK sticker on both the car and caravan or motorhome. You are also advised to carry spare bulbs and a hi-vis vest for everyone on board.
There are a lot of tolls in France so be prepared for these by keeping a card or cash close to hand and keep in mind that tolls can cause delays during busy times.
Be sure to book your ferry or Eurotunnel tickets early to get the best price! Unless you’re travelling with school-age children try to plan your trip for term-time to get even lower prices.
Before you book anything, make sure your passports are in order and that you have travel insurance to cover you and your party whilst you’re abroad.
Make sure that your motorhome or caravan has been serviced in the last 12 months to ensure it is in tip top condition for the longer journey. If towing a caravan, make sure your car is as it should be and that you’ve checked the oil and tyres etc in advance of the trip. Same goes for campervans!
If it’s your first time taking your leisure vehicle on a ferry / the Eurotunnel, just remember to take it slowly and calmly and let those working on board help guide you on and off if you’re unsure.
Remember to pack all your usual caravan / motorhome trip items, plus it’s a good idea to purchase an electric adapter with a standard French domestic-type socket. An additional 12m hook up cable would be handy too in case your pitch is a little distance away from the electric supply.
Remember to pack any must-have English items that you can’t live without such as Marmite and Cadbury’s chocolate - you may not be able to get certain things over there and what you are able to get may be a lot higher priced.
Make sure you’ve got all you need for your upcoming trip - pop into our accessory shop to check out our wide range of items! If you’d like some advice on taking your leisure vehicle to France, give us a call on 01962 714 844 for a chat or pop in and see us at our Colden Common showroom!
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