France was the first country that we ventured into with our Campervan from Italy. We had no idea what to expect, we don't speak any French and it was our first time travelling with a Campervan. Little did we know, the French are extremely Campervan friendly and within the first few hours of crossing the border, we were smiling and greeting fellow Campervans along the road!
We started off with great ambitions of possibly making our way to Bordeaux and Paris, but alas, we fell in love with the Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur and Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes countryside and ended up spending almost an entire month in only these two regions.
For our first night in France, we wanted to find a free camping site, as we had heard that there are many of these throughout France. We enjoyed a peaceful night, with only one other camper parked in the riverside forest just outside of the town of Barcellonette. For most of it, we found the Park4Night App very useful for identifying suitable camper parking spots throughout France and the rest of Europe. One should just make sure to read a few recent reviews, as the availability of some locations can change over time. We always want to feel comfortable where we set up camp for the night and not have to worry about possibly being woken up in the early hours of the morning by the local authorities! That doesn't mean that we haven't had our run-ins with the local authorities, but more about that later!
The next day we made our way towards Lac de Serre-Ponçon, the first of many idyllic azure freshwater lakes of France. It was the middle of July and we made no reservations beforehand, we simply rocked up at a chosen campsite and hoped for availability. This time we were in luck and nabbed ourselves a prime waterside spot at Camping Eygoires where we stayed for 3 nights. At €26.50 per night, this was our most expensive campsite in France, but for the location, it was well worth it.
We wanted to visit the historic town of Sisteron and found another free parking spot just overlooking the Cemetery and Citadelle of Sisteron. If you are entirely self-sufficient, these kinds of spots are perfect for saving money when visiting cities and not spending much time at the campsite itself. More than just functional, this spot also gave us stunning views out over the valley.
Our next attempted lakeside stop at Lac de Chaudanne was less successful. With no other campers in sight, we had an uneasy feeling about whether or not we were allowed to overnight next to this lake. We were just relaxing with an after-dinner drink, when the French Gendarmerie arrived and approached us - fully armed. They were very polite in their request that we may not overnight at our current location, but having three armed men in such close proximity definitely made our hearts beat a little faster! As it turns out, this lake feeds a Hydro-Electric Plant, which is quite understandable why it is not permitted to overnight here. We drove on to the closest town and after getting lost in the dark a couple of times, we found a suitable campsite to park for the night.
After an eventful evening, we were looking forward to our planned scenic drive through the Gorges du Verdon. Well, this turned out to be more of an adrenaline-filled activity than expected! The road was narrow and winding, with rocky outcrops extending overhead into the roadway. Our bulky old camper was definitely not the most suitable vehicle for the ride. When we eventually made it through the Gorge and around the stunning Lac Sainte-Croix, we were very happy to reach the Camping Roux Natural Area. As eager as we were to settle in, our timing was poor as it was lunchtime, which meant we had to wait outside the campsite until the office opened for the afternoon. This was the first time we realised how serious the French are about their lunchtime breaks!
As it turned out, it was well worth the wait, and we were allocated the very last available camping spot, right on the edge of the adjacent lavender fields for only €13.60 per night. The campsite is family owned and run and they even produce their own Rose Wine, Lavender Honey and Freshly Baked Croissants. Needless to say, we loved it so much that we extended our stay for an entire week! This was where we really got to experience the laid back lifestyle of the French Countryside. We meandered through lavender fields more beautiful than those on Instagram, we visited the weekly local fresh produce market in the nearby village of Riez by cycling through the expansive French farmlands and we spent countless hours relaxing along the pebbled shores of the picturesque and tranquil Lac Sainte-Croix.
Eventually, we tore ourselves away from our idyllic countryside campsite and made our way on to Mirabel-aux-Baronnies and Montélimar where we could once again camp for free at the respective municipal "Aire de camping-cars". The world capital of nougat, Montélimar has more than 12 confectioneries renown for its honey-drizzled candy. We visited Supreme Nougat where we got to see first hand how this delicious confectionery is made.
Trying to escape the pressing heat of August, we spent a night along the Rhône River and then made our way to Camping le bord du lac on the Lac de Paladru. This was the first time that we had a bit of a struggle to get an available nice camping spot and it was a taste of what the month of August is like in France. We happily paid the €21.60 per night and enjoyed our three days relaxing and swimming amongst the ever-increasing holidaymakers. We cannot rate the lakes of France highly enough. They are absolutely stunning in every regard, but if you can, try to visit them outside of the busy month of August, when it feels as though every other person from the whole of Europe is trying to do the same!
We had one more stop to make in France, before heading into Switzerland, and that was the famous town of Chamonix. We were lucky enough to find a camping spot at Camping Des Ecureuils for only €16.20 per night for three nights. This was perfectly located and would give us the chance to fully explore both Chamonix and Mont Blanc. We were grateful for the sudden change in temperature from heatwave to walking on glaciers! More about that in our How to make the most of your Mont-Blanc Multipass, Chamonix, France post.
In summary, we spent a total of 23 nights with our Campervan in the Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur and Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes Regions of France during July and August of 2018. Our most expensive campsite cost €26.50 per night, 6 nights were spent at free campsites, bringing our average cost over the 23 nights to only €12.74 per night. You could easily save by seeking out more free camping spots or you could choose to spend a whole lot more at the many luxurious campsites across the country.