We visited France for the first time in 2018 and were impressed with just how Camper friendly France is. This time was no different, and it was with fond memories that we once again started to greet fellow campers as we passed each other along the road. Anyone who has travelled Europe in a Camper will attest to this camper greeting culture being very characteristic of France more so than most other countries.
In 2018 we spent about a month in the Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur and Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes regions. This time we entered France at the Southeast coastal border with Italy and travelled predominantly along the French Riviera / Côte d'Azur all the way to the Southwest coastal border with Spain.
Can you free camp in France?
The answer to this question is both yes and no. No, you are not legally allowed to wild camp (le camping sauvage) anywhere in France. But yes, there are plenty of designated parking places where you can park a Camper and overnight for free. What we enjoy most about the camper culture in France, however, is the abundance of fairly priced "AIRE" camper stops.
What is a Camper AIRE in France?
An "AIRE" is best described as a designated free or very cheap camper area in France. They can be private although most are run by the local municipality. They usually provide all the necessary services required for Campers as well as a designated space to legally overnight. For the small price of a few EURO, we generally prefer having this reassurance that we will not be woken up in the early hours of the morning by the local authorities asking us to move! Some only provide servicing facilities without space to overnight, and these are known as "Aire de service".
Camping vs Parking
Perhaps the most important thing to understand is the distinction between PARKING versus CAMPING, as the rules that apply to each of these are different. In France, a camper is generally allowed to park in a similar manner to a car (some areas may of course have specific regulations with regards to Camper parking). It is however important to note that as soon as any other part of the vehicle (such as stabilizers, awnings etc) is in contact with the ground, then this is considered camping and may not be allowed in 'parking only' areas. Many designated camper parking areas may also have defined maximum stay periods such as 24, 48 or 72 hours.
The map below shows our 2021 route through France along the French Riviera / Côte d'Azur. The blue "P" locations are where we overnighted at designated Camper AIRE or Camper Car Parks and the green tree is a free wild camp location that we overnighted at for a few nights.
How to find Camper Parking in France
The Park4Night App is 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 and regulations of some locations can change over time.
In 2021 we discovered the Camping-Car Park App which has the added benefit of showing live information about how many places are available at each location and if you subscribe (2022 price of 29 EUR for a year) then you can even reserve a place in advance. These parking areas cost around 9-14 EUR per 24 hours, most provide electricity and some even include WiFi.
If you are looking for more rural settings that are linked to local agriculture and in particular wine farmers, you may also want to consider France Passion. We have not yet made use of this network but it has many positive reviews.
What does it cost to travel by Camper in France?
In summary, we spent a total of 17 nights with our Campervan in France during October of 2021. Our most expensive Camping Car Park cost just €13.11 per night and we spent 3 nights wild camping for free, bringing our average cost over the 17 nights to only €9.74 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 and particularly along the coast.