More people visit France than any other country in the world, says the World Atlas. With more than 83 million visitors a year, the country outstrips the next most popular destination – the United States – by more than 10 million individuals.
Since it is our nearest neighbour, it is hardly surprising that France is also one of the most popular destinations for visitors from Britain. According to the latest figures from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), some 17 million Britons visit France every year.
It is an especial favourite of British caravanners, thanks not only to its proximity but also the ease of getting there – by ferry or by Channel Tunnel – and, of course, the huge variety of very different regions to visit in the country.
Yet, with your caravan in tow, all this is likely to come with quality accommodation and facilities at an affordable price, with the freedom and flexibility of the open road to explore many of the attractions France has to offer.
Your touring caravan may be a home away from home, capable of transporting and storing much more than the limited luggage allowance you would have if you fly or even the storage space you are likely to have if you take your own car with the intention of staying in hotels or guest houses. With a touring caravan, you are restricted only by the loaded weight limit of the trailer itself.
Once you are there, France offers countless attractions:
- the sheer diversity of that range of places to visit – from the romance of Paris to the glamour of the Cote d’Azur, from beach holidays, to rural retreats and winter sports in the mountains;
- fine wine and fine dining – often at a snip of the prices you might need to pay in the UK;
- a wide range of culturally and historically important heritage sites – France claims no fewer than 41 UNESCO World Heritage Sites;
- the weather is milder than the UK – and, in some parts, considerably warmer; and
- of course, there’s the challenge of a foreign language – the French having gained a (somewhat unfair) reputation for doing their best to maintain that language barrier, suggests a travel guide published by the Telegraph newspaper.
With so many reasons for hitching up your caravan and taking it with you across the Channel to France, therefore, this guide suggests some of the preparation that might go into such a trip and where to visit once you get there:
With those thoughts in mind, what actually happens on your next caravanning expedition to France is very much up to you.
What you need before you go
When you are planning any kind of caravanning trip abroad, there is a certain amount of paperwork that it is essential to have to hand before you go.
In all of the excitement to get away, it might be easy to overlook – or simply forget – some vital document or piece of paperwork that simply needs to be done, such as:
- ensuring that your passport is up to date – whilst there is still freedom of movement within Europe, your passport is likely to be needed as proof of identity;
- insurance documents – insurance for the car is essential and, although this might extend to third party cover for the caravan you are also towing, comprehensive touring caravan insurance may typically be necessary for effective protection of your caravan and its contents against theft, loss or damage;
- touring caravans manufactured after 1992 are automatically registered with the Central Registration & Identification Scheme (CRiS), a type of “log book” for caravans – if yours is not yet registered, you might want to consider the benefits of the security provided in the event of a theft, or some other incident, when you need to identify your tourer to the local authorities;
- a Camping Card International (popularly known as a camping “carnet”) maybe a useful means of earning yourself discounts at a number of French caravan sites – it is issued for a small fee by the Camping and Caravanning Club, amongst others, and membership of recognised clubs such as this may also earn you discounts on the cost of your touring caravan insurance;
- European campsite specialists, ACSI, also offer a range of discounts at various French campsites – especially if you are visiting out of season – together with guides to caravanning in France;
Preparing your caravan
- just as you might for any outing in your caravan, it is important to check that it is in perfect running order – especially if it has only recently come out of winter storage;
- My Caravan publishes a useful checklist of items you might want to make sure to cover, not just for the caravan itself but also the awning and other kit;
- safety is the primary consideration, of course, but keeping your caravan secure is also important and certain precautions may be a condition of your touring caravan insurance;
- hitchlocks, for example, make the towing head or hitch secure whilst you leave the caravan unattended but still hitched to your car;
- wheel clamps also help to immobilise the caravan when you need to leave it unattended whilst it is unhitched from the towing vehicle;
- other immobilisers act in the same way as a wheel lock, preventing the wheels turning by a lockable bolt which passes through the caravan’s axle or axles;
- intruder alarms detect the movement of any undesirable person making entry into your caravan and typically sound an audible alarm intended to frighten off the opportunistic thief;
- trackers – GPS monitoring helps to keep track of your caravan so that, if it is stolen, the device may be used to alert you and the local police to find out exactly where it has gone, whilst some smartphone apps also give you a warning that the caravan has been broken into or stolen;
- preparing your vehicle and caravan also needs to take into account the particular legal requirements of driving in France – not least because of the fixed penalties that you may otherwise face;
- there is a €135 penalty, for example, for failing to carry in your car a breakdown warning triangle or Hi-Viz tabard, €90 penalties for failing to convert your headlights for driving on the right or failing to display a GB sticker and €80 fine for failing to carry a spare set of lightbulbs;
- it is also compulsory to have on board a Breathalyzer kit. Visit The AA.com for a full list of what you need to have when driving in Europe.
Preparing for your caravanning trip to France is likely to be time well-spent and may head off one or two nasty surprises when you have already started your journey.
Getting yourself, your family and the caravan to France is a painless, smooth and speedy operation. Your options include:
Eurotunnel (“Le Shuttle”)
- this is the fastest way of crossing the Channel with your caravan, on a route that takes you from Folkestone to Calais in approximately 35 minutes – and vice versa;
- to get to the boarding point, take the M20 motorway and exit at the Cheriton Junction 11 for Folkestone;
- when you make a booking with a caravan, you are allocated a space on one of the single deck carriages, which are double the height of the double deck carriages and manoeuvring into position is made easier by the much wider entrance to these carriages;
- note that LPG-fuelled vehicles are not allowed on Le Shuttle, although the LPG you need for heating, refrigeration and cooking in your caravan may be carried in tanks with a capacity of up to 47kg, provided they are less than 80% full – and remember that any appliances which use the LPG must be turned off for the duration of the crossing;
- during the crossing, you stay inside your vehicle – something that might make travelling with your pets that much easier (but make sure that the animal has a valid “pet passport” to travel);
- the shortest – and therefore the fastest (at around an hour and a half) – is between Dover and Calais, but there are no fewer than four different companies providing crossings via 11 different routes to France;
- in addition to Dover-Calais, there are sailings between Newhaven and Dieppe, Dover to Dunkirk, Portsmouth to Caen, Portsmouth and Poole to Cherbourg, Portsmouth to Le Havre, Plymouth to Roscoff, Portsmouth and Plymouth to St Malo;
- although some of these routes take considerable longer than those between, say Dover and Newhaven, you might want to book yourself a cabin and treat the sailing as a mini-cruise.
Both Eurotunnel and ferry services therefore offer a wide range of travel options when it comes to transporting your caravan to France – and plenty of opportunities for making the Channel crossing all part of your foreign adventure.
It is impossible to detail every region of France worthy of a visit with your caravan in tow – there are simply so many, and personal tastes and preferences are going to determine your eventual choice.
Nevertheless, here are a few of the main areas that have traditionally attracted British visitors:
Pas de Calais
- you don’t have to drive much further than the Eurotunnel or ferry terminal in Calais to begin a tour of this northern most part of France;
- although dominated by the busy ferry ports of its coastline from Calais to Dunkirk, this is a region rich in the history of two world wars and the sombre monuments and cemeteries that bear testament to the many lives lost in combat;
- The Caravan Club recommends two campsite in this region – the Claire de Lune, at Maubeuge, and La Bien Assise, at Guines.
Central Northern France
- often described as the “garden of France”, this is the region where some of the finest fruit and vegetables are grown in the fertile valleys of the River Loire;
- enjoy the well-kept peace and tranquillity of the region’s parks and gardens, set amidst historic towns (such as Tours, Orleans and Chateauroux) and their impressive chateau;
- Huttopia Les Châteaux, at Bracieux, is a large camping and caravan site (282 pitches for touring caravans), set in stunning parkland, neighbouring famous chateau of the Loire – alternatively, head for Cheverny and the camping and caravan park at Les Saules;
- Brittany is the Celtic fringe of France – which jealously guards its own distinctive language (Breton), some say which is more akin to Welsh than French;
- it also boasts one of the most rugged and impressive coastlines in the whole of the country;
- it is very much a foreign land, yet also surprising close to the UK, with several ferry links into the very heart of the region;
- just a mile from the sandy white beaches of Finistere, is La Piscine camping and caravan site at Fouesnant, which offers a total of 115 pitches;
- Aquitaine is one of the largest and most diverse of French regions, in the west of the country, with a long Atlantic coastline;
- its capital is Bordeaux and the surrounding Dordogne is renowned for its magnificent countryside;
- on the coast, Biarritz has become one of the surfing capitals of Europe and just to the south of Bordeaux is the largest national park in Europe, the Landes de Gascogne;
- you will be spoilt for choice when it comes to deciding where to pitch your caravan and that is likely to depend on just what you want to see and do;
- if you want direct access to mile upon mile of sandy beaches and all manner of aquatic sports, you might choose the Camping Village and Resort Spa at Le Vieux Port in the south of the region, or if your preference is for discovering the stunning countryside around Perigord Vert of the Dordogne, you might choose Château Le Verdoyer, near the village of Champs Romain;
- the name alone conjures up all that is excellent – and expensive – in the finest French wine;
- whether you are a connoisseur already, or eager to discover the secrets and mystery of such noble wines, you might want to visit the ancient walled city of Beaune – the centre of the wine-making region;
- an excellent base for touring the vineyards of the region might be found at the 100-pitch site at Camping du Pont de Bourgogne, near the town of Saint-Marcel;
- also perfectly situated for both Beaune and Mâcon is the campsite at Le Château de l’Epervière, near Gigny sur Saone;
- you are likely to need deep pockets indeed to stay at the chic hotels of Cannes, Nice, St. Tropez or Monte Carlo – but your touring caravan affords just as easy access to these glamorous highlights, at a fraction of the price;
- with your own home on wheels where you can return whenever you choose, the days can be enjoyed soaking up the sun with the beautiful people or nights out on the town with the rich and famous.
- typical of the best the Côte d’Azur has to offer is Holiday Marina, in Port-Grimaud, near St. Tropez – this luxury caravan site even claims dual nationality, thanks to its English owners;
- just a stone’s throw from both St Tropez and Cannes is L’Etoile d’Argens, in Fréjus – Saint Aygulf – a four star caravan site with its own private jetty on the river and regular ferry services to the nearby beaches;
- if you have read Peter Mayle’s “A Year in Provence”, you might already have a taste for the long, sunny, laid-back – and quintessentially French – atmosphere of this region;
- an area very much in the hinterland of the Cote d’Azur – and seemingly a million miles away from all that glitz and glamour – Provence is a region of densely wooded valleys and densely wooded hills and rolling countryside, scattered with quaint villages that hug the hillsides and are surrounded by vineyards and the heady scent of lavender;
- blessed by the best of a Mediterranean climate, Domaine du Verdon, in the stunning gorge of the same name is ideal for a visit in either high or low season – this well-equipped camping and caravan site is also run by English-speaking owners, who are able to make your stay relaxed and trouble-free;
- whether you want to see the wild horses of the Camargue in their element, the medieval majesty of Villeneuve or the legendary bridge at Avignon, the Camping and Caravanning Club recommends the L’Ile des Papes caravan site as the ideal base from which to explore western Provence;
- if you want the warm, balmy weather of the Mediterranean, but also want to avoid the hustle and bustle of the Cote d’Azur, the Languedoc Roussillion region, situated further west along the coast, offers life at a much slower, traditionally French pace of life in a largely unspoilt environment;
- although off the beaten track, the names of the most notable towns are still likely to ring familiar and include the regional capital, Montpellier, the ancient Roman city of Nimes, the 10th century, medieval settlement of Perpignan and the strategically situated town of Carcassonne, which is dominated by its medieval fortress;
- you might want to avoid the crowds drawn to the Carcassone Festival in July, but the four-star caravan site California, at Barcares, on the coast, makes for the ideal base from which to explore both Carcassonne and Perpignan, followed by lazy days just stretched out on its sandy beaches;
- for a base in the foothills of the Pyrenees, close to the pocket-sized principality of Andorra, you might want to choose one of the 126 touring pitches at the Caravan Club’s recommended site of Huttopia Font Romeu, at Font Romeu;
- staying with the mountain theme, you might instead be drawn to the French Alps in the east of the country;
- although probably best known for its winter sports, the historic region of the Rhones-Alpes is a visitor attraction at any time of the year;
- the regional capital Lyon is itself a UNESCO World Heritage site, but you also have the Roman spa and Alpine resort of Aix-les-Bains, the centre for winter sports at Chamonix, near Mont Blanc, and the historical wonders and cultural allure of Chambéry and Grenoble;
- perfect for getting to know the capital, is the year-round camping and caravanning site at Indigo Lyon, with its 182 pitches for touring caravans;
- if you are looking for equally well-appointed facilities – including your own water park – in the more rural setting of the Ardèche, you might want to check out Domaine les Ranchisses, near the town of Largentière;
- the Vendée is in the central western part of France, where the River Loire meets the Atlantic Ocean;
- the region is one of the most popular destinations for both French and foreign visitors, many of whom are drawn to the mile upon mile of sandy beaches, or the peace and tranquillity of the area’s small villages and communities inland;
- camping and caravanning sites near the coast are perfect for family holidays – such as La Chênaie, on the Loire estuary, which not only boasts its own safari park, but also an ice-cream factory – for the delight of youngsters and grown-ups alike;
It is probably little wonder that France remains one of the top destinations for touring caravans from the UK. It is easy to get there – by tunnel or by ferry – and once you arrive, you are likely to be thoroughly spoilt for choice when it comes to selecting a destination.
France remains a country of contrasts, in which the sheer diversity of landscapes, historical associations and cultural idiosyncrasies offer opportunities to cater for practically any taste.
Whether you have been there before or intend making your first visit, an ideal way to sample something of all that France has to offer, is to hitch up your caravan and head off there now.