Holiday across France with go-anywhere vans

A glass of rosé at the end of a day’s driving and a chance to relax under the awning. The first VW Combi vans hit the streets 70 years ago next year. This California Ocean is ideal for a couple to head off for a fortnight

Living in France means all of Europe is in your lap for holidays so campervans and motorhomes make it just a drive away. This month sees the giant SVL leisure vehicle exhibition in Paris and Ken Seaton had a look at the market

Anyone driving France’s roads this summer cannot miss the constant flow of campervans and motorhomes from here and all over Europe.

Hundreds of thousands of couples and families grab a chance for a get-away-from-it-all holiday in the world’s No 1 destination with fabulous beach, river and mountain scenery allied to history and gastronomy.

It also has an autoroute network that makes fast travel easy without stress.

As a bonus, parking is available anywhere a car can park with overnighting possible unless specifically banned or on a public road.

It is one of the fastest-rising holiday phenomena, with the number of vanistes doubling from 10 years ago to 504,881 vans on the road today.

But that liberty comes at a price.

Buy new and you are looking at tens of thousands of euros – although resale values are good – with significant running costs as these are heavy vehicles with a thirst. Some larger motorhomes are also charged péage tolls the same as much larger lorries.

For years, larger motorhomes have been the No 1 market – Europe’s motorway network made it easy – and  Citroën’s camping-car manager Pascal Bélot said the typical buyer was “55 years old, spending €55,000”.

Suitcases fitted easily in the boot, with room for more, and the raised door hides two fold-out picnic chairs

Today, however, smaller vans similar to the classic 50-year-old VW Camper (while still not cheap) are a rising trend, being used as main cars and as “nomad” vehicles to head off for a night, weekend or fortnight.

Costs vary enormously depending on facilities – simple vans such as the VW California have no toilet – and also on age. If buying in France, the Monde du Camping-Car magazine often lists new prices while rival Camping-Car has secondhand. The resulting lists can be, frankly, baffling.

Called camping-cars in France, the market is split into fourgons (vans) with a large car-sized van chassis and simple accommodation, going up to the larger ...

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