Make sense of... Camping in France
If camping conjures up images of cooking sausages on a camp stove, sleeping bags and chemical toilets you might want to think again
Since 2010 campsites in France may have a star rating up to five, like hotels, and you can be sure of not having to rough it if you go for one of the high-end options or certain select sites offering a ‘glamping’ (glamorous camping) experience.
What is more camping no longer just refers to tents, or even to caravans, mobile homes and chalets, but may include a raft of more exotic options to suit every whim.
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- Yurts – a large round Mongolian tent traditionally covered in felt or animal skin
- Saharan nomad’s tents
- Classic ‘Airstream’ aluminium caravans
- Romany caravans (roulotte or verdine) or western-style covered ‘chuck waggons’
- ‘Megapods’ – a tent-shaped wood cabin
- Treehouses – often real ‘homes in the trees’; another new variant is floating cabins on a lake…
- ‘Lodges’ – light canvas and wood constructions, with an ‘Out of Africa’ feel...
Types of campsite
A week’s luxury ‘camping’ might cost a family €1,000 or more but depending on your requirements, of course, basic camping options still exist – including bare pitches to install your own tent or caravan, from around €15 a night.
Camping pitches equipped with water, electricity and a drain are labelled confort caravane while ones linked to the sewerage system are grand confort caravane.
Some sites stress ‘ecological’ credentials, such as those with the label La Clef Verte (laclefverte.org). Some other kinds of campsite include:
Aire naturelle – a very basic site with no individual access to electricity, water, drains etc; for tents and caravans only.
Camping rural or camping à la ferme – offered by farmers; often under one of two labels: Bienvenue à la ferme (bienvenue-a-la-ferme.com) or Accueil paysan (accueil-paysan.com/en/). Expect to meet your host and to be offered local products, excursions and insights into their work.
Not all campsites have to be star-rated, though many are. If a site is unrated it does not necessarily mean it is bad, it has just not undergone the required inspection recently.
You can choose a star-rated site at the official site for French tourism: classement.atout-france.fr/hebergements-classes
Here are some of the differences depending on star level (they are cumulative):
1* Up to 100 pitches per hectare, with basic, functional facilities and hygiene standards
2* Reception staffed in day-time; a room for meetings or entertainment; washroom(s) with ‘individualised’ sinks
3* No more than 90 pitches/ha; a ‘major’ level of comfort/facilities; staffed 24-hours a day with English spoken at the reception; a children’s play area; services such as internet access in common areas, and a bar
4* No more than 80 pitches; food shop on site or nearby; extras like washing machines
5* Extensive communal living spaces, a pool, internet access at pitches and in communal areas, heated shower and toilet areas; optional extras such as a spa, massage, hairdresser, tennis, fitness training etc.
Many higher-rated campings pride themselves on their pool, which may be equipped with slides, hot tub spas etc.
Some will offer a children’s club or crèche and even ‘le baby club’.
Some locations offering high-end accommodation of a one-off kind, often in beautiful locations, may be described as ‘glamping’ (see https://glamping.fr/ for a selection). But these are often smaller-scale places perhaps suited to a romantic getaway rather than an all-singing and dancing family site with lots of entertainment and water slides.
There is no specific rule on what exact equipment accommodation like chalets or mobile homes must have, and they range from basic (gas cooking facility, fridge and crockery) to ones with dishwashers, freezers and even ‘domotics’ (remote-controlled shutters and lighting etc).
The same applies to washing or sanitation facilities, which may include fully plumbed-in private loos.
Glamping may offer luxurious beds, high-class outdoor furniture, bikes for all the family, TV with video-on-demand, and private spas. The price-tag of some locations is also partly justified by extensive services –for example some might fill your fridge with food before you arrive, meet you at the airport, offer car rental etc.
When it comes to eating options, many campings offer brasserie-style eateries and some even have a gastronomic restaurant.
Things to consider before booking
What type of site do you want? Basic or luxurious? Traditional or exotic? Naturist?
Facilities and location – Do you want to be in the mountains or by the seaside? How close will your pitch be to the village or sea? Does it have access to activities like watersports or riding nearby?
Rental price for the period, including taxe de séjour and price of optional extras; requirements for a reservation fee, a deposit or insurance.
What entertainments or sports are included and are they at limited times of the year?
What shops are on site or locally?
What crockery or bedlinen is provided?
Do they take pets?
There are many websites on camping, but aside from the official Atout France listings (see ‘star system’) campingfrance.com hosts a particularly extensive selection of campsites which you can search by many criteria and it is endorsed by the Fédération Française de Camping et de Caravanning (ffcc.fr). Search using the map then use affiner la recherche section to narrow down your choice by factors like star-rating, size or types of facilities.
The image here was drawn by artist Perry Taylor. For more of his work see www.perrytaylor.fr