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Truck or home? Clampdown on converted vans in French tourist spots

Some French ‘communes’ are stopping trucks, converted into mobile homes, staying overnight, but camper association calls ban illegal

If you do not mind roughing it a little, a small van equipped to sleep in has been a perfect solution for generations.

You wake up with a view of the sea, the mountain peaks, the medieval church in the village, or wherever a vehicle measuring less than 5m long and 2.3m wide can legally park.

Yet some municipalities have decided to restrict available parking.

Thanks to Covid, lockdowns and restrictions on hotels, restaurants and gatherings, many people in France have been choosing camping cars and furnished vans to get away. 

Read more: France's love of slow VW camper van holidays continues to grow

Read more: Camper van holidays booming in France after covid restrictions ease

The camping car association, Uni VDL, says 30,809 new campers and furnished vans were sold in France in 2021, some 23.5% more than in 2020.

A full quarter of the more than two million camping cars in Europe are French. However, towns, especially around the Mediterranean and on the south-western coast, are banning vans converted for camping from parking in areas prized by tourists in the summer.

Anglet, near Biarritz, is one example, prohibiting converted vans from parking at Kostaldea, with its splendid view over the Atlantic, from May 1 to the end of October.

Worry about rubbish and hygiene

Jean Yves Maisonnave, director of public spaces at Saint-Jean-de-Luz, told The Connexion: “They are vehicles during the day and used for camping at night, and camping in town is forbidden.

“It is not hard to see if they are camping. When you see the curtains drawn and steps down, it is clear. If not, it is legal parking.”

Mr Maisonnave, as others in towns across France do, cites the issue of hygiene and waste from campers who spend days in the same parking space.

He says the problem began in the 1990s and they have been restricting unauthorised camping ever since. 

Read more: These are the rules for wild camping in France

This is despite the fact that some areas are equipped with rubbish disposal and toilets.

There are designated camping spots

Jean-Paul Gourgues, deputy mayor of Anglet, insists the clampdown is nothing personal against van-lifers – more a case of pointing out where they can and cannot do it.

“There is no controversy,” he says. “We have 160 places reserved either side of the beach for camping cars and vans within 100m of the beach. 

“They have all the amenities, including water, electricity, toilets and sewage disposal.”

There are 4km of beach in Anglet, he says, and the city simply asks campers not to stay overnight in public parking areas in the urban zones.

Another tactic being used is installing bars as low as 1.9m at the entrance to car parks, as has been done in Saint-Jean-de-Monts in the Vendée. This prevents vehicles such as Ford Traffics or Citroën Jumpers entering.

Yet one municipal employee in Anglet said the rules can be hard to enforce: “If we cannot see inside to tell whether it is a camper or not, we cannot ticket them and make them move.”

Camping car association, Uni VDL, is fighting the restrictions

Nevertheless, the stricter measures have been met with fierce criticism from groups representing camper van owners.

Hervé Gautier, director of operations at Uni VDL, said: “This is an abusive practice which we are fighting.

“They are only allowed to put up barriers when there is a danger, such as a tunnel or bridge.

“The restrictions that some communes are imposing are completely illegal. Vans and camping cars have the right to access any parking area for cars.”

His association is taking legal action against towns that prevent vans and camping cars accessing parking areas.

Readers with converted vans of their own should be reassured that as long as you do not put chairs, barbecues and other camping paraphernalia outside, you are legally parked, according to French law.

You can stay for seven consecutive days in ordinary free-parking areas (not subject to meters).

Maximum vehicle dimensions might apply in some places.

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Campervans with trailers: are there special French rules for over 70s?

Explore France in a campervan or motorhome this summer

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