France - a camping paradise with campsites for everyone this summer

Samantha David shares her favourite places to holiday under canvas, in a mobile home or a caravan, including a huge site in Paris

Le Camp, Tarn-et-Garonne, offers Out of Africa luxury and wild swimming; Camping Gorges du Loup is set high in the mountains above the Riviera

France has such an incredible variety of amazing countryside that it’s no wonder the French love to sleep under canvas.

France has more campsites than any other country in Europe and worldwide, only the US has more.

According to the Fédération Française des Campeurs, Caravaniers et Camping-Caristes, in 2021, 22 million campers spent 129 million nights sleeping outside – yes you read that right!

Some 70% of them were French and the rest were foreign holiday-makers.

With 7,592 campsites in France offering 872,647 pitches, there really is something to suit everyone.

Home on wheels

Motorhomes are increasingly popular, and many people just rent them for their holidays rather than opting for the considerable investment of buying one.

They are ideal for dog owners, and people wanting to see a lot of France in one trip.

The option of staying in a mobile home parked in a camp site can be convenient for families with young children.

Options under canvas

Purists prefer canvas however, and there is plenty of choice when it comes to places to pitch your tent.

Campsites range from deliberately rustic through to the unashamedly luxurious, and with a little research it is even possible to camp outside a campsite.

Although camping sauvage and le bivouac both involve sleeping in the wilderness, they are slightly different. A bivouac implies only one night and with only the tiniest of tents.

It is aimed at long-distance walkers and mountaineers spending time in national and regional parks who do not want to leave the trail at nightfall.

Generally speaking you are not supposed to use tent pegs, light a fire or leave your belongings outside once you go to sleep.

Leaving soon after daybreak and taking your rubbish with you is also part of the deal. And if you’re leaving something unmentionable, you are supposed to bury it rather than decorate it with loo paper.

The exact rules change from park to park so check websites and tourist offices beforehand.

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

Outside the big parks, camping sauvage is allowed, as long as the owner of the land does not object, and there are no bylaws against it.

Finding suitable spots is tricky but has a handy map of sites.

You might also find good spots by asking at tourist offices.

Most camping sauvage involves camping cars, because they have their own lavatories on board.

Gardens and farms

There is a growing network of householders who allow people to camp in their gardens.

This may sound fine but in practice many are unlicensed campsites where you pay to camp and use facilities such as loos and showers.

Many farms offer camping, and this is more likely to be licensed and regulated.

Beach rules

When it comes to the seaside, it is legal to sleep on a beach, but illegal to camp. So you cannot pitch a tent, but you can snuggle up in a sleeping bag on the sand.

Lighting any kind of fire on a beach is illegal and can land you with a fine of €38.

Leaving rubbish behind, however, could see you fined €1,500.

Camp in Paris

If your heart yearns for culture, why not camp in Paris? Yes, there is a huge campsite in the Bois de Boulogne in the 16th arrondissement.

It has more than 500 pitches, offering everything from simple grass pitches for two-person tents (with electricity, of course) to full-blown glamping, mobile-home hire and spaces for camping cars.

The shower blocks have recently been refurbished and there are multiple catering options including a food truck, free Wi-Fi, free parking, and a big playground for children.

The big attraction is the City of Light of course, but the Bois itself is well worth exploring and children may never want to leave.

Bois de Boulogne attractions

Sprawling across 2,088 acres, the Bois de Boulogne is only slightly smaller than London’s Richmond Park.

Within its boundaries are several gardens, lakes, a waterfall, and the Château de Bagatelle with its rose garden containing more than 9,000 plants.

The water lilies on the pond were famously painted by Monet. The Orangerie hosts the annual Festival of Chopin.

The Louis Vuitton Foundation contains an art museum and cultural centre.

In the Pré Catelan don’t miss the Shakespeare Garden which contains examples of all the trees, bushes and flowers mentioned in Shakespeare’s plays.

The Jardin d’Acclimatation is heaven for children, with a zoo, petting farm, and an amusement park, mini-golf, archery, a house of mirrors, a narrow-gauge railway, pony rides, carousels, a puppet theatre, a variety of roller coasters, a Korean garden and many other attractions.

There are also several botanical gardens with greenhouses, two horse-racing tracks, and the Stade Roland Garros, where the French Open tennis tournament is held.

You can hire bicycles to explore the park, and boats to row on the lake.

Luxury safari-style

For a truly luxurious experience with Out of Africa overtones, try Le Camp in Varen (Tarn-et-Garonne) which has seven beautiful safari tents pitched around two hectares of stunning countryside.

They come equipped with wooden beds, sofas, solar lighting, cushions and rugs.

Some of them even have en suite facilities and there is a natural swimming pool surrounded by woods.

The campsite is equidistant from Albi and Montauban and close to some stunning hilltop villages, including Cordes-sur-Ciel.

There are multiple opportunities to go canoeing and kayaking in the area. (You sit down in a kayak, which has a closed top, and you use a double-bladed paddle. In a canoe you kneel or sit in an open-topped vessel and use a single-bladed paddle).

Cycling, hiking and swimming in rivers and waterfalls are also on the menu.

For garden lovers

Very close to Le Camp is Les Jardins de Quercy which are stunningly beautiful.

The €5 entrance ticket is left in an honesty box, which sets the mood for the visit – serene and trusting.

Explore the different areas and enjoy the creative landscaping as well as the planting.

Each garden has a different theme. Highlights include a self-service tea room, and Moroccan and Indian gardens.

Mediaeval trip

Don’t miss a stroll around the atmospheric mediaeval lanes of Saint-Antonin Noble Val, particularly on a Sunday morning when the market is in full swing.

This was the location for much of the outdoor shooting on Lasse Hallström’s 2014 film The Hundred Foot Journey starring Helen Mirren, Om Puri, Manish Dayal and Charlotte Le Bon and it is wonderfully photogenic.

Stargazing evening

Take advantage of the hills and spend an evening at Le Refuge aux Etoiles, an open-air observatory where you can watch the planets through massive telescopes and even see Saturn’s rings.

The session is run by a professional astronomer.

Stay on a family farm

For a real taste of life on a working farm, La Ferme de Croas Men in Brittany is perfect.

The campsite has been run for twenty years by succeeding generations of the Cotty family, who also manage the working farm.

They have 45 cows and grow all their feed, and also have donkeys, goats, sheep, ducks, rabbits, chickens and a pig called Max.

There is a museum of farm machinery and you can also visit the family’s original house complete with beaten-earth floor, four-poster bed and grandfather clock.

You can even have an old-fashioned breakfast there, of pancakes and fresh bread with farm jams.

Children (supervised by their parents) can watch the milking, help feed the animals and watch all the farm activities throughout the day.

There are rides on the tractor or in a donkey cart and lots of countryside walks through sunken lanes.

Day trip to Morlaix

The site is only 10 minutes from Morlaix, with its pancake cafés, impressive viaduct and pretty marina.

Wander the cobbled streets and marvel at how the higgledy-piggledy houses manage to stay upright.

La Maison à Pondalez is an amazing construction housing an eclectic local museum, and you can also visit the half-timbered Maison dite de la Duchesse Anne which dates back to 1520-30.

It is built around an internal covered courtyard called a lantern because of the way it conducts light into all the rooms.

Hansel and Gretel huts

Over in the east of France they love camping so much that some campsites are open in the winter as well as the summer.

One of them is Camping Les Castors in Alsace.

Set beside the River Doller, it offers a fishing lake as well as a lake for swimming.

They have Hansel and Gretel wooden huts, log cabins, tree-houses, and mobile homes as well as the usual pitches for tents, caravans, and camping cars.

They also have a restaurant, a bar, a laundry, and a grocery. Dogs are allowed and the site is wheelchair accessible.

There is also a little village of half-timbered Alsatian houses that sleep from four to eight people.

Each is painted a different colour and interiors feature exposed beams, traditional crockery, and Alsatian decor. Access is via a cobblestone path made of pink sandstone.

Stay in winter

While in the area, look out for Kaysersberg, one of France’s most beautiful towns. Climb up to the ruined castle for spectacular views.

In the summer, ask at the tourist office about local festivals, and in winter, enjoy the town as a living Christmas card. You can also access the ski slopes directly from the centre.

Camp with a view

In the south, Camping Gorges du Loup is set high in the mountains above the Mediterranean, just 35 minutes by car from the Riviera.

The campsite has fabulous views and 70 pitches plus a few chalets and mobile homes set on the old terraces where roses and lavender once grew.

There is a swimming pool, a restaurant and bar, a playground, and a TV room.

Activities on offer nearby include cycling, hiking, canyoning, paintball and karting.

The site is very near the beautiful mediaeval village of Le-Bar-sur-Loup, which has a Saturday morning market.

There is a larger market on Friday mornings in Valbonne.

Afterwards, a leisurely walk along the Sentier de la Vallée de la Brague is a great way to cool off and unwind.

There are several swimming spots and lots of places to enjoy a picnic. If you are tired, you can take the bus back from Biot.

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