If you are planning to move to France, but haven’t yet decided whereabouts you’d like to live, one of the best and least expensive ways of getting to know different areas is by camping, and taking advantage of some of the many well-run campsites that can be found all over the country. If you don’t fancy life under canvas, don’t worry, most also rent out static homes, cabins, and even tree-houses, and are a much cheaper option than hotels, especially for families.
The French love camping. They love being outdoors and at one with nature, and they truly appreciate their country’s varied and extraordinary scenery. Even French food lends itself to camping – with all the fresh bread, charcuterie, cheese, tarts… they all make outdoor life easy and a pleasure. And don’t forget that wine in a box – or what the French more romantically call Fontaine du Vin, or wine fountain, is very convenient when camping.
So what can you expect from a French campsite, and which are the most popular areas for camping?
Campsites in France are well-run and friendly, and most French campers, including the young, are naturally respectful towards others. There are over 11,000 registered camp sites in France, almost half the total number in Europe. Of these, some 6,000 are ranked from between one to five stars.
All categories must provide showers, lavatories and washing areas, but you can usually expect to find dish-washing sinks, power points, wardens, safe-keeping for valuables and washing machines. The more highly starred campsites also have swimming pools, recreation areas for children, restaurants, cafés or snack bars, as well as shops for essential items.
The campsites that are not ranked tend to be smaller, more natural areas where only certain essential amenities are provided, known as Aire Naturelle de Camping. Alternatively, some farmers may offer a small area for up to six pitches, known as Camping à la Ferme.
Below are listed some of the most popular areas in France for British tourists and home-owners, with examples of popular campsites in each.
With its sun, sea and mountains, the rivers Garonne and Dordogne and the lovely city of Bordeaux, Aquitaine is a wonderful region for both living and having holidays.
There are some 880 campsites in Aquitaine. Of them, two of the most popular are:
Le Ruisseau, Bidart, Pyrénées Atlantiques, 5 star
Located in the heart of the Basque country, not far from the towns of Biarritz and Bayonne and close to beaches and two fishing lakes, this campsite has pitches and mobile homes, chalets and modern bungalows, and more luxurious EcoLodges.
It also has a huge water park, a heated indoor pool, and a spa. For children there’s a mini-club, a mini-farm and several play areas.
Le Palace, Soulac sur Mer, 4-star
Located near the Gironde estuary and the beaches of the Atlantic Ocean, close to many beautiful sites of the Médoc, this campsite has semi-shaded pitches for tents, caravans and camper vans, as well as cottages and chalets.
There is also an immense water park, a heated indoor pool for swimming, and hot tubs.
Brittany is geographically diverse, with rugged and rocky north and west coasts, open to the North Atlantic, and a flatter south coast, facing the Bay of Biscay, with many large sandy beaches. Much of inland Brittany is gentle farming country, famous for its milk, butter and early crops.
There are over 860 campsites in Brittany, of which two popular ones are:
Village L’Océan Breton, Lesconil, Plobannalec, 5-star
Ideally situated to explore the best of Brittany, such as fishing port of Guilvinec, the Glénan Islands, Quimper and its cathedral, the medieval village of Locronan and the fortified town of Concarneau.
This campsite has chalets, luxury lodges, cosy cottages, yurts and furnished tents, as well as large pitches for tents, motorhomes and caravans just minutes from the Atlantic.
There is an indoor heated swimming pool, an outdoor pool, whirlpool baths and a lagoon. The nearby spa has a sauna, massages and treatments.
Le Vieux Moulin, Erquy, 4-star
Located between Cap d’Erquy and Cap Fréhel in the heart of the Côtes d’Armor, this is a wonderful base to explore the beaches and cliffs of Erquy, as well as Dinan and Paimpol on the Côte d’Emeraude. There are wonderful views of Saint-Brieuc Bay, and boat trips to Ile de Bréhat.
Open to tents, motorhomes and caravans, there are also spacious fully-equipped mobile homes.
The campsite has an outdoor heated pool, a rapid river, heated paddling pool and large water slide, as well as an indoor pool and whirlpool bath. There’s also a multi-sport field, gym, beach volleyball. The kids’ club puts on fun activities including creative workshops, sports tournaments and a bouncy castle.
Nestled between the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea, the Midi-Pyrénées is the largest region of France, and includes the mountainous section of the Pyrenees along the border between France and Spain.
It is a region of sharp contrasts, being densely populated around Toulouse, while the rest of the region has one of the lowest population densities in Europe, enjoying a slow pace of life and gentle, hilly countryside studded with farms.
There are over 760 campsites in the Midi-Pyrenees, of which two popular ones are:
Village Le Lac des Trois Vallées, Lectoure, 5-star
Located in the hilly landscapes of Gers, Lectoure is an old Gallo-Roman town surrounded by ramparts with a rich architectural heritage, including the Cathedral of St-Gervais, the old bishops’ palace and the Diane fountain.
The campsite offers a range of secluded pitches, as well as cottages, mobile homes and furnished tents. They also have Saharis on stilts, resembling traditional fisherman’s cabins with panoramic terraces.
The lagoon-shaped pool overlooks the Gers Valley, but there is also a heated swimming pool with multi-lane slides. There are also saunas, spas, hydro massage jets and Jacuzzis, as well as spa treatments.
Domaine de Duravel, Duravel, 4 star
Located between Cahors and Villeneuve-sur-Lot, with nearby attractions including the Château de Bonaguil, the old town of Puy-L’Evêque and the Padirac Cave.
The campsite has hay-lined pitches for motorhomes, caravans or tents, as well as furnished tents, mobile-homes and bungalows, and a complex with two pools and a water slide, and a children-only pool.
Normandy has beautiful countryside and lovely architecture, and boasts historic sights such as Mont Saint Michel and Chateau Gaillard, as well as attractive cliffs and beaches, including the Normandy Landing beaches.
There are over 410 campsites in Normandy, of which two of the most popular are:
Les Hautes Coutures, Bénouville, 4-star
Located on the Côte de Nacre, near the Normandy beaches and several iconic locations, such as the Pegasus Bridge Memorial, the American cemetery in Colleville-sur-Mer, Omaha Beach, the remains of the artificial harbour at Arromanche, and Caen, with its memorial.
The campsite has touring pitches with water and electricity and classic or luxury mobile homes and cottages. There is a water park for all ages and tastes, with indoor and outdoor pools, paddling pools, whirlpools and water slides.
Les Castels L’Anse du Brick, Maupertus, 5-star
Located on the Contentin peninsula, with direct beach access and a great base for visiting Mont St Michel, the D-Day beaches and the island of Tatihou, as well as the marsh canals of Cotentin, and Valognes, known as Normandy’s Versailles.
The campsite has pitches with terraces and sea views for tents, caravans and motorhomes. Mobile-homes, luxury cottages and superb villas, most with sea-view terraces, are also available.
There is a water complex and heated and indoor pools, a spa area with massage jets and a sun terrace.
Poitou-Charentes is renowned for its year-round warm and sunny climate, its beautiful stretch of coast and excellent transport links. Charente in the south is the most popular among British, followed by Charente Maritime to its west. To the north their quieter neighbours Deux-Sèvres and Vienne have rolling pastureland, woodland, hedges and stone walls.
There are some 460 campsites in Poitue-Charentes, of which two of the most popular are:
Le Bois Soleil, St-Georges de Didonne, 5-star
Located close to many attractions, including Talmont sur Gironde, the Cordouan Lighthouse and the Palmyre Zoo. It’s also a great starting point for many beautiful walks, and the camping areas have sea-views with direct access to the beach, or are set in the forest.
There is a swimming pool with a paddling pool and whirlpool and plenty of activities for children, and for adults, a wellness area with a steam room and professional massages.
Airotel Les Gros Joncs, Saint-Georges-d’Oléron, 5-star
Close to the beaches on Oléron Island, near Saint-Pierre-d’Oléron, the citadel at Oléron Castle, Salines harbour and the Chassiron lighthouse.
The campsite has sea-view pitches, chalets and top-of-the range mobile homes.
The bathing area has heated pools and paddling pools, and an indoor hydrotherapy pool. There’s also a well-being area with body treatments, and the restaurant serves seafood and regional produce fresh from La Cotinière harbour and its market.
Provence contrasts between the sleepy inland landscapes of olive groves, lavender and vineyards, and its glamorous world-famous coastline, boasting more than 300 days of sunshine each year.
There are over 815 campsites in Provence, of which two popular ones are:
Sunêlia L’Hippocampe, Volonne, 5-star
Close to the river Durance in Haute Provence, with the Provençal hills of Luberon and Mercantour in view, and the Gorge de Verdon canyon. Worth visiting are the villages of Volonne and Sisteron.
The campsite offers mobile homes, cottages, chalets and bungalows, as well as pitches. The water park has two heated pools, with a whirlpool, waterslides and a children’s paddling pool.
Camp du Domaine, Bormes-les-Mimosas 5-star
Near Le Lavandou by the Mediterranean, and an ideal base to explore the Calanques de Cassis, Saint Tropez, Iles d’Or and Var vineyards, as well as Bormes-les-Mimosas, Le Lavandou and other charming Provençal villages.
The campsite has large pitches for tents, caravans and motorhomes, as well as bungalows and mobile-homes with sea-facing terraces.
On offer are water sports, dance lessons, a spa, sports and campsite facilities, kids club’s fun workshops and playground, and a variety of restaurants.
This area in the east of France incorporates the Alps and the Rhone valley, and has no fewer than six regional and national parks nearby. In either summer or winter, it’s an ideal spot for a family holiday in the mountains, with a wonderful natural heritage and charming mountain villages.
There are over 990 campsites in Rhone-Alps, of which two popular ones are:
Le Pommier, Villeneuve-de-Berg, 4-star
Set in an immense estate lined with hiking paths, this is a perfect base from which to explore the Ardèche countryside, even travelling down the Gorges by canoe-kayak. The village of Villeneuve-de-Berg is known for blackberry growing, and also worth seeing are Aven d’Orgnac and the villages of Balazuc and Vogüé.
The campsite has large, terraced pitches, mobile homes, cottages and chalets. There is a huge water park with four pools: one is tropical-themed, one has waterfalls, one is reserved for length swimming and the fourth is an adventure pool, with pirate ship and water cannons.
La Roubine, Vallon-Pont-d’Arc, 5-star
Situated on the banks of the River Ardèche, where it’s possible to take a canoe-kayak trip down the Ardèche, or try the forest acrobatic trail at Vertige Park. At the nearby Vallon-Pont-d’Arc activities include caving, karting, canyoning and microlighting.
The campsite has air-conditioned mobile homes and spacious, shaded pitches. Swimmers can choose between the lake and the bathing area, which has a bubble pool and paddling pool. Children have their own water games area. The Club Wellness has a spa, Jacuzzi and sauna.
For more information, two excellent websites are: