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DISCOVER FRANCE

EXPLAINED: The rules and options for camping in France

From luxury campsites with a pool and a spa to pitching your tent at the side of the road - here's what you need to know about camping in France.

EXPLAINED: The rules and options for camping in France
Photo: Nicholas Selman / Unsplash

Camping is hugely popular in France, both for French people and tourists – there are more than 7,000 registered campsites with facilities with space for 872,647 individuals or groups at any one time.

But there are many different ways to take a camping holiday.

Campsites

The most common form of camping, these welcome every form of holidaymaker.

Despite the name, many of them aren’t really ‘camping’ at all – instead offering chalets, cottages or static caravans for families to stay in, with facilities including a swimming pool, spa, bar, restaurant or entertainment centre.

There are plenty of more basic sites when you can simply arrive and pitch your tent however – campsites have a star rating (1 to 5) which lets you know what facilities they have, and of course the price reflects this.  

They can get very busy, especially in the summer, so it’s wise to book ahead.

But if you want to get back to nature, or are simply looking for a cheaper holiday, there are alternatives to campsites.

Wild camping

The notion of wild camping – le camping sauvage – in which you make camp, or park your caravan or motorhome for a night or two somewhere that isn’t a campsite does exist in France but, well, it’s complicated.

‘Wild camping’ is not allowed, for example, in the following places:

  • sea shores or beaches;
  • on or within 500m of sites registered for historic, artistic, scientific, legendary or picturesque character – such as such as woods, forests or nature reserves – or close to classified historic monuments (be aware: this includes sites in the process of being registered);
  • on public roads or paths;
  • within 200m of water points for consumption.

Meanwhile local authorities or those in charge of designated natural sites, such as national or regional parks, have specific rules for their land.

There are 11 national parks and well over 50 regional ones, so it’s a good idea to check the rules before you camp. A local tourist information office or mairie is the best place to start.

Elsewhere, wild camping is allowed, as long as you have permission from the landowner or tenant, and other general limitations – including a blanket ban on fires, especially in the summer. The rules are here, in Article R111-33 of France’s town and country planning law.

Penalties for ignoring the rules include a fine of up to €1,500 – but the amount may be adjusted upwards in cases that also involve excessive noise, campfires, littering and / or environmental damage.

Motorhomes

Many French towns and large villages have dedicated areas for motorhomes to stay for a short period away from campsites, and some provide electricity or water points. 

Access to these areas is often limited to a few days per vehicle. Meanwhile, you can park at the side of a quiet road outside towns, as long as you don’t block the carriageway, but you may get a visit from a police officer wondering what’s going on.

Beyond these minor differences, the same general rules apply for motorhomes as for wild camping, if you decide to spend a night in your motorhome outside a campsite. And don’t empty your chemical toilet at the roadside. Obviously. 

Does France have a ‘right to roam’?

Like wild camping, the notion of a right to roam in France is very much open to interpretation – usually by the landowner.

Unlike some Nordic countries, there is no specific law guaranteeing public right of way over private land in France. There are paths the public can use that cross private land – but these can be closed at whim by the landowner. 

There are, however, many tracks weaving their way through forests, which make up 30 percent of France’s land area, and country lanes that are publicly accessible. Maps for local and regional walks can be found in tourist information offices or at town and village mairies.

Publicly accessible footpaths in France are usually marked. Here are the three most common forms:

  • National routes – Grandes Randonnées (GR) – are marked with two parallel horizontal flashes, one white and one red;
  • Regionally monitored paths – Grandes Randonnées du Pays (GRP) – are marked with two parallel horizontal flashes, one yellow and one red;
  • PR local footpaths are marked with a single yellow flash.

These markers are painted on fixtures such as trees so they can be followed easily. The Fédération Française de la Randonnée Pédestre (FFRP) also publishes nearly 200 guidebooks to walking in different parts of France. Also check out the numerous greenways (Voies vertes) that criss-cross the country.

While walking on these, you should of course be respectful of the countryside – don’t leave litter, close gates behind you and keep dogs on a lead if there is livestock in the fields that you are passing through.

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For members

TOURISM

How American tourists have rediscovered their love for France

It's the first summer without travel and health restrictions since the start of the pandemic and the Americans are heading back to France in droves.

How American tourists have rediscovered their love for France

If you’ve been walking down the streets of Paris or perhaps even some quaint villages in Provence then you might have heard a notable uptick in the number of American accents you hear..

It’s the first summer since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic without strict health or travel restrictions and American travellers are heading across the pond to take advantage of their ability to eat croissants and enjoy the Eiffel Tower once again. 

While tourism in general has been exploding across Europe, in France specifically, the industry is hitting and even exceeding pre-pandemic levels. Revenue per room for French hotels is higher than it was in 2019, and the Eiffel Tower is once again seeing 24,000 people per day, which is the same level of visitor numbers the Iron Lady saw before the Covid-19 epidemic.

And American visitors in particular are returning to France in their thousands.

As of late May, travel from the US to Europe saw a 1003 percent increase compared to April 2021, which has certainly been reflected in France, which is second favourite destination in Europe for Americans after Italy.

In fact, American tourists represent the largest group of tourists to make their way back to France, making up around 12.7 percent of foreign tourists in 2022 – over double that of British tourists who make up just 5.8 percent.

In preparation of a summer filled with Americans, Air France even increased its capacity for flights to and from the United States. This summer, it the airline is operating close to 200 weekly flights to 14 destinations across the U.S. which represents 20 percent more than it did in 2019 before the start of the pandemic.

And Americans are not visiting France’s capital city Paris. A new survey shows they are heading much further afield in France.

Coastal destinations such as Nice, Marseille, and Bordeaux have risen in popularity among American visitors. In comparison to 2019, Nice has seen a 182 percent increase in ticket reservations, with Marseille also seeing a strong increase of 128 percent.  

Besides Paris and the coasts, Americans are also reportedly making their way to the cities of Avignon, Lyon, Aix-en-Provence and Reims, as well as Giverny near Paris.

Train-setting across France

For the American visitors in France this year, they have chosen trains as their preferred method of transport. Across Europe, train lines have seen an average of 50 percent more American tourists than in previous years. 

READ MORE: Everything you need to know about taking the train in France

According to Trainline, France’s national rail service SNCF, has seen ticket purchases by American tourists shoot up by 93 percent from pre-pandemic levels, and the rail industry is welcoming the rise in ticket purchases: “these numbers are great news for the rail industry in France and Europe,” said Christopher Michau, the Director of European Partner Relations at Trainline to BFMTV.

“All tourist destinations across the country should prepare for an influx of American visitors this summer, as bookings are 14 times higher in France than they were a year ago at the same time,” warned Michau.

Why take the train? Michau judges it is likely to due a better understanding of Covid-19-related travel restrictions, but more importantly, a “desire to travel more sustainably.”

While Americans are not known for taking long vacations, this summer American tourist is spending around 10 days in France on average. And while they are here, they are big spenders.

In a survey of tourists visiting France from abroad, Americans came in first place for their daily spending budget while on holiday. The average American allocates about €400 per day in France, racking up an average total bill of €7,650 (which includes the cost of flying to and from the United States).

It is safe to say that this spending is important to France’s tourism sector, which prior to the pandemic (in 2019) made up 7.4 percent of the country’s GDP and represented 9.5 percent of total jobs.

American tourists are of particular importance, as they represent France’s leading “long-haul” outbound market, and Air France considers the U.S. to be its leading long-flight destination.

However, though France in pre-pandemic times received large flows of foreign tourists, the country has always had a steady supply of domestic tourists.

In the first half of 2022, foreign tourists, represented 79.9 percent of the flow of travellers but 21.1 percent were French tourists.

READ MORE: IN NUMBERS: How important are American tourists to France?

Not all sunshine and rainbows

Even though Americans are flocking back to France, the journeys are not without hiccups and headaches for some.

Prior to the start of the summer holiday season, airlines and airports were already reporting serious staff shortages after nearly two years of pandemic cutbacks. On top of staff shortages, both air and rail travel have been impacted by strikes, as workers seek wage increases.

Waiting time in airports has significantly increased, and flight cancellations are more frequent, making this summer complicated for travel. Air France cancelled over 10 percent of its short and medium haul flights at Charles de Gaulle the first weekend of July just in preparation for strike action, and the Paris airport group has been urging passports to arrive “three hours (before scheduled take-off) for an international flight, two hours for a domestic or European flight.” Meanwhile, the high season for travel has not started yet, it typically begins once schools in France break-up for the summer holidays, which is July 7th this year.

READ MORE: Covid-19: European summer holidays threatened by rise of subvariants

In addition to travel complications, the Covid-19 pandemic has unfortunately not ended yet. Cases are on the rise again across Europe, and in France, new variants already make up over 75 percent of cases. The country is seeing an average of 100,000 new Covid-19 cases per day, with the peak of the seventh wave not expected until late July. 

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