Bike, Tent, Explore: A guide to camping in France for cycle tourists
Camping in France is a great alternative to staying in hotels, Chambre d’hotes, or gites if you are planning a cycle touring holiday in France. In 2021 alone there were 129M overnight stays in French campsites. The average price of a campsite in France in 2021 for 2 people, with electricity, in high season was €23 per night making it excellent value. You will find options for camping right across France and everything from a simple pitch in the countryside with an amenities block to a 5-star resort with swimming pools, restaurants and bars.
Like you, we had many questions about camping before we set off on a 3-week bicycle touring holiday in France in August of 2021. While we had visited France numerous times, we had never camped there before, having always chosen to stay in hotels or apartments. This time though we would swap the hotels for a tent, saving us money as well as allowing us greater flexibility in our route planning and enjoying a more outdoor experience than hotels or apartments could offer.
Before arriving in France we booked the first 5 nights in two different campsites but left the rest to book along the way. We had some concerns that we might find it problematic to book at short notice as we cycled along but all in all it worked out fine with a few minor plan changes. Over the three weeks, we stayed in a wide range of campsites and found them all to be clean, nice and quiet with a range of facilities depending on the campsite. Having had this experience we can now share it to help and assist others considering their own camping in France adventure.
Camping in France Facts and figures
Camping is a popular activity in France that many locals and visitors alike enjoy each year. According to Le Federation des Campeurs, Caravaniers and Camping Carists,(FFCC) the industry body, there were 129 million stays in campsites across France in 2021. There are 7,592 registered campsites with 872,647 pitches giving you plenty of options to find a campsite in France to suit your taste and needs. Campsites are rated using a star system similar to hotels from 1 to 5 stars. The bulk of sites (67%) are rated 2 or 3 stars. We experienced everything from resort-style camping with restaurant, bar, pools, and water slides to a simple municipal camping site with a basic amenities block and nothing else.
You can find all the statistics yourself if you are interested from the Le Federation des Campeurs, Caravaniers, et Camping Cars
Types of camping and campsites in France
There are a few different types of pitches on offer in France that you can consider when camping.
The first of these is the farm campsite. These are small campsites run by local farmers and they have a maximum of 6 pitches available. A great way to experience rural France and really mix with the local people and daily life.
The second type is the natural area site. Typically a basic campsite with access to amenities and up to 30 pitches. These are often run as a campsite in the summer only and must return to their original use for a period of the year. They also provide a great way to experience rural France and everything it has to offer.
The third type is the municipal campsite run by the local municipal office and often located in small towns and villages. They are a basic campsite and offer a budget-price camping alternative to larger commercial sites. We stayed in one of these on our trip and it cost only €12 per night. While the amenities block was basic, it had everything we needed and was nice and clean. It did have the hottest showers of our trip.
The fourth type is commercial campsites which are run as a business. The range of facilities in these sites varies greatly and could include pools, water slides, tennis courts, bike hire, and much more. Within these types of camping sites, you may also find restaurants and bars to enjoy during your stay. We stayed in this style of campsite for the majority of our bicycle touring trip.
How to find and book a campsite in France
On our bicycle touring trip in France, we used Google Maps as the primary method to find the location of campsites. Once we knew where we wanted to finish at the end of a day we simply zoomed into that location and entered “campsites” in the search bar in Google Maps. It listed all the sites that were in that area and it was a matter of going to the website of a particular campsite and checking to see if they had availability for the night and how much it cost. It is also handy in that you can move the map if necessary and update the search. While I am sure there might be campsites in France not listed on Google I suspect by far the majority are listed.
As we were travelling in August, the peak holiday season for France, we did find it difficult in a few places to actually find a campsite that had availability and was not too expensive at short notice. In some instances, we saw campsites that had availability but were charging over €100 for a pitch for a night. We observed that many of the campsites along the coast were fully booked but you could find vacancies on sites that were inland a couple of kilometres. Our recommendation to anyone travelling in July or August would be to book well in advance, especially in popular holiday destinations. This will ensure you can access the campsites in France you want to and not have to make last-minute changes to plans as we did on a couple of occasions.
Booking the campsite was easily completed online with the use of a debit or credit card. This makes it nice and handy if you don’t speak much French and reduces the need to call and try and make a booking over the phone. It also makes it nice and easy to plan ahead and book and pay before you leave home. With some of the smaller sites, we stayed at it took a few hours before the booking was confirmed by the owners. Something to be aware of if you are planning to make last-minute bookings.
Facilities and pitches in French campsites
Our experience of camping while in France was overwhelmingly positive and something we would, and have, done again. As you would expect the higher the star rating the higher the quality and range of facilities on offer. The pitches themselves were nice and large and usually separated by hedges from the neighbouring pitches making them nice and private. Some of the specific facilities include:
Amenities blocks in campsites
In all instances, we found the campsite amenities blocks nice and clean and well appointed regardless of the star rating of the campsite. Most campsites in France had mixed amenities blocks but some were separated into male and female. We learned that the expectation is that you leave the shower or toilet as you found it. There is a squeegee that you are expected to use to clean and dry the shower after you use it. We observed that everyone does use it after their shower.
The showers in the campsites were generally operated by a push button that you had to keep pressing to keep the water flowing. The water temperature in some campsites was lukewarm at best. This was ok given the hot weather at the time, but if you are camping in the shoulder seasons when the weather is cooler it would be more of an issue.
We discovered that toilets in many of the campsites in France did not have seats. We are not quite sure of the rationale behind this other than they get damaged and it is easier not to have one at all rather than having to replace them. After living here for the past 14 months we have observed that it is quite common in France to find public toilets with seats missing. A couple of the campsites had no toilet paper either, so we made sure we had some with us if needed.
Dishwashing facilities in campsites were generally part of the amenities block and included sinks and drying areas. Again the water temperature was a bit of an issue, especially if your dishes were a little greasy. If you wanted to wash clothes there were areas separate from the dishwashing sinks to do this. Some campsites had coin-operated washing machines as well.
WiFi in campsites
Overall we found the availability and quality of WiFi in the campsites to be mixed. Where it was provided it was often slow and not really worth using or useful for basic web browsing only. We also found that the quality varied depending on where your pitch was in relation to the main office block. In some instances, we had to move from our pitch to get a better signal and speed. According to the FFCC, only 63% of campsites in France have WiFi so be mindful of this if you are reliant on WiFi and don’t have a sim card or phone roaming that you can use in France on your holiday.
Restaurants and bars in campsites
According to the FFCC, 43% of campsites in France have a restaurant and 53% have a bar. You will see what is offered on their websites. Most of the campsites that we stayed at had some form of food on offer. This ranged from a food truck that came each night to a full-service restaurant. A few of the campsites had pizza bars with a range of offerings. Likewise, most campsites we stayed at had a bar of some description. This ranged from buying bottles of beer, wine, or cider from the front desk to a table-service bar at the side of a pool.
On our cycle touring holiday, we did not rely on or plan to eat out on a regular basis. For the most part, we went to local supermarkets and cooked our own meals. There were a few times though when it was great to be able to grab a cold beer and some fresh pizzas at the end of a long day on the road at the campsite. Depending on where you are staying there are generally other restaurant and bar options available so you do not have to rely solely on what is on offer at the campsite.
Travelling through France for three weeks with mobile phones, cameras and laptops meant we needed to be able to charge devices at the end of each day. For this reason, all the campsites we booked had power. In France, you can book a campsite with or without power. The campsites with power will cost you a little bit extra than those without. You will also need to carry an adaptor to plug into the outlet as the standard residential plug will not work in the majority of sites. There was one campsite we stayed at that did have an outlet for a standard socket but this was the exception. We were able to purchase the appropriate adaptor in France at a local supermarket.
Something to keep in mind if you are booking a powered campsite is that there is no guarantee the power outlet will be right at your site. Many of the campsites in France are multi-purpose for tents, caravans, and motorhomes and there is usually a single power outlet servicing 3 or 4 pitches. If you are lucky the outlet is on your pitch but you might also find it is on one of the neighbouring pitches. There is an expectation that you will have an extension cord which is not feasible to carry as a bicycle tourist. This didn’t really cause us any significant issues as we only needed to charge a few things. Just something to be aware of.
Baguette and pastry orders
If you are planning on camping in France, and your campsite offers it, you should definitely take advantage of ordering fresh baguettes and pastries. This was something we only discovered a few days into our bicycle touring trip and we took full advantage of it whenever it was offered. Generally, it entailed placing your order with the front desk in the evening and picking everything up after a designated time the next morning. On offer usualy were baguettes, croissants, chocolatine/pain aux chocolate and pain aux raisens. In one campsite where we were staying multiple nights, we even had them delivered to our tent!
Activities for the whole family
Many of the campsites we stayed at in France had a whole range of outdoor activities onsite for the enjoyment of guests. This included pools, waterslides, tennis courts, children’s games, activities, and plenty of space to enjoy. While we only used these facilities a couple of times ourselves, there was no shortage of other guests utilizing what was on offer. If you are considering a family camping holiday in France you will definitely be able to find campsites with plenty to keep everyone entertained.
Cost of camping in France
Camping offers a much cheaper cost option in France than staying in hotels, bed and breakfasts, or apartments. On our three-week bicycle touring trip, our nightly cost ranged from €12 to €35. Most of the campsites were somewhere in the middle of that around the €20 per night mark. We could have spent per night less if we had chosen pitches that did not have power. Some of the campsites had deals for hikers and bicycle tourists which were cheaper than the published rate.
While we were looking for places to stay we did see prices well over €100 per night in popular areas along the coast. Given we were only booking the day of our stay or the day before our stay I would expect this to be the exception rather than the norm. Like anything, the further ahead you book the better chance you have of getting a great price. It is important to note that camping is very popular with the French population so expect popular destinations to be heavily booked during summer.
Camping as a bicycle tourist in France
While all the campsites we stayed in were great, we didn’t really find any that had facilities specifically for bicycle tourists. Camping while on a bicycle tour is a popular option and we saw lots of fellow bike tourers in the campsites we stayed at. Some of the ideas we had that would have been helpful for us would be lockers for valuable items, safe bike storage facilities, and pitches with picnic tables. When we stayed in a place for a few nights we generally wanted to get out and explore a bit and had to take our valuable items with us. We had locks for the bikes and simply stored them next to the tent but would have preferred them to be out of sight and locked away.
Wild camping rules in France
Many people, especially bicycle tourists and hikers, are keen to stay away from commercial campsites and wild camp instead. In doing so you can reduce your accommodation cost to zero and stay in some amazing locations. So what are the rules when it comes to wild camping in France?
Most bicycle tourists and hikers will simply want to pitch a tent for a single night, typically arriving late in the day and leaving first thing the following morning. In France, the term used for this style of camping is bivouacking and it is permitted with some basic rules. You are permitted to pitch a tent between the hours of 7 pm and 9 am for a single night on public land with the exception of coastal areas, protected natural sights, and classified historic monuments. It is expected you leave nothing but footprints at the end of your stay. Take note also of any signs that expressly prohibit camping in a location you are considering. If you gain the permission of a private land owner you are obviously allowed to camp on their land and the time limits do not apply.
If you are cycling or hiking in one of France’s national parks then the rules of the park will apply to camping. Make sure you are aware of what these are before you pitch your tent. The national parks in our region in France have signs at trailheads and picnic areas that outline if you can camp there or not.
If you are wild camping between the months of September and February be aware that it is hunting season in France. It is a popular pastime undertaken by many people in rural areas and you need to ensure you are not mistaken for a deer or boar. Making sure you are visible is important to reduce any risks. Typically weekends are the most popular time to hunt but we have experienced hunters during the weekdays as well.
One thing that has struck us about camping in France is the seasonality of it. Coming from Australia we are used to campsites being open year-round in the vast majority of locations. In France, most campsites close over the winter months. We have observed some campsites closing as early as late August but the majority will close sometime during September or October and start reopening in May. Specific opening and closing dates will depend on the climate in the location and individual campsites, but if you are thinking about a camping holiday between October and May you might struggle to find places that are open.
Our French camping holiday experience
Our experience of camping while in France was a very positive one and we would have no hesitation in recommending camping as a choice for your holiday. During our 3 weeks of camping, we never had any issues with noise from other people or any anti-social behaviour. Generally speaking by 10 pm each night there was silence and people did not start moving about until 8 am or later. The few times we needed to get away early we felt we were the only ones up and about. It’s not to say that problems do not arise, but we have observed since moving to France that there is general respect among people for each other.
Amenities blocks were always nice and clean and everyone seemed to clean up behind them as expected in showers and washing facilities. Having some spare toilet paper with you can come in handy but we only needed it a couple of times and the majority of amenities blocks were well stocked. We also observed that the amenities blocks were cleaned on a daily basis by the campsite staff.
If you are thinking about heading to France for your next holiday be sure to check out our Visiting France page where you will find lots of practical information to help you plan your trip.
We also have plenty of information about cycling and bicycle touring in France. Some articles that you might like to start with include:
- 10 Long Distance cycle routes in France
- Bicycle touring in France
- Road rules for cyclists and other helpful tips