Heading to France with your motorhome or campervan? Considering looking for free motorhome stopovers instead of using campsites. Here's everything you need to know about wild camping in France for motorhomes and campervans- how to find free camping places to stay overnight, how to use them and what NOT to do.
If you're planning a road trip to France with a motorhome or campervan, you've probably heard of the term motorhome wild camping. If the thought of parking up in a secluded forest, next to a quiet lake, or up in the mountains under the stars sounds like heaven, then this is the post for you.
There are a few unspoken rules/ guidelines when it comes to wild camping in France for motorhomes and campervans- once you discover those (which I'm sharing below 😉 you'll discover a whole new world of freedom around motorhome touring in France.
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What is Wild camping in France for motorhomes?
Motorhome wild camping is free camping overnight in a location which is not a designated campsite or approved parking area like a French aire. It means you're staying ‘off-grid' and don't have facilities such as electric hook-up or a toilet block. This could mean at the side of a road, in a layby; in a car park or on open land.
Wild camping is often referred to as free camping- because it doesn't cost anything! It can also be referred to as motorhome free parking, off-grid parking or wild campervanning. If you want to go native, it's ‘camping sauvage'.
Want to stay off-grid with your motorhome?
Grab our FREE wild camping checklist and make it easy for yourself. Everything you need to do, bring or remember when you stay off-grid.
Where can you wild camp in France?
You can wild camping with a motorhome or campervan in many locations around France (except those mentioned in the rules below)
Vehicles are allowed to stop at the side of a road in any designated parking area, but that's not the best type of wild camping, although we do do it occasionally when we're really tired.
Our favourite type of motorhome or campervan wild camping spot is one that's totally away from it all, out in the wilds of French countryside or up in the mountains. There are hundreds of these places all over France- and they are all FREE to camp.
Be warned, some areas in France are VERY hard to find wild camping spots- these are usually near famous landmarks or popular cities in France. You may wish to book a campsite in advance- that's what we had to do when we visited the South of France and decided to stop at the Menton Lemon festival.
Is motorhome wild camping legal in France?
Ok, let's start at the beginning- are you even allowed to go wild camping in France with a motorhome or camper van?
The answer is yes, the French government does allow wild camping… with some caveats. These are:
- You must have permission from the landowner
- You cannot wild camp with a motorhome or camper on the French coast
- No motorhome wild camping is allowed in French National Parks or near designated historic sites
- French Local authorities have the right to create specific rules for their area which must be displayed on signs prominently and adhered to.
Practical rules for wild camping with a motorhome in France
Let's be honest, it's rare that you're going to be able to find the landowner to get permission if you want to wild camp in a remote location, like the middle of the woods. But that doesn't mean you can't stay overnight.
As long as you apply common sense and are respectful of other people, especially local residents, you're unlikely to be moved on if you follow these simple guidelines:
- Only stay one night
- Don't try to park up in front of someone's house, or blocking their view. Avoid all land that is obviously well-maintained and part of someone's private property.
- Don't stay overnight at places with signs banning overnight motorhome parking
- Never block an entrance or the road
Whilst we're talking practically, the rules regarding wild camping with campervans by the coast is very strictly enforced in summer; May-September for some of the most popular and historic places in France.
However, if you're touring in France outside the peak times, you'll probably be absolutely find free camping by the French coastline for a night, as long as there are no obvious ‘No parking' signs.
The same applies to the French National Parks. Many have strict signage everywhere, but there are a few locations where the local police will turn a blind eye as long as you only stay for one night.
How do you find motorhome wild camping spots in France?
There are a couple of ways to find the best free motorhome wild camping spots whilst you're touring Europe in a motorhome. Our favourite is the Park4night website or the app. We use both, but prefer the app whilst we are driving (do NOT look at it whilst you are ACTUALLY driving- this is a job for your navigator.)
We use the app to find a free overnight motorhome stopover in France like this:
- Decide roughly where we want to stay, normally whilst we're en-route (we decide how much longer we want to drive)
- Open up the Park4night app on a phone or iPad
- Search around the location we've selected
- Look at reviews and photos to see if it would suit our motorhome and trailer
- Find 2 or 3 options, choose the one we like most and pop that into our motorhome sat-nav.
Motorhome wild camping in France- how much does it cost?
Nothing at all- that's one of the beauties of it! You don't even really need any specific kit on your campervan or motorhome, although after 3 years of wild camping around Europe, these are our 5 essential items for motorhome wild camping we recommend you carry on board.
Of course, if you stay in an aire or a place where you need to pay, there will be a cost. And I suppose there's a cost for fuel, gas and food, but otherwise, wild camping with a motorhome or campervan is cheap!
Etiquette for Wild camping in France for motorhomes and campervans
So, how DO you wild camp with a motorhome? Here are some guidelines to help you:
- Don't put out tables/ chairs/ awnings. This is not a campsite (NOTE- we have used our outdoor chairs and BBQ a few times when we've been wild camping in the middle of nowhere. Use your judgement.
- Don't make loud noise
- Clear up ALL litter/ waste- no excuses
- Watch children and pets and don't let them wander away- wild camping doesn't mean there is no-one else around. Be vigilant
- Be sensible about safety. Lock doors and windows before going to sleep. You might wish to fit an additional motorhome door lock that you can lock from the inside.
TOP TIP: You don't need as much kit as you think you do to stay off-grid with a camper. Read our wild camping for motorhomes essential gear guide here.
Can a campervan wild camp in France?
Absolutely!! Many campervans wild camp in France- even those without their own bathroom. Here's a full guide on how to tour France in a campervan.
Can a Caravan go wild camping in France?
You may have heard that caravans are not allowed to stay overnight in Aires in France. However, there's nothing to stop you wild camping with a caravan- as long as you follow the rules about common sense and discretion above. Also, pay attention to your caravan security– wild camping can leave you more vulnerable.
Some of our favourite motorhome wild camping spots in France
I know it can be daunting when you first stay off-grid, whether that's in France or you're trying motorhome wild camping in Scotland.
To help, we've created a database of our favourite overnight parking spots- a mixture of aires, cheap motorhome stopovers and motorhome wild camping locations around the UK & Europe.
These are places we've stayed (and liked!) and we've put them all together in a database for you. There's a map, GPS co-ordinates, links to photos and more info- if you're concerned about wild camping with a motorhome but really want to try it, it's a great way to start. Find out more here
Other options for free motorhome parking in France
If you're looking for alternative to wild camping with a motorhome or campervan in France, there are a couple of options.
I mentioned French Aires briefly above. These are a scheme which is common across Europe- approved areas for overnight motorhome parking near villages, towns and major French cities.
READ MORE: If you've never used Aires before, you can find out all about them and how to find them in our French Aires guide.
France Passion- motorhome wild camping alternative
France Passion is a scheme which offers free overnight parking to motorhomes and campervans around France. You can stay at vineyards, snail farms, nature reserves and much more, in return for buying a meal or a couple of bottles of wine (or some snails!) It's a similar system to Britstops.
Most of the locations are a version of wild camping- you'll usually be staying in a car park or gravelled area of the business and very few of them have electric hook-up or waste disposal, although many can offer fresh water if you need it.
You need to join the scheme in advance and order the book and card before you can take advantage of the free motorhome parking spots. Personally, we prefer to wild camp with our motorhome further away from people and civilisation, but it's a great alternative if you enjoy vineyards and meeting local business owners.
All in all, motorhome wild camping in France is a LOT easier than it is in the UK. Follow our guidelines above and you'll be absolutely fine.
Don't forget that you can always pop into a motorhome or campervan site in France if you can't find a spot you feel comfortable in. There's no rule that says you have to go free camping every night. We often do two or three night of motorhome stopovers in a wild camping spot or an aire, and then use a campsite for a night or two to relax, use the facilities, maybe do some laundry and then move on.