It was a few days into my latest European campervan trip when it truly dawned on me that this would have to be one of the best ways to travel. I was sitting outside my campervan, glass of chilled Bourgogne Aligoté in my hand, under the gaze of a chateau and a generations-old winemaking business. We had just purchased this wine, (and a few more) in return for a private tasting and tour of their operations.
And, as if this scene couldn’t be made any more perfect, my view on the other side was of a small lake on the chateau’s sprawling estate. Weeping willows swayed in the breeze on the waters edge, where a small wooden boat patiently awaited its next passenger.
In the Alpes-de-Haute-Provence, we ate olives harvested from our hosts grove, and indulged in the most amazing confit d’oignon I had ever tasted. Again, made on site at the farm.
In Grasse, just a little north of the French Riveria town of Cannes, we sampled local cordials, nuts and olives, proudly presented to us by owner Abdelhamid.
And in Dachstein up in the French Alsace region, we couldn’t get enough of the white asparagus, duck rillettes and olive tapenades.
Conversing with our hosts
Everywhere in between, whenever we pulled up for the night, you could find us having a conversation with a farmer, a shop keeper, or a winemaker, and taking some of their goodies back to our mobile home. Most times, it also included a bottle or two of their finest.
It didn’t seem like much of a hardship at all really. We got to satisfy our love of food, learning about how it was made or where it came from in the process. In return, the owners got a few extra euros for giving us access to their property for an overnight stay. It seemed the least we could do really!
This is the world of France Passion, free campsites in France for campervans. If you’ve never camped or been in a campervan in France, then the chances are you’ve never heard of this. Or, you’ll incorrectly jump a few paces ahead and think I’m about to reference something a little more racy!
If you have camped or been in a campervan and still never heard of France Passion, then you don’t know what you’re missing. The good thing is, there’s still time to experience it.
What is France Passion?
France Passion is a network of properties dotted all over France, where landowners have agreed to allowing campervans to be parked on their premises overnight, for free. From winemakers to olive growers, to poultry farmers and artisanal products, it is a network like no other.
Instead of being wedged beside other campervans in an official campsite, here you can choose a vineyard, an olive grove, or a location in the mountains as your home for the night. Where the gentle lowing of cows can put you to sleep, and the cackle of chickens can wake you up 🙂
If this doesn’t tempt you, then the incredible offer of being able to stay overnight for free would surely be the determining factor. That’s right, there is no obligation to pay for your stay. It is however encouraged, and I would say, courteous, to go and say hello upon your arrival and at least have a look at what they have on offer. In a world where nothing is for free, France Passion is a one of a kind standout performer.
Personally, we found it impossible to walk away without buying something, but this type of arrangement speaks directly to our hearts. Food and travel are a match made in heaven for us, and to allow us such direct access to these local producers is more than we could wish for.
On most occasions, my French and their English came together in such a way that we were able to communicate effectively. There was only one spot where we had to resort to drawing pictures in the dirt to try and communicate. I’m really great at speaking “food French”, so in most cases, I had it completely under control!
France Passion hosts offer a basic service of a safe place to stay overnight. They aren’t like official campgrounds that offer water, electricity and wifi. If we didn’t have a constant need to power up all of our gadgets, and get access to wifi, we would stay at France Passion locations all the time.
Variety of hosts
With so many different producers on offer, we made a pact to try and experience as many different France Passion sites as possible. Depending on the area, it can sometimes be overloaded with one particular type.
Obviously if you are in the Champagne region, winemakers will make up the majority of France Passion locations, the same for Burgundy. Whilst up in the Normandy region, there will be an abundance of apple cider producers, and in the regional areas of Provence, olives and fruit.
Some of my favourite locations
Chateau de Premeaux takes out my award for the most beautiful France Passion location on this trip. The chateau and it’s winemaking business has been held in the same family since the mid 1700s.
Délices de nos Campagnes in Givny was a working farm and probably not for the faint hearted. If animals, and all the noises and smells that go with them are not your style, best to avoid this one. We loved exploring the areas full of noisy guinea fowl and cows that lowed gently all through the night.
The owners here, being heavily involved in the farming activities, were less interested in us, preferring to stay aboard their tractors and give us a simple wave.
In the village of Les Mees, we hit a jackpot of a different kind. Nestled in amongst apple trees and an olive grove, Moulin des Varzelles offered us a sanctuary of total peace and quiet. So tucked away, this is a location that could only be found using a GPS. Upon arrival we visit their shop, where the matriarch of this olive oil producing farm uses a cash register that looks like it hasn’t been replaced since 1980. It’s all part of the charm. The confit d’oignon is one item that just doesn’t seem to last very long! Before long, we’ve set up our table and chairs in amongst the olive trees.
Sunset over the famous Pénitents des Mées rock formations ended the day on a high note.
At Espace Terroirs at Grasse, we learn about the sirops et confit de fleurs de Grasse that are something of a specialty in this area. Grasse is known as the perfume capital of the world, with a thriving industry here since the 18th century. The floral scents of the perfumes are also used to infuse sirops and make for an unusual drink.
Owner, Abdelhamid Ksibi, had placed a small cup of coquelicot sirop into our hands the moment we entered his little shop. Coquelicot is french for poppy and although sounding like quite a strange flavour to have in a drink, it was surprisingly refreshing, and I walked away with a bottle of it to bring home.
Outside, I am, as always drawn to the local animals. This time, some resident geese had caught my attention.
Auberge Margot & Jean Martin at Petit Ballon offered yet another France Passion variation. Whilst providing several places for campervan parking, in the stunning Alsace region, it also was home to an auberge. Family owned and operated, we had a fantastic meal at this restaurant.
Foie gras was the prime feature at Ferme Plume d’Or, 30km outside Strasbourg. Here geese were being farmed to make the French delicacy. Plenty of honking here so not one for those who hate noise. The attached produce store here was very professional, and we spent way too much time in here lingering over the food and discussing it all with Astride, one of the owners.
7 reasons why you should stay at a France Passion site
- They can be found all over France
- Stopovers for up to 24 hours are free
- No booking or phoning ahead is necessary
- You can experience and learn different environments that you would not ordinarily be able to (working farms, the operations of wineries)
- More freedom and serenity than in an official campsite
- They can be found in some stunning locations throughout France
- Buy produce, wines and ciders from local producers
- Safe environment for you and your campervan
There are some rules
I don’t really think anyone should be surprised at these, as they should be common sense. The one thing I do love is the general courtesy extended by those who travel in campervans. It’s rare on the road or in campsites to see people behaving badly.
- Make sure you have a current France Passion guide. Whilst many of the hosts have stayed part of this network for many years, some come and go. Having a guide makes sure you don’t spend the night on someone’s property when they aren’t a current host.
- Don’t arrive in the middle of the night. In the guide, there are key details relating to each host, including arrival times. This is particularly important for working farms, where they might be out in the fields operating equipment if you arrive in the middle of the day.
- Watch out for periods of closure. Vineyards for example will normally not take guests during the harvest season.
- Do make yourself known and say hello. These people are opening up their homes and land to you for free. It’s the least you can do.
- France Passion provides a stopover site for the night. There are no services attached. Campervans are fully self contained making this the perfect arrangement. Be sure to take everything, including your rubbish with you when you leave.
- Don’t touch things you shouldn’t. Whilst the people we visited were more than happy for us to walk around their farms, I’m sure they wouldn’t have been impressed if we sat on their tractors or annoyed their animals.
- Say goodbye when you leave. Depending on the circumstances, it could be a conversation or a wave as you pass them by in the field.
- Keep the noise down.
Where can I buy the France Passion Guide?
Travellers can buy the annual guide online from France Passion for €29. Or, if you hire from France Motorhome Hire the guide comes with your campervan. Quite often we had a France Passion location in mind, but a change of route during the day meant we needed to find another. Having the guide became an invaluable tool to have at our fingertips.
Give France Passion a go
These sites represent only a handful that we stayed in. We had so many great experiences in these free campsites in France for campervans. I would strongly recommend France Passion to anyone travelling in a campervan throughout France. Not only will you meet some great people in some terrific locations, but you will save money as well.
If you’ve stayed at France Passion sites, I’d love to hear some of your stories too.
Pin this to your travel boards so you’ll always be reminded of France Passion.
Interested in hiring a campervan? Contact France Motorhome Hire for more information.