Wild camping for motorhomes in France
Wild camping in motorhomes is something we’ve been doing for over 20 years. In fact, wild camping in a very small campervan was my very first experience at wild camping. No comfortable official campground for me, I was pushed right into the deep end.
Wild camping is a term that has long been associated with those who choose to travel and sleep in tents. For many, camping in tents is a way of saving money and it supports their more nomadic lifestyles. Wild camping for these people, is the ability to be able to pitch their tents wherever they deem suitable for the night without paying for a space in an official campground.
So it’s not hard to understand that the concept of wild camping developed further into a similar concept for other travellers, especially those in motorhomes, camping cars and RVs. In France, it’s known as ‘le camping sauvage’; in the US, wild camping is called boondocking. Whatever the term you use, it’s a reference to off-grid camping and getting away from mainstream camping areas. Simply, it’s a method of camping for free while in your motorhome.
And, chances are that if you are planning a motorhome trip to France or Europe, you’ll have heard about wild camping and will want to try it for yourself. So, our guide is here to make it easier for you by explaining what wild camping in a motorhome is and how to do it.
- Wild camping for motorhomes in France
- Is wild camping in a motorhome in France legal?
- Rules for wild camping in a motorhome
- Places to wild camp in France
- How to find wild camping locations
- Cost of wild camping
- Aires de Service
- France Passion Network for Motorhomes
- 10 reasons why you should stay at a France Passion site
- France Passion rules
- Where can I buy a France Passion membership?
- Finding free camps on France Passion website
- Other France Passion member advantages
- France Passion – try it to see if you like it
- Additional motorhome reading
Is wild camping in a motorhome in France legal?
It’s a good question to ask as wild camping is forbidden in some countries, so it’s always important to check whether it is legal to wild camp wherever you are before pulling up for the night or before planning your trip where adhering to a budget is essential for you.
Iceland is one country for example where we have found some amazing free locations to park overnight; however, due to inappropriate and reckless behaviour by some tourists who road trip, this is being scrutinised heavily.
In this guide, we specifically talk about wild camping in motorhomes in France, and after making wild camping in France our preferred way of stopping overnight for a very long time, we can guarantee that it is indeed legal, possible, easy and often welcomed by local communities.
Rules for wild camping in a motorhome
There are some very specific, legal rules for wild camping in a motorhome in France and some general community rules and expectations.
In France, motorhomes are generally treated like any other passenger vehicle, meaning these large vehicles are legally allowed to park beside roads and in normal vehicle parking spaces. So in theory, this means that you can pull off onto the side of the road if you need to for the night. It may not be the most attractive or serene place to stay, but it’s legal, so you don’t have to worry.
In general, you can wild camp anywhere other than on the coast, in protected natural parks (our equivalent of national parks), near heritage-listed monuments or anywhere that a government authority says you can’t. It goes without saying that you should never stopover or wild camp on any private property except where you have permission to do so. More on that later when we talk about France Passion stopover sites in France.
Many towns have now also made it very easy to stay overnight through the provision of dedicated parking spaces for motorhomes. However, if you are somewhere where this isn’t the case, it is completely legal to find a backstreet and pull up for the night.
As you travel around France, you will find though that some areas are just persona non-grata for motorhomes. The French Riviera is one of these, and the myriad signs you’ll find here set the scene.
You can also expect that it will be virtually impossible to wild camp anywhere in large cities – think Paris, Bordeaux and Lyon. In these areas, you will need to stay in official campgrounds.
To be honest, in these large city centres, you really don’t want to be driving and trying to find a park for a large motorhome. Leave it on the outskirts – either at the campground, park-and-rides, or local streets – and catch public transport in.
Pro tip: another reason to stay out of large cities is that many of them now require a crit air sticker for travel at certain times or under certain conditions. Not sure if you need a crit air sticker? Read our comprehensive guide.
The great thing about having a fully self-contained motorhome is that you can pull up and raise your blinds and no one would even know you were there.
There’s always a set of ‘legal’ rules and then there are those that operate more like a ‘motorhomers’ code’; a series of must-dos and must-not-dos that are often just seen as being courteous and respectful of others, and the country or area you are visiting.
- Keep to yourself and the confines of your motorhome. If you are out in the bush somewhere, putting out your table and chairs is probably okay. But, if you are in a local street in a small town near residential properties, then keep your equipment for another time.
- Be quiet and considerate of your surroundings. Similar to the above, keep your noise down if you are not in the middle of nowhere.
- Leave no trace except maybe your footprints. When you leave a spot where you have stayed overnight, there should be no evidence of you ever having stayed. Take all rubbish with you.
- Under no circumstances is it ever ok to dump your black wastewater/toilet waste anywhere other than in recognised dump stations.
- Follow any regulatory signs or instructions. If a sign says not to park somewhere, then don’t.
- If you are wanting to light a fire, be sure to check local fire restrictions and regulations. If you have one, always ensure you put it out properly.
- If you are stopping in a residential area, don’t block access to private driveways or gates and don’t block in other vehicles on private property. Don’t park in front of rubbish bins, especially if they are out for collection.
- Don’t overstay your welcome and stay for an extended period of time. It’s not as much of an issue if you are in the country by yourself, but if you are in a residential area, only stay overnight and move on.
- Be mindful that some rules can be relaxed (unofficially) during non-peak periods. In the summertime, expect any official rule to be monitored.
- If in doubt, ask someone if it’s ok to park there.
- If it looks dodgy, it probably is. There are indefinite places where you can wild camp in a motorhome in France. If one doesn’t suit, move on.
- Always make sure you consider your personal safety and that of your vehicle wherever you find a place to stay overnight.
- It’s always best to arrive before dark. It’s easier to park up, get level and set yourself up properly, but it’s also a chance to check your surroundings properly.
- Our personal unofficial code is always that we spend something, somewhere, in the area we stay in. It’s our way of saying thanks.
We’ve camped in some incredible places but have always been mindful of our personal and vehicle security.
The Rural Camping France website is also a good resource for current rules on wild camping in a motorhome in France.
Places to wild camp in France
So you know it’s legal to wild camp in France, but where can you actually do this? Well, apart from the rules mentioned above that are clear no-no’s, and apart from places that look wrong, or unsafe, it’s really quite an open process.
You can pull up for the night in thousands of places. Here are some of the general options.
- Suburban streets – the best places are in the back streets of quiet residential areas, away from street and traffic noise. Often you’ll find spots nearby municipal parks or recreation areas. But, if these don’t exist, just pulling in quietly into a street will be ok.
- Supermarket and shopping centre carparks – while these are technically deemed to be private property unless there is a barrier, most of the centres don’t mind someone pulling up for the night.
- Rural and regional areas near rivers, lakes and streams.
- Parking areas beside natural features like rivers.
- Municipal parking areas in towns.
- Motorway service stations and rest stops – just be careful of these stops as there have been instances of crime occurring.
- Anywhere in the country areas. If you are driving the D roads, you’ll find plenty of wild camp opportunities.
We’ve lost count of the number of wild camps we’ve done in France and all over Europe, but we can honestly say we’ve done them all. Some of them are ones we wouldn’t bother doing again, but that’s all part of the learning. Every single place we have stayed at has its own story – good or bad.
Our favourites of course, are the ones where we’ve parked up in the middle of nowhere, like up in the mountains between France and Italy or beside the Loire River. It’s just been us and nature, leaving us feeling like we are on top of the world.
It’s also why we also prefer to stay in a slightly more upmarket wild camp called France Passion. More on that later.
How to find wild camping locations
There are two basic types of wild camping travellers; those who are happy to wild camp but still need to plan and those who are happy to throw caution to the wind and find somewhere to stop when they need it.
We’ve done a bit of both, and we’ll admit, we aren’t big planners when it comes to our motorhome travel. But, when it comes to finding somewhere to stay overnight, we usually like to have somewhere in mind at least halfway through the day. It doesn’t always work, as sometimes we find ourselves in an area we never thought we’d be in.
If you are a planner and prefer to park somewhere that has been ‘set aside’ for motorhomes rather than a street or a park, then there are several helpful apps and websites.
- Park4Nite – this service has been around for many years, first starting as a website and developing into an app.
- Campercontact- a website and app with over 39,000 sites across Europe.
- Chat with others you meet on your travels. Everyone usually has a ‘must-stay’ camping location.
- Social media forums. We run one for Motorhome planning in France here, but there are also others around.
- Guides – we had this guide on our last trip
The type of wild camp location you seek really depends on a few basic things.
- The risk profile of the travellers. If you don’t feel secure in the middle of nowhere, then a spot in a forest somewhere won’t be for you. Instead, look for locations in small towns where there are other cars around or at least a few people.
- The type of location you are after. Maybe you prefer to be parked near a river, a lake or mountains? Maybe you like a good view?
- The type and size of your vehicle.
- Whether you are self-contained or not and need access to facilities.
- Do you need any services topped up?
Cost of wild camping
True wild camping – the kind where you pull up anywhere that isn’t forbidden – is free, and you can travel for a very long time without ever paying a cent to stay overnight.
Some places are still available where you can get potable water for free, but these are reducing.
If you stay in aires, without services, sometimes they are completely free as well. Sometimes they might cost a few euros.
Aires de Service
Aires de Service or simply aires, are another type of wild camping albeit just a little less wild. Aires are an area set aside by a municipal authority as a service to motorhomes and to encourage travellers to stay in their towns. They are usually just out of the way a little from the main town centre, but often close enough to walk or at least ride a bike.
Aires can take on several formats. At the top of the hierarchy are well-maintained parking areas with full services available; potable water, dump station, electricity and toilets. At the most basic level there are a few parking spots and a borne (a machine where you pay for and carry out the services provided). In between, you might find good parking locations with some of the facilities. Some will require payment, others will be provided free of charge.
The rules for the aires are the same as the general rules for wild camping, but in these locations, the ‘code for motorhomers’ also applies. If you are in an aire, you are there essentially at the invitation of the town. Be respectful, as always. Be as unobtrusive as possible, follow any local or aire rules, and be sure to pay if there’s a payment system.
Above all, don’t make a mess and definitely don’t leave anything behind. And remember, not every aire is going to be beautiful, or quiet, or provide a top-of-the-line accommodation experience. Remember that it’s an aire after all, and someone in a local community is trying to make it easier for you to stay somewhere overnight.
More reading >> Read about Aires de Service in detail here.
France Passion Network for Motorhomes
What is France Passion? France Passion is a network of private properties found all over France, where private landowners have agreed to allow fully self-contained campervans and motorhomes to be parked on their premises overnight for free.
It is a network like no other, from winemakers to olive growers to poultry farmers and artisanal products. It’s so successful that other European countries are trying to emulate this model. We can only say that if they succeed, their country will be all the better. It’s effectively free wild camping for motorhomes but with the added safety and security of being on private property.
There can be a great struggle sometimes between “free camping” and the potential for people not to treat their environment so well. Having a network such as this, provides a cheaper option for those who can’t afford to pay sometimes exorbitant prices in official campgrounds.
At the same time, it provides a safe, clean and hospitable environment where motorhomes are truly welcomed. And there are usually no crowds, unlike campgrounds.
For us, we choose to stay in such locations as they are quite simply the best. It’s never been about the fact that it’s free, and we always buy something from every France Passion site, so it’s never free of cost for us. But it can be if you want.
But it’s free in spirit. We don’t like parking in a space where there are heaps of other motorhomes, and we don’t like queuing for facilities or having to walk across a campground to get to them. We love the experience of being as local as we possibly can, eating locally and communicating with the owners. We’ve had so many great experiences in this way.
In return, the motorhome community can support a network provided solely for them and can give back to the local community and its economy. We have never been to a France Passion site where a previous motorhome has left the area in a condition other than what they found it.
The France Passion map below shows just how many locations there are. It’s mind-blowing! Each dot represents a property where you can stay overnight in a motorhome. There are over 2,000 locations in France, offering over 10,000 parking spaces. The colours are to differentiate between the type of property it is. This way you can find somewhere to stay in your preferred location and also your preferred type of producer eg winery.
Wherever we pull up for the night, you’ll find us having a conversation with a farmer, a shopkeeper, or a winemaker and taking some of their goodies back to our motorhome. Most times, it also includes a bottle or two of their finest. Oftentimes, I’ll find the family dog to play with or their kids who like to learn a little English.
We get to satisfy our love of food, learning about how it was made or where it comes from in the process. In return, the owners get a few extra euros for giving us access to their property for an overnight stay. It seems the least we can do really!
This is the world of France Passion and motorhome stopovers in France. If you’ve never driven a campervan or motorhome in France, then the chances are you’ve never heard of this.
Camp for free in amazing locations
In the Alpes-de-Haute-Provence, we ate olives harvested from our host’s grove and indulged in the most amazing confit d’oignon we had ever tasted. All of this was 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 the owner. We couldn’t get enough of the white asparagus, duck rillettes and olive tapenades in Dachstein up in the French Alsace region.
We’ve eaten duck confit in the southwest of France, incredible calvados in the north, and chevre in Rocamadour. There’s been way too much wine from so many small vineyards all over the country and enough fresh produce to keep us constantly fed, and all of it has offered an individual or unique experience every single time.
It’s the perfect way to end a day on the road in France.
We’ve been staying in locations like this for many years, but it has been interesting to note how changes in global culture have seen an upward trend for travellers in motorhomes and campervans to stay in such locations.
Travellers are getting more discerning now when it comes to where their food comes from and where they buy their food. While we have always preferred to buy our food in France (and Europe) as locally as possible, this has not necessarily been the case for others. But it is becoming more so.
The sustainability movement and increased awareness of food miles have seen people all over the world move towards buying directly from the farm. French organisation Bienvenue a la Ferme, which translates to “Welcome to the Farm” are seeing an uptick in both French locals and international travellers seeking out farm gates and stalls to buy directly from the farm.
Bienvenue a la Ferme also works closely with France Passion, with many of the farms opening up their properties to motorhome travellers for overnight stays.
Motorhome stopovers in France
Instead of being wedged beside other motorhomes 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 a considerable 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 to your host 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.
Giving money directly to the producer is also something that we don’t experience so much anymore so it’s wonderful to be able to do this. On most occasions, our French and their English came together in such a way that we were able to communicate effectively.
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.
Variety of hosts in the France Passion network
With so many different producers on offer, we always try and experience as many different France Passion sites as possible. Depending on the area, it can sometimes be overloaded with one particular type of provider.
If you are in the Champagne region, winemakers will make up most of France Passion locations, the same for Burgundy. While up in the Normandy region, there will be an abundance of apple cider producers, and in the regional areas of Provence, olives and fruit. If you are after duck products, try the southwest of France.
Cool camping – unique motorhome stopovers in France
Here are some examples of France Passion stopovers.
A privately owned chateau housing a generational winemaker is hard to pass up. The chateau and its winemaking business has been held in the same family since the mid-1700s.
In Givny, we stayed at a working farm, probably not for the faint-hearted. If animals and all the noises and smells that accompany them are not your style, it’s best to avoid this one. We loved exploring the areas full of noisy guinea fowl and cows that mooed gently all through the night.
The owners here, being heavily involved in 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 among the apple trees and an olive grove, we were offered a sanctuary of total peace and quiet. So tucked away, this was a location that could only be found using a GPS. Upon arrival, we visited 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. Before long, we set up our table and chairs in the olive garden.
In Grasse in the French Riviera, we learn about the sirops et confit de fleurs de Grasse that are something of a speciality in this area. Grasse is known as the world’s perfume capital, 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.
In Petit Ballon in the French Alsace, we are offered yet another France Passion variation. While providing several places for campervan parking, it also was home to an auberge. Family owned and operated, we had a fantastic meal at this restaurant.
10 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 with no obligation to pay anything
- meet new people
- be part of a unique experience
- private access to places like working farms, chateaux, and vineyards not open to the public
- more freedom and serenity than in an official campsite
- can be found in some stunning and unusual locations throughout France
- buy produce and wines made by local producers direct from the farm
- safe and secure environment for you and your motorhome
- privacy – the hosts won’t bother you unless you want interaction with them
France Passion rules
No one should be surprised at these, as they are common sense. The one thing we 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 membership. While 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. It also ensures we continue supporting this excellent initiative for years to come.
- Sometimes booking or phoning ahead is necessary. Check your guide/app to check requirements prior to arriving at someone’s property. On the other hand, if it doesn’t explicitly say to call, then don’t. Most of these providers are working people and aren’t able to take phone calls. It might seem a bit weird at first if you aren’t used to it, but turning up unannounced is ok. Just remember to say hi on arrival.
- Don’t arrive in the middle of the night. The guide has key details relating to each host, including arrival times and blackout periods or days/times when it is impossible to stay. 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. If they don’t speak English, show them your France Passion membership card, or say “camping car” and they will understand.
- France Passion provides a stopover site for the night. There are no services attached. Campervans and motorhomes must be fully self-contained making this the perfect arrangement. Be sure to take everything, including your rubbish with you when you leave. If you see a note in the guide about water and toilet, don’t assume this is for you, or available 24/7. Usually this means there is one available in a shop for example and it is only available during opening hours.
- Don’t touch things you shouldn’t. While 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. When in doubt, always ask.
- 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.
- Be quiet and mindful of others who might be staying there too.
- Unless it’s a really small space, if there is already a motorhome parked up, don’t go and park right beside them (even if it is the best location for your satelite dish). Most motorhomers stay here not to have to park next to someone.
- Don’t take the GPS coordinates as gospel. While most of the time they work, there are always occasions where they don’t. You need to have your wits about you, stay calm, and use other ways to work out where you need to be. If all fails, abandon that location and look for another one.
- Don’t assume you can take a pet. If it’s a working farm there could be bio reasons not to bring one, or it just might conflict with their own animals or processes. If in doubt, check.
- This network exists through the combination of wonderful property owners and the France Passion network. It is made possible through the money it raises via their membership process. It is a small amount of money for the value you get for an entire year. To protect this initiative, don’t share specific details of host locations or compile lists for sale.
Where can I buy a France Passion membership?
Travellers can buy the annual France Passion membership online only. Once you purchase a membership, a guidebook will be sent to you and you will also get access to their online portal and the app, where everything in the book can also be found.
We’ve been using the France Passion network for over 10 years and have found the service and the guidebook invaluable. But, the introduction of the app has really made the experience so much easier. With the book and the online portal, you need to know the areas you are travelling in. In France, that can get very confusing with departments and regions. And, to complicate things, the way the book is laid out, isn’t in a logical driving order.
Bottom line, if you don’t actually know where you are, it can be really hard to find out where to stay.
The app is completely interactive, and has GPS tracking and location services, so as long as you have data on your smartphone, it will know where you are at all times, and can therefore show you all of the available France Passions options located nearby. You can search and filter on different requirements.
Once you have narrowed down your search, you can click on individual locations to get the specific data for that provider, including GPS coordinates, or you can simply tell it to get directions and it will connect to your mapping apps. It’s very simple to use.
Finding free camps on France Passion website
On the website, there is a search function that allows you to search by region or department. Additional search functionality includes the type of property, availability of a restaurant, large motorhome accessibility and languages spoken. The website can be read in English, French and German.
Once the search has completed the results will show as indicated in the image below. The circle with a number represents the total number of properties in the area selected that are available.
From here, simply click on the circle to provide the next level of breakdown. Now you have a more dedicated split by area.
Clicking on one of the circles here will now break it down further into actual properties, allowing for a more specific area to be identified. At all times, on the right-hand side, the list of properties will appear, which can also be clicked on. In this screen, clicking on the red map marker will take you to the actual property.
You can now see that out of a possible 38 motorhome stopovers, I’ve now been able to isolate it down to just one.
At this stage, I can now see the name of the property (Auberge Di Pied Des Monts) and the location 08400, Grivy Loisy. We see the host’s name (Fabienne and Jeremy) and the type of property it is (saffron, yoghurt, butter and beer). There are two parking spots available at this location and arrivals must occur before 6 pm. It is closed on Wednesday and Sundays between 17 October and 2 November. There are phone numbers, a website and English is spoken. The address details and coordinates are also provided.
All of this information can be found in the book, it is just a more manual approach to finding a property, and without an interactive map, you don’t always get the location as close as you might like.
Other France Passion member advantages
Becoming a member offers a range of other features as well as being able to use the online portal to search for locations. You can also do online trip planning and save a record of your planned journey. Here you can also look for France Passion locations in advance and plot them onto your itinerary.
The mapping tool also allows for route planning. There is also an events calendar where you can look ahead at the areas you plan of visiting to check for festivals etc.
France Passion – try it to see if you like it
These sites represent only a handful that we have stayed at in over 10 years, but we have had so many great experiences in these free campsites in France for campervans. We 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.
For a small cost, you can have an annual membership which gives you access to locations and experiences like no other. You’ll save the cost of the membership in one or two nights alone when compared to official campground costs.
Additional motorhome reading
As experienced motorhome travellers for over 20 years, and a motorhome owner, we’ve been travelling across Europe and abroad for a very long time. Our guides, itineraries and advice are based on actual experience, not sopied from other websites and not written by people who have never travelled this way.
You might also like to read these guides, or check all of our information out here.
Looking to hire a motorhome in Europe? Read our guide on our recommended hiring company (they also do one-way hires!)