and attractive small or
medium-size campsites in the heart of rural France.
Wild camping, known
in French as "le camping sauvage", involves setting up your tent, or
parking your caravan or motorhome, for a night or two, outside of
a proper campsite. It may be on public land or on private
land, beside a road or well off the road. On some aspects of
this, French law is clear, on others it is vague. So before deciding to
set up for the night in an unscheduled location, it's best to have at
least some idea about the rules.
The principal rules
- Wild camping is permitted anywhere in France subject to the
permission of the landowner or tenant of the land, and subject to
certain general limitations. The basic rules are set out in
Article R111-33 of French town and country
- The main restrictions stipulate that wild camping is not
permitted on the coast, in protected natural sites, and on the
perimeter of classified historic monuments.
- Local authorities and the authorities in charge of
designated natural sites, such as national or regional parks, may
establish specific rules pertaining to their own area.
What does this mean?
Essentially it means that you can stop for the night at the roadside or
on public land subject to the restrictions indicated above, and on
private land if you have the owner's permission.
Since it is not practical, and in some cases
pretty well impossible, to know local restrictions on wild camping
unless these are specifically indicated by road signs or other
information boards, it is best to observe some basic principles and
guidelines, and know some of the things that definitely are permitted,
and things that definitely are not permitted. For this it is
useful to distinguish two types of wild camping, on the one hand
bivouacking, with a light tent, as practised by hikers and cyclists and
some motorists, on the other hand wild camping for motorhomes or camper
This is most popular in wild country and is practised in particular by
hikers and cyclists. For specific restrictions per National Park or
Regional Park, see Le camping sauvage
In most areas (including many parks) visitors can pitch their bivouac
or light tent in any suitable location on public land subject to the
general rules concerning coastal areas, listed natural sites, historic
monuments, and explicit local restrictions (notably a sign indicating
Bivouacking is generally a one-night stop, and is
implicitly authorised between the hours of 7 p.m and 9 a.m, though
local bylaws may specify slightly different times. Campers are required
to leave nothing behind when they leave. Local restrictions may well
apply in summer with regard to fires. It is safe to say that making an
open fire when wild camping in dry areas in France in summer is
Wild camping on private land with the owner's permission is
not subject to time limitations.
The general rules regarding restricted or forbidden locations
(notably on the coast and in protected natural areas) apply to
motorhomes or camper vans in the same way as they do to tents.
The French highway code stipulates that motorhomes may park
beside roads and in designated parking places in the same way as other
Since 2004, French local authorities have been
encouraged to provide specifically designated parking areas for
motorhomes. Many French towns and large villages now have motorhome
areas, and these are generally free except in some popular tourist
locations. They frequently have time limitations, such as three nights
maximum or even just one night allowed.
Outside of towns, it is therefore generally legal to park up
a motorhome at the side of a quiet road. Many minor French roads (D
roads) have been upgraded in the past thirty years, and in hilly or
mountain areas there are plenty of places where bends have been
straightened out, leaving unofficial lay-bys that offer a quiet place
to stop for the night.
Alternatives to wild camping
Wild camping has its advantages, and its disadvantages. On the plus
side are the freedom offered, the fact that it's free, and the peace
and quiet of being on your
own. On the negative side are the lack of facilities, the isolation,
and the fact that you generally need to move on next day.
Two alternatives are farm camping
(camping à la ferme) and natural
consists of micro campsites run by farmers on
their own land. These can have a maximum of six pitches. They must
provide toilets and a warm shower plus rubbish and recycling bins. Many
provide more, in the form of a farm shop and/or a common room; some
even have swimming pools. Rates are not expensive, and of course there
are generally no time restrictions apart from the end of the season.
, or natural area campsites, are larger and can
have up to 25 large spaces. They cannot have any fixed rental
properties, but must provide a washroom and other essential facilities.
Many of the sites
in the Rural Camping
France directory are farm campsites or natural area campsites.