There are over 8,250 registered campsites in France plus a further 1,400 farm campsites or aires naturelles so knowing how to pick the campsite that is best for you can seem a bit daunting.
France has almost three times more campsites than the UK. However, given the fantastic variety of sites, you can be sure that there are several sites that will suit you. Everybody has different tastes – inevitably, the sites you choose when your children are very young vary from those you are more likely to choose once they become teenagers and they prefer an interesting range of activities offered by many sites. When the children no longer travel with you, your parameters change yet again.
Your choice might depend on whether you have a motorhome or a caravan or a tent. Certainly many travelling with a motorhome appreciate proximity to a town, so they can walk to the shops, bars and restaurants without taking the motorhome out all the time. Similarly, some choose the luxury of an onsite restaurant or take-away so that they don’t have to cook every night. If you prefer a very quiet site, check the number of pitches and avoid establishments offering lots of activities and evening entertainment.
Your choice is bound to be influenced by the number of stars a site has been awarded, but be wary because the star rating is not always a reflection of the quality of the services. The French have recently introduced a new classification system which has to be renewed every five years. All sites had to register and be inspected by the start of this year. Only 74 % have so far been re-classified. These campsites have been inspected and assessed by the French authorities and awarded star ratings from 1 to 5.
The rating system is based almost entirely on the number of services on offer rather than the quality of these services, although the campsites with the higher star rating do tend to provide better quality facilities. Unfortunately this is not always the case and there is no measure for quality of management or cleanliness.
Currently 6% of all French campsites have one star, 24% two stars, 29% three stars, 12.5% four stars and 2.5% 5 stars. The 4 and 5 star campsites tend to have more pitches but two thirds have 100 pitches or fewer.
Nearly all campsites offer some accommodation and many are offering “glamping” in gypsy caravans, safari tents, yurts, cabins in the trees or even cabins floating on lakes. The choice is expanding rapidly and the quality of the accommodation has improved dramatically over the last few years.
Pitch sizes vary tremendously and in areas such as the South of France or in prime coastal areas where land prices are at a premium, the size of your pitch can as small as 70 to 80 sqm.
The new star system only stipulates the size of the total area available per 100 pitches, so a five star rating is no guarantee of a large pitch. Choosing from the star rating alone is not possible.
There are several guide books you can use but only one or two give an appraisal of the campsite. The inspections are often carried out by a number of different people so assessments and descriptions are not necessarily consistent. Most guides also charge for an inspection or to be featured in the guide so some of the best campsites may not be included.
Andrew and Bernadette Erskine have visited over 1,000 campsites and have selected the best of the privately owned ones. They inspect those chosen regularly. Details can be found here.