Campervan Rental in France
The Ultimate Guide (Part 2)
On The Road Tips
Everything you need to know for a motorhome road trip in France.
This is the second part of our ultimate guide to ensuring you have an unforgettable campervan tour.
Click here for Part 1 - Planning Your Trip
Guide to Driving a Motorhome in France
France is incredibly welcoming to motorhomes: it welcomes them on its roads and in its towns and especially in places that cater to tourists. You will often find parking designated just for RVs, frequently including overnight stops. And it’s fairly simple to find cassette toilets and faucets to replenish your motorhome’s fresh water supply.
You will be hard-pressed to find a more vast and interesting country for a road trip adventure than France. While you may be in a rush to get on the road, however, there are some simple guidelines and advice you need to keep in mind while driving:
- You must be at least 18 to drive a campervan — no exceptions
- Always have your passport, driver’s license, proof of insurance and registration handy.
- A certified breathalyser should be on board at all times. Single-use certified breathalyzers are now available in many supermarkets, chemists and garages throughout France, at a cost of about 1€ or 2€ each
- Make sure that you have a red emergency triangle onboard as it is required by law you do so in the event of an emergency
- Watch for speed limits and note that you are required to slow down in wet or wintery conditions
- Often rental vehicles will provide drivers’ guides and online tutorials for international customers who may not be familiar with the road rules in France. Read them over before you hit the motorways
- Consider adding a GPS if it is not included with your rental package so you always know where you are going.
Important Things to Know Before You Depart
- For the most part, autoroutes in France toll roads. If you plan to use the autoroutes often (or for very long periods of time) then opt to use the Liber-T automated payment service. This will let you use the automatic telépéage lanes rather than queuing to handover cash or credit cards.
- A helpful radio station broadcasting information on FM 107.7 in France provides up-to-date details of traffic conditions and important alerts.
- In France there are unmarked police vehicles equipped with onboard speed cameras ready to issue tickets to those exceeding speed limits.
- Seatbelts must be worn at all times, by both adults and children in the front and back of the vehicle, without exception.
- Children under 10 years old are not allowed to sit in the front seat of the vehicle. If they are seated in the back they must have an age-appropriate booster seat.
- Babies are allowed to travel in the front passenger seat, but only when placed in an approved rear-facing baby seat and when the airbag is turned off.
- The maximum legal blood alcohol level is 0.05%.
- Police are empowered to carry out random breath tests at their own discretion.
France's Rules of the Road
- BEWARE speed demons — holders of EU driving licences exceeding the speed limit by more than 40kmh will have their licences confiscated on the spot by French police.
- Adhere to all speed limits. Limits can change quickly change according to conditions such as terrain and visibility.
- French law prohibits drivers from using devices capable of detecting speed cameras and warning drivers of their location.
- As a general rule, you must drive on the right and overtake on the left.
- On steep gradients, vehicles travelling downhill must give way to vehicles travelling uphill.
- At intersections, the driver of a vehicle must give way to vehicles approaching from their right, unless otherwise indicated.
Parking in France
As previously mentioned, France is generally very accommodating to campervans: you’ll find RV parking spaces in mid-size cities, well-touristed areas and villages. However, in large cities narrow roads and lots of traffic mean that any parking is a challenge and expensive. If you’re hiring a campervan for the first time, be careful of parking garages as the height limits can spell disaster if you’re not paying attention. When in doubt, don’t do it and you’ll prevent damage to your RV.
- Most importantly, parking a caravan on roads is forbidden at any time in Paris and some other towns and cities. Overnight parking in a lay-by (called a rest stop in the US) isn’t permitted anywhere in France, although you can stop for a rest if you’re falling asleep at the wheel. On roads outside town limits, you must pull off the road to stop.
- Parking is usually restricted in cities and towns and prohibited altogether in certain areas. Pay attention to posted signs before you lock up and walk away.
- In many places, parking is permitted on only one side of the street. For example, parking may be permitted on the side with odd-numbered houses for the first-half of the month and on the ‘even’ side for the second half of the month.
- On-street parking is forbidden in many streets in the centre of Paris (and other cities).
- It’s forbidden to park in front of a fire hydrant.
- In Paris, it’s illegal to leave a car in the same spot on a public road for more than 24 hours.
- In most French cities, parking meters have been replaced by ticket machines.
- Fines for illegal parking are based on the severity of the offence.
Understanding France's Road System
While the system can seem complicated for those new to driving in France, you will quickly get the hang of things. Here are a few things to keep in mind.
- French motorways, known as autoroutes, are designated with numbers preceded by the letter A (for Autoroute).
- Most French autoroutes are toll motorways. Entrances to them are marked as such with the word "Péage" (pronounced pay-arje). Simply pick up a ticket from a booth as you enter the autoroute (just press the button). The tolls are paid either when you leave the autoroute, or when the toll section comes to an end.
- If you’re only occasionally driving on the autoroutes during your holiday, subscribing to the Liber-T system (to avoid lines) is a waste of money.
- It is possible to drive through France avoiding all tolls, though this is not necessarily the most timely or most economical solution.
- Sometimes you may see direction signs starting with the word “Bis”, in italics. These are the equivalent of the British "HR" (holiday route) itineraries, using less crowded main roads.
- Driving on the backroads of France requires a good map or GPS and a sense of humour.
While you can always get along with just a traditional map you will want to spend a little extra to lease a GPS system for your trip if it does not come standard with your campervan. The time, energy, petrol and patience that it will save you is well worth the money spent. If you wish to use your phone for directions, that will work fine in the majority of the country. However, be aware that there are large zones without mobile service at higher elevations and in remote areas, and mobile roaming fees can be excessive.
Always have your passport, driver’s licence, proof of insurance and registration handy. Also required if you are behind the wheel is a certified breathalyser. Single-use certified breathalyzers are now available in many supermarkets, chemists and garages throughout France, at a cost of about 1€ or 2€ each.
Fuelling up in France
Generally, motorhomes require diesel but be sure to clarify this with your rental agency before you leave the car park. Putting petrol into a diesel engine is a disastrous and expensive mistake. To avoid paying more than you have to, fuel up at places that are located in well-travelled areas and not small towns or in a remote area. There are many apps you can download to save fuel — see which works best for you before you leave.
Fuel shortages are a real phenomenon in France and petrol stations are often closed on Sundays, so plan ahead. You can save fuel every day in a couple of clever ways (like always keeping to the speed limit and turning off the A/C). You can also save fuel by turning off electronics when not in use.
All throughout Europe you need to watch out for signs which mean that vehicles are not allowed. Rental companies may also have restrictions on where you can drive your vehicle, and these will be outlined in your contract. Be sure to get answers from the agent for any questions you may have before you sign on the dotted line. Be aware, too, that you may not be able to drive certain vehicles on some roads at various times of the year because of conditions such as snow and ice. These regulations will be posted, so pay attention as you drive!
What to do in the Event of an Accident
Instructions vary by rental company as to what to do if you are in an accident. Some may require you to notify the police and contact them immediately. Others want you to get in touch within 24 hours and do not require a police report. Every rental company should provide you with a welcome packet that includes emergency contact information and instructions on what to do if you are in an accident. If you are not provided this package then request it immediately.
The Definitive Guide to Campervan Rental in France
Planning Your Trip
Ensuring your camper van tour of France is the very best...
On The Road Tips
Everything you need to know for a motorhome road trip in France...
Information about key motorhome brands in France...