Camping in France: all you need to know

Would you like to book a campsite? There are a number of things you need to pay attention to before, during and after signing the contract. Find our tips.

Campsites in France

The camping pitch is an arranged plot of land for camping and RV parks, hosting tents, caravans, mobile homes, and camping cars.

The conditions governing the classification of French campsites are very strict. For hygienic and environmental reasons, all campsites have to be notified to the town hall or the prefecture, and are classified according to a star-rating system, from one to five stars. Criteria such as total surface of the campsite, amenities, pitch size, pitch number, and number of toilet facilities, are taken into account in the rating-system. Prices also generally reflect the number of stars of the campsite, but can vary from one season to another.

Each category refers to a specific camping experience:

  • One-star campsites: small campsites, individual shower cubicles with possibly cold water, dish-washing sinks, pitch over 70m². Prices start from 8€ per night for a pitch.
  • Two-star campsites: a reception during the day, individual shower cubicles with hot water, individual washbasins, amenities for small electrical equipment, pitch over 70m².
  • Three-star campsites: warden attendance 24/7, a reception in two foreign languages including English, tiled floors in washing areas, equipped children’s play areas, a wider range of services (Internet access, beverage dispenser…), pitch over 80m². Prices can be around 32€ or 40€ per night for four people.
  • Four-star campsites: private washing cubicles with hot water, dish-washing and clothes-washing sinks with hot water, pitches over 80m², tarred roads within the site, food stores on campsite or close by. Prices can go from 20€ to 50€ per night for four people.
  • Five-star campsites: a reception in 3 languages including English, compulsory swimming pool, Internet access, optional services (spa, massage, tennis…), pitch over 80m².

Good to know: many campsites offer more than the minimum required. Hence, there are plenty of one-star campsites with better amenities than those described above.

Classification of campsites

There are currently three categories of registered campsites in France:

  • Tourism: a campsite is labelled “leisure” if more than 50% of the pitches are rented for a night, a week or any short term stay.
  • Leisure: a campsite is labelled “tourism” if more than 50% of the pitches are rented for long term stays (over a month) without the customer taking up residence in the accommodation.
  • Natural area: a campsite is labelled “natural area” if it hosts tents, caravans and camping-cars on bare pitches which aren’t individually supplied with water and electricity. It is forbidden to establish any fixed accommodation (bungalows, fixed caravans…) on the pitches.

All categories must provide showers, toilets and washing areas, but there are considerable differences between the various campsites. To compare facilities and prices, you can rely on the star-rating system of the French campsites. However, you should know that natural areas are not assigned stars and are subject to specific rules.

Accommodation

Caravans which are supplied with both water and electricity, and which are directly linked to the waste water evacuation system are called “comfort caravans”, and those which are also connected to the main drainage and sewerage network are called “great comfort caravans”.

Furnished, permanently sited caravans and bungalows are subject to the rules governing holiday rentals. Hence, there are several obligations of rental agreements, such as the inventory of fixtures.

Farm camping

"Farm camping" is a label given to farmers who offer a small area for camping, with a maximum of 6 pitches. The farmer’s camping area must provide electric power points, toilets, wash basins, at least one warm shower, and dustbins. When there is no specific sign making the farm a campsite, make sure to get the owner’s consent before setting up your tent or your motor home.

Any farm campsite needs to be registered to the town hall. A farmer can accommodate up to 20 campers on his ground, or 6 tents/caravans. The surface area of his/her campsite needs to be at least 300 square meters. However, if the farm campsite is labelled by the Prefecture as “natural area”, “seasonal tourism camp” or “permanent tourism camp”, its maximum capacity is raised to 25 or 50 pitches, depending on the label. Finally, for all types of farm camping, the duration of the stay can’t exceed 2 consecutive months.

Wilderness camping

In France, practicing isolated camping (Bivouac) is forbidden or very strictly limited, as camping on your own in some areas might damage the natural environment or trigger a fire hazard. So before setting up your tent, make sure that camping isn’t forbidden and that you have the agreement of the owner. Otherwise you can be fined!

There are two types of camping prohibitions:

You cannot camp, even temporarily, on public or private land:

  • On (public) roads and highways;
  • On classified, listed or protected sites;
  • Within 500m from a classified or listed historic building;
  • In nature reserves, parks, and gardens;
  • On seashores, and on a classified, listed protected site;
  • Within 200m from water sources used for consumption.

You cannot camp on a site, temporarily or permanently, if the major has forbidden it under a municipal by-law. The major may take this decision because environmental, commercial, aesthetic, safety or public health reasons. The public is notified by a display in the city hall and a sign placed around the forbidden zone.

Tips:

  • In doubt, go to the town hall or tourist office to ask for information on camping.
  • As long as you have the owner's consent, you can camp in a field, a farm, a private forest, and so on.
  • If you wish to camp in a state-owned forest, you will need a permit from the French Forestry Commission.

Residential leisure parks

Residential leisure parks offer accommodation on a more permanent basis, not just for a one-time vacation. The owners of mobile homes or caravans can either rent or buy a plot of land to establish their secondary residence. More affordable than a vacation house, residential leisure parks are located on sites offering various amenities (roads, car parks, swimming pools..) just like campsites, but for regular stays instead of occasional ones.

Should you make a reservation beforehand?

Early booking is recommended, as the pitches quickly sell out during peak weeks such as school summer holidays, and especially in campsites with popular amenities (activities for children, swimming pools, and easy access to the beach). Therefore, booking is essential for three-, four- and five-star campsites, but not necessary for one- or two-star campsites, although checking the availability before going is always a good idea.

Before signing the contract

The campground operator must include in the written contract the following information:

  • Administrative information about the campsite (name, address, website, ranking …);
  • The description of the accommodation (type, size, maximum capacity of people, disabled accessibility…);
  • The geographical location of the campsite and its environment;
  • The common facilities on the campsite (washing machine, swimming pool…);
  • The price of the rental for the contracting period;
  • The price of additional services or extras not included in the rental price (water, electricity, sheet rental, accessories for children, extra fees for cars…);
  • Rental conditions (booking fees, cancellation insurance and its cost…) and the various restrictions (no smoking…);
  • An information note if you rent a camping pitch for a year to install a mobile home (you must attest you have read the note before signing the lease).

When signing the contract

  • Pay attention to eventual unfair terms in camping contracts, for example terms aiming at:
  • Enabling the trader to unilaterally alter the original terms of the contract;
  • Allowing the trader not to execute as per the contract the refund of the sums paid by the consumer, by excluding any form of compensation;
  • Exempting the trader from any liability if he failed to fulfil his obligation to deliver the premises and facilities in accordance with the description as well as in a good maintenance and operating condition;
  • Enabling the trader to do non-urgent maintenance or repair work during the duration of the lease;
  • Excluding, in case of urgent repairs, any right for the consumer to obtain compensation for the disturbance allegedly suffered;
  • Setting too short deadlines for claims that the consumer might make after the contract expires;
  • Planning an allocation of territorial jurisdiction or imposing on the consumer clauses requiring him, in case of dispute, to plead before a court far from his home.

After the signature of the contract

The campground operator will most likely ask you to pay a deposit and or an advance payment when you book your campground or sign the contract. If you cancel your reservation, the operator can deny you the refund of amounts already paid. How can you know if you’re entitled to a refund? There are 3 types of deposits in France:

  • Acompte”: this is the most common form of deposit in France. Be careful, there is no possibility of withdrawal! The payment of the deposit implies that the agreement is final. The consumer may be required to pay the full price. Think twice before agreeing to go for this kind of deposit.
  • Arrhes”: this deposit allows the consumer to withdraw from the contract, which means he/she won’t have to pay the full price. However, the amount paid in advance is lost if the consumer cancels the reservation. You can always try to negotiate for a partial refund but there’s no certainty you will get it. If the trader cancels your contract, then he must pay double the deposit back to the consumer.
  • Avance”: this is a down payment that imposes no obligations on the parties, and only aims at paying for the booking of the rental. If the consumer cancels, he/she is entitled to the refund of the amounts already paid.

Attention: If the type of deposit is not clearly named in the contract, it is automatically considered as “arrhes” and the amount paid is often lost. It is therefore necessary to thoroughly check the terms used in the contract before signing it, and see if cancellation insurance is included in the contract.

Internal rules and legal obligations of the campsite

Each campsite has its own rules of procedure, which are set accordingly to a standard form decided by the French Ministry of Tourism. The rules of procedure must be displayed at the entrance of the campsite and in the reception area, as well as be handed to any customer requesting it.

Other information that should also be displayed at the entrance of the campsite includes its prices, accommodation facilities, the origin and quality of the water, its classification category, and the need for a security deposit.

Animals on campsite

Allowing animals inside the campsite is not granted. It depends on the goodwill of the campsite operator, who is free to accept or reject all animals or only certain species. The operator should mention his animal policy in his rules of procedure. Animals can be accepted all year round or only during the low season. Regarding domestic animals and especially dogs, some campsites do not accept them during the high season, for hygienic reasons or to prevent hypothetical damage. Others address the problem by displaying extremely high fees for animals to deter people from bringing them. Some campsites require an anti-rabies vaccination certificate or a European passport issued by the veterinarian. Keeping pets on a leash inside the campsite is also usually required.

Complaints against the campsite

When you arrive at the campsite or during your stay, you might encounter an issue of non-compliance of the accommodation: the environment of the campsite, the pitch size, or the facilities and amenities mentioned on advertising and contractual documents might not correspond to the reality. In that case, and if you can’t reach an agreement with the campsite operator during your stay, you’ll need to provide evidence of the non-compliance to file a complaint when you get back home. Therefore, consider keeping the advertisement, the pre-contractual documents and all the emails exchanged, taking pictures and videos, asking the neighbours to testify, and getting a bailiff (which implies legal fees) that will attest the non-compliance. Do not hesitate to contact the ECC of your residence country for advice and assistance.

Camping insurance

In fact, some campsite operators demand civil liability insurance for the damage caused. It can also be required by representatives of the French Forestry Commission.

To prove you are insured, you will have to show a membership card to a camping federation or to an affiliated club (read carefully the terms of your membership contract to make sure your card is also valid in France) or your civil liability insurance certificate. Check with your insurer that your private civil liability insurance doesn’t rule out the camping activity, fire or explosion damage outside your house, or the country where you’re going camping – in this case, France.

For damage suffered, check if your multi-risk home insurance covers damage caused abroad to your camping equipment and personal belongings. Make sure that your out-of-home furniture warranty is also valid for camping. There are some camping and leisure insurances that include both the civil liability warranty and the camping equipment damage.

Good to know: If you’re not sufficiently covered, ask your insurer for an extended warranty. Various extensions exist:

  • Camping gear damage insurance: for a limited amount, you can protect your camping equipment and personal belongings from bad weather and theft;
  • Insurance for physical accidents while camping: to cope with unexpected expenses that are not covered by the social organism in case of an accident;
  • Cancellation insurance or interruption of your stay;
  • Legal protection insurance;
  • Assistance warranty.

Tips: 

  • If you pay the reservation in advance with your credit card, check what guarantees are included on your credit card (ask your bank and or credit card institute);
  • Check all the guarantees of your insurance contract (exclusions, waiting periods or deficiency, territoriality);
  • If your underage child decides to go camping with friends, as parents you can be liable for him/her if he/she causes any damage (check what damage is covered by the insurance contract and the terms of the contract’s implementation).