France is a magnificent destination for the outdoor enthusiast: More than twice as large as Great Britain, the country harbors about the same number of people, suggesting a wealth of emptier, wilder corners. And the landscape is wonderfully varied. You’ve got the glacier-carved heights of the Alps as well as the less trampled Pyrenees on the border with Spain. There are the windswept plateaus and volcanic domes of the Massif Central, one of France’s least populated regions, as well as the hardwood forests of Brittany, the salt marshes of the Atlantic coast, and the stony uplands of the Mediterranean margin.
Officially designated camping areas in France are given starred ratings, ranging from one to four stars (much like hotels). As may be expected, one-star campgrounds are relatively bare bones by the somewhat luxurious standards of Western European camping; they often still have showers and dish washing facilities. Four-star campgrounds provide many of the same amenities as a hotel or resort, with game rooms, laundry services, and all manner of other luxuries.
More primitive camping can often be had, however; the key is to check with local authorities and find out the regulations. It’s often possible to ask a farmer or other landowner if it would be alright to pitch a tent on their acreage; more often than not, they’ll allow it. There are also some undeveloped campsites in more remote corners of the country, but it’s advisable, again, to ask around so you’ll know where you can legally bed down.
While not “camping” in the strictest sense, mountain huts can provide incomparably convenient overnight shelter for trekkers in the Alps. They have the added benefit of reducing the environmental impact of loads of campers in fragile alpine habitats.
There are many providers of camping holidays around France, but I recommend taking a look at Thomson Al Fresco website for the best selection.
Laced with footpaths, France is justifiably considered one of Western Europe’s finest hiking destinations. The premier opportunities come with the long-distance walking routes called the Grandes Randonnées, or GRs. These tracks, penetrating most of the country’s major regions, cover over 37,000 miles (about 60,000 km), and offer outstanding access to rustic and wild reaches of the country. As the GR network passes through small towns and villages, you’ll have plenty of campgrounds and other lodging to choose from, so you can truly plan out a multi-day itinerary.
There are also many shorter hiking trails, of course; some of the finest are in France’s national parks, like the Parc National des Cévennes in the Massif Central and the Parc National du Mercantour, a scenic tract of the Alps on the Italian border that harbors some of France’s rarest creatures, including Eurasian gray wolves.
This article was written by Sarah Clarke – An outdoor enthusiast who loves going camping on the continent.