Due to Ramadan we discovered that we would have at least an extra five weeks to “kill” in Europe before we could fly to Oman. While in the Loire Valley we had noticed a ton of motorhomes threading their way through the narrow streets and in the parking lots at the Chateaus. A quick search online and I found a website “www.jelouemoncampingcar.com” which had many different motorhomes available for rent. Motorhomes in France are called camping cars. It worked very similar to the VRBO websites so I put requests to a bunch of camping cars and managed to land an upgrade for free to a Mercedes Hymer 655 in less than a day.
We took the train from Paris to Verneuil-sur Avre in the morning and were on the road by about 2:00 in our camping car. With only the cell phone for navigation we traveled north toward the Normandy coast. It was a long 3 hours in the car as the boys are not really used to being confined to seat belts for extended periods any more. We eventually made it to Camping Cote de Nacre a five star resort. Campgrounds in France are all given a rating from 1 to 5 stars. In general they all have flush toilets (Kevin would be glad) but showers, hot water, pools, laundry, dish washing sinks, shit-box dumper (European RV’s have a removable sewage tank that you carry to a dumping facility instead of using a hose – its not as bad as it sounds) and water taps all help set the star rating. We never stayed at anything below a 3 star because we were not going to endure cold water showers.
Per usual we had no research done for the trip and had to wing it. Our first campground we found with a google search and headed directly there because it had a pool, running river (think Millenium Place) and waterslides . It was also expensive at 40E a night but we stayed three nights anyway because we had so much fun. We met a couple with kids from the Netherlands and a group of 3 families from Scotland who ended up getting trapped in France because the ferry workers in Calais were on strike and blocking the roads. While the facilities were great we wanted to stay at places that were a little more rustic and a bit cheaper.
Finding campgrounds online was a little tough at first until we discovered the term “aire de camping car” and learned about “municipal campgrounds.” Both of these types of campgrounds are less luxurious than our first campground but there is a lot of variability too, so it is important to check ratings. Aire de Camping Cars are typically very simple some of which are little more than a parking lot, that may or may not be flat, where you park your unit. In general they don’t have showers but some have power and one we stayed at had Wifi in our site included in the price. We paid as little as 6E for a stay in a aire and as much as 20 for a municipal campground. In general I would estimate the price of a capsite using the formula:
y = 2x^2 + 5 where:
y is the price per night for our group
x is the number of stars
Electricity is never included in the price of a campsite and costs 5E on average a night. We only used the power for running a laptop and charging our cellphone for mapping but without an inverter we had to take it to make sure we had a map the next day, not really the best value. Another thing that was unusual for us is that they will charge per person in your group. The basic site charge is for the camper car and one adult or sometimes 2 adults, then they add for power, 3 kids and a 0.20E tourist tax per person. It is a weird system but I guess it would deter the whole 20 people in one campsite thing that you sometimes see in Alberta. If you had a second car or tent then they would add for that too. In general at a 3 star we would pay about 15-20E and at 4-5 stars we would pay 40-50 a night. We never ran into a campground that did not have a spot open for us to take.
I have never camped in a camper car, but I think Leah and I are converted. Packing up the whole trailer to take with you on excursions is a bit of pain, but we could setup and take down our whole campsite in less than 5 minutes. If we were coming back then it would take 2 minutes because we would leave the lawn furniture out. Having a bathroom, kitchen and comfortable seating for everyone while on the road is definitely worth the extra work to go out for the day.
The driving in France was actually not bad at all, the roads while tight in places are big enough for the Hymer. The highways in France are top rate, though if you take the Autopista the tolls are pretty expensive so sometimes we would take the slow roads and see more country rather then pay. It was a really organic way to experience the country and aside from the occasional frustration regarding navigating it let us see real France. The Viatorians are definitely going to go camping in France again! Maybe with family next time?