To the ferry! Le grand Pitchup.com guide to travelling to France
Who ici est having a holiday in France this year? Felicitations, what a très bien choice. With events of all flavours to get stuck into, France 2014 is, in travelspeak, the place to be.
If you haven’t yet been camping, caravanning, motorhoming or glamping in France, our handy guide will tell you how to get there via plane, train and automobile, has info on ferry travel, motorhome/tourer rules, and includes tips on getting to France via a roundabout route (ie, have a holiday around Europe too).
We’re expanding (avec rapidement) into Europe and now have over 220 campsites and holiday parks in France for you to pick from. So we’ll mange our chapeaux if you don’t find a site you like from our list.
If you’re going to one of the many French holiday parks with lodges, static caravans, camping pods and the like, budget airlines operate flights to France from most UK and Irish cities.
And as we all know, these can be very cheap if paid for well in advance, if you’re only taking hand luggage and if you wear six layers of clothing during checkin. We’re merely japing; budget airlines are cracker. (And do cough out the dosh for hold luggage; it’s always reassuring on hol to have several pairs of shoes.)
Fly from Aberdeen, Birmingham, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Newcastle and many more UK cities to French destinations including Brest, La Rochelle, Rennes, Bergerac, Nice and Paris.
Flights from Belfast, London, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Cardiff, Inverness and Leeds to Paris, Toulouse, Brest, Ajaccio, Bastia, Bairritz, Figari, Bordeaux, Grenoble, La Rochelle, Lilles, Lyon, Nantes, Marseilles, Montepellier and Strasbourg. Not all destinations to all routes, obv, but then you knew that anyway.
Newly customer conscious Ryanair has flights from London, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Leeds, Newcastle, Bristol, Manchester, Birmingham, Cork, Dublin and Shannon – flying to beaucoup destinations in France and too many for our pore wee typing fingers to list here; see destinations for the full list.
See also: bmi, British Airways, Virgin Atlantic and Air France.
The Eurotunnel shuttle runs from Folkestone to Calais using the Channel Tunnel, departs four times an hour and takes around 35 minutes for an average journey. Journey costs start from £55 each way on a 'Short Stay Saver ticket, returning within five days, and from £73 per car each way for a trip of any duration.
For a trip of two weeks in summer (19 June – 3 July 2015; leaving Folkestone and returning from Calais) a campervan ticket starts from £75 one way and a car with tourer from £129. Cars start from £60 one way.
And from 1 May 2015, Eurostar's direct service from London or Ashford to Avignon and Marseille in Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur starts from £99 return, taking about five hours and 50 minutes for Avignon and about six and a half hours to Marseille.
If you’re planning to travel to France more than three times a year, open a Frequent Traveller account, which starts at £43 per car per way for a trip of any duration. A guide to all Eurotunnel ticket prices is here.
Also be aware that you have to pay extra on the Eurotunnel when taking pets: £17 per hound per crossing at time of writing.
As much as budget airlines are cracker, they’ll never beat going across to France on the ferry, especially as one can bring half of one’s library in one’s motorhome/car boot. The main routes are:
Dover – Calais (DFDS Seaways; P&O Ferries)
Dover – Dunkirk (Norfolk Line; DFDS)
Newhaven – Dieppe (DFDS)
Portsmouth – Cherbourg (Condor Ferries)
Portsmouth – Le Havre (Brittany Ferries and DFDS)
Portsmouth – St Malo (Brittany Ferries)
Portsmouth – Le Havre (DFDS)
Portsmouth – Caen (Brittany Ferries)
Portsmouth/Poole – Cherborg (Brittany Ferries)
Poole – St Malo (Condor)
Weymouth – St Malo (Condor)
Dublin – Cherbourg (Irish Ferries)
Rosslare – Cherbourg (Irish Ferries)
Cork – Roscoff (Brittany Ferries)
Rosslare – St Nazaire (DFDS)
Les eagle-eyed among you may have spotted that Scotland and Wales are absent from the ferry list, which brings us gleefully to…
Naturellement one can fly from Edinburgh, Cardiff et al to a London airport then catch a train to Dover from there, but this will probably not work if you want to bring your car, tourer or motorhome (think of the Ryanair excess baggage charges).
Thusly, get a ferry to another destination, spend a few days there, then trundle gently along le motorway to a week or two in France. We recommend:
Hull – Zeebrugge (P&O), a day in Bruge ten miles away, then driving across the border to northern France regions such as Nord-Pas-de-Calais , Picardie, Bass-Normandie or across to la Bretagne.
Newcastle – Amsterdam (DFDS), then down through Belgium, Luxembourg and across France via Centre and Burgundy to Pays de la Loire.
Harwich – Hook of Holland (Stena Line), then south to Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur, Languedoc-Roussillon and over to glorious Aquitaine.
Holyhead – Dublin , a few days around Ireland, then back to Dublin for the ferry to Cherbourg.
We also (highly) recommend driving to Dover from wherever you are in the UK and then catching the ferry to France from there – find Pitchup.com campsites along the way by entering a town name or area postcode into our search finder. An even longer holiday? Oui oui.
Unless you have an RV the size of Rose the Hat’s in Stephen King's Doctor Sleep, you’re unlikely to run foul of weight/length restrictions on ferries to France.
Double-check when booking, but in the meantime we’ve put together a quick guide to the main companies’ vehicle types:
DFDS (caravan up to 4.35m x 8m)
P&O (declare vehicles over 6m long and/or 1.83m high [1.80m for Irish Sea routes] at the time of booking; caravans of any size cannot be carried on fast sailings)
Stena Line (caravan/trailer up to 12m long)
Irish Ferries (campervans/caravans/motorhomes up to 8m long+; any vehicle over 12m must be booked as freight)
Brittany Ferries (motorhomes, caravans and large trailers up to 9m long and 4m high)
Condor (campervans/caravans/motorhomes up to 13.5m long and 6.5m high, weighing no more than 3.5 tonnes; only one gas canister, up to 5kg)
Driving in France
Our guide to camping and caravanning in Europe has info on all sorts of nefarious laws to know about before driving on the continent, including the must for a clean car in Belarus and not running out of fuel on the autobahn in Germany.
The AA has an up-to-date list on rules re driving in France, such as carrying self-test breathalysers and a ban on carrying devices that alert drivers of speed cameras; also see the Foreign and Commonwealth widget with travel advice for specific countries and general advice for driving in Europe.
Holidaying in France
As we’ve added our dozens of new French campsites over the past few months, two things have stood out at almost all: they won’t accept breeds/crossbreeds of dangerous dogs (check the ‘terms’ box in each listing to see which these are), and you must (must must) wear Speedoes/trunks/budgie smugglers or a bikini/swimsuit in swimming pools rather than T-shirt and shorts. (France is no place for the body conscious.)
We’d like to see what would happen if un homme turned up in a bikini – after all, it’s not shorts – mais we suspect this would only be met avec un Gallic shrug.
Also, as a few disgruntled reviewers have pointed out, loo roll is generally not provided on French campsites: this seems to be a countryside thing rather than a campsite being slack, so do pick up your own three-ply in a local supermarket when you arrive. What do you mean, it's a bit embarrassing walking across a campsite loo roll in hand? The French would meet that avec un Gallic shrug too.
And if you're booking a French lodge or static caravan, it's usually/often expected that guests clean the accommodation before leaving: check when you arrive if this is the case, so you can build yourself up to it over the week or two you're there.
Also – pétanque. You will be playing it.
As we said/boasted above, we’re expanding into Europe in a way that would give Nigel Farage the vapours. So if you want to try Spain instead of/as well as France, ferry it from and to:
Newhaven – Bilbao (DFDS/LD Lines)
Poole – Gijon (DFDS/LD Lines)
Poole – Santander (Brittany Ferries)
Portsmouth – Santander (DFDS/LD Lines)
We’ll be covering other handy hints when travelling in Europe soon (duty free allowance and pet passports, mainly), and look out for our forthcoming blog on Eurodisney, other French theme parks and holiday parks nearby. In the meantime, bon voyage!
First published April 2015; updated February 2015