A Guide to Camping in the French Riviera & Provence
As you will quickly realise, motorhoming is very popular in France, perhaps partly because of the law that permits people to park off-site. This popularity means that off-site parking areas get very popular in the summer months, as do official campsites (where if travelling in July August peak it’s recommended to book in December!).
The best time of year to camp can often be September and October. It’s our favourite time of year on the Riviera as the weather is generally lovely- although the storms sometimes arrive in October and you’ll want somewhere nice and protected to park up then. Be aware that the coast road between Nice and Cannes can sometimes shut in places with waves crashing over it in the big storms- you may be forced onto motorways and into official campsites at this point so keep your eye on the long-range weather forecast.
Legalities of wild camping / parking-up
It is illegal park overnight or wild camp in Monaco. There is nowhere to park legally overnight, but there is a daytime parking spot for motorhomes just off Avenue des Guelfes in Fontveille (up near the palace). Be aware that you will be fined if you park on the street in Monaco. Also, the winding roads and tunnels of Monaco aren’t very motorhome-friendly and it will probably be much less stressful just to take the train or bus. Most motorhomers visiting Monaco seem to use the Biot Aires and official campsites along the coast towards Nice.
In other parts along the Cote d'Azur the police will sometimes move you on- even if there aren’t any signs prohibiting motorhomes. You can argue, if you like, but you will get tired eventually and move along. Again, this happens more in busy summer time in beachside parking, and you should find few problems travelling in the autumn.
Although it’s permitted to stay overnight in the Aires at petrol stations, it’s really not advisable at all as there are frequent break-ins, and the facilities are often dirty. Be particularly vigilant near Marseilles, even when just stopping to use the facilities, and avoid overnighting at highway aires where possible.
You will also find that the Riviera and Provence are somewhat less friendly towards motorhomes than the rest of France- as you’re already aware, Monaco prohibits them overnight. Unfortunately, this attitude persists in many places down the coast including beautiful Bandol and Cassis.
There’s also the France Passion scheme in rural France- where farmers etc allow motorhomes to park in their vineyards and on their lands- with the hope (although not required) that you’ll purchase some of their wine/honey/cheese/olive oil for your travels. A lot of the hosts also cook for you using their delicious farm produce. Doesn’t sound that tough, does it! There are lots of France Passion hosts in Provence, and it is always worth considering travelling during wine harvest season with wine festivals and celebrations to enjoy along the way. You will have to pay €29 for yearly membership and a guide though- you’ll be sent a windscreen sticker that allows you access to the sites. Be aware that as farmland, the sites don’t have the same facilities as official campsites.
Wild or off-site camping
There is also apparently lots of ‘wild camping’ opportunities up in the Massif des Maures (hills) up behind Saint Tropez- if you don’t mind being remote and with few other campers and facilities, this is a great way to keep costs down.
There are some good places to park motorhomes that we’ve personally seen along the Riviera coast. There’s a brilliant one by the water at famous Pampelonne Beach by Saint Tropez, for 10 euros a night, and there are always motorhomes parked along the beach at Antibes (Plage de Salis) and along the beach and near the train station in Biot. Beachfront parking is not always allowed overnight, but there are motorhomes there pretty much year round so we can only suspect that the French parking inspectors will sometimes turn a blind eye. The Aires guide will have this information so you don’t get caught out.
Biot and Antibes are good choices (particularly Biot) as these towns are on the train line, meaning you can park up and take the train to Nice and Monaco in one direction and Cannes in the other. There are also official campsites at Biot- 'La Brague' and 'Camping du Pylon'.
Nice: There isn’t any overnight parking within the city, but there is an Aire at nearby St Laurent du Var (just by the airport), as well as official campsites at Cagnes sur Mer and Villeneuve Loubet Plage (not the village as it’s miles away). These coastal campsites and aires are all great for train travel into Nice or Monaco.
Menton: In the other direction towards the Italian border, Menton is an absolutely gorgeous seaside town of villas and exotic gardens, where it’s rumoured that you can park your motorhome in the parking by the port. You can then catch the train or a bus back into Monaco or any of the stunning cliff-lined beaches along the way. Again, check the Aires guide to be sure if the Menton carpark is ok.
In Provence, there’s an aire at St Croix overlooking the beautiful lake, and the one at Fontaines des Vaucluse in Provence also comes recommended.
Camping & caravanning in Provence
When it comes to official campsites, the Holiday Marina Resort Campsite at Port Grimaud has a good reputation- and also Domaine du Verdon campsite set on a lake up in the hills of Provence. There’s also a gorgeous wooded campsite called La Domaine de la Bergerie up near Vence, and La Brise campsite in the beautiful Camargue is also a standout.
In Aix-en-Provence, Airotel Camping Chantecler and Camping L'Arc-en-ciel are in walking distance of the town and buses to Marseilles.
Aires de Service
The name Aires comes from the French 'Aire de Service Camping Car', their term for motorhome stopovers.
'All the Aires France' (South version), lists all the free or low-cost off-site parking (Aires) in the South of France, with a section on the Riviera and Provence region. It’s a comprehensive guide with reviews of all the offsite parking available. It’s not a translation of the French Aires guide, but a recent English guide- from the intro version it appears very good. You can see inside the guide here.
You can get a free aires guide in French on this website, but it’s a bit messy and, well, in French- although those motorhomers who can get by in French also say it’s very good.
According to the All the Aires France guide, there’s been 300 new Aires added to the network in the last 2 years, so things are looking good for those travelling in motorhomes. Apparently French motorhome drivers tend to stick to the main routes so those Aires get very busy, and the Riviera is particularly notorious for having busy Aires- another reason to travel later in the season. These popular Aires on the coast will often have a cost attached, even if it’s just between 5-10 euro for the night. (It can be more).