Our camper vacation in France was actually the second part of a five week roadtrip through the European alps and Provence. It was the second half of September, the weather in Swiss alps was anything but promising and my family did crave for some of that Mediterranean sun down at the coast of France.
It took a long day of travel from the Alps, but we managed to arrive at Nice late in the afternoon. The plan was to check in a camping site, but to my surprise they were all packed up. It started getting really late and the kids and my spouse were naturally becoming restless. And this is exactly the kind of situation you should avoid on the road when traveling around.
Well there was nothing else to do than start driving south towards Antibes and Cannes, just hoping to find a place to spend the night. And soon after I actually saw a few camper vans right on the beach next to the coast road. I pulled over, parked our VW camper, popped the top up, put the kids in bed (they were already asleep) and opened a bottle of wine so my wife and I could regain our spirits after a long and intense day.
After a good nights rest, we woke up overlooking the Cote d'Azur. Now, that's a proper way to start our vacation in France. An up coming morning shower was heading our way, so we had a quick breakfast and a short walk along the beach, packed up our stuff and continued driving to the south.
We had no exact plan to follow, however cruising slowly down the coast towards Camargue and from here on exploring the inside of Provence was roughly the route we had in mind for our vacation in France. We used our classic bag of Europe travel tips and some help from our navigation device. Well we did just that and had a great time doing it.
Media fame aside, Cote d'Azur is an extremely beautiful part of the
Mediterranean world. The red rock formations under the Esterell
mountains perfectly blend with the crystal blue sea and the typical
vegetation for this part of the world. If you enjoy endless walks on
sandy beaches and appreciate the nature, don't forget to stop here and
enjoy yourself for a while.
People living on the coast obviously know how to enjoy life. From the early morning runs and walks, from the little snacks throughout the day and from all their socializing on the beach and elsewhere. Their easy going life-style was one of the ingredients for our vacation in France.
Small towns like Frejus for example are always worth a visit, especially on open market days. The French love their market places and offer full schedules for a large number of towns where the markets are held on different days.
Saint Tropez might sound flashy because of the super rich and famous mega yacht show off in the port, but in real life this is just a small old fishermen town, worth a visit but that's just about it. Don't expect to be alone here and prepare yourself to battle for a parking space and taking forever to leave town with your vehicle do to dense road traffic.
Port Grimaud is a lot more pleasant for example. The town itself is a miniature copy of Venice with all the water canals around, a lot more cheaper and with far less crowds. This way you can tailor your vacation in France according to your needs if crowds are not something you're looking for.
For a real change of scenery and amazing wild landscape we drove down to Camargue or France's Wild West. The Camargue National Park is Europe's largest river delta located between the Mediterranean Sea and the Rhone river. This is the land of Europe's only cowboys, black bulls, herds of white Camargue horses, salt lagoons and rice paddies. Pink flamingos join this stupendous wildlife region when Africa gets too hot.
If you love nature and old traditions being kept alive, there is a whole lot to do in this swamp region. Horse back riding and bull fights are one thing, after all the bulls here are bred and raised for Spain. Not exactly my thing, but...
Food here is excellent and available everywhere. Street food in small towns and markets has a strong Catalan influence with lots of Paella, seafood and rice. Don't forget that this is a region of paddy fields, salt lagoons and watermelons, therefore rice, salt, watermelons and other local produce is abundant. And exactly what I need on my menu.
If you wish to spice up your vacation in France, explore the region with various types of modern transportation including Quad bikes and 4x4's of course. However do keep in mind that this is a natural habitat thus perfectly tailored out for horses and cowboys called the Gardians.
Traveling and camping with kids means that we spent a lot of time building sand castles on sandy beaches or exploring the nearest town. Saintes Maries de-la-mer with an excellent walking/biking path from the campsite or the Camper Stop (one of the best I've ever seen) was a perfect place for all our activities.
We left the Wild West of France and headed up north towards the remains of the Roman acqeduct Pont du Gard and Georges de l'Ardeche. To our surprise, both of the rivers were exceptionally clean, warm and just perfect for a swim in mid September.
Pont du Gard is an ancient acqeduct bridge from the Roman empire crossing the Gardon River. Well I'm not perfect at all times and I actually thought this was just a bridge. However, once we got there, I found out that Pont du Gard is a actually a large and well organized museum.
The bridge itself is massive, more than impressive and definitely a technological marvel even up to today's standards. One thing is looking at it on pictures, but swimming under it and walking over it is a whole new experience. It's an awesome bridge folks and more than worth adding on your vacation in France list.
Gorges de l'Ardeche or the valley of the river by the same name is a water carved beauty of nature, well known for kayaking and canoeing. Pont d'Arc is a huge natural carved stone bridge over the river and a well known bathing place with great sand and pebble beaches on the river shores.
Our road continued through the Luberon region, a spectacular countryside of vineyards and orchards, fascinating "perched" hill-top villages, outstanding natural produce, and the light of Van Gogh and Cezanne.
Well the fact is, that Provence has all the right ingredients for "just cruising around", enjoying the country roads, and old villages and towns on the road. There will be an open market everyday in some of them and don't be surprised to see the locals having a picnic in the town park on market days. At least you could do is join them...
If you wish to take the best pictures of France, you need to visit Provence in the month of July. This is the month when lavender fields begin blooming and you can witness one of the most colorful contrasts in the world!
The Gorges du Verdon, also known as the Grand Canyon du Verdon is the French version of the American Grand Canyon and the next thing marked on our map. Although much smaller than the American version, this European beauty is deep, wild, beautiful and a must see!
The most stunning part is the canyon between Castellane and one of the most beautiful villages in Provence, Moustiers Sainte Marie, where the valley reaches it's maximum depth of around 700 meters (2,300ft), with hair-raising views downward and stunning views across the valley. My wife kept her eyes closed on some of the downward views...
Do to it's beauty and the vicinity of the Verdon Gorge, Moustiers-Ste-Marie is a reasonable place to stay. There are a few camping sites just below town and others quite close by. Do to excellent road connections and a vast camping site network, a camping vacation in France is highly recommended.
The village itself is more than attractive enough and the round trip around the Verdon Gorge does take about a day or so. Well, we also managed to have a picnic and a refreshing swim at the amazing Lac de Sainte Croix (Sainte Croix Lake), just below the final descent of the adrenaline road above the canyon.
The Verdon river runs right through the lake as the lake is an artificial water reservoir and the largest in France. It's also a well known for all kinds of water sports and other activities throughout the season. So if you're into paragliding, horse back riding, kayaking...well, you'll have to hang out for a while.
Our vacation in France was coming to an end, but before turning back home to Slovenia we wanted to let our twins go loose on a sandy beach again, so we headed down directly to the Saint Tropez bay. Well it wasn't for the fancy name but we did spot a few camping sites on the beach with great views of the famous old town across the bay.
It was the end of September and the weather was warm and quite stable that year, so we had no reason to go back in a hurry. So we found a great spot near Port Grimaud and just enjoyed the beach and the town until the first days of October.
The small corner of France that we traveled through is merely a small portion of what this beautiful country has to offer. France is a large and travel friendly country, a real feast for any camper van enthusiast. Every region is kind of different in all aspects and therefore well worth visiting over and over again.
It's a country I've been to a few times before and a place that I will gladly return somewhere in the future for another vacation in France. The colorful and vibrant landscape is of eternal beauty. Even my wife and kids often ask me to take them there again. Of all the countries in Europe, well go figure...