You’ve decided your next holiday will be camping in France, you’ve bought the latest Cool Camping guide to help you choose campsites and now you just need to work out how to get there. Planes, trains and automobiles are all possible options for travelling to France these days, not to mention a variety of cross-Channel ferries. Which of these suits you best will depend on where you’re setting off from, where you want to end up and just how much camping kit you want to take with you. Here’s our campers’ guide to getting to France...
Getting to France via Eurotunnel and Eurostar
If your aim is to get to your destination (or at least into France) as quick as possible and you want to take your own car, you could book a crossing with Eurotunnel. The company operates frequent car-carrying trains daily. You drive your car on to the train at the Eurotunnel terminal in Folkestone and stay put in the vehicle as the train whizzes through the tunnel to arrive in France in just 35 minutes. It’s a good option for dog owners as pets are allowed to travel with you in your car and there’s no need to worry about rough seas either. Safely cocooned, you can relax until you emerge in Calais having never left the driving seat – just don’t forget to drive on the right-hand side when you get there!
You can also travel through the Channel Tunnel to France on the foot passenger services of Eurostar. Board the train at St Pancras in London or Ashford International in Kent and disembark in Lille or Paris for connecting services – or go straight through to the South with Eurostar stations in Marseilles and Avignon too. Even if you want a car in your destination, taking a train to the area and hiring one could be a good option – especially if you are not keen on long drives or have young children who might enjoy a train journey more than the back seat of your Peugeot.
Taking the ferry to France
The ferry is perhaps the most time-honoured way of crossing the Channel to get to France for a camping holiday. Whether you’re a camper with a backpack travelling on foot, on a cycling and camping trip to Europe or travelling by car, the ferry can be a great-value option. It’s the latter that has made the ferry the go-to option for many. You can pack the car up at home and drive all the way to your French campsite. It’s the no fly, no hire-car holiday that makes a long break abroad more accessible and affordable. And it’s another good option for dog owners, though pets are usually left in cars on the vehicle deck while passengers are encouraged upstairs.
The fastest ferry crossing is Dover-Calais, which takes 90 minutes – just long enough to stretch the legs and perhaps have a spot of lunch whilst saying au revoir to the white cliffs of Dover. This route is operated by two main ferry companies: P&O Ferries and DFDS. If the weather is good and you’ve got your sea legs, a ferry crossing is perhaps the most romantic way to reach French soil. Depending on where you’re based in the UK and where in France you’re heading, you might prefer to use one of the other cross-Channel services. There’s Dover-Dunkirk (a two-hour trip) and Newhaven to Dieppe (four hours), both operated by DFDS ferries, or, further west, Portsmouth to Le Havre which takes a little over five hours. From Portsmouth there are also ferries to Cherbourg, Caen and to St Malo too, all of which are operated by Brittany Ferries. With a crossing time of more than eight hours, the route to St Malo is popular for overnight sailings and you can bed down in a cabin for a real break in the journey. A similar service is offered on the Plymouth to Roscoff route (also Brittany Ferries), which takes eight hours at night or six during the day. There are also crossings from Poole and Weymouth to St Malo and Cherbourg.
Flying to France
Flying is probably the least popular way for campers to travel to France. Many campers choose a camping holiday in part for its eco credentials, so flying a short distance to reach a campsite rather offsets the off-setting. But concerns about carbon emissions aside, for families, multiple air fares can often mount up to a higher cost than just taking the car and baggage restrictions mean that it can also be impractical. Unless you’re travelling as a backpacker, with lightweight, easily-packed gear, you’ll probably struggle to get all you need on board. Although flying can be a quick way to get miles under the belt, it’s not a convenient way for family campers to travel as a family-sized tent, cooking gear, washing up bowls and all the rest do not pack neatly into suitcases!
Having said all that, traveling by plane is by no means impossible and with the continued rise of glamping in France, you can now get the camping holiday experience with less and less of your own camping gear. Choose wisely (a glamping site with bedding and towels included, for example) and you might be able to pack as lightly as if you were staying in a hotel. In this case, flying to your French holiday destination suddenly comes more viable.
There are dozens of airports across France and all of the main budget airlines, such as EastJet, Ryanair and Jet2 have regular routes to all of the top French destinations. Comparison websites such as Skyscanner and Kayak let you find the best times and deals to suit your trip. For the South of France, there are flights from the UK to Nice, Marseille, Montpellier and Caracasonne to name but a few. To reach Brittany in the north, look for flights from the UK to Brest or Dinard, the Atlantic coast is served by Nantes and La Rochelle with Bergerac, Limoges and Dordogne-Perigord serving the rural mid to south west of the country.