Bryony SymesSee other Blog articles filed in ‘Travel and touring’ written by Bryony Symes
Islands can capture the imagination and steal your soul in a way that entire countries might not. Surrounded by sea, they look fragile and just out of reach; mysterious beauties, just waiting to be explored.
Next time you're touring France in your motorhome, why not take a scenic coastal detour and go island-hopping to make the most of your great escape?
Here's our guide to some of the more accessible French islands, starting in the South of France with the most famous French island of all!
Corsica – the ‘Island of Beauty’
Corsica is the largest of France’s islands, and is highly accessible for motorhomes via the many ferry services, as well as being a great stepping stone to the Italian island of Sardinia, which is just 11km south, across the Strait of Bonifacio.
Corsica’s Mediterranean beauty is best explored outside of high season (July to August) so that you can avoid the crowds of tourists that flock here every year. The mountainous island is surrounded by a stunning coastline, with sandy beaches and winding coastal roads. Make the most of the azure waters if you enjoy watersports, great diving and boat trips.
Step back in time
The island also has some stunning ancient sites, such as the Bronze Age Castelo di Cucuruzzu and Capula, which has seen settlements from the Bronze Age right through to the Medieval times when it was the centre of the Feudal system. Both of these can be visited using the same looped walk. Another interesting site is Filitosa, which has over 8000 years of history and is the largest Corsican and Mediterranean centre where you can see ancient stone menhirs, carved with faces. You must also visit Aleria, which has Greek ramparts, a pre-Roman necropolis and a Roman villa.
See Napoleon's birthplace
Corsica's capital, Ajaccio, is another terrific place to visit. The gorgeous bay surrounding the city is unmistakably Mediterranean with azure waters and a large marina. There's a 15th century citadel and many sites related to the French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte, the city’s most famous son. The Fesch Palace and the library within it has tens of thousands of fascinating artefacts, including the largest collection of Italian paintings in France, second only to the Louvre.
Beach walks on the wild side
If you’re looking for more off-the-beaten-track touring, take the East coast route from Bastia to Bonifacio. This side of the island has less variety in terms of coastline but the beautiful, family-friendly beaches are still great.
If you visit Corsica between December and April, you’re also likely to catch the ski season; the island has three ski areas to choose from. Don’t expect it to be as well developed as the Alps, and be wary of mountain storms that arrive with little or no warning.
A stop at the Étang de Diana could see you dining on flat-shell oysters while gazing at the lake which has an intriguing island of oyster shells – a consequence of more than 2000 years of oyster farming.
The more popular Corsican West Coast is jagged and stunning; well worth a drive along Route D81. It is much harder to hug the coast once you near the south-western promontory of the island, though. The spectacular rock formations of the Calanche of Piana are ready and waiting for the ambitious hiker. For a less challenging walk, visit the pretty village of Piana, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Ports with ferries to Italy
Corsica has seven ports, with ferries to France and Italy, which generally take four-to-six hours (or 12 hours from Marseilles). If you're planning to visit Corsica as part of a long motorhome tour of Europe there are many ferry routes to choose from, including Toulon, Nice and many Italian ports. If you wanted, you could even go via Caen on the journey out and via Bastia on the journey back.
Ferry operators include Corsican Ferries, CMN La Meridionale and Moby Lines.
Campsites in Corsica
Camping d’Olzo, St Florent, Strutta, 20217, Saint-Florent. Tel 0495 370 334. Open 16 April to 24 September. This site is well-situated for trying out Corsica’s best wine region – Calvi – and the local cuisine. There is a swimming pool, Wi-Fi, a large barbecue area and the site is only 2km from the village centre.
Camping La Pietra, Marine de Pietracorbara, 20200, Pietracorbara, East Corsica. Tel 0495 352 749. Open 20 March to 7 November. This site has 83 pitches and is ideally situated for exploring Cap Corse, at the northern tip of the island, with stunning countryside and charming seaside towns. Plus it is an easy 35 minutes down the D80 to the port at Bastia.
Camping Les Mimosas, Route d'Alata, 20090, Ajaccio, Corsica. Tel 0495 209 985. This campsite has 70 pitches, Wi-Fi, a washroom, disabled and laundry facilities as well as a motorhome aire de service. It is just 10 minutes from the centre of the capital, Ajaccio, on the Western coast, with plenty of trees for shade, Wi-Fi and a motorhome service point. Dogs are not allowed.
Camping U Famiente, Pertamina Village, 20169 Bonafico. Tel 0495 730 547. To explore southern Corsica, try Camping Pertamina's touring site, which is also ideal if you want to visit Sardinia. There are four-star amenities and plenty to do on site.
To ring France from the UK dial 00 + 33 + the campsite's number without the initial '0'. For instance, to ring Corsica from the UK, dial 00 + 33 + 495 + the last six digits of the campsite's number.
Wild Camping is allowed on Corsica and Île de Noirmoutier in the Vendée (see below), but it's not permitted on the islands near La Rochelle – the Île d’Oléron and the Île de Ré.
From Corsica to Sardinia and beyond
If you choose to hop across from Corsica to Sardinia, you’ll find that it is quite similar, with most of the campsites geared towards tent campers and static caravans. However campervan service areas often have extra facilities such as electricity, showers, toilets and parking. These are well-signed, cheap and cheerful options. You could also continue your tour on to Italy, Algeria or Tunisia.
South of France – Îles d’Hyeres and the Golden Isles
Porquerolles, Port Cros and Le Levant make up the ‘Golden Isles’. This group of islands lies just off the South Coast of France, in the beautiful Mediterannean sea and has fabulous beaches from which to enjoy the warmer waters, including the Plage noire du Langoustier, blackened by run-off from a 19th century soda factory.
The tiny island of Porquerolles is car-free, and you can get there either via water taxi or by using the ferry service from Glens.
Campsites for the Îles d’Hyeres and the Golden Isles
Camping Îles d’Or, Boulevard Alsace Lorraine, La Badine, Glens 83400 Hyeres. Tel 0494 582 055. Open 21 May to 24 September. There are 160 pitches here, just 400m from the Capte beach, with plenty of shade and great facilities. From here you'll have easy access to Ile de Porquerolles by boat.
Camping de la Bergerie, 4231 Route de Giens, La Bergerie, 83400 Hyeres. Tel 0494 589 175. Open 5 March to 6 January. This site has 35 pitches and beach access is just 200 metres away. It's also close to the nature reserve trails and the beautiful islands are just a boat ride away.
South West France – Île d’Oléron
The only ferry that you’ll need to visit the Île d’Oléron in your motorhome is from the UK to mainland France, unless of course you take the Channel Tunnel. Drive to the south-west coast of France to Charente-Maritime, between La Rochelle and Rochefort, where the island is linked to the mainland by a toll-free road bridge; the third longest bridge in France.
This is a great place for motorhome tours, with aires galore and lots to see. Take your bike to enjoy some of the miles and miles of cycle routes that criss-cross the Île d’Oléron, or spend your days trying out the various beaches.
This area is Europe’s largest oyster basin, so be sure to try the local speciality while you’re here, and admire the thousands of hectares of oyster farming basins that you’ll pass on your way through the Marennes marshes and the island itself. Keep an eye out, too, for the 14 fish locks which date back to the middle ages, and are still active today.
The Île d’Oléron's Atlantic shore has miles of sandy beaches and attracts water sports fans of all kinds, while the eastern coast is much calmer. There is a vast amount of military and maritime heritage on the island (including the oldest lighthouse in the region), plus Romanesque churches which tell tales of revolution as the Catholics and Protestants vied for power. Take in the magnificent views from the 85m tall tower of the church of Saint-Pierre de Sales in Marennes.
As well as Île d’Oléron, there are three more islands off the coast of Charente-Maritime; Île de Re, Île Madame and Île d’Aix. Not to mention the famous Fort Boyard, which lies between Île d’Oléron and Île d’Aix, and Fort Enet. Catch a boat tour from Boyardville, on Île d’Oléron, for a ‘circle’ tour if you want to see this iconic attraction.
Campsites on the Île d’Oléron
Camping Indigo Oléron Les Chênes, 9 Passage de l'Écussière, 17550 Dolus-d’Oléron. Tel 0546 753 288. Open 9 June to 26 September. You’ll have 105 pitches to choose from at Camping Indigo's 'The Oaks' campsite. Pitch among the trees, just metres from the sandy beach, with top-notch facilities including food, a shop, free Wi-Fi and laundry.
Camping Airotel Oléron, Domaine de Montravail, 19 Rue de la Liberations, 17480 Le Château-d’Oléron. Tel 0546 476 182. Open 26 March to 30 September. This all-singing all-dancing site has 21 hectares and more than 200 touring pitches. As a bonus there's an equestrian centre, plenty of activities and free Wi-Fi.
Camping La Cailletière, Route de Boyardville, 17550 Dolus-d’Oléron. Tel 0546 753 633. Open April 1 to September 26. This beautiful wooded site has 124 pitches and is central on the island, surrounded by walking and cycle trails. You’ll get to see all of this lovely island and its beautiful sandy beaches.
There are plenty of aires on the Île d’Oléron, too, and wild camping is allowed.
There are several islands scattered around the Charentes-Maritime coast, including Île d’Aix, Ile Madame, and Île de Ré.
Charentes-Maritime – Île d’Aix
Just off the mid-west Atlantic coast, Île d’Aix and Île Madame are not connected to the mainland, unlike the two larger islands, so they are more suited to a day on the high seas; boats and tours are plentiful, although you may have to cross back to the mainland first. You should also be aware that only 12 vehicles are allowed on the Île d’Aix, so it's best to leave your motorhome behind and explore on foot, or by bicycle.
Île Madame, on the other hand, is accessible by causeway from the mainland at low tide. Visit for rural charm and the fascinating history of the Fort, built as part of the Rochefort defences, which you can learn about on the free guided tour.
South West France – Île de Ré
One French island that you can visit easily in your motorhome is the Île de Ré, linked to the mainland by a road bridge. The Île de Ré is adjacent to the popular south-west coast holiday resort of La Rochelle. The island boasts picture-perfect harbours such as La Flotte and Saint-Martin-de-Ré and beautiful sandy beaches backed by forests of maritime pines. There are more than 100km of cycle trails and a selection of aires, as well as many campsites on the island.
The 350-year-old fortified citadel of Saint-Martin-de-Ré is the bustling centre of life here, with cafés, restaurants, and attractive houses with weather-beaten shutters. Keep an eye out for the heritage centres where you can learn about the island’s history of salt production, fishing and wine-making.
Campsites on the Île de Ré
Camping de l’Ocean, Route d’Arts, La Couarde Sur Mer, Île De Ré, Poitou-Charentes 17670. Tel 0546 298 770. This site has everything you could want and is within just 50m of one of the island’s stunning beaches.
Camping Nature De Sainte Marie De Ré, Plage De La Basse Benaie, Sainte Marie De Ré, Poitou-Charentes 17740. Tel 0546 302 174. Open 21 April to 26 September. If you use one of this campsite's 152 pitches, you will be only metres from the beach, with the village centre just 500m away. The amenities are good and you can order fresh bread and pastries daily.
There are also plenty of aires on the Île De Ré.
Northern Brittany – Île de Bréhat
Take a car-free trip to Île de Bréhat, which is actually two small islands, surrounded by islets, just off the north coast of Brittany. The two islands are joined by a bridge at low tide, and are both best explored by bike or on foot. Boats leave regularly from the mainland at Pointe de l’Arcouest and take just 10 minutes to get to the islands, so it makes a great day trip.
Campsites near the Île de Bréhat
Camping Cap de Bréhat, Port Lazo, Plouezev 22470. Tel 0296 206 428. Open 1 April to 25 September. This campsite has 140 pitches and is just across the strait from the beautiful, car-free Île de Bréhat. The indoor pool is heated all season.
Vendée – Noirmoutier-en-l'île
Noirmoutier-en-l'île is another of France’s Atlantic coast gems that are easily accessed by road; either by the Gois at low tide, or via the toll-free bridge. Once you’re on the island (in high season) you won’t even have to move your van far off you pitch; there are free shuttles as well as free parking, such as that at Etier Mill which has 400 spaces and is free all year round.
The ‘white gold’ industry on the island is salt production, so make sure that you wander through the salt marshes. Even the beaches have their own character; La Plage des Dames still has pretty cabins, reflecting the island’s time as a fashionable resort in the 19th Century. Meanwhile, Plage de la Court is lined with four mills, again echoing the island’s past. The beautiful beaches are great for lazy days in the sun, but don’t forget that there is plenty more to see on this haven of land on France’s Atlantic coast.
Campsites for Noirmoutier-en-l'île
Camping Municipal de la Court, 54 Rue des Moulins, 85680 La Gueriniere. Tel 0251 395 136. Open 25 March to 2 October. You’ll be spoilt for choice with three access points to the beach at this 91-pitch campsite on the island.
Camping Indigo Noirmoutier, Rue des Sableaux, GBois de la Chaize, 85330, Noirmoutier-en-l’île. Tel 0251 390 624. Open 14 April to 3 October. The location of this 150-pitch site says it all; it's set among the dunes in the heart of a pine forest, a stone's throw from the beach and a 10-minute bike ride from all the shops, restaurants and cafés that you might need. It’s an idyll, to say the least.
Brittany – Île de Sein
Just five miles from the Pointe du Raz, the Île de Sein is completely flat (the highest point is six metres above sea level). Known as a castaway island, because that’s what the first settlers were, you can’t take your motorhome, but if you're staying in Brittany near Audierne you can catch the boat across. On the Île de Sein you’ll find a museum in the ‘Men Brai’ lighthouse, as well as the Ecomusée which traces life on the island. The island’s only village has two ports, both served by boats from Audierne. Take a packed lunch and explore the island’s tiny coast and the expansive views of the Atlantic.
Campsites for the Île de Sein
Camping Kérivoas, Route de la Pointe de Raz 29770 Audierne. Tel 0298 702 686. This small, family-run campsite with 20 pitches is just 1 km from the Port, making it easy to have a day trip to the Île de Sein. Plus it has a motorhome service point, which is also open to those who are just passing through.
Camping Pors Peron, Beuzec Cap Sizun, Brittany 29790. Tel 0298 704 024. Open 25 March to 30 September. This 90-pitch site is just 300 metres from a sandy cove with access to coastal walks, and only 6km from Audierne for access to the island. There is free Wi-Fi, fresh bread and pastries delivered in high season, a well-stocked shop and cycle hire.
South of France – Îles du Marseillaises
This small group of Mediterranean islands is just off the coast from the pretty town of Marseille, with the Château d’If - an historically important castle dating from the 16th century which has been used as a fortress, a prison, and a quarantine area for sick sailors. The smaller islands are known as the Islands of Friuli. This is an important nature conservation area, with plenty of sandy coves and pebbled beaches. You can reach these islands for a day trip, travelling on the If Frioul Express with a 20-minute crossing to Château d’If and 30 minutes to the Islands of Frioul.
Campsites for the Îles du Marseillaises
Camping du Garlaban, 1975 Chemin de la Thuiliere, 13400 Aubagne. Tel 0442 821 995. Open 1 February to 31 December.
As one of the closest sites to Marseilles, Camping du Garlaban has 66 pitches and is nestled in the hills of Marcel Pagnol, with an on-site shop and lots of activities nearby.
Chateau de l’Eouvière Camping, 83670 Montmeyan. Tel 0494 807 554. Open 1 May to 30 September. Although this campsite is further from Marseilles, it does benefit from having fascinating archeology, prehistoric caves, the stunning scenery of the Verdon lakes and more on its doorstep.
South of France – Îles de Lerins
Just outside the glamorous, cosmopolitan Cannes, the Îles de Lerins are a world apart. On the Îles de Lerins you'll find Sainte-Marguerite's 17th-century Royal Fort, which happens to be where the Man in the Iron Mask was imprisoned. Now it's a maritime museum. It is a short ferry crossing, and if you don’t want to pay to see any of the exhibitions, you can just enjoy the scenery and relax on the small, sandy beach or take a walk around the island, which takes around two hours.
Another of the islands is Saint-Honorat, where you can discover Lerins Abbey, which was founded in the 5th century. The monks run guided tours and liqueur tastings for groups, and their shop of local products is well worth a look.
Campsites for the Îles de Lerins
Camping La Baume, 3775 Rue des Combattants d’Afrique du N, 83600, Fréjus. Tel 0494 198 888. Open 26 March to 1 October. This large resort has lots of pitches to choose from, and all the entertainment and activities you need. Make sure you get off-site and down to Cannes, though, to escape the hustle and bustle of the Riviera on these special islands.
Parc Bellevue, 67 Avenue Maurice Chebalier, 06150 Cannes. Tel 0493 472 897. Open 1 April to 30 September. At just 1.5km from the beaches of Cannes, this is one of the best placed campsites for visiting Les Îles de Lerins. It also has a host of entertainment, a pool and more.
Brittany – Belle-Île-en-Mer
This is the second largest of Brittany’s islands (after Oléron), just off the Quiberon peninsula. The natural wonders of the island include the Aiguilles de Port Coton, Pointe des Loulains (which boasts an automated lighthouse), Donnant beach and its spectacular dunes.
It is well worth exploring the old citadel Vauban, originally built in 1549 and updated in 1683, this star-shaped fortress has many secrets, which can be explored in the bastions, bunkers and the museum.
There are many boat crossings to choose from, including the Compagnie Oceane ferries (two out of three carry passenger vehicles, but motorhomes may have to wait until there's space on a boat). The trip takes just 45 minutes from Quiberon.
Brittany – campsites for Belle-Île-en-Mer
Camping La Source, 56360 Sauzon, Belle Île en Mer. Tel 0297 316 095. Open 1 May to 1 October. This small and personal site has just 41 pitches, and is sheltered from the prevailing wind whilst having plenty of shade. There is also Wi-Fi available, as well as a games room and children’s play area.
Camping Bordénéo, Lieu dit Bordénéo 56360, Le Palais, Belle-Ile-en-Mer. Tel 0297 318 896. Open 2 April to 25 September. Choose from 200 shaded or sunny pitches in this site, which has all the facilities you could need including a pool complex and lots of children’s activities, plus hire of barbecues, bikes, canoes and scooters to make it even easier to enjoy a break on this island.
Camping Le Kernest, Kernest, 56360 Bangor, France. Tel 0297 315 626. Pitch up in one of the 28 pitches and you’ll be just metres from the beach, with a covered, heated pool, plenty of activities and weekly entertainment.
Vendée – Île d’Yeu
To visit the Île d’Yeu with your motorhome you’ll need to obtain a permit from the mayor’s office.
There is a single municipal campsite on the island, which has direct access to the beach, shaded by the surrounding pine trees. To get there you’ll have to reserve a space on the regular freighter, and entry and exit of the island is usually on a Tuesday or a Friday. Get your request for a crossing to Compagnie Yeu Continent at least 24 hours before you wish to travel.
This may seem like a lot of pre-planning, but once you’re on the Île d’Yeu it is worth it. There are two picture-perfect harbours, great beaches, prehistoric remains, and 23 square kilometres of natural beauty. There’s plenty of history here, too, with the Maritime Museum, the Old Castle, and many monuments. This is one of the Vendée’s best-kept secrets. The long sandy beaches, as well as a wild and rocky coast, coniferous woodland and barren moors are just waiting to be explored.
Campsite for the Île d’Yeu
Camping Municipal, 60 Rue St-Etienne, 85350 Île d’Yeu. Tel 0251 583 420. As it's the only campsite on the island you won’t have much choice but to stay here, among the tents. Rest assured, though, the direct access to the beach and the shady pitches will make you relax instantly.