I’ve just returned from a tour of Bouches-du-Rhône and the Southern Var, in Provence, and was surprised to see how motorhome-unfriendly it is down there.
Locals councils seem to not care much for motorhomes at all, so much so that they’ve spent a fortune on height barriers and signs to bar ’vans from nearly all convenient parking areas – particularly urban ones – along the coastline.
It’s doubly strange when you consider how much these sections of France are geared towards milking the tourist €€€ for all it’s worth, and that they don’t seem particularly averse to eyesores. The coast is nearly entirely festooned with casino after tower block after amusement park, and coach parking lots can be found outside every little town, but I couldn’t find any aires de service, except a few private ones run by enterprising restaurant and campsite owners.
And because France is the motorhome capital of Europe, the local authorities don’t pull any punches when it comes to barring motorhomes, and they know exactly what they need to do to create deterrents.
I suppose it makes some financial sense to welcome coaches while turning a cold shoulder to motorhomes – after all, two motorhomes can easily take up as much space as a coach, but carry far fewer wallet-bearing customers – but it doesn’t seem at all in keeping with the rest of France.
It seems that – with a close-mindedness that would make many British local councils warm with approval – the authorities in this part of the country have decided that wild camping needs to be stamped out by simply preventing motorhomes from stopping, full stop.
At one point I found myself turning round and round in circles on the outskirts of Cassis, trying to access the big parking lots close to the beautiful white-cliff bays known as calanques. As it turned out, the entire western end of Cassis is a no-go zone for motorhomes, and not because there isn’t any space – a quick Google Street View session reveals ample room – but because motorhomes just aren’t wanted.
The closest parking I could find – and that was only because I was lucky, and someone pulled out of a space right in front of me – was around 20 minutes’ walk from the first calanque, and since I was on a tight schedule I ended up having to abandon my plans to visit.
Earlier in the trip I’d paid a visit to the wine centre in Bandol, staffed by a very friendly Dutchman, who was delighted to learn that I was writing a feature on the area for a ‘camping-car’ magazine. One of his first questions upon learning this, though, was “Where did you park it?”. When I explained that I had had to shoehorn it into two car spaces a good kilometre and a half outside town, he shook his head knowingly.
“You should go and complain at the tourist office,” he said, explaining that he’d lost count of the number of times motorhomes had pulled up outside the wine centre and a passenger had leapt out to ask for advice on where to park, and he had only been able to respond with an embarrassed shrug.
“The authorities around here,” he said, “when they’re enthusiastic about something, they get carried away with it and when they’ve decided they don’t like something, you just can’t make them see sense about it.”
While this attitude will at least have the quality of being familiar to the British motorcaravanner, I’d still like to see it brought more in line with the rest of France.
Jeremiah Mahadevan, staff writer