19/04/2022
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How to get to the South of France for less (without using tolls)

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France is very motorhome friendly and a good destination for a first foray across the Channel

Some years ago, we published a route to Spain and France across several parts both in the magazine and online. While primarily aimed at first-timers, these routes offered inspiration for those looking to save money and avoid the expensive French toll roads.

Plus, it’s widely known that by actually using the national roads through France, rather than the paid-for autoroutes, you do get to see more of France itself, making the journey part of the holiday. While this may not be suited to those that have just a couple of weeks to get to the Med and back, you could use some or part of the journey to take you into lesser known parts of France.

If you have not yet driven your pride and joy in a 'foreign' country, this route will hopefully provide a few answers.

However, there are innumerable internet, club and MMM articles which cover the legalities for all vehicle types across the whole of Europe.

Page contents

Words and photos courtesy of Brian Fairbrother

 


Route to the Med: toll vs free

Calais to Auxerre route map

The south of France is a classic British holiday destination, but quite expensive to reach if using French toll motorways. Most people will probably cross from Dover to Calais or Dunkerque and to Cannes on motorways it will cost around £160 one way for a typical two-axle motorhome, and over £300 for tag-axles or if towing a trailer.

It's 750 miles and includes the notoriously busy A6, so most of us will need one, perhaps two overnight stops, and for much of the way, you will probably be stuck in heavy truck convoys. It will be much slower than your navigation or map estimates.

This route, which adds only 60 miles, avoids the tolls and is much more leisurely, making the journey part of the holiday, with interesting places to visit and stay en route.

Some suggested overnight stops along the route are listed (in route order, with GPS and costs for two adults) but not places to stay on the coast which are well covered elsewhere. Mileage and approximate driving times are given for each stage, the first of which goes from Calais to Auxerre. The route then splits into two options, one to Cannes and the other to Perpignan.

Note that, if you intend to travel in July, check the Tour de France itinerary, which may use part of these routes with road closures and long delays. Unless you intend to watch, stay well away.

The costs

Total cost of a return journey to Cannes obviously depends on how many overnight stops you make and where you stay. We can take our time and usually make five stops including a two-night campsite stay at Lake Annecy, a favourite location of ours.

Current diesel prices in France are only slightly less than in the UK. The cost to the coast near Perpignan will be very similar.

  • Ferry: Dover to Calais and return £265
  • Diesel: Average 27mpg £34
  • Outbound campsites: Four nights on aires, one free, plus two nights on a campsite (low season) £36
  • Return campsites: Five nights on aires, two free £36

Total: £590


Stage 1: Motorhoming across northern France to Auxerre

Cannes

There's a string of large towns across northern France and the huge urban sprawl of Paris lies due south. Tried out over many years, this route avoids the busiest areas and uses quieter roads to get you south of Paris.

Step 1: Calais to Amiens

105 miles: Allow 3.5 hours

Leaving the Calais ferry terminal, stay on the dual carriageway for four miles and take the slip road west onto the free A16 motorway. Stay in the inside lane and exit shortly at the next junction onto the D943 south to St-Omer. From the Eurotunnel, join the motorway east to junction 46. From the Dunkerque ferry terminal, drive towards the motorway which you cross joining the D300 to St-Omer.

The road becomes the southern bypass around St-Omer and Arques. Turn south, still on the D943. In 14 miles at a roundabout, just before Lillers, exit towards the A26 motorway and at the next roundabout continue to St-Pol on the D916. To avoid the centre, follow signs to Doullens, using a short section of dual carriageway. At Doullens, join the N25 to the Amiens ring road and go clockwise.

Suggested sites

Watten aire (N50 49 51.8 E2 12 32.5)

Flat asphalt for about 12 motorhomes. Free parking. Water and electric need a token. No lights. Beside canal 500m from centre. On route from Dunkerque. From Calais just before St-Omer go north on D300.

St-Omer aire (N50 45 23.4 E2 15 35)

10 large marked pitches on flat asphalt €5; water extra, no electric. Well lit. Close to river, some train noise. Exit bypass at roundabout to St-Martin, follow D928 to aire just before 3m low bridge.

Arques aire or adjacent Camping Beausejour (N50 44 43.8 E2 18 16):

Aire has flat gravel for about 15 motorhomes €5, water extra, no electric or lights.

Beside lake and small park. Campsite is grass with a roofed pool, current overnight prices not known. Open April to early November. The Arques aire, or campsite, is easier to reach from the eastern end of the bypass. Turn back towards the centre, in 1.5 miles turn right, follow signs though residential area. At campsite entrance bear left down lane for aire.

Nuncq-Hautecote aire (N50 18 20.6 E2 17 35.5):

Privately run parking for eight motorhomes on flat gravel €12. Water and electric extra. Beside route five miles south of St-Pol-sur-Ternoise. Reports suggest it may sometimes be closed.

Amiens aire or adjacent Camping des Cygnes (N49 55 15.4 E2 15 36.2):

Aire has barrier control entry to 32 flat paved pitches. From €10; electric extra. Campsite from €22 including electric (also ACSI). Open April to mid October. Bus to centre. Go west on bypass two junctions, exit D412 south, follow signs.

Step 2 Amiens to Soissons

66 miles: Allow two hours

Exit the Amiens ring road at junction 34, turn right off the slip road. At first roundabout turn left then left again onto the D934 to Roye. At the junction for the A1 motorway go straight on and in two miles turn right onto the bypass and then left, back on the D934, to Noyon.

Do not enter the town, follow the road right and join a short section of the D1032 going east bringing you back to the D934 which you follow to Blérancourt. Here the main road continues as the D6 to the Soissons bypass.

Suggested site

Camping Municipal (N49 23 35 E3 19 36)

The Soissons campsite is close to its busy centre. It's easier to reach by leaving the D6 at Pommiers onto the D91 signed Les Hardrets. At roundabout turn right across river, continue to T-junction and turn left.

Large flat hedged grass pitches and eight motorhome hardstandings. From €20 including electric. Open April to end October. Public pool next door. Less thana mile north of centre.

Step 3 Soissons to Auxerre

140 miles: Allow 4.5 hours

Chateau Thierry

Take the D1 due south to Château-Thierry, go anticlockwise around the centre and continue to Montmirail. Straight on at the town centre crossroads and right at the roundabout towards Sézanne.

In two miles turn right onto the D375 to Courgivaux, join the N4 for three miles, then south on the D403 to Provins. Just before the town turn left onto the ring road and exit to Jutigny where you keep south, on the D412 to Pont-sur-Yonne. Turn left onto the D606 and continue round Sens and past Joigny to the Auxerre bypass.

Auxerre is worth a visit, but its aire is a busy central car park. If you have bikes, stay on the lovely aire at Gurgy to the north, or south at the suggested campsite in Vincelles. From either, there is a riverside track into the city.

Suggested sites

Berny-Rivière - Camping La Croix du Vieux Pont (N49 24 22 E3 7 43)

Nine miles west of Soissons

Huge full-feature family site with bus to Paris & Disneyland €23 with ACSI, but in high season, I dread to think. Open April to end of October.

Highlighted site: Château-Thierry motorhome park (N49 2 12 E3 22 58.2)

Barrier control entry to 13 large hedged hardstand pitches with grass verges, €10 inc toilets & showers, elec extra, well lit. Its barrier controlled entry is a bit complex, but the site is lovely with good facilities and a riverside walk into town. Just off the bypass.

Montmirail aire (N48 52 18 E3 32 32.4) Camping Municipal Les Chataigniers (N48 52 14.8 E3 33 3)

Flat gravel and grass for about 10 motorhomes. Free parking, no lights, service point 200m further east in layby (needs token for water). Beside route near centre.

Basic, open plan grass site recently updated, current prices not known but will be good value. Beside route

Gurgy aire (N47 51 49.3 E3 33 15)

Flat gravel for 25 motorhomes. €12 including electric and services, well lit. Delightful spot beside the river with a cycle track to Auxerre.

Vincelles - Camping Les Ceriselles (N47 42 19 E3 38 2.8)

Small grass site, some hardstandings, possible tree hazard for larger motorhomes. From €23 including electric, also ACSI. Open April to end October. Nine miles south of Auxerre.


Stage 2A: Auxerre to Cannes

Auxerre to Cannes route map

For many people the south of France means the Côte d'Azur with its upmarket resorts and superyachts. If possible, visit in the spring or after the very busy French holiday period.

High season parking can be problematic particularly along the coast; there are few aires, and campsites get booked early.

Step 1 Auxerre to Beaune

94 miles: Allow three hours

Beaune museum

Leave Auxerre on the D606 past Avallon and in another 12 miles fork right to Saulieu on the D906. Continue to Arnay-le-Duc and as you leave the little town, turn left onto the D17 to Bligny-sur-Ouche and then the D970 to Beaune where you join its one-way inner ring road.

Beaune has a lovely centre including the hospital founded in 1443, now an interesting museum. For the central campsite, exit the inner ring road north towards the A6 and in 400m turn left.

Suggested sites

Saulieu - Camping de Saulieu (N47 17 18.3 E4 13 32.7)

Small grass site, outdoor pool, from €20 including electric, also ACSI. Open mid March to end October. Beside route as you enter town.

Arnay-le-Duc - Camping Huttopia Etang de Fouche (N47 8 3 E4 29 53.5)

Large grass site, outdoor pool. €19 with ACSI, open April to end September Just east of town centre.

Highlighted site: Beaune - Camping Les Cent Vignes (N47 1 57.6 E4 50 20.6)

Hedged grass pitches, some hardstandings. From €28 including electric, open mid March to mid November. 15-minute walk to centre.

Step 2 Beaune to Annecy

140 miles: Allow five hours

Annecy

Your navigation will probably try to route you south, beside the A6, through Chalon-sur-Saône, which is a very busy area. To avoid this, I suggest a much quieter and prettier cross-country route… From Beaune, take the D970 to Mervans and turn south to Louhans. Continue through the town towards the A39 motorway junction.

Go straight on to Cuiseaux and turn south on the D1083 towards Bourg-en-Bresse. Two miles after the A40 motorway junction turn left onto the town's bypass and shortly left again joining the D979, a winding scenic drive, to Nantua.

Drive through the town continuing on the scenic D1084 to Bellegarde-sur-Valserine. Here follow signs for Annecy, taking you across the river, and onto the D1508. At Annecy’s outer ring road turn right, follow signs for centre and lake, and go south towards St-Jorioz.

Annecy is a lovely city in a beautiful location, but its motorhome aire is small and tight; you need luck to get in. A better option is one of several lakeside campsites towards St-Jorioz, with buses or cycle track to the centre.

Suggested sites

Louhans aire (N46 37 46.8 E5 12 50.2)

Flat gravel for about 20 motorhomes. €6, water extra, no electric or lights. Pleasant riverside spot close to route and town centre.

Nantua aire (N46 9 17.2 E5 35 48.7)

Flat gravel with 13 marked spaces, €10 including services, no electric, well lit. Lakeside position beside route with promenade walk into town.

La-Balme-de-Sillingy aire (N45 58 17.8 E6 1 52.5)

Flat gravel for about 20 motorhomes. €8 including services, no electric. Only open April to end October. Beside route next to large parkland, bus to Annecy.

Sévrier - Camping Au Coeur-du-Lac (N45 51 17 E6 8 37.3)

Small terraced site with grass/gravel mostly flat pitches, from €25 including electric. Open May to end August. Lakeside position four miles south of Annecy with cycle track or buses. Several more campsites along lakeside in St-Jorioz.

Step 3 Annecy to Sisteron

170 miles: Allow 5.5 hours

From Annecy it is possible to follow the Route des Grandes Alpes, but the passes get higher, some over 2,000m, and may not be open until mid June. It will offer good scenery, of course, but it’s a demanding, slow-progress drive and best visited as a destination in its own right. We use a more direct route to the Côte-d'Azur, using sections of the lower-altitude Route Napoleon, still with beautiful scenery.

Leave Annecy on the lakeside D1508 to Ugine, turn right to Albertville and, to avoid the centre, follow signs for the Grenoble motorway. You will be on a dual carriageway approaching the péeage (toll booth) so exit onto the D1090.

In 10 miles turn left across the river then right onto the D925 to Pontcharra. The road continues south, as the D523, and at Le Champ join the A41 motorway, now free, towards Grenoble. Shortly after junction 26 follow ‘Autres Directions’ onto the southern bypass and continue to the end. Turn south on the A480 to junction 12 and exit for Vif joining the D1075.

This scenic road now takes you over the Col de la Croix-Haute at 1,200m and all the way to Sisteron, known as the gateway to Provence.

Suggested sites

Treffort aire (N44 54 26.5 E5 40 16.3)

Barrier control to about 20 spaces on flat gravel through car park. €14 including services, no lights. Lovely lakeside position. Just off route east of Monestier-de-Clermont.

Chichilianne aire (N44 48 43.4 E5 34 30.3)

Flat grass for about eight motorhomes. €6, water and electric extra (needs token), no lights. Panoramic mountain views. Just off route west of Clelles.

Veynes aire (N44 31 7 E5 47 54)

Flat gravel for about 20 motorhomes. €7 June to September, otherwise free, No services or lights. At lido area and campsite adjacent. Just off route east of Aspres-sur-Buëch.

Step 4 Sisteron to the coast

100 miles: Allow 3.5 hours

Leave on the D4085 south, which becomes the N85 past Château-Arnoux-St-Auban towards Digne. Just before the town, the road turns right across the river and continues to Barreme. The route now depends on your destination:

  • Nice: Turn left onto the N202, a dramatic drive through Entrevaux. To visit Nice stay in Cagnes-sur-Mer or Vence, a lovely hill town, and use the bus.
  • Cannes, Antibes: Continue on the D4085, over the Col des Lèques (1,100m) and through Castellane to Grasse, then follow signs.
  • Fréjus, St-Tropez, Cavalaire: Continue on the D4085 and 17 miles after Castellane, on the Col de Val Ferrière, take the D563 to Fayence then D4 to Fréjus and the coast road. To visit St-Tropez stay at Port Grimaud, which has several popular beachside campsites, from where a ferry crosses the bay, so you arrive in style.

Suggested site

Digne-les-Bains Aire (N44 4 48.5 E6 15 38.5)

Flat asphalt for about 20 motorhomes. Parking is free, water needs token, no electric, well lit. Near thermal spa, bus to centre. Leave route into town, follow spa signs.


Stage 2B Auxerre to Perpignan coastline

Auxerre to Perpignan route map

The coast of Occitanie stretches west from Montpellier to the Spanish border with sandy beaches all the way and a huge choice of campsites and aires. In high season, you need to book campsites, but otherwise we have generally found it unnecessary.

Step 1 Auxerre to Vichy

150 miles: Allow 4.5 hours

Leave Auxerre on the N151 past Clamecy to Varzy, then the D977 past Prémery to the Nevers bypass. Go south on the N7, past Moulins to Varennes-sur-Allier and at the end of its bypass take the N209 south through Billy to the D67 junction. Straight on is the centre of Vichy so go west, cross the river, and follow the road turning south around the city.

This outer ring road becomes the D906 towards Thiers. After Vichy, I have two suggested routes, one that’s very scenic and one that’s faster, depending on your requirements

Suggested sites

Prémery - Camping Municipal Les Pres de la Ville (N47 10 42.5 E3 20 13.8)

Small site with grass and hardstanding pitches, €19 including electric. Open April to end September. Beside route close to centre and lake.

Nevers - Camping de Nevers (N46 58 55.3 E3 9 39)

Small site with grass and hardstanding pitches, current overnight prices not known but €19 with ACSI. Open March to end of October. Beside river opposite centre. Exit bypass at junction 37, follow signs for town centre.

St-Gérand-de-Vaux aire (N46 23 1.5 E3 23 45)

Gravel and grass for about 15 motorhomes, parking free, water requires token, no electric or lights. Pretty lakeside location, but remote with narrow approach. Just east of route, seven miles south of Moulins bypass turn left onto D32.

Vichy - Camping La Croix St-Martin (N46 6 27 E3 26 12.7)

Mainly grass hedged pitches, roofed pool, €19 with ACSI. Open April to end of September. Riverside walk or cycle track to Vichy which has a charming spa centre. Leave outer ring road just after the racecourse; keep left across river, then anticlockwise on inner ring. Follow signs for D906 to Thiers keeping the river on your right.

Step 2 Vichy to Millau (the pretty way)

210 miles: Allow 7.5 hours

Tarn Gorge

Take the D906 past Thiers and continue on a scenic drive to Ambert. Stay on the D906 south to Le Puy-en-Velay then the N88, through Pradelles, all the way to Mende. A few miles after the town take the D986 which drops down to Ste-Enimie in the Tarn Gorge. You follow the river through the gorge to Millau, narrow in places but a spectacular drive.

Allow plenty of time to drive through the gorge. Ste-Enimie and La Malene are charming stone villages worth visiting and there will be many photo stops along the way.

Suggested sites

Thiers aire (N45 52 15.2 E3 29 4.2)

Ten flat asphalt bays with grass verges, parking free, water and electric charged, no lights. In country park Just NW of town, exit D906 onto D44 signed Dorat.

La Chaise-Dieu aire (N45 18 59.5 E3 41 49)

Flat gravel for about eight vehicles, free parking, water charged, some lights. Beside route near centre at old railway station.

Le Puy-en-Velay - Camping du Puy-en-Velay (N45 3 1.5 E3 52 52)

Mainly grass site, current overnight prices not known but €17 with ACSI, open April to mid October. Le Puy-en-Velay has unusual rocky outcrops and an interesting cathedral. The campsite is in a good location beside the ring road and it’s a short walk to the town centre.

Mende aire (N44 31 15.8 E3 29 46.6)

Flat asphalt with 20 marked bays, parking free, water and elec charged, well lit. Part of larger car park close to centre. Follow signs off inner ring road.

Step 2 Vichy to Millau (the fast way)

190 miles: Allow 4.5 hours

Millau

Take the D906 to Thiers but now go west, to Clermont Ferrand and join the A75 motorway, which is free for 120 miles, all the way to Millau. Just south of junction 30 stop at the rest area for views of the Garabit railway viaduct built by Gustave Eiffel in 1882.

The Millau Viaduct, which bypasses the town, is a marvel of civil engineering, but quite expensive to drive across. Alternatively exit at junction 45 before the péage and descend into the town. There are several campsites just east of the centre across the river. The viaduct visitor centre is interesting with good views of the bridge.

Suggested site

Millau - Camping Paradis le Viaduc (N44 6 18.2 E3 5 18.7)

Mainly grass site, pool and restaurant, from €17 including electric. Open mid April to end of September. Beside route, over bridge in centre and left again.

Step 3 Millau to the coast

200 miles: Allow 4.5 hours

Leave Millau south on the D809 for 12 miles and join the A75 motorway at junction 47. This is now free all the way to the coast and has some quite spectacular sections as you drop down from the central highlands. Approaching Pézenas the route depends on your destination.

  • Balaruc-les-Bains, Sète: Exit motorway at junction 59 and take the D613.
  • Agde: Exit at junction 61 onto the D13 south.
  • Valras-Plage: Exit motorway at junction 64, just before the péage, then a short section of the D612 before turning south on the D64.
  • Gruissan: Exit motorway at junction 63, go north around the Béziers bypass and join the D609 west to Narbonne. Here follow signs for motorway junction 37 and continue on to the coast.
  • Perpignan coast: Stay on the bypass around Narbonne and continue on the D6009 to Sigean. In another seven miles turn left to Leucate and follow the coast road for Le Barcarès, St-Cyprien and Argelès. If you’re staying on the south coast towards Spain then Perpignan is just inland and worth a visit.


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