Volkswagen camper van from 69 CampersWith its abundant campsites and well-kept roads, France as a whole and Provence in particular are ideally equipped for touring holidays. This is a guide to exploring the region in a Type 2 Volkswagen camper van.

booking.com logoClick here to book a hotel in Provence

 

 

Click here to read about the current French driving laws, here to read a more general guide to driving in Provence, here for the two fastest routes from Northern Europe if you're planning to drive down in your own vehicle and here for the best route from Northern Europe to Provence.

The T2 was designed at the Volkswagen factory in Wolfsburg, West Germany, after the Second World War. Launched in 1949, it gradually built a loyal following. And its popularity with hippies in the 1960s, who adored the freedom and flexibility it gave them, has assured it an enduring cult classic status.

After the German works closed down, the T2 continued to be manufactured in São Paulo, Brazil, until the end of 2013.

The closing of that factory, the last in the world to produce the T2, marked a great outpouring of regret from enthusiasts and, perhaps, the beginning of the end of an era. But lovingly restored vintage Volkswagens continue to roam the roads, allowing the legend to live on, at least for the moment.

For the VW van has a mythic place in popular culture. Think Woodstock, Arlo Guthrie - who drove a red split-screener in the iconic 1969 film Alice's Restaurant - or the more recent hit American indie comedy Little Miss Sunshine (2006), which starred a golden yellow edition.

Fillmore the VW van in the Pixar film CarsThe US rappers the Beastie Boys turned VW badges into a hip fashion accessory in the mid 1980s. Pictured: Fillmore, the mellow VW van from Pixar's 2006 animated movie Cars.

Variously known as a Combi, Vee-Dub or (in Germany) Bulli, the VW camper van today carries connotations of youth, freedom, escape, plus a touch of glamping. Add to that the timeless fantasy of getting away from it all in the South of France and it's a potent combination.

The VW camper van has considerable advantages in Provence, apart from its cachet and the savings it enables you to make on hotels and catering.

In this part of the world, local trains and buses can be few and far between, strikes and delays frequent and transport connections unreliable, especially if you want to explore the countryside or visit smaller towns.

Even such top tourist attractions as Les Baux de Provence or Cassis are devilishly difficult to get to by public transport - and that applies even more to most of the prettiest villages in Provence.

A camper van is large enough to carry sporting, camping and picnic equipment and, if you have a young family, pushchairs / strollers and all the other paraphernalia they need. Compared to a full-blown caravan, motorhome or recreational vehicle (RV), it's easy to manoeuvre round the region's back-roads, hairpin bends and steep, winding village streets.

It's also powerful enough to handle motorways. Admittedly the maximum speed is around 100 km / 60 miles an hour, but in Provence who's in a hurry?

However, do double-check the exact height and length of your vehicle, including any additions such as a bike rack, before setting out and keep the dimensions at hand for when you encounter an especially low bridge or narrow road.

Don't allow the fuel tank to run too low, as service stations are sparse in rural areas and often closed on Sundays. VW vans run on petrol / gasoline and do just over 8 km to the litre, or 25 miles to the (UK) gallon, the equivalent of a medium-sized car.

To keep costs down, tank up at supermarket service stations rather than on the motorway. And be aware that older vehicles may not be compatible with E10 fuel.

Click here for a list of Volkswagen agents and garages in Provence-Alpes-Côte-d'Azur

 

 

WHERE TO STAY

You can park VW camper vans at many sites restricted to larger caravans and RVs: at traditional camping grounds with all the facilities they offer, at farms and vineyards or in rural locations and even on the beach (note, however, that camping is illegal in the Calanques National Park).

View of the sea from a Volkswagen T2 camper vanIf you prefer to stay at campsites, it's advisable to pre-book during July and August. A good source of addresses is The Michelin Camping Guide to France, which you can buy online here.

Pretty much anywhere in Western Provence, the van will offer you far greater protection than a mere tent, both from summer mosquitos and other insects and from the fierce Mistral wind that can blow up at any time of year.

It's an especially popular way of touring the Camargue, where you will find camper vans and RVs just about everywhere.

Try to park with the vehicle facing towards the north-west for maximum stability in high winds. If it's hot, choose the shade to avoid being baked at sunrise. You should also consider bringing or buying a small fan, since many vintage vans have no air-conditioning.

Don't stop overnight at French motorway service stations or aires de service (lay-bys or rest areas), as these are vulnerable to thefts and break-ins.

The A7 - L'Autoroute du Soleil - between Lyon and Marseille and the A9 between Spain and Orange have particularly bad reputations in this respect.

VW camper van parking at a French vineyardOn the other hand, these aires are generally excellent staging posts, even if you don't intend to spend the night there. Many will have free facilities such as a fresh water filling point, a waste water and toilet emptying point, rubbish disposal and an electric hook-up.

Click here for a map of aires throughout France (in French). If you prefer a book to take with you, try the Guide officiel des aires de services camping-carimage! or, for aires specifically in Southern France, the Guide des aires de service Méditerranée (though this guide is not as up-to-date as the more general one).

 

A tempting alternative to conventional campsites is the France Passion Invitation booklet, which enables camper van drivers to stop overnight or for up to 24 hours free with hundreds of winegrowers, farmers, craft workers and other motorhome owners across all the regions of France.

The booklet has a very good choice of places in Provence proper (click on this map to see more), though the sites are sparser in the Alpes Maritimes département around Nice and Cannes.

Here's how it works: you purchase the annual guide, which runs from March to Easter of the following year, and receive a windscreen sticker entitling you to stay on these hosts' land. Some camper van rental companies have their own France Passion membership, which extends to their clients.

Places are available on a "first come first served" basis and the sites will probably not provide the service facilities (electricity, water, sewage) of conventional campsites.

Gorges du VerdonThe upside is that you will have the chance to meet some very interesting locals. A number of hosts indicate in the guide that they speak English, but you will be at an enormous advantage if you can manage some French.

You will also have the chance to see, sample and buy their produce - though there is no obligation to do so. And what better way to visit a vineyard when the driver can enjoy the tasting and sleep it all off safely in the van? If you're up for some wineries, you could check our maps of the top vineyard drives in Provence.

One of the most popular camper van trails in Provence is the Gorges du Verdon, pictured, though it can get very busy indeed in the middle of summer.

The route des Crêtes between Cassis and La Ciotat is also among the most spectacular in Southern France and a favourite with camper van vacationers. Other good options are the magnificent route around the Mont Sainte Victoire, the ochre trail through the Luberon or the Gorges de la Nesque and the general area around Mont Ventoux.

 

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