How to find a spot for the night
Motorhome travel in France
The question is burning on your lips: how on Earth does Gaëlle find all these weird and wonderful spots to park every night ?
Let’s start with the first difficulty. My bus, Gus, is 6,4m long plus the bicycle on the back, and 2,2m wide. So we can’t just stop on any old parking space because we are always too long for one space and often use two across as well… Which means I have to carefully plan everywhere we want to stop and make sure they have double parking bays available. Something as simple as shopping for groceries means I will have to open up Google Maps on satellite view and check if there is a large parking area with double bays that don’t have an island between each row. So that’s my first tool - Google Maps on satellite view. Occasionally however, I will drive through a village and find that the side of the street has long empty parking spaces, that’s when I’ll joyfully stop for an unexpected croissant, or pain au chocolat at the local boulangerie or whatever else is open at that time. (Note, in provincial France, everything, except some large supermarkets, is closed from 12h until 14h every day, sometimes more depending on what the shopkeepers feel like, and also on Sundays)
Before I leave my chosen place of abode in the morning, I will have extensively searched my arsenal of apps for the next destination. Even if it is to visit a friend - there’s got to be room for Gus to park either in their garden or in a parking nearby, I won’t leave it to chance, as I have not mastered the art of parallel parking with a normal car, never mind a bus like Gus… (where I used to live in South Africa there was plenty of space for side-by-side parkings, I never bothered with tight squeezes…)
Every vanlifer or motorhome user will have heard of the app Park4Night. I discovered it while studying the plethora of vanlife YouTube videos at the dreaming/planning stage of my adventure when I still lived in a house. It has Google Maps as a background, and various categories of spots are marked on it all over the world.
Every user is able to add spots that they find, which then get verified, and every user then has the opportunity to comment on spots they use and tell other users what they thought of it. The categories can be campsites, motorhome service areas, motorhome dedicated overnighting areas, city parking places that are large enough, nature spots, picnic spots, and even automatic laundry machines. They’ll detail fees payable, whether electricity, water, grey and black water drains are available, and what period of the year they might be open. Then users will comment if the site is great, unusable, out of order, inexistant, closed-down, fantastic, passable, inaccessible to large vehicles, frequented by hooligans, run down with rubbish, etc. You can also use the satellite view option to get a better idea.
The second app I use is France Passion. It’s a network of farm producers, wine cellars, artisans, etc., who offer a few overnighting spaces for motorhomes, with no need to book in advance, and without services, so you have to be autonomous with water, electricity and WC. The idea is that the users may visit their farm shop or gallery if they wish, but without obligation. It’s a terrific way to park for the night for free, and pick up local delicacies, wine or crafts, fresh from the producer. Works best in summer though.
There are a couple of other apps that I have used as well.
Homecamper is a network of private people who offer their grounds for motorhomes and vans for a small fee, and the app takes a big chunk for themselves. They might have electricity, water, bathrooms available, or not.
ACSI campingcard is a network of campsites that offer discounts out of season, when you want the comfort of a full campsite with hot showers, kitchen, electricity and services. Few campsites are open all year around, as I was saying in an earlier post, but there are enough to get around !
Google Maps also shows campsites and Aires de camping-car that may not be on any of the other apps ! And on satellite view I can find spots by myself as well if I study the landscape carefully. Cemetery parkings can be quite useful, like this one I found near a friend's house, as they didn't have enough space for me in their driveway.
So every morning or the evening before, I decide on a direction and a distance, whether I need services, supermarket, or just peace and quiet, and within those parameters, I browse all the options available and make a decision on the destination.
Often it’s the spot that determines what treasures I’ll find ! Today for example, I am at La-Ferté-Loupière in Seine-et-Marne. I’d never heard of it at all, ever. I chose it because the recent grey skys had prevented my solar panels from recharging my batteries enough, and this village has two motorhome parking spaces with free electricity, tucked away next to a tennis court, and it happened to be in the direction of Paris, and no more than 85km from where I was before ! This village also has a medieval church with a rare set of Danse Macabre paintings inside it. I’d never heard of those before either. They are 16th century paintings of Death skeletons interacting in a danse with people of all stations, from the labourer to the king, to remind us all that Death spares no-one, and that in the end we are all equal, no matter what wealth or power we have or have not in this life. The church itself is beautifully rustic and has gorgeous stained-glass windows and an ancient spiral staircase leading to its unusual bell tower.
It was the same reason I discovered the Cirque de la Coquille, which, despite what its incongruous name may suggest, is not a troupe of performers, but a natural geological formation. I was attracted by the promise of a very peaceful space at the end of the village of Etalante, where I would be able to spend the day recording voice-overs for clients and catching up on admin. It’s never a good idea to sit an entire day on one’s backside though, so I went off exploring, and since I was in the parking of this Cirque, that is what I discovered. I also learnt how cold a little wind can make your exposed extremities and promised myself to acquire some better winter gear before the real weather sets in…
So back to the Cirque. The hill there is made of relatively soft stone on its upper layers, above the lower hard stone, so water that seeped into the stone was forced to find a way out when it reached the hard stone. So it made a hole out the side of the hill and that is where the little Coquille river, or stream rather, starts its life. Over time, the hole ate up the hill of soft stone into a half-moon shape, and that is the Cirque: a semi-circle of steep cliffs surrounding a prairie with a stream running through it. And at the center of it, the source of the stream, where it gushes out of the rock, welcomed into the outside world under the adoring arms of a small forest of trees and bushes. I’d tell you the name of the trees but they wouldn’t introduce themselves to me.
That is how I am discovering France. By random chance encounters dictated by the spots available to park my Gus. In the various directions of people I am on my way to visit. This winter I am fleeing the mountains, so the dear people I know there will have to wait for warmer weather to expect me on their roads !
I hope you enjoyed my insights into motorhome travelling in France. I’d love to hear all about your chance discoveries, no matter where or how ! Do share your experiences with me in the comments below :))
Don’t forget to subscribe if this is your first time reading my stories and you’d like my next contributions to land straight into your inbox next time ! You can also follow me on Instagram @gaelle.and.gus.the.bus to see all the photos of the places I discover, as they happen :)) Also, to find out more my voice-overs, have a look at my website gaellegosselin.com