TOP TIPS FOR ANYONE CARAVANNING OR CAMPING IN FRANCE
1. French motorways/autoroutes are very good but have fewer service areas than we do. However, they have frequent "aires", usually a large parking area well off the road, surrounded with greenery, with picnic tables
and a toilet. The latter is usually of the "continental" or squatting type, but if anyone hates using these (like I do) there is usually a disabled toilet, which is a normal sit-on type. Lots of motor-caravanners use these aires for free overnight
stops, although you do hear tales of occasional thefts from the vans while the occupants are asleep.
2. Although many autoroutes are toll roads and can be quite expensive, we found it worth paying when towing a caravan. There are few places to stop with a large outfit on ordinary roads. This isn't a problem with a car or medium-size campervan, but with a large caravan we found the only viable places for a break were the motorway services.
3. Don't forget, if you ask for "un cafe" you get a small cup of black coffee. If, like me, you don't like your coffee black, ask for "un cafe au lait" or "un cafe creme". I found these varied enormously. Sometimes it was made with a lot of hot milk and resembled a latte, sometimes it was a cup of black coffee with a jug of milk on the side. It was always good coffee, though!
4. Every supermarket we used required a one-euro coin to release the trolley, so keep one handy in the car. They all seem to have abolished carrier bags so take your own, or fork out two euros for a canvas "bag for life".
5. Contrary to our expectations there is a huge range of convenience foods in the supermarkets, which is a godsend to self-caterers. But it can still be hard to find fresh milk (as opposed to longlife). There are also far more fast-food restaurants than you would expect in a country devoted to gourmet food. As well as the ubiquitous MacDonalds there are plenty of pizza and kebab places. However, many small cafes and restaurants still cook everything from scratch and you can still get excellent and cheap set meals, especially off the tourist trail.