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Bicycle Camping in France ( North) – Fact Sheet ( 1100 words)

© Grace Newhaven

2017. Jun 6


Before you go :

·         Use a tent that blends into the landscape

·         Make a Google map of your proposed journey ( it’s Shareable via www) to plan & calculate distances. Consider a Google plan as well ( also Shareable)

·         Download an “off line” e/map and experiment with it. Get a good translation app.

·         Get Google codes if you want to use other computers besides your own.

·         Source a useful adapter, with USB port(s).

Roads & Traffic : Motor traffic is very courteous by Australian standards. Rural roads carry little traffic and are generally well surfaced. Separated, sealed bicycle paths, are very common, especially in larger towns, mostly with an adequate surface. Road signage is good, on a numerical system, usually easy to follow. Roads are generally free of bottles and other litter. There are a lot more bicycles than you see in Australia, though not many bike shops, apart from those in department stores.

Maps : Paper road maps are of good quality, but may be expensive. I recommend “Pocket Earth” or similar off-line maps as well ( some are free). Some of these will show bicycle friendly roads and paths. Even small towns often have Tourist offices with good local paper maps, ask for “the bicycle map”, especially in Alsace. For a map of France, showing bicycle routes, try here

Water : There is tap water everywhere in France, but French people may have some unexpected ideas about drinking it. You can buy bottled water everywhere, if you are prepared to waste the plastic bottles – there is no standard recycling scheme. Generally, it can be a problem trying to find a tap outside ( ie accessible) : parks and gardens don’t have them, nor do most private homes. Many small towns may appear deserted, but you can ask for water in a bar or café, and cemeteries are good too. While people are generous and well meaning, several times I was refused tap water when the locals claimed it was “non potable” [“not suitable for drinking”] in their own homes ! Even if you ask for “ordinary water”, people may give you a plastic bottle. It will be useful for overnight camping to have a wine cask bladder or similar bulk container. If you are lucky, you may see a working fountain, or locals will show you to a spring that they use themselves. However you go, be careful not to run out.   

Food : Food is various and usually delicious in France. However, after competition from hypermarkets, many small villages have only a bakery or café left, so it may be difficult to find supplies sometimes. Food is generally a little cheaper than in Australia (despite a higher GST). Supermarkets are huge, selling everything necessary, open long hours, but closed on Sundays, and many other shops close on Mondays, too, so be prepared. Petrol stations may be open for food – and alcohol- on Sundays. Alcohol is very cheap and easy to find; there are no bottle deposits, but recycling is extensive. Even cheap beer is very good, and you can try the cheap wine. Muesli** is however hard to find. If you want Milk powder in Germany, you will not find it, so buy in France. Fuel alcohol (“alcohol a broulee”) is now restricted, but was common and cheap in supermarkets. Shop staff are usually friendly, but it will help to have a little French. Roadside vendors are also useful for small quantities of fruits and vegetables. The very cheapest restaurant meals would be ~ €9.00, with very cheap drinks prices ( compared to Australia).

Camping : French people will often tell you that “free camping” is difficult or impossible, but in my experience there was plenty of accessible, green, public space in forests, reserves etc. With a small, discrete tent, you should have no problems. “ Bivouac” is a French word ! There are public camp grounds [“Camping  Municipal”] in many towns ( but not all), charging from E6.00 to €12.00 or more for a single camper. These are marked on maps, but it may be hard to find one for every night without a lot of planning. Some have WiFi, of variable quality, for an extra charge, sometimes expensive. These campsites cater for motor travelers on long stays, rather than overnight cyclists, and are sometimes about as attractive as car yards. But you can get a shower and wash your clothes, and perhaps charge your device. Youth Hostels are expensive !    

Trains : Express trains are not bicycle-friendly. However, local or regional trains may be much easier with a bike, as well as cheaper. Ask for any “special” prices, particularly at week ends and “off peak”. Bikes may also travel on some tram systems. Be wary, however, not to buy a ticket that crosses an international border (if possible), unless you want to spend too much ! Germany : flat rate €5.00 per bike ( folders free !)

Internet & WiFi : WiFi is useful, if and when it’s available, ( eg at MacDonald’s), but having connectivity in “real time”, especially from your “wild” campsite, is so useful it’s practically indispensable. I recommend having a local pre-paid SIM card. My “International Travel SIM” from Australia was expensive and almost useless. To access your Google or Hotmail accounts, you need to make arrangements before you leave home to carry printed “security codes” with you. Be aware too that French keyboards may be difficult for people not accustomed to their layout. FaceBook Messenger is quite useful, too. Internet cafes are no longer common, so your own device is almost indispensable.

Misc : While there are many bicycles in France, with all types of riders, finding a specialised bike shop may be difficult outside the hypermarkets. Very basic parts can be found in supermarkets.

Websites :

For a log of the trip that produced this Fact Sheet, click here

For a similar Fact Sheet to this, see “Germany : South West “

Eurovelo Routes ( France) :

Distance calculator :

Free camping in France :







Biere “Be-aire”






Pain [ “paa”]






Fruit [ “fru-ee”]






Viande “ vee-ond”



Lait “ lay”






Eau [ “oh”]

Wasser (“Vasser”)


Vin [ “veh”]


2016/Feb 01