(Editor’s note: You can read more about France Passion here.)
I know, I know, if you look online, there are warnings not to travel to France due to the COVID-19 pandemic. RV campers have become an obvious solution for vacationers in respect to social distancing. Road trips in recreational vehicles are on the rise, with a 650-percent increase in the United States since the pandemic started, according to the American consumer tech website CNET.
This mode of travel dovetails nicely with the current trend of visiting smaller cities and rural communities across Europe.
My favorite touring guide, France Passion, combines the two. It’s an association of winemakers and farmers who allow RVs to park on their properties overnight … for free!
All you have to do is pay 30 euros to join the club. Once you register and pay, a mobile application is made available for download.
Payment is handled online and a France Passion membership card, window sticker, and guide book are delivered via post. It includes a map of participating wine growers, farmers and other enterprises with logistical information.
Participating farms allow you to park on their property, but are not required to offer water or waste disposal. If they are offered, consider it a plus. Typically, the camping spaces number five or less.
You just show up before 6 p.m. and let the owners know you are there. No need to call in advance (unless specifically mentioned in the guide).
So, now you’re ready to explore the best of France at your own pace.
Find the farmer, experience the farm
The experience gets even better, because you also get a chance to meet farmers and sample their fabulous produce. France Passion partners with “Welcome to the Farm,” a group of agriculturalists who offer activities, food and/or lodging on their property. You can add items such as fruit, fish, cheese and honey to your list of farm stopovers. There’s no obligation to buy, but most people load up since shopping at a grocery store seems counterintuitive.
In Southern Champagne, a farmer allowed us to pet the goats and observe the milking operation. This is especially fun for folks traveling with children, since staying on a farmstead is like a country amusement park for kids. For those who have had little exposure to agronomics, expect to get a first-hand view behind the scenes. For those who grew up around agriculture, you’ll get a chance to reconnect to cultivators, ranchers and dairy farmers.
The real draw for me with France Passion is the network of Vignerons Indépendants de France (National Confederation of Independent Winegrowers), which includes Alsace, Bordeaux, Champagne, Burgundy, Jura and the Loire valley. This association is a must for anyone looking for growers champagne or other select independent wine growers. Our week-long trip covered Southern Champagne, Northern Burgundy and Eastern Loire. We focused on the wine towns of Les Riceys, Chablis and Sancerre.
This RV/farm connection has been in place for decades. In 1993 a wine magazine editor noticed an increasing amount of motorhome users exploring French wine regions. He networked with vintners who agreed to provide a free overnight parking space, but most folks allow you to stay for up to 24 hours.
There are exceptions. During our recent trip, we had a host allow us to stay for three nights, which was marked on a sign that they had posted on their property.
A good base
France Passion gave us a good base from which to start. We made sure to stop at local tourist offices for a listing of events that coincided with the dates of our trip. We inquired about patrimonial sites, bike routes and tips on farm-to-table restaurants. We went on to discover what the area had to offer.
We found a mushroom farmer producing shiitake and oyster varieties. Much of their produce goes to local restaurants, the surplus is jarred using various recipes; one using local Chaourse cheese.
Just up the road, an escargot producer explained the labor intensive process of preparing snails and cleaning the shells. And a short distance from her was a herbalist who showed us the different plants cultivated on site for use in their organic soaps (which a nice touch and came in quite handy for cleaning).
After an educational day of touring agriculturists and purchasing produce, we found a viewpoint on the map to have our picnic. We cooked up the local produce on a little camp stove, toasted with Champagne and enjoyed the meal with a delicately perfumed Pinot Noir. The evening was one of those glorious long days of summer and the food tasted even better in the natural setting.
Farmers returning home on their tractors waved to us as they passed by. We were surrounded by peace and tranquility. Sometimes it is the simplist things in life that make the greatest impression.
That memorable picnic was one of them.
John Keats said, “Give me books, French wine, fruit, (and) fine weather…” and I would like to add search out your produce from the local French farmers and it will taste all the better knowing the
passion behind the product.
Today, in its 29th year, the France Passion guide is available in French, English, Dutch, German, Spanish and Italian and covers the whole of France. They accommodate the ever-increasing numbers of motorhomes visiting from Belgium, Switzerland, Great Britain, Sweden, Italy and Finland.
Up next from France: Growers champagne, buzz word in the industry and how to find it in France.
About the author:
Alice Verberne is a journalist with more than 25 years of experience writing for magazines and newspapers in both Europe and the United States.
Alice spends her free time painting and sculpting at the Villa Vatelotte, a meeting place for artists and artisans in rural France.
See all of Alice’s posts here.
See her posts about wine here.
See more about France on Dispatches here.
Alice Verberne is a contributing writer for Dispatches Europe. She has worked in print journalism and magazine production in the United States and Europe throughout her career. She currently resides in one of the Petites Cités de Charactère de France (a small city of character) where she enjoys chatting with visitors and adventuring with locals.