Like in the UK sites vary from very small farm type sites to the larger developed ones. We have not had experience of small sites and most of the ones we have visited have swimming pool but not always bars or restaurants. Look out for the Star ratings which means they meet certain standards. Our experience has been that all site owners are friendly, helpful and eager to please. Most speak at least some English, some speak excellent English putting our knowledge of French to shame.
You are usually allowed to choose your own pitch, sometimes by being given a map of the site and then report back to the Office (Accuil) with it's number or position. Many sites pitches are separated into small bays by trees and shrubs which give much welcome shade on hot days .
The amenities are always clean and well maintained and some sites have special motorhome service points with water and waste disposal.(pics right) It is unusual to find the old style squat toilets which many British worry about. You may find that some toilet and washing blocks, especially in low season, are unisex. Maybe they find that everyone using the same block economises on heating and lighting rather than having two blocks open. We have never had any problems.
Campsites usually have a noise curfew time, around 23.00 hrs to 07.00hrs when noise should be kept to a minimum and cars are barred from entering or leaving the site. A car park outside the camping area is usually provided for those who wish to go out in the evening and return late, however this is not much use if you are in a Motorhome so be warned or you might find yourself camping in the carpark
Electricity - W4 polarity tester, available from Amazon, will enable you to find out the polarity of the electricity outlet on site. They simply plug into one of the sockets in your unit and, depending on how it lights up, it helps you decided what needs to be done - usually all that needs to be done is to swap over the live and neutral wires in your mains hook-up lead. It is important however to remember to swap these back before using your hook-up in the U.K. (Some people keep a spare hook-up adaptor which is permanently reverse wired for use abroad).
The electric hook-up points are very similar to those you find in the U.K. but can be hidden away in hedges! Some sites have non British hook ups so you will need an adapter which is available from Amazon.
"You cannot buy Calor Gas in France"
Gas - You cannot buy Calor gas in France so, you must either take enough for your holiday duration or use Camping Gaz which is readily available at most campsites and garages.
Note that your Calor gas regulator may not fit a Camping Gaz cylinder as Gaz cylinders have screw on fittings. Best to check what type you need before you leave - your local camping supplier or gas supplier will be happy to give advice on types of gas and their safe use.
Some sites will insist that you leave your passport at reception - this is usually to ensure that you don't leave without paying - but obviously this can be difficult as you may need your passport to cash travellers cheques etc. so it is advisable to get a Camping Card International before you leave. CCI is recognised throughout Europe as a guarantee that you have some third party insurance, most sites will accept it as an alternative to your passport.
We get ours through the Camping and Caravanning Club of which we are members - 2012 price was £5.50. They are also available to members of the Caravan Club, AA 5 Star insurance and the RAC as far as we know.
Some travel companies also offer a CCI if you take out their travel insurance so it's worth asking.
Shopping is easy in France, even the smallest village will have a Boulangerie or Patisserie (Bread/Cake Shop) Boucherie (Butcher's Shop) Charcuterie (Cooked meat/Delicatessen) and L'épicerie - grocery shop. If you don't speak the language, please don't worry - we have always found that the shopkeepers are very patient and understanding - after all they want to make a sale don't they?!
However, if the language difficulties do worry you then there are many large supermarkets and Hypermarkets around and these are well signposted from most towns and villages. Watch out for Leclerc, Les Mousquetaires, Intermarche, Auchan, Carrefour, Continent and Casino to name but a few. You can shop in these without having to use more than a Merci (Thank you). You will recognise virtually all the food stuffs on display and if you don't see the brand you are used to at home then the picture on the packet will give you an idea what's inside.
Shopping trolleys (les chariots) are not free in French supermarkets either but they use they same systems and in most UK supermarkets and are operated with a coin.
Of course, if you don't have the right coin or are only making a few purchases, there are baskets (les panniers) inside the entrance which are free, just like in our supermarkets.
Don't expect to have carrier bags at the checkout for your shopping. The French rarely have them and use reuseable bags. Much better for the environment. Did you know that plastic carrier bags take 400 years to rot?!
"An amazing assortment of breads and shellfish to choose from"
You will find that French supermarkets carry basically the same assortment of tinned foods, cereals, paper products, cleaning supplies, soft drinks etc. The tinned foods are geared toward French tastes, so in addition to peas and carrots, you may also find cassoulet in a tin!
Most UK supermarkets seem to have adopted the French way of using scales to weigh your purchases so you shouldn’t have any problems here - the scale has pictures of all the different vegetables, which are sold by weight. You hit the appropriate picture, and viola, the scale spits out the price.
One commodity that seems a little rare in a French supermarket (although we have noticed it becoming a little more easy to find now) is Fresh milk, the French seem to prefer long-life, pasteurised milk which is usually sold in 1 litre boxes, similar to those used for fruit juice, and is not kept under refrigeration but just out on the open shelves. Personally we don’t like the taste of this milk and will try to order milk on the campsite as they usually try to supply the needs of British campers. It pays to know a little French when shopping for milk: lait entire is whole milk; lait demi-écrémé is the equivalent of semi-skimmed; and lait écrémé is the equivalent of skimmed milk. Beware too of buying Creme Englaise thinking this might be English cream - it’s custard!
The meat counter can be an eye-opener. In France, you will often encounter types and cuts of meat that you don’t usually find in the average British supermarket. For example, it is not uncommon to find horse (cheval), bull (taureau), rabbit (lapin) and far more common than in the UK, duck (canard)
The fresh fish counter will have much of what you find in the UK along with , eels, crayfish, live crabs and many other types of shellfish.
French supermarkets do sell health and beauty items such as toothpaste, soap, shampoo and the like, but they do not sell aspirin or cold remedies. For those items, you must go to la pharmacie (Chemist)
French supermarkets also have frozen food sections, which carry the usual assortment of ice cream, vegetables and prepared meals
As far as payment is concerned, you can pay cash, debit or credit card. (It is worth checking with your bank before you leave to ensure that your card will work abroad). All the supermarkets we have visited seem to accept credit/debit card payments without a problem and our Chip & Pin works fine. In some of the larger shops the Chip & Pin machine could register that your card was English and the instructions came up in English but even if they don't it's easy to guess - retirez la carte = remove card etc. Don't worry if you don't know your numbers in French -- most supermarket cash registers have display screens that shoppers can easily read just like here. You can also pay for your fuel with credit/debit card too at most major supermarkets. We always carry some Euro's too just so that if there was a problem we could pay for our purchases quite easily - thus avoiding any distress.
"Olives, pickles, jams and preserves - you name it they have it. Plus freshly cooked Pizza"
For those who are ready to tackle something a bit more advanced than basic supermarket shopping, a trip to the hypermarché, sometimes these are so big that the employees make their way around the store on roller-skates! Think of a hypermarché as an electrical store, a furniture store, a clothing store, a garden centre, a general merchandise store, a car spares shop, and a supermarket all rolled into one.
"Assortments of cooked meats and sausages - and no serving in jeans and T.Shirt!"
When visiting gift shops (cadeaux) if you are asked if the present is a gift (un cadeaux?) you will find that the gift is wrapped up beautifully, with ribbons and bows, even for the smallest and cheapest purchases
"From fine wines to secondhand furniture"
Take time to visit the outdoor markets too. They are delightful and offer far more than the usual fruit and veg. You can get clothes, vast choices of cheese, cold and cooked meats, paella, unusual knick knacks, jewellery, even live chickens and rabbits if you so desire! Plus many other things to numerous to mention