Will my motorhome be suitable for a trip during the French winter? We’re sure it will if you follow our personally tested, 10-point winter checklist…
We’ve woken up to frosty mornings over the past few days here in Burgundy (it was -2C this morning!), so there is no question that dinner outdoors has become a little unappealing. However, on a sunny day, with a nostalgic hint of wood smoke in the air, France is still one of the loveliest places in the world even in winter, and touring when the roads and tourist attractions are quiet can make for a truly relaxing trip.
The FMH team are always flat out at the depot during spring, summer and autumn so we take most of our motorhome trips from now until Easter. We find the winter months a very rewarding time to travel, but to stay cosy and avoid problems you do have to make sure your motorhome is suitable for winter travel and plan your trip accordingly.
Here is our 10-point winter preparation and expectation check-list for happy motorhome travel:
1. Make sure you hire a motorhome that has central heating (i.e. heating that goes to all areas of the motorhome). If you hire one that has just one, wall-mounted gas heater it will be Baltic in the bath/bed area and there will be cold drafts around your ankles throughout. Central heating (commonly systems that blow hot air into all areas of the accommodation area through ducts) will make a motorhome suitable for use at regular winter temperatures.
2. Check that your motorhome comes with winter-weight bedding. Many hire companies only offer summer-weight bedding – it will not feel cosy enough, even with the right heating!
3. Only hire a motorhome or campervan with a bathroom and decent sized water/waste tanks so you don’t have to depend on campsites (not many will be open). Outside of the big cities, year-round campsites are rare, so you will be relying upon your motorhome for showering. (Here’s one campsite in Burgundy that does open throughout the winter.)
4. Be prepared to stay at “Aires de Service” – special places for motorhomes to park overnight/empty tanks and fill up with water. They are generally free of charge and most are open all year so provide a great alternative to campsites. They are often very conveniently located near towns, shops and restaurants too.
5. Avoid the mountains between November and April. The temperatures at altitude can be extreme, creating problems even for well-insulated motorhomes as well as treacherous road conditions. We specifically exclude the use of our motorhomes in the mountains during the colder months to avoid problems. They are ideal for general winter use, but heading to the mountains during the ski season is asking for trouble!
6. Hire a motorhome rather than a campervan if you intend to self-cater most nights. Dining outside is unlikely to be comfortable most days during the winter, if you plan to eat in, give yourself some extra dining and cooking space by renting a vehicle with a bigger accommodation area. This will give you a bigger bathroom and kitchen, so you won’t trip over each other when spending time indoors. It will also give you bigger waste/water tanks making it easier to stay self-sufficient for longer.
7. If your budget allows, choose one of the motorhomes from our “Prestige Range“. Apart from being beautiful, cosy spaces with subtle lighting and décor, they also have heated cupboards, which are fantastic in damp, chilly weather as they ensure everything stays warm and bone dry. During our winter hire price period (the lowest of the year), the upgrade to a “Prestige” motorhome won’t be too pricey.
8. When you pick up your vehicle, be prepared to unpack your suitcases and leave them at the hire depot while you’re away. When you are not able to spill outdoors every time you park up, you will appreciate the additional space this will give you indoors.
9. Check attractions are open before driving to them. While many chateaux and most museums stay open all year, some don’t and attractions like formal gardens and other outdoor activities are likely to be closed. The “Office de Tourisme” in any town will help you to establish what is open and you can contact them or the regional tourist boards before you come.
10. Bring plenty of warm clothing so you can still enjoy the outdoors, especially if you are coming from a warmer climate. Walks on crisp, sunny winter days and visits to the outdoor markets are wonderful, but only if you stay warm.
We recommend, without hesitation, a winter motorhome trip, so come and enjoy a warm French welcome over a mug of mulled wine and see France at the most peaceful time of the year.