Prompted by a fellow Devon ‘van owner I have given some thought to the baffling array of guides out there for motorhomers to use, buy or download to help you find a campsite in mainland Europe. Very few motorhomers have unlimited amounts of space to store numerous guides and unlimited amounts of money to purchase them so how do you choose what to spend your hard-earned on? When travelling we generally plan on a day-by-day basis and out-of-season and in more remote areas you can’t always rely on just coming across somewhere suitable to stay [either a campsite or wild camping pitch] without a bit of planning. Below is a guide to the resources we have found most useful when we travel abroad. Each guide or app has its plus points as well as its limitations.
Guides, apps and websites
ACSI card scheme – This is great value for out-of-season touring (from September to June) and this is our first port of call when we are looking for a campsite so that we can get maximum value from it. You pay for the card and books and campsites in the scheme charge either €11, €13, €15, €17 or €19 per night for two adults with electric. The card scheme has 1,541 campsites in France in 2018 and just 26 in Portugal, so its usefulness will depend where you are going. In France municipal sites [see below] can be cheaper than the ACSI sites but in Italy [331 campsites], where campsites are expensive, the ACSI card can contribute a significant saving to your holiday.
Caravan and Motorhome Club Guides – We have these guides for all of Europe and they are sold with a good discount for members. The entries and campsite reviews are from members and can be quirky and brief. We like to read between the lines of these reviews and do find these books of assistance, even though the information is not always up-to-date.
The ACSI App – In addition to the ACSI card book we have this app on our phones. This has a wider selection of campsites than those in the discount card scheme as it contains all campsites inspected by ACSI and is regularly updated. If you have WiFi or data the ACSI website is also a great resource particularly for the camper’s reviews as well as the information about sites.
All the Aires – We carry this if we are travelling in a country it is available for; the books are fairly comprehensive and kept as up-to-date as a book can be and give an honest review of each aire, its facilities, its outlook and how comfortable it is.
Camperstop App – It is worth paying the €5.49 / year for this app which is invaluable for both campsites and aires / stop overs. The app has photographs and reviews of sites which can really help in deciding where to go. The app knows your location and this is handy when we arrive at a campsite or stop over that we don’t like the look of as it can tell us where our nearest options are.
In France we will look for municipal campsites in small towns as these are generally good value and near to the town centre for [the essential] bakeries and bars.
Others have recommended Search for Sites and I’ve tried it out and it looks helpful but this isn’t something we have used much.
Home-based research & recommendations
In addition to the above we will research areas we are fairly certain we will be going to, particularly national parks and mountain areas where there are often few campsites and we are looking for the best situation for walking. This might be Google searches, Rough Guide / Lonely Planet information, some Cicerone Guides include campsites and we sometimes ask a question about an area on a motorhome forum or Facebook page where there are generous well-travelled people with a wide range of knowledge.
You also can’t beat personal recommendations from other campers you meet on the way and these have sometimes taken us to interesting places that we never expected to visit when we set off.
To book or not & the one house rule
We generally travel with only a rough plan and are not interested in tying ourselves down by booking campsites when we are abroad. We have never found this necessary, even when we have been away in July and August so long as we are flexible enough to move on if a site is full [see the house rule below].
Our house rule is to start looking for somewhere for the night by around 17.00. This is just because we did get caught out in Mecklenburg in northern Germany on one trip. There were plenty of campsites around the Mecklenburg lakes and none of them were full as it was only June. The mistake we made was to be too busy enjoying a lovely sunny evening and leaving looking for a campsite until after 18.00 and German campsites don’t keep the evening hours that are common in southern Europe [and even Poland where we had just come from]. At each campsite we arrived at reception was closed and the barriers were down. We eventually got a pitch on a site that we could drive in to but we didn’t have the key for the toilets and had to hang around for another camper to show up to use them, which was somewhat disconcerting for other campers!