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Wild camping to nudity: 7 little-known rules about France's great outdoors

The Local France
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Wild camping to nudity: 7 little-known rules about France's great outdoors
Make sure you don't accidently break any laws when enjoying the French countryside. (Photo by GAIZKA IROZ / AFP)

Did you know that 90 percent of France's landmass is classified as rural? But while there's plenty of the great outdoors to visit, there are also some rules to keep in mind if you want to avoid a fine.


Wherever you pitch your tent

Wild camping - le camping sauvage - in which you make camp, or park your caravan or motorhome for a night or two somewhere that isn’t a campsite is allowed in France but, well, it’s complicated.

‘Wild camping’ is not allowed, for example, in the following places:

  • sea shores or beaches;
  • on or within 500m of sites registered for historic, artistic, scientific, legendary or picturesque character - such as woods, forests or nature reserves - or close to classified historic monuments (yes, this includes sites in the process of being registered);
  • on public roads or paths;
  • within 200m of water points for consumption.

Meanwhile local authorities or those in charge of designated natural sites, such as national or regional parks, have specific rules for their land.

There are 11 national parks and well over 50 regional ones, so check the rules before you camp. A local tourist information office or mairie is the best place to start.


Elsewhere, wild camping is allowed, as long as you have permission from the landowner or tenant, and there are other general limitations - including a blanket ban on fires, especially in the summer.

Ignoring the rules could cost you €1,500 – but that sum can be adjusted upwards in cases that also involve excessive noise, campfires, littering and / or environmental damage.

Pitch your winnebago

Many French towns and large villages have dedicated areas for motorhomes (un camping car) to stay for a short period away from campsites, and some provide electricity or water points. Access to these areas is often limited to a few days per vehicle. Meanwhile, you can park at the side of a quiet road outside towns, as long as you don’t block the carriageway, but you may get a visit from a police officer wondering what’s going on.

On top of these specific rules, the same general rules apply for motorhomes as for wild camping, if you decide to spend a night in your motorhome outside a campsite. And don’t empty your chemical toilet at the roadside. Obviously. 


There are many picturesque views in France. Imagine you find one, and pull up in your vehicle to admire the vista.

Now imagine a French police officer tapping on your window with a ticket for €135, because you’ve left the engine running while stationary, so you can keep the air con going (understandable, it gets hot in the summer, right?). But it’s not an excuse.

This relatively little-known law sounds like a modern reaction to the climate crisis, but it has been around since the 1960s - and, from time to time, the police do crack down on it, so beware.

Sounds and smells are protected

The countryside can be a bit noisy and a bit, well, whiffy.

From crowing roosters to the smell of barnyard animals, the "sensory heritage" of France's countryside has been protected by law since 2021.

That means cow bells (and cow droppings), grasshopper chirps and noisy early-morning tractors are now considered to be part of France's natural heritage.

The law was brought in after a string of high-profile cases of people arriving from cities and attempting to lodge complaints about everything from the sound of the village church bells to the smell from a farmer's muck heap.

The right to roam

There is no specific law guaranteeing public right of way over private land in France. There are paths the public can use that cross private land - but these can be closed by the landowner. 

There are, however, many tracks weaving their way through forests, which make up 30 percent of France's land area, and country lanes that are publicly accessible. Maps for local and regional walks can be found in tourist information offices or at town and village mairies.


While out walking, you should of course be respectful of the countryside - don't leave litter, close gates behind you and keep dogs on a lead if there is livestock in the fields that you are passing through.


The taking of sand off the beach is not allowed. Only 'windblown sand' - sand that the wind has blown off the beach and to another location - can be collected. In practice, if you are just taking a small amount as a holiday keepsake authorities will tolerate it.

But if you're trying to make off with several sacks of sand to create your own urban beach or mix up some mortar, you can be prosecuted.

The same rules apply to a shingle beach and while a couple of pebbles will be tolerated, taking large amounts could get you the maximum fine of €1,500.

Before we forget, some types of seaside plants are protected by environmental laws. If you take a protected marine coastal plant you could be fined up to €9,000 for “alteration, degradation or destruction of the environment of a plant species in a protected site”.

While there is no specific law covering driftwood or sea glass, both can be considered part of the “seaside landscape” so their collection must remain reasonable. A couple of pieces for a souvenir would be fine, but if you're looking to start a business making furniture or ornaments out of driftwood, it would be wise to seek permission from the authorities first.

Some places also impose limits on the amounts of seafood that you can forage from beaches - from oysters to razor clams, collecting your own lunch is a lovely seaside pastime, but most areas impose a limit of a couple of kilos on the amount you can take. It's intended to stop commercial operations, and limits will be displayed on boards on the seafront. 



France has a reputation for being pretty laissez-faire about nudity. But there are rules - and, while there is no law against being naked in public in France, there is one against disturbing the public order. More than one naturist has been fined in the past after surprising clothed walkers while  a-wandering in the countryside.

Going completely naked on the beach is acceptable only on certain stretches of isolated public sand and on designated nudist beaches or colonies like the famous Cap d'Agde in the south of France. 

While there is a thriving nudist community in France, it's better to stick to designated nudist areas (like the one in the Bois de Vincennes in Paris) or organised naturist events. 


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