Accessible Travel in France
18 years ago I set out on my first big trip. I had bought a round the world ticket and had thought to myself “I’ll explore Europe when I get back, maybe in a year or two.” Little did I know that it would be a lot later than that and in a wheelchair! Since then a lot has changed and for over 5 years I've been dependent on my wheelchair and a carer for mobility.
I’m Still Passionate About Travel.
Earlier this month I returned from a wonderful trip to France. We travelled by car (low MPG Citroen Berlingo) with a tent, camping gear and my wheelchair in the boot. To save on fuel and driving hours we chose destinations that were roughly in the same corner of the country. I'm a budget traveller who loves the outdoors so camping is my usual choice of accomodation. Our tent is just big enough for me to sit in the porch in the wheelchair. And from there I can transfer to the bedroom as long as the mattress is fully inflated.
France has thousands of campsites, some of them with fantastic facilities. We used the ACSI camping card for the off season discount prices. The ACSI campsite directory lists over 2000 campsites in France and tells you whether they have disabled facilities or not, many of them do. It pays to do a little more research (check the reviews) though if you want to be on a peaceful site away from the main road. Camping in France with a wheelchair can be a lovely way to connect with nature if you choose the right location and the right campsite.
Travelling from the UK, we booked the ferry from Dover online (must tick the disabled traveller box) and arrived at the car ferry port early so they could get us in position (they arrange for you to park next to the lift on the ferry) We mostly used the peage (toll) motorway in France as it's quicker, usually less crowded and most of the service and rest areas have disabled facilities. The main areas we visited were the Ardeche Gorges (scenic drive & camp by the river), the Camargue (flamingos, wetlands & cowboys) and Lake Annecy (beautiful lakeside beach & fab cycle path) spending a few days in each destination.
Easy Access Walks
Although we had the accessible campsite information in our book each time we arrived in a place, it was still necessary to visit the tourist office to find out about easy access walks, accessible things to do and get tourist maps. Next time it will be worth requesting this information in advance so that we save time in each destination.
The Voies Vertes (green ways) is a network of car free paths that are only open to walkers, cyclists, skaters and wheelchair users. These paths are a great opportunity for disabled travellers to get access to the countryside. Disabled Parking In most towns and villages we visited, we found disabled parking bays in convenient locations, usually right in the centre. In one town we saw one right in the middle of the main square. I have a European Disabled Parking Card (known as Blue Badge in the UK) which is valid in France. It seems that disabled parking cards from countries outside Europe may also be recognised but best to check locally.
Wheelchair Accessible Toilets
On the campsites we were given a key for the disabled bathroom. On the peage (toll motorway network) the service and rest areas are clearly signed in advance as to whether there are disabled toilet facilities, which makes it easy to plan rest stops. . Although France seems pretty good for providing disabled toilets in many tourist areas, I still keep my Kampa Khazi (portable toilet) in the car for emergencies.
Eating Well On Budget Travels
Most of the time we bought organic food and cooked it on the portable barbeque. As a result we ate better quality food than what we’d get in most restaurants for a fraction of the price. We did splash out on a few Plat du Jours though and found most places accessible and helpful. Supermarkets have disabled parking bays and sometimes give wheelchairs priority at the checkout. In France organic food is labelled “Bio”. Supermarkets have organic staples like eggs, milk, pasta, juices etc and are convenient but usually only a limited display of fresh produce. Biocoop has a much better selection of fresh produce and seems more ethical (they buy from organic farmers co-operatives). I was pleasantly surprised to find one nearby in all our destinations. I found the Biocoop shops spacious, wheelchair friendly and full of healthy products. Here's a list of BioCoop stores in France.
Although it’s lovely to arrive home and sleep in a proper bed, I’m looking forward to my next camping trip in Europe and already doing some research. Knowledge is power in the world of accessible travel. For more access information about the destinations I just visited please see Ardeche Gorges Wheelchair Access , Disabled Holidays in the Camargue and Wheelchair Access In Lake Annecy or visit my blog at www.wheelchairaccesstravel.com