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I'm debating if I should go for a long drive (possibly over night) in France. However, if I opt to do so, are there places where I can shower, and park my car securely (sleeping in car)? How do I go about finding these on a route?

Update: I just wanted to clarify that by "over night" I did not mean sleeping in a hotel or any sort of accomodation.

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I think you are not allowed to sleep in your car. That would count as "wild camping", which is forbidden. –  gerrit Sep 30 '13 at 9:56
    
@Gerrit I am not sure if it is illegal to sleep in your car. Truckers do it all the time. –  andra Sep 30 '13 at 12:44
    
@Andra Don't they do so only at designated places? –  gerrit Sep 30 '13 at 13:58

2 Answers 2

up vote 8 down vote accepted

There are basically two ways of driving through france. Through the "route national (RN)", and the "Autoroutes". The autoroutes are the quickest and most convenient network in France. However, if you have the time and want to enjoy the beauty of the countryside the route national provides a valuable alternative for driving through France. Another advantage of the RN is that they are toll-free, whereas most highways have tolls.

As @Gilles already said the highways have regular rest areas, they are called "Aires de repos". There is a website where you can find the offered services per rest area. This website is in French, and also not handy since it uses the French numbering (Axx) to search, whereas the Google Map used, uses the European numbering (Exx)

In general you have two types of "aires de repos". The first being offering services like restaurents, service stations, sometimes a hotel, etc. The second being the basic version with at most only lavatories.
You can distinguish the two by the panels indicating the aires on the highways:

The ones with extended services:

enter image description here (Source: Google maps)

and those with basic services (typically containing an icon with a fir tree):

enter image description here (Source: Google maps)

Personally, I would not recommend staying the night at basic stops (the ones with the fir-tree icon). The ones with services can provide a relatively safe stop to spend the night.

Regarding the showering, some do provide showers, but it is not common. Your best chances are where the truckers rest as well.

On the RN, the aires de repos with services are not that common. Usually you'll find the services in the cities the RN connects. Just before entering a city check for the budget hotels. F1, Camponille, and Ibis Budget are examples of budget hotels throughout france where you can stay and take a shower. They provide a very basic formula catering to drivers. They are open 24 hours a day.
I have spent the night in my car while driving on a route national, but it is something you need to decide for yourself whether you are comfortable doing. I would not recommend staying at a supermarket car park at the city boundaries. Local bored youth might disturb your night's sleep. What I do is search for a nice spot in the country side, park my car out of sight and take a nap.

You can also buy or bring a tent and stay at the various campsites.

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Pedantic nitpick: "Enter image description here". –  hippietrail Sep 30 '13 at 9:35
    
The usual terms for the two types of Aires de repos are service area for the ones with services beyond the basics, and rest area for the ones with just the basics. –  hippietrail Sep 30 '13 at 9:42
    
@Andra so would you recommend staying where the truckers stay or in the country side? –  MarkE Sep 30 '13 at 9:53
    
@MarkE on the Highways I would follow the trucks, on RN I would go for the countryside –  andra Sep 30 '13 at 10:32

Motorways (autoroutes, indicated by signs with a blue background) have service areas at regular intervals (about 15km). Every rest area has at least a parking lot and toilets. Some have food, petrol, shops, and motels. The official motorways website has a map (only in the French section), which in theory should tell you where various services are available — but it only sends you to specific motorway companies' websites which may or may not tell you what amenities are available in each service area.

A lot of those sites are in French only. If you need help with a specific route, tell me what your route is.

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I've never used service areas in France but in many other countries they are indicated on Google Maps. –  hippietrail Sep 30 '13 at 9:26
    
+1 but 15 km seems a little low, you can't rely on finding so many service areas, I think. –  Relaxed Jul 8 at 10:30
    
@Relaxed I don't remember where I took the 15km figure but it doesn't seem unreasonable in my experience. Wikipedia says every 10km but “ref needed”. Wikia Routes says every 20km. –  Gilles Jul 8 at 11:13
    
@Gilles But that's for rest area with toilets, not service areas. –  Relaxed Jul 8 at 11:39

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