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Our EV Charging Experience in France and Spain

We just got back from a whirlwind, six-week road trip to France and Spain in our fully electric campervan. During our trip, we tested the public charging infrastructure in both countries thoroughly. Here’s how it went, including the apps and providers we used to charge our EV, and the challenges we encountered along the way.
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The route we took through France and Spain

We began our electric road trip at Jur’s parents’ place in the north of the Netherlands where we’ve been staying to work on our van (in case you missed it, we almost started our van build from scratch again because of a weight issue). We left on our road trip at the end of November 2022, a bit later than we’d liked, and it had already gotten quite cold. That’s why we decided to drive south quickly, through Belgium, Luxembourg and the north of France without stopping to see the sights much.

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We reached the south of France halfway through December after some Covid delays, and then stuck close to the Mediterranean Sea all the way to the border with Spain, which we crossed near Cerbère. We followed the spectacular Costa Brava south to Barcelona, where we celebrated Christmas, and then headed west, driving all the way across the country via Zaragoza to San Sebastián. Here, we rang in the new year and enjoyed the sun and sea for a few days, before heading back north across the border. Since it started getting cold again and we had to be back in the Netherlands for work in the second week of January, we drove across France and Belgium in less than a week, via Tours, Paris and Lille. If you’re interested to see our route in more detail, we tracked the whole trip via Polarsteps.

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Our go-to charging apps and cards in 2023

Since receiving our brand-new Fiat E-Ducato in September 2021, we’ve ordered and tested a good number of general charging cards and apps. So far, we’ve driven our electric campervan through nine countries in Europe, with the Netherlands as our base. The charging cards we’ve used the most so far are Chargemap and Shell Recharge (formerly NewMotion). We use the accompanying apps to find EV charging stations that accept the RFID cards to start and pay for the charge. Both apps have a good coverage for slow AC chargers and fast (rapid) DC chargers in Europe. At the moment, we like Chargemap best because the app shows user images of charging stations, allowing us to check whether our 6-meter-long (19.5 feet) van will fit.

We own two more general cards that also are pay-per-charge: Plugsurfing and Maingau, but we don’t use these as often. We do have two more apps that we use a lot and that work without an RFID card: Fastned and Ionity. Both offer super fast EV charging networks with DC stations mostly built along motorways, similar to petrol stations, and the coverage is expanding quickly across Europe. Even though they can be a bit pricier than other fast chargers, we almost always choose Fastned and Ionity over other stations if we have the choice, because they’re incredibly reliable. Fastned stations are our favourite because they’re very spacious (handy if you own a large electric van), easy to find and we can now start a charge at any Fastned station without even needing the app using Autocharge!

As of January 2023, Chargemap, Shell Recharge, Fastned and Ionity are our go-to charging cards and apps.

Apps we downloaded to charge in France and Spain

Since Chargemap has French origins, we were happy but not surprised to find that the coverage of charging stations in France in the app was excellent. It was also easy to use our Fastned and Ionity apps to find fast charging stations along certain toll motorways. Using Chargemap, Fastned and Ionity, we had no issues finding charging stations in France, both slow and super fast.

In Spain, unfortunately, it was a different matter. We’d been warned beforehand by some of our friends with lots of EV driving experience (shoutout to Electric Felix and Robin & Jeroen from Green Travel Van) that we’d probably need some local apps to be able to charge comfortably in Spain. And they were right! The first app we downloaded was Electromaps and while this one definitely has good coverage, as multiple chargers popped up on the map in the app that our other apps didn’t offer, you sadly need a physical RFID card to be able to charge at most of them. Since we downloaded Electromaps while we were already on the road, this wasn’t an option for us, but if you order your card in advance, the extensive network might just make it worth the hassle.

We ended up downloading two more apps: JuicePass and EV Charge. Both were fairly easy to set up in English and we could add our creditcard details without issues. Both apps showed a good number of slow and fast chargers across Spain where we could start the charge via the apps without needing an RFID card. Because we had some issues with Endesa chargers (more on that below), we ended up using EV Charge the most and it made our experience charging in Spain much easier.

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After we started using EV Charge, we didn’t feel the need to download more apps, but we received some others recommendations for Spain that we’ll list here: Iberdrola (we didn’t download this one because we could already activate Iberdrola chargers with the EV Charge app and Chargemap card), Zunder, Wenea, MIIO and Recharge Publica. We heard that this last one can be used to find several free AC chargers, so we’ll definitely try that one out when we’re next in Spain (which will most likely be the winter of 2023/2024).

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Charging challenges in France: toll roads and aires

Our first charging challenge in France was one that we did not expect: toll roads. Which we’re not used to since we don’t have them in the Netherlands! On our first leg through the north of France, driving from Metz to Dijon, we decided to avoid the toll roads and take an old route nationale instead. Because we usually choose to drive in eco-mode on long stretches with our Fiat E-Ducato at about 87km/h (54mi/h), we figured it wasn’t worth spending the extra money on tolls and we preferred to take the much more scenic road.

Close to Langres, we sought a fast (rapid) charger on our charging apps and found a nearby Ionity. We used Google Maps to navigate there, only to find ourselves standing in front of a locked fence. The Ionity station turned out to be on the side of a toll motorway that we couldn’t get on from the small, provincial road we were on. Luckily, we had enough battery left to take the long detour needed to get on the toll motorway and to the Ionity charger. A good thing, too, because we wouldn’t have been able to make it to the next charger with the small percentage of battery we had left!

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We were more careful selecting chargers after that, especially since we also found some stretches with 100-150km (60-90mi) between fast chargers. With an electric car that has a good range this shouldn’t be an issue, but our Fiat E-Ducato has just 250km (155mi) of range in good conditions. Because we were driving in winter and sometimes across very hilly terrain, our range suffered and as a result, we had to be pretty conservative planning our charging stops.

Driving south from Dijon and on our way back from Spain, we did decide to drive on the toll motorways since it was quicker, even if we were driving slower than most cars. Charging along the toll roads was easy, as most serviced aires now have fast chargers and they’re expanding the networks rapidly. We only had one issue with an Ionity just off a toll road near Longvilliers that for some reason was on a parking lot with a height restriction of 2.3 meters (7.5ft). Since our van’s 2.70m (8.9ft) tall with our solar panels, Maxxfan and Starlink on the roof, we couldn’t charge there, but thankfully, since we were near Paris, we were able to find another charger.

Other than that, we were pleasantly surprised by the charging infrastructure along the motorways, and the only real issue we had was that sometimes finding the chargers on the grounds of the massive aires was a bit of a challenge! Whenever we were driving to a Fastned, though, we could always see exactly where we had to go because of their noticeable roof design.

Overall, we think France is a great destination for an EV road trip, with a good and rapidly expanding coverage of fast chargers along the major roads and many affordable, slower AC chargers in villages and cities.

Charging challenges in Spain: local apps and faulty fast chargers

The two big challenges for Spain are that the charging network is noticeably less developed than in France and the charging stations that are there, can often only be activated by using a local charging card or app. On top of that, we had two extra challenges because of the EV we drive in. Our electric campervan is quite big and we found that many chargers in Spain were inaccessible to us. Some are inside parking garages, which we’ve encountered in other countries as well, but in Spain, many open parking lots have covers as well to protect cars from the sun. Because of these sun covers, we were unable to park at several fast and slow chargers.

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We had one more challenge that we think is specific to our Fiat E-Ducato (or perhaps Stellantis vehicles). Endesa is a big local provider of fast (rapid) charging stations in Spain. And unfortunately, after charging successfully at one of their chargers, we encountered two consecutive Endesa stations that we were unable to charge at. The stations wouldn’t accept any of our RFID charging cards and even with the JuicePass app, we got an error code. We gave up on Endesa chargers after that but because it’s such a big provider and there are already fewer fast chargers in Spain than we’re used to, this was a strenuous extra challenge for us.

After encountering two more broken chargers from other brands, we learned to thoroughly check reviews and photos on Google Maps and Chargemap before driving to a charger. We planned our stops especially carefully when we were driving a section with more than 100-150km (60-90mi) between chargers, such as between Lleida and Zaragoza. We drove across northern Spain on this trip and were happy to find solid charging infrastructure along the Costa Brava, Barcelona, and in the San Sebastián area. It definitely took more preparation than the other countries we’ve been to so far, but we do think an EV road trip to Spain is entirely doable. Just be careful to watch your range in the hills and mountains. Luckily cold is less of an issue here!

Our top tips for an EV road trip to France and Spain

Our first tip is to order a good, general charging card like Chargemap well in advance to take with you on your trip. If your EV supports high-speed fast (rapid) charging, downloading the Fastned and Ionity apps and entering your credit card details before your trip is also smart. In France, you’ll find the fastest chargers along the toll roads but these can get busy in peak travel season. Try and plan your trip on non-busy days and outside of rush hours if you can. We didn’t experience any lines on this winter road trip!

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France also offers lots of fast charging stations from other providers that you’ll find in towns and cities, but many won’t offer more than 50kW. If you have the time, driving along a route nationale and charging at slow AC stations in cute towns might just be the most relaxed way to do an EV road trip in France. And if you have an electric campervan like us, as a bonus you could even choose to charge at a slow AC station in a town overnight, and wake up with a full battery.

For Spain, we’d advice you to plan your general route in advance and download several apps. We’d recommend Electromaps only if you have time before your trip to order and have their charging card shipped to you. Otherwise, you should get pretty far with JuicePass and EV Charge. Fast charging in Spain usually means only up to 50kW, faster chargers than this were still a rarity when we visited (December 2022). If you have time, you’ll find plenty of slower AC chargers in picturesque places along the coast, and we’ve heard that several are still completely free!

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We’re planning to drive through France again on our next road trip, heading to Italy in February of 2023. So stay tuned for more stories from the road.

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