We’ve stayed at hundred’s of Aires in various locations across France. As well as in other countries, such as Germany, Belgium, Spain, Italy, Lichtenstein and The Netherlands.
These countries, all have a sort of similar stopover system, although not necessarily using the same terminology.
France has the most familiar to us British, this is known as a Motorhome Aire or Aire de Service de Camping Car.
So, what exactly is an Aire? How do you find one? and what can you expect when you stay on one?
We’ll try and answer all of those questions, hopefully, helping you on your way, to joining us in our love for the Aire system. Not just in France, but across Europe.
Aires in France and Europe, are basically, designated parking areas for use by fully self-contained campervans and motorhomes.
They are provided by the local authority, usually the Mayor in France, or a private land owner. Some Aires, are just daytime parking. However, most are for overnight use, and they can be located in any number of locations.
There is no set rule and no hard or fast way of knowing where an Aire will be situated. This also applies to how big it is, or what facilities it will have.
The original development of the Aire system ,was a result of the French Government recogintion, to the importance of providing facilities for Motorhomes. The Government realised, that by encouraging visitors to stop in or near a town, the economic benefits would profit the local community.
Significantly, the big difference between Motorhome’s and caravan’s was noted by the government. They recognised that Motorhome’s are fully self- contained, with fitments such as on board water tanks, along with the tendency for Motorhome owners, to drive on regularly.
Not forgetting, the other big difference to caravan’s. This being, the fact that there’s no separate car to the accommodation!
In practice we have rarely come across an Aire where someone has not put out the levelling ramps! Certainly, if it’s good weather, in a great location the reclining sun chairs and awning will be out too!
Basically, it’s a common sense approach and being respectful. Don’t misuse space if it’s jam packed full with others. More importantly, definitely put everything away, if you lock up and go out for the day.
Some aires can be so full, that there is only enough space to open the door between you and the next van! Other’s in the middle of a town or city are obviously for the purpose of convenience. These may have perfectly marked out bays for you to stick to.
One private initiative is France Passion, This is where local landowners allow you to stop on their land. This is for either a small fee, or the expectation that you will buy a product from them in return.
It could be an orchard, vineyard or small holding, where they produce small items such as honey or grow fruit or vegetables. To find these you need to sign up to the France Passion guide each year. Once you’ve subscribed, you’ll be sent a book and window sticker (fees applicable to join) an App would be great, but there isn’t one at time of writing.
Some Aires in France and Europe, but not all of them have a facility for emptying grey water, filling up with fresh and a place to empty the cassette toilet. These are known as a service point or dump and can be either:
It is not unusual to have a Service Point and no parking area. However, you can have both, it just varies! Usually at Aires in France and Europe, they’ll be have Service Point. Also, they could be at a motorway services, supermarket, towns, villages and some fuel stations.
There is an increasing tendency to charge for service points of all types. This can be a credit card option on the service unit ,or at an entrance to an Aire. An additional charge for parking may be required, by means of a parking machine. Sometimes, coin payments on the unit itself or buying a token (Jeton) at the local tourist office are used.
All payment methods give a limited usage, usually a few minutes. The use of barrier operated entrances has become more noticeable too recently. In these circumstances, you may have to pay to enter to use the service point. Even if you’re not stopping the night.
It will probably cost a few Euro’s to use a Service Point, so it won’t break the bank.
Last but not least some service points are free!
There is no set way of knowing where an Aire or a Service point will be and whether there will be both when you do find one. They will, however, be signposted and it’s usually very distinctive. Here’s a standard Aire sign for you to get an idea:
Also, one lesson well learnt is to head for water, no matter what kind! Often a canal, river or beach for instance, will usually have an Aire. Sometimes just a few motorhomes will be parked up, or it can be dozens, especially in peak season in a popular place.
If you want to be a bit more prepared here’s the best options:
Parking varies, it can be on grass, gravel, dust, sand, tarmac, concrete, it’s basically completely random. One thing’s certain, you won’t really know for sure until you arrive.
There can be marked bays, or just park up where you can. Location’ s could be next to a pretty canal, alongside a river or close to a beach. It could be at a tourist attraction or in the centre of a town, maybe overlooking a beautiful vineyard or even at the bottom of a ski slope.
The locations of aires in France and Europe can be incredible or just functional, as well as peaceful or noisy! In addition, they could be messy or extremely clean and tidy, however, convenience though is key.
This varies and generally it depends on where it’s located. If it’s a sleepy village then it will usually be free, elsewhere there may be a charge and this could be anything from a few Euro’s to between 10 and 20 Euro’s a night.
The Gendarmerie (local Police) used to collect fees by knocking on your door of an evening or morning. This is now unusual, following the introduction of automated pay machines as well as barriers, installed to prevent vans entering and leaving without paying.
There is one issue we find when trying to pay at an automated machine, they are usually card only and some don’t recognise a UK credit/debit card. As much you want to pay and stay, you simply can’t! We’ve been lucky with friendly locals paying for us with their French cards, we’ve paid them back in cash, of course!
Overall, pay or not, an Aire represents excellent value for money and convenience, they are so close to all amenities and saves the hassle of trying to park elsewhere or catch transport.
Don’t get too excited on this one, facilities are pretty basic, certainly don’t expect a campsite or caravan park! An Aire is really just a parking space where you can stay overnight. Further more, expect to use the facilities in your own van.
Occasionally, there may be a public toilet, but this is unusual. It’s also worth remembering that in France, the old style hole in the ground type toilets may be used. Therefore, they may not be to your liking!
There definitely won’t be showers. Although, sometimes, if your in the height of season by the Mediterranean, for example. A cold shower could be available to use outdoor’s or behind a very basic door!
Electric can sometimes be found on a service unit, but this is limited usage and it can be inconvenient. For example, it may mean that you need to park next to it for a couple of hours to get charged.
It is very unusual to get electric bollards on a French Aire. If you do see any, they are usually full of power lead extensions dangling off in all sorts of directions, to other vans. Once again, electric would be limited to certain usage and definitely a low amp of around 6amp.
It will be no good to power all your appliances full blast, but will do a nice trickle charge on the leisure battery.
These are very different to the Aire de Camping Car, that you’re encouraged to stay at throughout France. Infact, they are basically the same sort of thing as our motorway service stations. We only use them for that purpose, as a quick rest stop, exactly as we would in the UK.
Motorway Aires, are for taking a break, buying food, having a drink or a toilet stop. They are no more than that and should never be used as a stop overnight, even if its the kind without the Fuel station.
When we do stop, have one person stay in the van at all times. So, yes we take it in turns to use the facilities if there are any. This way, we know that no one has tampered with the van, especially the tyres.
If you’ve heard of robberies, alleged gassings or letting tyres down, before robbing the occupants. These have often been at motorway Aires, where people have stopped the night in the van.
There is no real need to stop at a motorway Aire, because there are far nicer places just off the carriageway to stop safety for the night It’s just not worth risking you and the van.
The only time we’ve stayed on a motorway Aire, was due To the main A26 motorway being closed one December. Heavy snow had fallen and everyone had to pull off the road and just sit it out. Whilst the snow ploughs’s made a clear enough path, to open one lane of the motorway!
Many Aires resemble ghost towns out of season. Few service points stay in working order with most being drained down for Winter and sealed off from use.
This can leave you struggling and many a time, we have driven miles to try and get fresh water and empty the cassette toilet. Even resorting to using the kettle to fit under an awkward size sink in a public toilets, or actually buying large bottled water to fill up the tank.
Don’t be fooled into thinking, that just because it’s across the channel that everything stays open all year round!
Ski resorts are an exception and will be geared up to the Winter season. Usually, you’ll will find some service points open and Aires that are generally busy, even full, with Skiers enjoying the snow.
Aires or stopovers in Germany are known as Stellplatz. They are excellent, and there are lots of them, above all, these are mostly very neat and tidy. Although, nearly all have parking fees, payable at a meter.
The parking is usually cleaner than in France and often they’ll be a good public toilet at the parking area or close by. They normally have electric available too.
A book can be bought, listing all the Stellplatz in Germany, called ‘The Bord Atlas’ or Reismobil Stellplatz.
This can be ordered online or bought at some motorhome dealers or service stations in Germany.
The locations of a Stellplatz can be superb, often next to vineyards, or lakes, mountains and rivers. However, we love those located at Thermes, these are hot mineral water spa baths, dotted around various thermal areas in Germany. It’s a great way to spend a relaxing evening, dipping in and out of the various pools before heading back to the van.
Belgium has a mix of stopovers, which are very similar to French Aires. These are found throughout the country, generally in great locations. Usually a fee applies of between 10-20 Euro per night.
Stopover’s in Holland are often found on a privately owned land. There are, however, lots of them in some really great locations. Also, there’s a really good system, of being able to stop at many boating marina’s.
The added advantage of using the facilities, such as hot showers, toilets and possibly a laundry and power supply, to plug the van in to is an added bonus.
All are subject to fees averaging around 15-20 Euro per night. Some private stopovers will take bookings.
There is a mix in Spain, of a limited number of local authority stopovers. Most are private, being found in a variety of locations and lots of new ones are cropping up.
The facilities can be basic, but many do have a toilet and hot shower with the possibility of electric.
They can be extremely over subscribed, through the Winter months, when many people head south to the sun.
When we visited, we didn’t actually manage to get into very many of them, being turned away time after time, with most full for month’s.
Private Stopovers will charge and it may be possible to pre-book these. Local Authority area’s tend to be free with no pre-booking.
The Italian system for motorhome parking is known as an Aree di Sosta. These are located throughout Italy and are very similar to French Aires, with lots of them, in really good locations.
A mix of private and Local Authority provided areas are available. Which are either free or payable, prices ranging from around 8 – 20 Euro per night.
Austria has no real Aire system, therefore, a campsite stay is really the only option. A rise in wild-camping due to the Apps available, is noticeable, as is the police presence in moving people on!
Croatia is Campsites only, although some have a facility to stay in the car park belonging to the campsite, which is an Aire type parking.
We were told that tourists should be logged in on a nightly basis, for authority requirements, therefore, only campsites are offered.
Also, due to the war here, there are possibly unexploded land mines in some areas. No doubt, there are still those people wild camping, but we choose not to!
Slovenia is generally Campsites only.
This is a small country, however, Camper parking is allowed on the coach park, with use of the facilities for coaches. A small fees apply.
Unfortunately there is no Aire system at all. We wish the authorities would change their mind on the outdated response to us Motorhome community.