We’ve stayed at hundred’s of Motorhome Aires in France and Europe over the year’s at various locations.
Most countries, such as: Germany; Belgium; Spain; Italy; Lichtenstein and The Netherlands are all easy for touring in a motorhome and here’s why!
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 Camping Car.
So, what exactly is an Aire, as it’s known for short? How do you find one? And what can you expect when you stay on one?
We’ll try and answer all of those questions here for you. So, hopefully it will help you on your way to joining us in a love of the motorhome Aire system in France and Europe.
Motorhome Aires in France and Europe, are basically a designated overnight parking area for use by fully self-contained motorhomes.
They are provided by the local authority, usually the Mayor in France, or a private land owner. Some Aires are just for daytime parking, however, most are for actual overnight parking and can these 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 the parking area will be or exactly what facilities it will have. Most importantly it is NOT camping!
The original development of the motorhome Aire system was due to a practical and economic reason. This as a result of French Government recogintion, to the importance of providing facilities for a Motorhome.
The French Government realised encouraging visitor’s to stay at a town, brought economic benefits that 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 were different, due to being fully self- contained, with on-board water tanks. As-well as Motorhome owners moving on more regularly, often daily.
Not forgetting, the one big difference to a touring caravan – this being the fact that there’s no separate car from the accommodation!
Also, motorhome’s are big! They can’t fit in many car park‘s due to height barriers or in underground, multi-storey parking, which all also have narrower, shorter parking bays made for cars. So daytime parking provision is just as important.
As a motorhome has everything on board from toilets and showers to heating and hot water as well as a lounge area and a bed, the French government recognise this as a holiday home on wheels. Hence, the Aire de Camping Car or motorhome parking is provided.
In France, the number of days or nights you can stop at an aire is usually determined by the Mayor of the town. This generally is between 24-72 hours.
A sign at the Aire will define the amount of time you can stop.
It shouldn’t be confused with any form of camping. When you park up, it should be just that. With all tyres in contact with the ground and no setting out your table and chairs, for outdoor dining into the night.
In other words, the levelling ramps should stay inside the van! Also, you shouldn’t take up the parking space next to you whilst, sitting under the awning sipping a glass of Vin Rouge from your Lafuma recliner!
An Aire is for fully self-contained motorhome’s only. Touring caravans aren’t permitted, as well as campervan’s that aren’t fully self-contained, such as day-type campervan’s. There’s definitely no hanging washing out, showering outside or spreading out your belongings for all the public to see!
People also shouldn’t overstay their welcome. If the rules state 48 hours parking, then abide by them!
You can’t book in advance. It’s a first come, first served system.
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 mis-use space, especially 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’s only enough space to open the door between you and the next van! Those located 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, where local landowners allow you to stop on their land. This is in exchange for either a small fee or the expectation that you’ll buy produce from them.
Usually, these locations are typically an orchard, perhaps a vineyard or small-holding. Often, these will be small producer’s such as honey or growing fruit and 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). The development of an App would be great, but there isn’t one at time of writing.
Some Aires in France and Europe have a facility to empty the grey water and fill up the fresh. There’s usually an area to empty the cassette toilet too. These specialist areas are known as a service point (Aire de service de camping car) or a dump, consisting of either:
There may be an all in one multi-function unit. These are specifically manufactured by companies, such as Euro-Relais and Font Bleu.
It is not unusual to have a Service Point and no parking area. However, you can have both, it just varies!
Usually on motorhome Aires in France and Europe, they will provide a service point. These could be located at a whole number of locations from a busy motorway service area to a supermarket but mainly they’re in towns and villages across France and Europe.
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 have become more noticeable recently. In these circumstances, you may have to pay to enter the area to use the service point. That’s 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 dump sign:
Sometimes they’ll just be a few motorhomes parked up or it can be dozens, especially in peak season in a popular place.
French tourist offices have local maps that often show where Aires are located. They’ll also indicate if you can stay the night and if there’s a service point. These are usually free and easy to read as well as being up to date. It’s a fuss-free way of getting the most out of an area or region.
Our favourite App is Campercontact . There’s hundred’s of Aires listed on the database throughout Europe which include: ratings; facilities and best of all directions. This App is produced by The Camper Club of The Netherlands, the largest in Europe, so it show’s official Aires rather than a mix of Aires and “rough or wild camping”.
There’s also Park4night but we find this used to be for wild camping spots, although it does cover Aires a lot more now too. The business behind this App is French and it initially relied on the public submitting a location of where the person had literally just parked up for the night without getting getting moved on or finding any trouble. It wasn’t to say that it’s an authorised place to park!
We’ve now noticed that more locations are now either pending authorisation or are being removed, so hopefully they are regulating it more now that its popularity has soared. They are also showing more official parking areas or Aires de Camping Car.
Another popular option is Search For Sites https://www.searchforsites.co.uk
This just seems a bit old fashioned now to keep books in the campervan. Although we’ve had lots of them in the past, technology has moved on! The really good thing about books is that they give you all the background information about what Aires are and plenty of official guidance on the rules with photo’s to help people understand. This is something that App’s just fall down on at the first hurdle.
Aires can close or change location, sometimes directing you to a closed Aire if you’re just reading the book, so they can be outdated quickly. It’s also more costly to buy books and they take up valuable space in the cab.
If you can only cope with a book, then you can buy French Aire books from service stations and sometimes supermarkets and book shops in France.
There is also an English printed book ‘All The Aires’ available through Vicarious Books in the UK.
Maps are available to buy at service stations in France, listing the Aires. We’ve bought these and they don’t actually list many, so aren’t ideal.
Parking varies enormously. It may be a grass or gravel area, possibly just pure dust or sand, but sometimes tarmac or concrete, basically it’s completely random. One thing is almost certain, you won’t really know for sure until you arrive.
There can be marked bays, or just parking where you can. The location could be next to a pretty canal, alongside a river or close to a beach. There may be at a tourist attraction or it could be in the centre of a town. Perhaps, maybe overlooking a beautiful vineyard or even at the bottom of a ski slope.
The location of Aires in France and Europe can be incredible or just functional, in addition they could be peaceful or noisy! There’s no way of knowing if it will be dirty or extremely clean and tidy. However, convenience is key.
This varies and generally will depend on where it’s located. If it’s a sleepy village within a rural area, then it will usually be free. Elsewhere, there may be a charge and this could be anything from a few Euro’s up to 10 or 20 Euro’s a night.
The Gendarmerie (local Police) used to collect fees by knocking on the motorhome door. This is now unusual, following the introduction of automated pay machines and barriers. These were often installed to stop campervan owner’s from not paying the fee.
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 fortunate in the past, when friendly locals have paid the fee for us. Of course, we have paid them back with cash!
Overall, an Aire represents excellent value for money and convenience. Generally, they’re located close to amenities and therefore ideal for visiting a town or attraction.
Don’t get too excited on this one, facilities are pretty basic, certainly don’t expect a campsite or caravan park.
A motorhome Aire is really just a basic parking space where you can stay overnight. Further more, expect to use your own toilet, shower and all the other facilities in your own van.
Occasionally, there may be a public toilet, but this is really unusual. It’s also worth remembering that in France and Italy, 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 as a rule. However, occasionally, during Summer at an Aire on the Mediterranean, for example, there could be a cold shower available to use.
Whatever you do, don’t use the area as an outdoor toilet; an outdoor shower opportunity; a place to brush your teeth in the open or get the BBQ or outdoor stove out whilst hanging the washing out to dry! An aire is neither a bathroom or camp ground!!
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, from other vans. Once again, electric would be limited to certain usage and definitely a low-amp of around 6 amp.
There wouldn’t be enough power to keep all appliances working on full power. Although, it may be possible to trickle charge the leisure battery.
These are different to the Aire de Camping Car, that you’re encouraged to stay on throughout France. They are basically the same as a motorway service station. Therefore, it’s best only use them for that purpose – as a quick rest stop and not for an overnight stay.
Motorway Aires are busy places where people stop in any vehicle to take a break. Some have shops and cafe’s to buy food and drink or use the toilet as well as fuel.
When we do stop at a motorway Aire, one of us will stay in the van to keep guard. Especially vulnerable are tyres and habitation windows from those unscrupulous individuals!
Most reported break-ins and alleged gassings or letting tyres down before robbing the occupants, are usually at motorway Aires. Often this is when 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 to stop just off the carriageway. It’s just not worth the risk!
Many Aires resemble a ghost town out of season. There are few service points available over Winter, simply because they may freeze.
This can leave you struggling for fresh water and emptying the cassette toilet. So don’t be fooled into thinking, that just because it’s motorhome-friendly across the Channel, that everything stays open all year round.
Ski resorts are an exception and are generally prepared for the Winter season. Usually, you’ll find some service points open and Aires that are busy, often they will be full.
Aires or stopovers in Germany are known as Stellplatz. They are excellent, and there are lots of them, above all, most are very neat and tidy. Although, nearly all have parking fees, payable at a meter.
The parking area is usually a better surface than in France. Also, there’s more likely to be a good public toilet at the parking area or very close by. Normally, Parking areas will have electric bollards 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. They are often next to vineyards or lakes; mountains or 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 lots of them and many are in some really great locations. Also, there’s a really good system, of being able to stop at some boating marina’s.
The added advantage of having facilities, such as hot showers; toilets and possibly even a laundry or EHU are 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, along with private ones 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. They are every bit as good if not better than the French Aires, usually they’re located in really good places too.
A mix of private and local authority provided areas are available. These are either free or payable with 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,. This is an Aire type parking, but you still have to pay at the campsite reception.
We were told that tourists should be logged in on a nightly basis, for authority requirements. Therefore, only campsites are offered for overnight motorhome parking.
Also, due to the war, there are possibly still un-exploded land mines in some areas. No doubt, people will still try their luck at wild camping, but we choose not to!
Slovenia is generally Campsites only.
This is a small country, however, motorhome parking is allowed on the coach park, with use of the facilities for coaches. A small fees apply.
Luxembourg has a similar Aire system to France.
Unfortunately there is no Aire system in the UK. We wish the authorities would change their mind, on what we feel is an outdated response to the Motorhome community.
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