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Updated March 2019
Rather, these are their poor cousins, aesthetically speaking. However, they do have a place in the world of motorhome and campervan travel in France and throughout Europe. Aires de Service are the official free campervan stops in France and have come in handy on more than one occasion on our travels.
What is an Aires de Service?
The word means an area of service. Simply, they are areas that have been set aside for motorhome and campervan travellers to either use the services (water, electricity and waste disposal) or to stay overnight. Not all “aires” allow overnight stopovers, but quite a few do.
Aires can be found all over France (and other countries) and usually appear in small towns, where local municipal councils are responsible for their upkeep. It is a way of enticing travellers into their communities with the hope that they will spend some money locally. I know we do as being able to find somewhere safe to park has its advantages.
What do they look like?
They are usually tucked away at the back of a town or in large carparks. Sometimes they are even found in shopping centre carparks, like the large Intermarches. Mostly though, they are small areas either on the side of the road or nearby parks. They really need to be out of the way, especially if they have services attached. Trying to empty your waste in the middle of a town isn’t really something you want to be doing.
Service points will usually have a stand like the one in the image below where you can hook up to electricity and water. Generally, they don’t allow overnight stopovers. Sometimes, they even have toilet facilities which should be viewed as a bonus.
Dedicated areas for overnight stopovers
These areas are usually slightly larger and have dedicated overnight parking areas for vehicles.
How do they operate?
Aires are available on a “first in first served” basis. They cannot be booked and in peak season, they have huge demand placed on them. They are simply a matter of finding them and parking up in an approved spot. This is important as sometimes they are adjacent to, or in public carparks.
Aires can be large dedicated areas for motorhomes and campervans, or they can be a few carparks set aside for this purpose. The larger ones, with more services, usually increases the chance of them requiring payment.
Tip: If you are heading to a larger city, aim to get there mid-morning, just as those from the previous night are leaving. That way you’ll be more likely to secure a spot for the night. It can then be your parking spot for the day. We always have bikes so even if the aire is out of town you still have easy access.
What do they cost?
Aires are generally free to stay overnight, but there are some exceptions. In Bruges (Belgium) we stayed at an aire that was €24 overnight (including full use of services). Mostly, however, they only charge a minimum amount for use of services and the actual stopover is free. eg €2 per hour of electricity or 100 litres of water is a standard charge.
Tip: In France, many of the aires rely on tokens to operate the service points. These tokens can only be purchased from such places as the local town hall or tourism offices. It also differs from town to town. It’s the one downside of this service and can be really annoying if you arrive during lunchtime or after hours.
The new aires are starting to adopt credit card technology which makes for a much more efficient process.
How do I find them?
Our campervan hire company kindly provides us with a guide listing all the aires throughout France. It’s in French though so it can sometimes get a little tricky. Having a GPS is also essential for finding some of them. They are not always out in the open or well signed.
The internet is also a great resource in any country for finding aires and downloading aires maps.
We found we got very good at spotting signage as well, although this is more random.
Note: You should always keep your safety and security as a priority. Use your common sense when choosing a location, especially during off-peak periods when you may be camping on your own.
- Don’t park for long periods of time in the servicing areas. There is nothing more annoying than pulling up to get an hour of electricity to find that a campervan has been permanently parked in the servicing area.
- Like any other camping area, be respectful of your neighbours and the local community in which you are staying
- Staying at an aire means you must remain self-contained and take everything with you. If there are no waste disposal units, don’t just throw your waste out here.
- Clean up after yourself. Nothing is more revolting than having to deal with someone else’s waste. It’s not hygienic and it’s definitely not cool.
France, and indeed Europe provides such a welcoming environment for travellers. There are so many free motorhome and campervan stops in France. In association with the France Passion network, travellers can save a considerable amount of money by using this type of service.
There’s not much that comes for free, or for a few euros a night anymore, and I for one will always make the most of them.