Explore France’s picturesque landscapes and incredible towns and cities without breaking the bank by making the most of free camping in your motorhome. Our comprehensive guide is dedicated to helping you uncover the best-kept secrets of free campervan stops in France.
You might also like to read our detailed guide on wild camping for motorhomes in France in addition to this guide on Aires in France. Featuring the fabulous France Passion network, the two guides work hand in hand.
You won’t find any of the beauty and special experiences of a France Passion site at an Aires de Service, but they do have a place in the world of motorhome and campervan travel in France and throughout Europe.
Aires de Service are the official and low-cost campervan and motorhome stops in France and have come in handy on more than one occasion on our travels.
- Aires France
- What is an Aires de Service?
- Features of aires in France
- Pros and cons of traditional aires
- Where can I find an aire in France?
- Types of aires
- How do the Aires de Service operate?
- What do Aires de Service cost?
- How do I find Aires de Service in France?
- Rules for staying at Aires de Service in France
- More guides for overnight stays in a motorhome in France
- More motorhome reading and guides
- Motorhome itineraries
What is an Aires de Service?
An Aires de Service means an area of service. They are areas that have been set aside for motorhome, caravan and campervan travellers to either use the services (water, electricity and waste disposal), for motorhome parking or to stay overnight. Not all French aires allow overnight stopovers, but quite a few do.
Aires in France can be found all over the country and usually appear in smaller regional towns. Here these municipal campsites are locally funded and maintained. It is a way of enticing travellers into their communities, hoping they will spend some money locally.
As experienced motorhome travellers, we’ve been staying in these locations, known more simply as aires, for decades. We also stay in similar arrangements in other countries. Finding somewhere safe to park has advantages; sometimes, best-laid plans go awry, and you must find somewhere to pull up for the night. A safe, legal park gives us time to get out into the towns, even to visit their fresh food markets.
Features of aires in France
Note: not all aires in France have all of these facilities and not all will be free, but if there is a charge it is usually a reasonably low cost.
- A safe location to park. Even if you aren’t going to stay at the aire overnight, parking at free aires is possible. The good thing about an aire is that because they have been built as a dedicated space for motorhomes, you can be assured of not having an issue with the vehicle size.
- Dump stations – any black water/wastewater from chemical toilets must only be emptied into approved dump stations. Sometimes, a town can provide a standalone dump point without any other services. Increasingly, at standalone ‘bornes,’ you must pay to dump waste and use non-potable water to clean your toilet cassette out.
- Wastewater – many aires also have an area – usually a grate in the ground -to dispose of greywater from your sink and shower. Do not under any circumstance, empty blackwater into such a drain.
- Potable water and electricity – motorhomes often flock to aires in France for this reason. Water is sometimes free, although this is getting less so, and electricity can be provided without paying the higher prices at a campground.
- Some aires have toilet facilities attached and some also have wifi.
- Some aires also have rubbish facilities. Be mindful not to leave rubbish in allocated bins if they are overflowing as this adds to the problem someone else has created.
Pros and cons of traditional aires
- found everywhere all over France
- free or very low cost
- usually plenty of space to park your vehicle and put your table and chairs out
- can sometimes stay for several days
- often has services attached.
- traditional aires can’t be booked
- the good locations fill up fast so if you don’t get there early you might miss out
- not all aires have all services
- some aires are just bornes – standalone machines – and offer no parking opportunities.
Where can I find an aire in France?
The best aires 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. Note however that aires can also be found on the autoroutes. Most of these only offer a place to stay for the night and you’ll be sharing the space with large trucks and they’ll be noisy.
They must be out of the way, especially if they have attached services. Trying to empty your waste in the middle of a town isn’t really something the locals want you to do.
Many of the Aires de Service locations in Europe are now run by Euro-Relais. They are leading the way in technology of the service point machines (bornes) to make them easier to use and also accepting of modern credit cards, making it far easier than having to wait for the staff at the local Mairie (Town Hall) to finish their lunch to give you a jeton (token) for the machine.
We are pleased to note that the use of tokens is now reducing, although some are still left. About 10-15 years ago, no machine had credit card facilities and the jeton was the only way to pay. We saw one during a recent road trip that still required a trip to the local boulangerie to get a token.
Keep reading to learn more about the types of aires you will find in France.
Types of aires
Aires de Service – Service points only
Service points will usually have a standalone bollard called a borne, like the one in the image below, where you can hook up to electricity and water. This kind is found in a back street, a dead-end street, or near a park, out of the way of the main town.
They don’t have parking or overnight stops for motorhomes. Sometimes, they even have toilet facilities which should be considered a bonus.
These service points are essential for motorhome travellers who travel off-grid, as these are normally where water and dumping points can be accessed.
Aires de Service – Dedicated areas for overnight stopovers
These areas are the traditional aires; large enough to fit quite a few motorhomes, dedicated overnight parking areas for vehicles and most often free. You will find a mix of these types of aires that do and don’t have services.
The physical appearance of aires can also differ. Some are quite well maintained, with hard-stand areas and dedicated parking spaces. We stayed at one of these in Gron and in Pont-de-Larn, and they were excellent. Others might be more rugged, with a small area of gravel set aside. Some like the aire at Cordes-sur-Ciel is near a lake, in a nice park area where all the spaces are grassed.
Aires de Service – motorway stopovers
The big motorways and autoroutes have aires on them. These will always be associated with truck stops, and often you’ll be parked alongside them. While this type of aire provides convenience – easy to find and you can access the nearby shops – and are easily accessible, the downside is that they can be unsafe and they are most certainly noisier.
These are sometimes known as aire de repos and aire d’autoroute and can be found at reasonable intervals along major motorways.
We often stayed at these in the very early days of our motorhome travel, but we haven’t in a very long time. Why? Because we rarely travel on an autoroute, preferring the smaller roads, and there are so many better locations to stay at, whether you are wild camping, staying at aires or at France Passion locations.
But, each to their own, and there is a place in the motorhome community for these.
Aire de Service – CampingCar Park
This is a new and emerging type of aire in France that has seen some rapid growth over the past few years. Calling itself the “the 1st European network of stopover sites and services areas”, these CampingCar Park locations sit in between a municipal-provided aire and an official campground.
They fill a gap in the market, for self-contained motorhomes, especially during off-season by having locations that are open all year round that can be accessed 24 hours a day.
Unlike municipal aires, where services are not always guaranteed, the CampingCar-Park locations provide all of the necessary services of electricity, water (both potable and for cleaning), dump point and even wifi. They are a cheaper version of a campground but also more secure – in theory – than other areas as they are monitored with security cameras.
CampingCar Park locations are all paid sites and you must have a special card to gain entry. All sites are protected at the point of entry by an electronic boom/barrier. The average nights’ price in a CampingCar Park area is currently €10-€12.
- locations are usually a good size allowing many motorhomes to park up
- fully maintained area
- monitored security 24/7
- all services required by motorhome travellers; water, electricity, dump points
- wifi hotspot
- around 480 locations in France and Europe
- their website has an interactive map so you can look at the area you are in and where you want to stay
- it’s possible to search by the type of location e.g. ocean, park, rivers, mountains, etc.
- an app may be downloaded to your smartphone (ios and Android)
- maps of areas can also be downloaded from the website
- to encourage spending in their areas, some local businesses offer discounts when showing the Passe’tape card.
All CampingCar Park sites incur a charge and are charged in 24-hour blocks. So for example, if you plan to stay only one night but stay over the ‘checkout’ time, even if you plan on leaving shortly thereafter and not staying another night, it will automatically charge your card.
Access to CampingCar Parks is via the use of a PASS’ETAPES card that looks like an ordinary credit card/bank card. The card only needs to be purchased once and is valid for life.
A detailed guide on how to use CampingCar Parks coming soon.
How do the Aires de Service operate?
Other than the new type of aire (CampingCar Park) mentioned above, aires that offer an overnight motorhome stopover are available on a ‘first in first served’ basis. They cannot be booked and in peak season, they can have huge demand placed on them, especially the free ones.
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 a few carparks can be set aside for this purpose. The larger ones, with more services, usually increase the chance of them requiring payment or having more rules attached.
Pro 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 Aires de Service 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). However, they mostly charge a minimum amount for the use of services and the actual stopover is free.
We stayed at one recently in Cordes-sur-Ciel, France which charged for services plus €8 for the overnight stay. Electricity and water were then charged separately. €2 per hour of electricity or 100 litres of water is a common charge.
Pro tip: In France, some of the aires rely on tokens (called jetons) to operate the service points. These tokens can often only be purchased from places like the town hall, businesses or tourism offices. It’s the one downside of this service and it can be really annoying if you arrive during lunchtime or after hours. Make sure you check if you can pay by credit card as soon as you pull up before getting all your hoses and cables out.
The aire at Cordes-sur-Ciel however had a payment machine that took jetons and then had a jeton dispensing machine next to it. It’s a bit old-fashioned, but at least you don’t have to search for it. You do however need coins to swap for the jeton.
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 alone.
How do I find Aires de Service in France?
There are roughly 4,000 known aires in France, so wherever you travel, there’s a good chance you’ll be able to find one.
Books and guides
All the Aires in France is a guidebook that has been in publication for many years. It’s fifth edition will be published later in 2023. It’s always a tough ask to keep a book updated, especially in today’s up-to-the-minute tech world, but if you are going on a long trip, this is a sound, low-cost investment.
We’ve also successfully used the huge Camperstop Europe guide to overnight stopovers for motorhomes and service locations.
You’ll need a GPS in your vehicle, or at least a smartphone with mapping abilities, to find some of these as they are not always out in the open or well-signed. Always remember that these guides are (in theory) out of date as a complete package from the moment they are printed.
When using them, understand and acknowledge that sometimes, try as you might, you’ll never find the location because it simply isn’t there anymore. Or, there may now be a charge or a rule change. The editors of the books do everything they can to have the books accurate at the time of printing, but that’s as much as they can do.
Guides such as these are also available for other European countries and the UK.
We use and recommend Park4Night and CamperConnect apps for finding aires in France and Europe.
The internet is also a great resource in any country for finding aires and downloading aires maps. Both the Park4Night and CamperConnect information is also available via a browser.
We use and recommend Maya Mobile for eSims when in France.
We’re also very good at spotting signage, especially as we enter regional towns. Sometimes the signage is excellent; other times it gets a bit tricky. They are often associated with 10 or so other directional signs, usually at a corner, and often when you need to focus on traffic or other directions, so they are easy to miss.
Or there will be several signs enroute, and they disappear right at the important stage. Fortunately, many towns also have very good signage, as shown in the image below.
Some don’t actually say the word aire either, so best to be on the lookout for everything that could be connected to an overnight stopover location.
Keep an eye out for signs that say ‘aire de service pour camping car’, which means service area for motorhomes.
Rules for staying at Aires de Service in France
- Don’t park for long periods of time in the servicing areas. Nothing is more annoying than pulling up to get an hour of electricity to find a campervan permanently parked in the servicing area. Be mindful, especially in peak travel season, that others will want to utilise the services too. Some might have even driven reasonable distances to get here. And don’t muck around either; get in and do what you need to do then move away from the servicing area so as not to hold others up unnecessarily.
- Like any other camping area, respect other travellers and motorhomes around you 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.
- Don’t use taps meant for clean water to clean out toilet cassettes. Not ever!
The accurate answer is no, but in reality, we know that people stay longer when areas aren’t monitored. This will be less of an issue in off-peak times, but in peak, it’s more likely to be monitored. We always go by the code of looking after the people who provide this service and other travellers like us who might need that spot where someone has overstayed their time.
Unless otherwise signed, pets are allowed at aires. Like everything else, ensure you follow any rules relating to having animals on site, clean up after them and don’t let them interfere with other travellers.
Yes, you can, but remember that your fellow travellers are enjoying a well-earned rest at night. Be as quiet as possible, especially if you have a campervan with a sliding door.
Only self-contained motorhomes and vans can stay at an aire.
The answer to this is based on courtesy. The aires are provided as a service to the motorhome community. Be respectful of other travellers and park so that others can park around you. It’s not your private area to take up as much as you like.
That’s a really good question and one that is too difficult to answer. Every motorhome traveller looks for different things in an aire, stopover or campsite, and because they are constantly changing, a list is out of date the moment it’s published. The good news is that the best French aires can be found nationwide.
It sure is, and what’s more, the French are so welcoming of motorhome travellers.
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 using this service.
It costs the municipal councils a great deal of money to create and maintain these parking spaces and services that are dedicated entirely to motorhome travel. Don’t abuse the invitation by not looking after the areas where you stay.
More guides for overnight stays in a motorhome in France
In case you missed our links at the top of the page, these are our most popular guides for motorhome travellers when they are exploring all options for places to stay in a motorhome.
Why the France Passion network is perfect for motorhome travellers and some great locations in the south-west of France