France is an incredibly diverse country with lots to explore. From mountainous regions to soaring coastlines, lakes and many wonderful cities. It’s no wonder then that so many people choose France as somewhere to explore in their motorhome.
But where you’ll stay in France certainly varies from when you’re exploring the UK. One of the major differences you’ll find with where you park your motorhome for the night is the presence of motorhome aires. But what are they?
Motorhome aires are France’s answer to overnight parking. They’re all over the country and provide a small spot with varying ranges of facilities depending on the aire.
If you’re travelling around this beautiful country in your motorhome then the chances are that you’ll stay in an air at least one aire during your visit. If you’ve never experienced the French motorhome aire before, this guide tells you everything you need to know and what to expect.
What Are Motorhome Aires In France?
There are two different types of aire in France; the Aire de Service and the Aire de Campingcar. You’ll find these in two main locations, either near a town or city or at a service station along the motorway.
The thing about French aires is that there are major differences between sites and this is one of the things that makes them so interesting. You’ll never stay in two identical aires.
You’ll find a lot of aires de service at service stations along many of the main roads and motorways through the country. These service areas are very similar to what we have here in the UK only with the addition of motorhome aires.
These are spaces dedicated to motorhome parking and that come with various basic facilities. This might include grey wastewater dumps, cassette toilet emptying and a fresh water supply. Although what you’ll get will vary from place to place.
It’s important to remember that motorhome aires are not designed to be stayed in for the whole length of your stay. They’re more of a service area and can be used if you have an overnight stop on your journey to your final destination.
Also keep in mind that these parking spots are often shared with trucks and other large vehicles. This means that they can get quite noisy and busy at night so if you’re staying over, it might be best to pack a pair of earplugs!
But there are also aires de campingcar located around France and these are the spaces you’ll usually find just outside of towns. These are what are considered by many to be a true aire and there are so many of them! Most of them are just a few minutes walk from the town although do keep in mind that some require a fee to use but there will typically be signs around to let you know what you need to do. What’s more, if you do have to pay, it’s not usually a lot.
In some locations, you’ll find aires de campingcar spots that are free to use overnight but you may need to pay a fee if you stay on in the morning.
Unlike the aires de service, the aires de campingcar don’t normally come with any facilities. While they might be in more pleasant locations, it’s still not a good idea to pitch a chair outside to take in the view as this is frowned upon.
What’s The Concept Behind The Motorhome Aire?
Aires in France are not the same as campsites or caravan sites in that there is no booking system. When you arrive at the aire, if it’s empty, you can use it. If it’s not, then you’ll have to find somewhere else.
On top of this, motorhome owners are permitted to stay in the spot for as long as they wish, as long as it’s not more than 24 hours, although there are some aires that allow longer stays, and can come and go as they please. For example, with a campsite, you’re normally given a time at which you can arrive and a time that you must leave but this doesn’t apply with aires. That said, you’re not generally expected to move the motorhome during the night unless you’re near a seaport.
If you have to pay to use the aire then there will likely be a ticket machine. Nowadays, these machines take cash or card so you won’t need to worry about having spare change because, if you’re anything like me, I never do and use my card for everything. In fact, you’ll find that some are card only which really helps.
There are other aires that require you to use a token. These can be purchased from nearby establishments such as shops or bars. There should be an information board detailing what you need to do and where you need to go. This will also provide you with information on how long you can use the aire.
The facilities you’ll get with an air de campingcar may be similar to the aires de service but they might work in a different way. For example, many of the free aires provide a fresh water supply and toilet emptying but these come with an additional fee. The fees aren’t a lot, typically just a few euros although if you’re looking to dispose of grey water then this doesn’t usually cost anything.
While not as common, there are some aires that come with an electric hook up. In any case, the aires are usually unmanned and you’re expected to serve yourself for everything you need.
A Note On Service Points
Service only points should not be confused with motorhome aires. These service points are areas where you can empty grey water and collect fresh water. Some may offer cassette toilet emptying but this isn’t the case across the board.
Note that service only areas usually require a small fee but this is typically no more than around three euros. You’ll normally find them on the roadside or near to aires de campingcar spots.
Who Owns The Motorhome Aires?
Aires in France are usually owned by the local authority. They place these aires because they’re confident that it’ll bring more visitors to the town who will in turn support local business such as cafes, restaurants and shops.
There are also, however, Aires de Communales which are community run aires. Locals set up these aires in order to bring in tourism and they’re usually very well taken care of.
Other aires are owned by commercial businesses and are located on private land. You’ll find that a lot of these aires are near to proper campsites.
Is It Safe To Use A French Motorhome Aire?
If you’re using an aire in a small town or village then they’re usually very safe. It’s really no different than leaving your car in a public parking space. Of course, you’ll still want to employ your normal safety habits and use your common sense. Ensure you use your alarm and make sure that the motorhome is kept locked if you are leaving it.
When you visit an aire at a service station, you’ll probably feel slightly less safe as these are much busier and there’s a hub of activity. However, if you ever feel unsafe to the point that it’s making you uncomfortable, then I’d simply suggest moving on.
Do You Have To Pay To Stay In A French Motorhome Aire?
As I have discussed, there are some French motorhome aires that require a small fee whereas others don’t cost a cent. The most expensive aires will be around fifteen euros with the cheapest being just two or three. How much you pay will depend on what services are available.
You may also find that some aires are free to park in but if you want to use any of the services, you’ll have to pay a small fee.
But there’s no cut and dry rule on how much they charge for the use of an aire so it’s always best to check this before you park using the information boards on site.
While most ticket machines will take cards, I have heard stories of UK cards being declined. Therefore, it’s always a good idea to try to have an alternative option such as carrying a bit of spare change.
If there’s No Booking System, How Do I Know If I’ll Get A Space?
French motorhome aires are incredibly practical and give motorhome users somewhere to rest and have access to the facilities they need. However, without a booking system you can never guarantee that you’re going to get a spot. If you arrive and the aire is in use, it’s tough luck and you’ll have to find somewhere else.
For the most part, it really depends on what time you get there. Those who arrive around late morning are much more likely to get a spot than those who turn up later in the day.
But in some cases, aires can fill up by 12pm especially if they’re in a popular location. However, if you’re travelling out of season, you may find that you get a space wherever you go regardless of the time.
But because there’s a good chance that you won’t get a space, it’s always wise to have a back up plan. This might be moving to the next town over or at worst, finding a local campsite that has a spare pitch if you’re looking to stay overnight.
Finding Motorhome Aires Near You
If you travel to France, you’re going to see a lot of signs directing you to local aires. These signs have a picture of a motorhome and may be black and blue or green in colour.
But if you don’t fancy relying on road signs in a country that you’re not familiar with, you can be thankful that we live in a digital age where mobile apps work for pretty much anything, including finding an aire. You’ll find plenty of motorhome apps that are packed with information on the nearest aires so you can plan in advance where you’ll stop each night.
However, if you want a more traditional approach, there are also a couple of books available that list the location of aires. One book is dedicated to the north part of the country while the other is dedicated to the south. What’s great about these books is that they also show information on what facilities are available as well as how much you can expect to pay. On the downside, they may not have the most up to date information compared to the app so this is something worth considering.
One of the most common ways to get to France from the UK is via the ferry or the Eurostar. So a lot of motorhome owners want to know whether there are any aires as you enter France from the tunnel or ports. The good news is that there are!
However, you have to keep in mind that this is an extremely busy area so getting a spot isn’t always easy. That said, people are constantly coming and going so you may strike it lucky.
If you find yourself needing to take a pitstop while travelling through France in your motorhome then using one of the French motorhome aires is a great idea. These dedicated parking spots allow you to stop for a few minutes, a few hours or even overnight. Sometimes there is a fee but this isn’t a lot and you’ll often have access to basic facilities.