A guide to finding and using French Aires
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If you’re new to the motorhome and campervan community or perhaps beginning to think about crossing the channel and touring mainland Europe for the first time then you may well have heard the term ‘Aires’, ‘French Aires’ or ‘Aires France’ bandied about.
But perhaps you’re not quite sure what it’s all about as we have don’t really have anything comparable over here in the UK.
Fear not. We’ve got you covered in this comprehensive guide to French Aires
What is an Aire de Camping Car?
An Air de Camping Car is the official term for a French Aire.
In principle, they are a completely legal and free (usually – but more on that shortly) place to park up your motorhome or campervan overnight in France.
In order to use an Aire you need to be totally self sufficient, that is to be able to cook, clean, sleep and go to the toilet without leaving your campervan.
Types of Aires in France
There are several types of Aires in France, the predominant being
Aire de Service – A place to service your motorhome, empty the grey and black waste, charge up your batteries, fill up your fresh water. Typically you shouldn’t sleep at these aires.
Aire de Camping Car – A place to stay overnight in your self-contained campervan or motorhome. Often with services as well, sometimes free and sometimes at a small cost. (Camping Car is French for RV or motorhome)
Motorway Aires – these Aires are useful for a quick stopover when you are doing a long journey. Usually not as nice as the village and town aires and it is these Aires that you do sometimes here horror stories of. For example burglars filling the van with gas while you sleep to knock you out whilst they break in. But please note that this is extremely uncommon (at time of writing we couldn’t find a single verifiable incident of this) and so long as you are sensible you should be fine.
On our most recent motorway Aire stopover the Gendarmes did pop by at about 10:00pm and warn us to move our valuables away from the windows and out of sight. So you do need to be vigilant, act with caution but when a spate of crimes do happen it is good to know that the police do step up patrols.
Can I book an Aire?
No – Aires in France are always run on a first come, first served basis.
Just to be absolutely precise, there are an extremely small number of Aires that you can pre-book. But it is safest to assume that you can’t book an Aire.
The best time to arrive at a French Aire
You can technically arrive at any time as most Aires are 24 hours. However, where possible try to arrive at a time when you won’t disturb people sleeping.
If you’re travelling in peak tourist season or to a popular area then aim to arrive about 11:00 – 14:00 for the best chance of getting a spot as this is when the people leaving will have left and you’ll have a good chance of beating lots of new arrivals.
F.A.Q's & Rules for camping at an Aire in France
Can Caravans use French Aires?
Unfortunately, not. Our guess is that the worry is people might leave their caravans blocking a space all day whilst they drive off and explore the area. Additionally, caravans require a large turning circle, very often there is not enough room at an Aire for this.
Can my dog stay on an Aire?
Can I put out my awning and camping furniture?
Usually no. These are not fully fledged campsites and are designed as simple overnight stopovers. Some Aires may permit this and there will be information available on site.
Can I stay in a tent?
No tents allowed at Aires in France.
How long can I stay at an Aire?
Usually Aires allow a max stay of 24 – 48 hours. Sometimes more but no matter it will always be communicated on the information board onsite. Normally in a minimum of French and English.
How much do Aires cost in France?
Typically Aires are free.
You might occasionally be charged a small fee of 2 – 10 euros for a night, or perhaps a small surcharge for electricity, grey waste, black waste and fresh water. Typically 1 – 2 euros per service.
How to pay at a French Aire
If you need to pay for your stay then there is no common approach unfortunately, but normally it will be one of the following:
A parking machine very similar to parking machines found at regular car parks – take your phone and ensure you have Google Translate installed with the French language section pre-downloaded for offline use. Normally coin only so ensure you always have a good supply of coins
A small business attached to the Aire which you will need to go into and speak to a member of staff – again, try to speak a little French as due courtesy, chances are the member of staffs English will be better than your French but it’s always polite to try and communicate in the home language. As a backup – take that smartphone with you again with Google translate ready for action.
What to do on arrival at an Aire
Simply find your parking space, ensure that you are level and not encroaching on any other parking space or potential parking space.
Next check out the information bulletin and any services provided (how to use them, how much they cost), check the cost of the Aire, and if applicable pay your fee and put your ticket in an obvious spot in your windscreen. Ensure that it won’t be hidden from view by any blinds you may put up later.
Crack a beer or get the kettle on and enjoy your stay.
Do Aires have facilities?
There is no hard and fast rule on whether Aires should provide facilities or what facilities will be provided.
You can normally find out in advance either online or using one of the All the Aires books.
How can I find a French Aire?
There is a vast array of ways to find Aires in France. Online, in a book, or simply looking out for a blue and white sign with a motorhome over a drain.
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Map of all the French Aires
While no one single map contains all the Aires across France there are a number of maps that people or organisations have created over time. Here’s a few of the best:
All the Aires Guide
is there an app to find French Aires?
However a lot do show up on Park4Night, Search For Sites, Camper Contact and Google Maps if you search for ‘Aire’
Local tourist office
Often times a trip to the local tourist office and they will be able to provide you with a map detailing all of the Aires local to the municipality.
Are Aires France Safe?
Typically, yes. There are very few crimes recorded on Aires and the most common place for those crimes is Motorway Aires near to Calais, we would always advise trying not to stay on a motorway Aire close to Calais just to err on the side of caution.
Alternatives to Aires
There’s plenty of options for touring France in your motorhome or campervan.
There’s wild camping, France Passion and campsites. Each with their own merits and drawbacks, here’s a quick run down.
Get your mind out of the gutter!
France Passion is a separate scheme from the Aires system.
It is different from Aires because the overnight parking is granted on the premises of small businesses – think vineyards, farms, farmshops and restaurants.
The idea being very similar to Brit Stops that small businesses allow you stay overnight, for free, without facilities, in the hope that you purchase some goods or services.
While there is no obligation to purchase anything we feel that it is only polite to purchase a small token item at the very least.
Wild camping in France
Wild camping in France is far easier, and for more accepted than it is over here in the UK.
Is it fully legal? Debatable.
But it is certainly looked upon favourably in most cases and so long as you are not on the coast, in a designated area of conservation, on private land or blocking a carriageway then you’ll probably be ok.
The public and the police in France are generally speaking tolerant of respectful wild campers in France.
For a more in depth look at the laws check out this article from Rural Camping.
Campsites in France
Exactly the same as in the UK, campsites charge similar prices to the UK from low cost, basic sites all the way up to luxury sites with swimming pools and tennis courts.
Many French campsites operate under the ACSI scheme which allows members to get significant discounts off the cost of campsites outside of peak season – check it out here.
If you’ve already signed up to ACSI here’s a great list of campsites that are subscribed to the scheme.
Are there any Aires in the UK?
Unfortunately the simple answer is no.
We’re hoping that this no is actually a not yet – see the next section CAMpRA for more on that.
Having said that the Brit Stops scheme comes close, but not exactly the same.
And, there are some, fully legal, car parks to park up overnight for free across the UK but they are few and far between and can often prove tricky to find. The easiest way to find them is to search in this Facebook group or write a post within the group asking for information on an area of interest.
Brit Stops is a fantastic scheme in the UK that is directly inspired by the success of France Passion when owners Steve and Mandy toured France using the France Passion scheme.
They realised that nothing similar existed in the UK and a great opportunity presented itself. Read our in-depth review of Brit Stops here.
The Campaign for Real Aires (CAMpRA) is a UK initiative to organise a coherent and managed approach to target local authorities across the UK to open up Aires with facilities.
They have a lot of support within the motorhome community and have gained a lot of traction with some successes recently.
Are there any Aires in Germany? What about Spanish Aires? Or Italian Aires?
The French Aires system is a remarkable success story allowing motorhome travellers to road trip across the country with ease and for very low cost – allowing them to pump more money into spending on food, drink, culture and the wider tourism industry more freely.
Where are your favourite French Aires – let us know in the comments.
Now Go Explore! In France!