All about Aires

Picture by Marie (Penelope Pitsop)There are around 10,000 registered campsites in France, No other country in Europe can boast so many “campings” On top of this vast number there are at least another 2000 farm campsites and other camping areas such as vineyards. For those that enjoy wildcamping France is very special, it’s big and beautiful with thousands of wild camping spots, “le camping sauvage”
One particular type of site makes France the most motorhome friendly country in the world. This is the network of Aires De Service found throughout France and specifically designed for motorhomes, in fact caravans are not allowed.  Every city in France has a number of aires in or nearby, every town will have at least two within a short drive and it seems even the smallest villages have an aire.
The majority of aires are run by the local town council or ‘Mairie’  The french have long seen the benefit that motorhomes can bring as the tourists buy in the local shops and restaurants.
The French word ‘Aire’ translated simply means ‘open area’ or ‘place’  and you will see the word used a lot.  Their are “aires” on motorways  ‘aire de repos’ (rest areas)  there are aires that are play areas ‘aire de jeu’.  The aires that most interest motorhomers are ‘aire de service’ but do not get confused a designated parking area at a busy motorway services and a pretty camping pitch overlooking the Seine or the sea  will both be called ‘aire de service’
The camping car ‘aire de service’ will have a sani-station  (borne) some are free, most will require a small payment for water and electricity and dumping waste water is almost always free.
Aires might be in a dusty out of town car park or in a beautiful location, some might have room for just two three motorhomes while other might accommodate hundreds.  Aires are stopovers or for very short days and not designed to be a holiday destination.  On a busy aire in August don’t expect to find much space between you and the french van next door.  Remember this is not a campsite, so don’t’ wind-out your awning, or get your Moroccan mat pegged down and set out a table and four chairs,
Motorhome Aires operate on a first come, first served basis.  Unlike a campsite you can’t reserve your pitch.  At busy times at popular aires you might find it full by 3pm! So  to stand a chance, arrive early.  If you find the aire full, don’y worry, there is always another aire nearby.
When you get there always park considerately, remember it’s a stopover, do not try and park so as to reserve yourself extra room, or block access roads or the service area.
Service points
Everything you need for your stay can be found at most aires.  For Fresh water (Eau potable) you’ll need a hose, make sure you don’t use the elsan tap!  Sometimes the water will be free, mostly you will pay to fill up.

You get rid of your waste water emptying point (eau vidange) this might be a drive over grill, or it might be in or very near the service post. If you cannot get your motorhome close enough, use an extension hose connected to your waste tank tap, or you can of course use a bucket.
The Elsan toilet point (WC Chimmique); could well be a compartment at the base of the servicing post, or it could be a grill over a manhole. Some waste points take grey and black but make sure this is absolutely the case before you empty toilet waste in a drain.
The Aires that supply electricity usually do so from a proper service point, it will rarely be above 5 or 6 amps but this is enough to keep your fridge  going and light your van.  Be prepared to be a long way from the electric point!  Also don’t panic when you see the french leave their electric cable rolled tightly onto the reel.

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