Motorhome Aires de Service are a network of stopping places specifically designed for motor homes or camping cars as the French call them. In most instances they are run by the local town council or ‘Mairie’ but there are also private Aires, auto route Aires, Aires within the proximity of campsites, Aires de Stationement (an Aire for parking, but no facilities) and Aires on farms and vineyards.
They can be large purpose built parks with all facilities down to tiny spots that accept only 1 or 2 motorhomes at a time. The variety is immense. It is not the same as a campsite, far from it, some locations close to the tourist haunts and along the coast are extremely popular and units can be parked very close together, sometimes only a few feet apart but you’ll soon get used to this.
Once you get into using Aires you’ll wonder why you bothered with campsites, although you’ll need a fully equipped motor home because showers etc are rarely provided, it’s using your motor home for what it’s designed to do. If you don’t have full facilities on board, don’t worry, there is a way round this, book into a site every now and then to use the shower and laundry facilities between using Aires.
So, how do you find the motorhome Aires de Service? The best way is to purchase the book ‘Le guide official etapes touristiques camping-car’, a rough translation meaning – ‘The official guide to tourist stopovers for motor homes’. Or better still, there is now a version written in English. But as well as the book you will sometimes stumble across them by chance when you travel around France. Sometimes they can be well signposted with the blue motor home pictogram (top right hand corner of the book).
The facilities they offer vary. Most Aires will have what will be called either a ‘Flot Bleu’, ‘Euro-Relais’ or ‘Sani-Staion’.
These are all different versions of a similar thing, a ‘borne de service’ or motor home servicing post and will include some or all of the following;
Fresh Water (Eau potable); you will almost certainly need a hose to fill your motor home from a servicing post. Sometimes you will have to pay to get water, sometimes it’s free.
Waste water emptying point (eau vidange); sometimes this is built into the post and very awkward to reverse up to or get close to. This facility is nearly always free.
Chemical toilet point (WC Chimmique); again, a compartment at the base of the servicing post, usually with some kind of fresh water flush. These are sometimes a bit awkward to use and you can get a ‘splash back’, so take care. Something else you will come across quite often is a dual emptying point in the ground and is used for the disposal of both grey water and toilet waste.
Electricity; some posts will also have the facility to ‘plug in’, but bear in mind that this power will only be very low current, usually just enough to keep the fridge going or top up your battery, nothing more, so don’t turn on the ultra-heat and boil a kettle or you’ll be asking for trouble!
Rubbish Disposal (Poubelles); most Aires will have a large bin for your rubbish.
Some Aires are completely free, the local community provide the service to attract tourism to their region. In this case, it is good practice to purchase something from the local shops or restaurants as a ‘thank you’.
Some Aires require a ticket (billet) to be purchased from a machine (horodateur) in exchange for a nights stay.
Where overnight parking is free sometimes there is a charge for the facilities of the servicing post.
Sometimes the machine will accept euros, sometimes they will require the purchase of tokens (Jetons).
These will be available nearby, normally at the town hall (Mairie) or tourist information office. A sign normally tells you where, or it will be in the book. In some instances a member of the local community comes round every evening to collect the fees.
On most motorhome Aires de Service the emptying of waste water and chemical toilet waste is usually free, although some may have a system of charging. These are rare though. A good tip is to keep a selection of 1 & 2 euro coins in the dashboard for the facilities; they also come in handy for the supermarket trolleys.