Planning to visit France with a motorhome or campervan? Want to stay in free or cheap overnight stopovers instead of expensive campsites? Then Aires might be for you! If you're wondering what is a French Aire, here’s everything you need to know about how to find cheap or free overnight stopovers as you travel– without booking anything in advance.
Explore France by motorhome using French Aires
We love touring France in our motorhome. It’s a beautiful country and being able to explore in our own vehicle allows us to explore as many chateaux, vineyards and beaches as we like!
We rarely have a route or itinerary planned out apart from the tunnel or ferry, so being able to find French aires as we go is perfect for us- it gives us the flexibility to stop in an area for a while or drive somewhere different if it takes our fancy.
But HOW do we do this? How do we travel to another country without booking any overnight motorhome parking stopovers in advance? Answer- we use a wonderful system called French Aires.
Confused already? No idea what I’m talking about? Don’t worry- we didn’t know aires existed until we bought our first camper, so you’re not alone! In this post, I'm going to share all about how to find, use and enjoy French aires with your motorhome or campervan- and open up a whole new world of freedom for you.
NOTE: this is a large, in-depth guide. If you want to download it for FREE, click here
What is an aire in France?
There are actually several types of ‘aire’ in France.
Aire de service meaning
An ‘aire de service’ is an ‘area of service’ or a service area, normally found on French motorways and often have waste facilities and approved parking bays for motorhomes.
They are the same as a service station in the UK and provide fuel, toilets, restaurants, a shop etc etc. You can often buy refillable gas from an aire de service too, although not always. There will often be a vending machine for hot drinks and sometimes a microwave for public use too.
In an aire de service, you will often find motorhome disposal points, where you can pay a couple of euro to empty your waste tank and toilet, and refill with fresh water. It’s not always clear if the water is suitable for drinking or not; if in doubt, don’t put it in your fresh water tank or use chemicals like this to make it safe for drinking.
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Overnight Camping Car parking French motorway
Can you stay overnight in an ‘aire de service’ on a French motorway? Yes, often it is allowed. They often have specific motorhome parking areas and there will be an allowed time you are allowed to stay for. This will be displayed clearly on a sign somewhere nearby. If in doubt, ask.
Just remember, it's a motorway service station, so it's not the nicest of places to stop. Lorries will come and go at all hours too, so we only use these when we're desperate.
To confuse you even further, other types of aire (which are the ones you're probably looking for) are also often referred to as ‘aires de service'… so when you're looking for nice places to stop, look for any which aren't right on a motorway- more on this later!
Aire de repos
‘Aire de repos' are also found at the sides of roads, and again are approved rest stops. You'll often find campers and lorries parked up in these but there are rarely any facilities, except for a couple of picnic tables.
Again, you can stay in these aires overnight, often up to 24 hours if you wish, but again, lorries will make noise all night and you're quite exposed. We've stayed in these a couple of times when really tired, but it's definitely not our preferred option.
There are also aires de jeu (playgrounds), aire de loisirs (rec area) and several others. We know, it gets confusing. We try to find the aires BEFORE worrying about the signs- more on how to do that below!
French aires- Camping car park in France
These are the type of aire in France you're probably looking for. These are approved motorhome (or camping car) parking areas which are provided ALL OVER France, often very close to villages and towns.
They are normally a car park or large gravel area, where motorhomes are allowed to park overnight, or even for several nights. Some are properly marked out into bays, others are a free-for-all and you can park wherever and however you like!
Often, these are run by the local council and are designed to encourage people to visit the area. They are nearly always well kept and welcoming, with signs in French and often English. If the signs aren’t in English, the info will be displayed in a way that’s fairly easy to understand.
Most aires in France will have a shop/ bar/ cafe within easy walking distance. Walking to get fresh French bread in the morning is one of our favourite things about motorhoming around France.
What facilities do French Aires have?
They often (but not always!) have facilities such as:
- emptying waste water (normally a drive-over grill)- can often be used for free
- Empty toilet
- refill with fresh water. Drinking water is ‘eau potable’ in French
Often this comes at an additional charge and you will need change to use these facilities- we carry a pot in the motorhome and put all our spare Euros in there for moments just like this!
Water is normally 1€ for 50 litres or something similar.
Do aires in France have bathrooms or toilets?
Occasionally you'll find an aire in France with toilets, but not often. Most aires expect you to be self-contained. Of course, there will be toilets in the nearby village or town, but rarely on the aire itself. There is not always a place to go into the woods and ‘relieve yourself’ either- many aires are like big car parks, so if you need toilets, pick your aires carefully!
Some aires in France have electric points you can connect to, others don’t and you need to be self-sufficient for the duration of your stay. Most of the aires we've used in France use the same electric connectors as we use in the UK.
Some aires require tokens in order to use the electric. Often, these need to be purchased from an approved location (like the local bar!), which is fine… unless you arrive when that location is closed.
There’s no way around it- if it’s shut, you’re not getting electric that night. If you’re desperate, look for an aire which doesn’t need tokens, but ideally you'll want your motorhome to be able to survive a night (or two!) without the need for electric.
How long can you stay at a French Aire?
That depends on the Aire and is decided by the local council. Many are 24 hours max, but some allow you to stay for 3/4 days if you wish. All the info will be on the sign in the aire.
Camping Car park France
You will occasionally see an Aire referred to as a ‘camping car park’. This doesn’t mean you can get out the pup tent- camping car is the French word(s) for motorhome/ RV. A camping car park is pretty much the same as an aire, although occasionally there are better facilities and sometimes even a restaurant/ food car.
Heading to France? You might be interested in these related posts:
How do you find French Aires?
Ah- here’s the magic of travelling without a plan. There are a couple of ways to find aires in France, especially as you’re travelling. We never have them planned in advance- we always find them en-route.
Can you book Aires in advance?
No- or at least very very rarely. (Occasionally, it is possible to book online, especially in the mountains in winter if you're going motorhome skiing.) The whole point of aires is flexibility and freedom.
The good news is that it's first come, first served. The bad news is that popular places become full VERY quickly. So don't wait too late to start finding somewhere to stop, in case your first choice is full and you need to find somewhere else to go.
Map of Aires in France & PDF download
Looking for a map of French aires or a PDF to download? Grab our wild camping database, which includes 250+ overnight stopovers around the UK and Europe (including LOTS in France) where we've stayed in our motorhome. Includes wild camping spots and aires in France and around Europe. Grab it here.
Watch the video explaining about French Aires
Prefer listening/ watching video? I share our tips, plus some photos/ videos of aires in France we've stayed in with our motorhome.
Aires camping car France apps
We generally use the app park4night.com to find aires or approved overnight motorhome places. We decide whether we want to wild camp for the night or whether we need facilities/ want to charge motorhome batteries etc.
If we want to charge/ empty toilets or find somewhere to park for a few days so we can ride our bikes, we head for a French Aire.
Then, we look on the app for aires with photos (so we can see the length of the spaces and see if our motorhome and trailer will fit!) and we look at the reviews. If there are lots of negative reviews, we keep looking for another place.
Eventually, we find somewhere we like the look/ feel of. I generally try and have a backup option too, in case our first choice is full when we arrive.
Then, we pop the co-ordinates into the GPS and head towards our chosen spot!
Other apps/ websites we use to find aires in France are:
- Campercontact (website only- you need to pay for the app, although the app does work offline, so it's useful!)
All the Aires guidebook
There are pros and cons of the ‘All the aires' guidebook. The biggest pro is that you don’t need access to the internet in order to find somewhere to stay. This is VERY useful when you’re in the Alps and can’t get a signal.
The con is that the info goes out of date and it’s possible to turn up at an aire which has been shut. Having said that, it’s possible for this to happen using Park4night too.
If you’re planning to do a lot of motor homing in France, the All the Aires guidebook definitely worth the investment/ space in the camper.
Don't worry if a book is a year or two out of date. Most of the aires don't change very often. Having said that, we always prefer to find French Aires online so that we can read recent reviews and learn any updates (such as closing for maintenance or shutting down.)
Are aires in France open all year?
Some are. Some aren’t. You need to check carefully when you’re looking for an aire to stay at. Many aires in the Alps only open April-November ish due to the snow closing roads.
What to do on arrival at an aire in France
Sometimes finding the aire can be a challenge. You need to look for a sign of a motorhome over a waste disposal point- often in black or blue.
- When you arrive, drive slowly and get your bearings. Some aires have signed entrances/ exits, others don’t.
- Before you turn in, see if you can see a space for your camper. These places are often very difficult to turn around in. If in doubt and you’re travelling with someone else, let them out to go have a look before you commit.
- Expect everyone to stop and watch. Motorhomers are nosy/ interested people. Don't be intimidated.
- Pick your spot and park up.
- The first thing to do, before you put the kettle on, is to go read the signs and pay anything due. Find out how long you can stay and what the rules are. Check this against the info from park4night or a book- rules change and the rules on the sign are the most up-to-date.
When is the best time to arrive at an aire?
If you want to go to a specific location, such as a town/ city (check out these top 10 cities to visit in France), then I recommend arriving by lunchtime, before everyone else turns up- especially if you are travelling during July/ August (peak summer months in France). Many popular aires get crazy busy and by 2pm they can be completely full.
Free overnight parking for motorhomes? What do Aires cost?
Some are totally free, unless you make use of the facilities. Some cost a couple of Euros and others cost as much as 15€, which I think is the maximum we’ve paid so far. We tend to avoid cities, but I believe aires close to popular locations cost more and are much more crowded.
How to use French Aires- what are the rules?
- Aires are first come, first served. They cannot be booked or reserved in advance.
- There will be a time limit you are allowed to stay for, particularly if the aire is free. This will be clearly signposted at the aire and people DO check- don’t overstay your welcome.
- Some aires have spaces next to them to allow you to put out an awning and outside chairs. If the sign says it's allowed and if other people are doing it, then go ahead. However, if there isn’t a space, assume that outside seating/ awnings are prohibited. Aires aren't campsites- they're overnight stopovers.
- Don’t take up another motorhome parking place with your gear- that’s not allowed.
- If you have a trailer, be very careful which aires you pick. We look carefully at photos and reviews to find spaces either long enough for our motorhome, or where there is space for us to take our trailer off and have it next to the van. Many aires are for campers up to max 7m long and some spaces are VERY tight- especially in well-known or built up areas.
- Don’t play loud music or be too rowdy- these are quiet places for people to enjoy their travels.
- No tents. Ever.
- Don’t park in the servicing area any longer than you have to. Definitely don’t leave your camper unattended here and block the services for other people whilst you go to the bar!
- Don’t leave any rubbish or litter. If there aren’t any bins, take it with you!
Can campervans use aires in France
Absolutely. Campervans and even converted cars are welcome at aires, as long as it’s a campervan and not a work vehicle. Vans with signage on or ‘stealth campers’ are often not allowed and we have seen them being asked to move on.
Can caravans use aires in France?
No. Most aires do not allow caravans. The only places I know for caravans to park overnight are either wild camping or actual campsites. You might be able to use aires de repos- I doubt anyone would check. This is one of the biggest pros when deciding between motorhomes or caravans for us.
Sleeping in French Aires
We sleep great in French Aires. They’re often quiet, and motorhome owners tend to look out for each other. We’ve had complete strangers shout at local kids who have come over to look at our motorbikes- warning the kids to stay away and not touch. We have never had a disturbed nights sleep in an aire… except for with the puppy wanting to sit on my head! 🙁
Are aires in France safe?
As always, there are no absolutes with safety. We have never had an incident at a French aire (touch wood!) but that’s not to say nothing can happen.
Put it this way, some aires we have a great feeling about and happily leave our motorhome for a few hours while we go and ride our motorbikes. These are the aires where we spend a day or two to unwind and relax between driving (if it's allowed).
Others, we don’t leave the van unattended at all and move on the next morning until we find somewhere better. You HAVE to trust your gut- if you’re not sure, move on.
Camping car info in English at French Aires
Most aires in France have info for camping cars (Motorhomes) in French and English. If not, there will be signs making it easy to understand what you need to know.
How do you pay for aires in France?
The hardest part is often figuring out how to pay for your stay at a French Aire. Some have parking meters (which often only accept change- another reason for the change tub!) but some require you to visit the local bar/ cafe/ shop in order to pay.
This can be a bit daunting- especially if it’s full of locals who all stop to stare as you walk in. Don’t let that put you off- we’ve had some great nights at French bars without a clue what’s being going on around us.
Try and speak a little French when you enter- it will warm the locals to you. Say something like “J’ai un camping car dans l'aire. Est-ce que je paie ici?”
Expect the owner to ask questions like how many people (combien des personnes) and how many nights you want to stay for (combien des nuits?)
Are dogs allowed on French Aires?
Of course! France loves dogs and you’ll see them everywhere. There are no restrictions in having them on an aire, but, of course, they need to be kept on a lead at all times.
Other Motorhome sites France
There are lots of places for motorhomes across France. If you don’t wish to use an aire, there are campsites all over the place, with facilities such as swimming pools (bliss in the summer!), shops, bars or beaches.
There’s also a scheme called France Passion, which is a collection of vineyards, farms and other places where they offer free or cheap overnight motorhome parking. It's a bit like BritStops in the UK.
You can print ALL this info. If you want to download it for FREE, click here
Motorhome wild camping in France – is it legal?
Absolutely- as long as you follow the rules. Find out more about wild camping with a motorhome in France (and how to find places to stop.)
Best aires in France
There are too many aires to make that choice- and we haven't stayed at them all! However, our favourite aires are the ones with incredible views- like this one in the French Alps or the ones near famous historical places in France– makes sightseeing even easier!
Seriously- you’d pay a fortune for a hotel room with a view like that!
We also like the aires where you can stay for a couple of nights- it’s nice to have a break from driving and maybe get the motorbikes out to explore the area better. This book has some beautiful aires to inspire your next trip!!
So, I hope you are now excited about trying out some French aires on your motorhome tour of France! Let me know where you end up- I'd love to see pictures. Feel free to add them onto my Facebook page or join our Motorhome Facebook group here.