What is an Aire ?
There are several names you may have heard of, Aire, Bourne, Stellplatze, Aree de Sosta, stopover or camperstop. The name Aires comes from the French 'Aires Camping Car', their term for Motorhome stopovers. British motorhomers and press refer to them as 'Aires', which technically just means 'area' in French. Therefore people have been confused with other signs using the word 'Aire' as it is commonly used on signs for motorway services and rest areas, children's play areas and activity areas to name a few. Some Motorway Service Areas in France are getting some bad press right now and I wouldn't stay overnight on one.
Myrtle on the left on an Aire in Breganca, Northern Portugal
Although Motorhome stop overs are referred to as Aires, you are very unlikely to see a sign for a Motorhome Aire using the word Aire, usually they use a Motorhome symbol instead. See left.
Motorhome stopovers are not confined to France and every country that has Motorhome Aires has its own name for them. In Germany there are at least 3,000 Motorhome stopovers called Stellplatze. In Italy there are over 1500 Motorhome Aires and they are called Aree de Sosta. There are also two generic words that refer to these Motorhome service areas. In the UK they are known as Motorhome stopovers, in Europe they can be referred to as Camper Stops. So whether you stay on a Aire, Stellplatze, Area de Sosta, stopover or camperstop it is all the same thing. What they are not is Wild Camping areas.
Aires symbolise the freedom of motorhoming. You are welcomed into local communities, where you can stay overnight at unique locations only available to Motorhome travellers. These are a luxury not a right, so park your campervan sympathetically to your neighbours and use the service point and facilities responsibly.
Responsible use of campervan Aires is vital so that local Mayors keep them open; use them, but don't abuse them. Municipal Motorhome Aires are paid for by the local community, so repay this service by spending freely in the local shops, restaurants or garages. Rules vary slightly from country to country but predominantly only motorhomes can use the Motorhome stopovers.
The law only permits 'Self Contained' motorhomes to be parked responsibly and their users to cook and sleep within them. A self-contained Motorhome needs to have a toilet, water container for both fresh and waste water attached to or inside the vehicle, and you must be able to cook and sleep inside the vehicle. The law does not allow for camping, for example winding out awnings and putting out tables and chairs, or erecting a tent. If you want to camp, use a campsite. But these laws do get broken, especially by the french.
The image above shows a Service Point, at the base you can see a hinged flap and you will empty your "Grey" water here, the toilet cassette emptying flap is usually round the back. Above the large blue sign is the "Drinking Water" spout and the button above turns it on. Sometimes it is free, but never more than a few euros, occasionally you will need"Jetons" which you will have to purchase from the local Marie.
The term service point simply refers to the area which provides water and waste water disposal for the visiting motorhomes. There are several types of Motorhome service point, professionally manufactured brands include Flot Bleu, Euro Relais and Aire Services. Around half the Motorhome service points in France are custom made. Service points normally facilitate 3 vital functions:
Drinking Water: Using disinfectant wipes or spray before drawing water will improve hygiene.
Grey Water: Though very variable, often a metal drive over grid will be set in concrete near the service point. Badly chosen materials and careless driving often lead to their destruction. Take a length of flexible pipe to direct water accurately.
Toilet disposal: Only use the designated facility, removing any grids before emptying. Do not rush this operation as spillage will occur. Often a tap is located above the drain for rinsing toilet cassettes; this tends to flow even if tokens are required for other services. There are very few service points suitable for emptying fixed tank toilet systems. We strongly recommend you have a macerator fitted and travel with a long length of pipe.
You can also plug your EHU cable into some of them, usually at a cost, but if you are lucky you could find a free one.
Motorhome Aires operate on a first come, first served basis. It is not possible to reserve a space for your Motorhome Always park in designated bays if provided and never obstruct roadways or Motorhome service points. If the Motorhome Aire is full, find another one.
"Vicarious Books" sell all the Aires books.