Places to stay

The best Aires in France

Rachel Ifans take us on a tour of her favourite motorhome stopovers in France. Start planning your road trip here!

If you love discovering new places and finding innumerable delights off-the-beaten track, then motorhome touring in France is your perfect holiday.

The country is so well served with overnight stopovers (aires) and campsites that even in the height of summer, you’ll always find a place to stay. So you can hit the open road and see where it leads you…with incredible villages, stunning scenery and bustling markets seemingly around every corner.

What are aires?

Motorhome aires in France are overnight parking areas in villages, towns, cities and the countryside all over the country. There are aires in Calais (near the Eurotunnel terminal site), aires in Brittany near dramatic scenery, in the middle of teeming cities and aires on the coast in southern France. They’re an amazing way to experience life in smaller, out of the way places and participate (briefly) in the local community.

The full title is actually ‘aire de service/stationnement pour camping car’ but, understandably, most of us call them aires for short! Another note on the language – motorhomes are usually called ‘camping cars’ in France, so if you’re hunting one down and see a sign with those two magic words on it, you’re golden!

A lone motorhome looks out at a beautiful sunset

Aires differ in price (from free to €20 per night) and facilities vary too – from what is essentially just a car park, to more of an aire camping experience with showers, loos, electricity, boules pistes, swimming pools, bread vans and more. The general rule is that you can stay for a maximum of 48 hours.

There are so many motorhome stopovers dotted around the country that it can seem difficult to travel more than a few miles off the motorway without bumping into one. In my experience, the only time we have trouble finding an aire is when it’s getting late and the kids need to go to bed – or maybe it just feels that way!

In fact, aires in France are easy to find if you know where to look with books and a number of websites dedicated to listing them. If you’re feeling old-fashioned (and there’s no harm in that) there are two books called ‘All the Aires France’ - one provides maps of aires in the north of France and the other lists aires in the south. Alternatively, sometimes internet search engines provide a more up-to-date experience. There are a few websites that list aires, with details provided by people who motorhome in France, but I find that none of them are exhaustive so it pays to check out several.

Different types of aires

There are three kinds of aires that you should know about. The ones designed for overnight motorhome stays and the following two:

Aire de service

An aire de service is simply a service point. You’ll find these in campsites, in some motorway service areas and sometimes you’ll just come across a sign for one on its own in a village! They usually offer fresh water, electricity (sometimes), a place to empty your chemical toilet and a separate drain for dirty water that you can drive on top of to make it easy.

Some aire de services are free but there’s often a small charge of a few euros. Euro relais is a common type of machine where you drop in coins or use a bank card (these are becoming more common now) and get a certain amount of fresh water and/or electricity in exchange. Disposal is almost always free unless there’s a barrier to get at the service point.

Aire de repos

Motorhome specific aires mustn’t be confused with motorway ‘aires de repos’ that you’d use on any road trip. These are basically just service areas or rest areas where overnight parking is neither permitted nor advised. (Although quite a few motorway aires do have facilities to empty wastewater and chemical toilets.) Some of these are built up but some are lovely wooded areas with picnic tables and toilet blocks, so make an ideal lunch stop off on a hot day.

What facilities do French aires have?

Motorhome travel is a restful experience. The knowledge that you’ve got everything you need with you takes the stress out of travelling, which is just as well because French aires can vary enormously in the facilities they provide.

An aire in the middle of a city or large town might simply be an area of a car park with signs showing where you’re allowed to pull up. Other aires might feel like they’re in the middle of nowhere. In the off season, it’s not rare to be the only motorhome stopped in an aire like this and you get to experience the fun of wild camping – but with the knowledge that a boulangerie is only a few minutes away in a nearby village!

On average, I’d say that the vast majority of aires have a service point for water and waste, and a good number have electricity. Busier aires will often get a visit from the local bread man in their van at around 9am each morning. As you head south, some private aires may even have swimming pools but you’ll pay a little extra for the privilege.

An typical French aire where vehicles are separated into pitches by waist height hedges

How to find aires in France

As I mentioned above, you can find lists of aires online and in the ‘All the Aires – France’ books. If you’re looking online, my key tip is to search for “camping car aire near” and add the town or area where you want to stay overnight. All of these methods will give you the address or GPS coordinates of the site, which you can enter into your satnav.

Northern France

  • Le Touquet: A quiet car park overlooking the sea with no facilities. This is the Base Nautique aire, a 10-minute weaving cycle ride into town through sand dunes.
  • Arromanches-les-Bains: Perfectly situated for golden beaches (Gold Beach in the D-Day landings) and a sweetly bustling seaside town. There are two aires in town, this is the one just north of Camping Municipal.
  • Froncles: In the heart of Champagne, this canal-side aire is just a lovely place to stop, think, and drink a glass of cold bubbly.
  • Mont St Michel: A private, secure, landscaped aire with plenty of facilities, just 5km away from the astonishing sights of Mont St Michel. I recommend the cycle route, which gives stunning views on the approach to the citadel.
  • Lampoul Plouarzels: Get away from it all at this aire on the furthermost point of Brittany. Views over the Atlantic, spectacular sunsets and plenty of wide-open spaces.

The cycle path among the sand dunes in Le Touquet

Western France

  • Noirmoutier: A spacious aire next to the Caravanile campsite, with lots of facilities. Great beaches on this little island and don’t miss the Passage du Gois causeway to the mainland, accessible only at low tide (or take the bridge!). I took part in a running race here in 2019 where you had to outrun the tide before you ended up swimming. Read about the memorable trip here.
  • Nantes: A quiet, shaded aire adjoined to the town’s campsite and close to a tram stop for fast access into one of the most exciting cities in France.
  • Ile de Ré: There are a few aires on this beautiful island. My favourite is right on the coast just after the bridge - great views of the sunset, nearby shops and close access to the island’s many cycle paths.
  • Biscarosse: Cool relaxation in a pine forest, a short walk from the wave-pounded Atlantic beach. Very chilled, very peaceful, very French.
  • Blaye: Overnight parking overlooking the estuary and boats, under the Citadel (which is well worth a visit) and just a stroll to the shops.

A family of four smiling and riding bikes

Southern France

  • Fontaine de Vaucluse: This aire is at the heart of some stunning scenery and is close to the biggest spring in France, the source of the River Sorgue.
  • Cavaliere: There are very few beach aires on the Med. This is in a sweet little town near a beautiful sandy beach. Bring earplugs, though – the town’s nightclubs were thumping when I visited!
  • Marseille: A secure, tidy aire with good links into this sprawling city and cheerful staff. Hard to beat as a cheap way to visit Marseille for a couple of nights.
  • Sault: An unprepossessing aire but the town is delightful, the views across the surrounding countryside are amazing and the annual lavender festival is unforgettable.
  • Greoux les Bains: A pleasant, shady terraced aire, close to banks of the River Verdon and the town, with good facilities.
  • Pont du Gard: Staying over a 20 minutes walk from an ancient Roman aqueduct 50m tall? Yes, please! A lovely site, busy little town and the River Gardon to dip in on hot days.
  • Salles Curan: A view of Lake Parloup – the largest lake in the Midi-Pyrenees - and sheltered parking makes this the perfect place to relax in hot weather.
  • Carcassonne: This medieval walled city is famous for a reason, and packed in peak season. But get in early or at sunset and you’ll be spoiled. The aire is around a 2km walk along the river

The side of a motorhome with beach towels hanging out to dry

Central and Eastern France

  • Dijon: An aire next to a campsite, close to Lac de Kir and with easy access by foot or cycle into the centre of Dijon.
  • Colmar: A gentle stroll into the beautiful town of Colmar, this aire on the side of a marina is delightfully restful with excellent facilities.
  • Luneville – A lovely aire with pitches separated by hedges and your own picnic table. Ideal for a visit to the very splendid chateau and gardens.
  • Nancy: La Capitainerie is a quiet spot next to the river in a fascinating French city, with a wonderful mix of baroque and art nouveau sights.
  • Le Puy: A clean and well-marked aire with views of the town. Take the free shuttle bus into Le Puy for incredible churches built at the top of sheer volcanic rock. Breathtaking.
  • Lagrasse: A quiet if unremarkable spot next to a stunning, ancient French village – one of the Les Plus Beaux Villages de France.
  • Les Gets: A wonderful destination all year round – although particularly in winter for the skiing – this carpark aire sits at the foot of a red run for instant access to the slopes.
  • Villandry: A beautiful chateau with the most colourful gardens I’ve ever seen, plus this aire right next to it, with lots of facilities. Wonderful!

Luneville chateau and its gardens

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About the Author

I am a journalist and editor, covering a wide range of lifestyle and travel subjects but always returning to my first love, France. Born unfortunately to non-French parents, I have spent my life trying to make up for it by spending as much time as I can in France or writing about it, studying the language, tirelessly dragging my children round all six sides of l'Hexagone, and endlessly chuntering to my husband about moving there.

To read more from Rachel, click here.

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