Sometimes, you want to settle down for long periods at a campsite with lots of facilities… but at other times, you simply want somewhere to park for the night. Enter motorhome aires, designated stopping places that are great for budget travellers or for breaking up long road trips. Aires are increasingly popular in a number of countries, so in this article we’ll explain what they are and where to find them so you have the confidence to stay the night at a campervan aire.
What are motorhome aires?
The word ‘aire’ is short for the French term ‘aire de service’, which is essentially a free or low-cost motorhome camping area where some basic services – such as water, waste disposal and perhaps toilets/showers and electricity – are provided. The term is commonly used throughout Europe, although you may see local words too, such as ‘parking para autocaravanas’ in Spain or ‘aree di sosta’ in Italy.
Aires are typically in quiet areas, often on public land, and may adjoin a bigger out-of-town car park, although aires come in all shapes and sizes and can often be found on private land too.
How much does it cost to stay in an aire?
Some aires allow visitors to stay the night for free – they are often run by the local council and only charge for services that you actually use, such as water or electricity.
Most aires, however, charge a modest fee for overnight parking, especially if they are in scenic areas such as national parks or near the coast.
In France, the country with the largest number of aires, you might be able to park in a municipal car park for free, in a forest aire for around five euros or in a seaside aire with electricity and water included for around 15 euros.
These are just examples, and prices will of course vary depending on where and when you are travelling. Typically, however, aires represent very good value for money and are generally quite a lot cheaper than campsites, which typically have more facilities like hot showers, swimming pools and playgrounds that you may not have the time to use if you’re staying for a very short period.
Rules and etiquette for motorhome aires
Bookings are generally not possible for motorhome aires, as they are less formal than campsites and operate on a first come, first served basis. If you want to find somewhere for the night, ask other travellers at the aire if they know of another local stopping spot or book a campsite pitch instead.
Check-in is a much less formal process at aires – you will not be asked for your name, passport details and address like you might be at a traditional campsite or hotel.
Payment at aires (if there is a charge) can take various forms. There may be an honesty box or parking meter, for which you will need change. Typically, if services such as water and electricity are changed separately, they operate on a flat-rate meter. There might also be a telephone number to ring to arrange payment, or you might be asked to visit a local shop or café. If you’re in any doubt, ask the other travellers at your aire for help.
Usually, tent camping and caravans are not permitted at aires. They are typically reserved for just campervans and motorhomes and have a special sense of community that goes with this.
Some aires are strictly for overnight parking and do not allow travellers to set up any ‘camping’ equipment (such as a washing line, chairs or a barbecue) outside of their vehicle. If this is the case, it should be clearly signed. Most aires, however, are more relaxed as long as you don’t bring a tent or caravan.
That being said, if you want to have a picnic or set up some outdoor kit, don’t do it in a place where another vehicle could park.
Be prepared to take your waste with you, including your grey and black water if there is nowhere to dispose of it properly. Never pour wastewater down storm drains or over the grass.
Groups travelling together, music and parties are all generally not allowed at motorhome aires.
Do not outstay your welcome. Most aires limit the amount of time you can stay to one or two nights. Authorised arrival/departure times should be clearly signed.
Aires are quiet, but they are also great places to chat with other travellers and to exchange tips or recommendations. Even if you’re not confident with the local language, saying hello is widely appreciated – not to mention the fact that word of mouth is a great way to discover the surrounding area.
How to find motorhome aires
Apps and online maps can be very useful, and there are many available with directories of motorhome aires in different European countries and beyond.
Books can be useful if you don’t want to be dependent on your smartphone while travelling. One popular publication is called All the Aires in France and is updated annually. Similar titles are available for other European countries too.
The local tourist information office will have information about motorhome aires as well as hotels and campsites and will happily direct you to them. After all, part of the purpose of aires is to encourage people to stay in the local area.
Word of mouth can be very useful in finding the best spots too. Motorhome and campervan owners are often happy to share tips, either in person or via online forums.
What countries have motorhome aires?
France has, by far, the largest number of motorhome aires, but other countries are quickly catching up.
Spain and Portugal have a large number of motorhome aires too, and Italy’s ‘aree di sosta’ system is similarly well organised.
Germany and Austria are also well set up for campervan and motorhome touring with their ‘Stellplatz’ system, although these are typically privately run and so can be slightly more expensive than elsewhere in Europe.
While Ireland does not have a widespread aire culture, they do have a small number of well-maintained aires to complement a wide range of campsites and informal stopover points.
Scotland is similar to Ireland in that it does not have many designated aires, but there are also schemes (such as the one run by Forestry and Land Scotland) that allow for cheap overnight campervan and motorhome parking. Like the rest of the countries on this list, Scotland has a wide range of motorhome pitches at campsites. Another possibility is wild camping as it is legal in Scotland (with some restrictions).
England has a growing system of motorhome aires, but you may find it easier to book a pitch at a local campsite instead.
Inspired and ready to plan your trip? Use the tips in this article to track down aires, or alternatively book a motorhome-friendly pitch or browse the other articles in our guide to motorhome and campervan adventures.
What is a motorhome aire?
Aires are free or low-cost stopping places for motorhomes and caravans. They either offer just parking or basic facilities such as water, waste disposal and electricity.
How long can you stay in a motorhome aire?
Rules vary from place to place, but generally aires are aimed at those staying for just one or two nights.
Are there aires in the UK?
There are currently very few designated aires in the UK, where commercial campsites and motorhome parks are much more common.
What countries have motorhome aires?
Many countries have motorhome aires, including France, Spain, Portugal, Italy, Germany and Austria.