At Alan Rogers we're often asked about Aires; whilst we're the experts when it comes to campsites, we have to hand over to our friends at Vicarious Books when it comes to all things Aires. The article below was written by Pami Hoggatt, Managing Editor at Vicarious.
INTRODUCTION TO MOTORHOME AIRES
Motorhome stopovers, known as Aires, are mostly public parking areas and some private land where motorhome and campervan users may stop overnight for free or for a small fee. Aires symbolise the freedom of motorhoming. You are welcomed into local communities, where you can stay overnight at unique locations available only to motorhome travellers.
By using Aires you are likely to visit places not listed in any mainstream tourist information guidebook. Most Aires should be considered a convenient en route stopover rather than a holiday destination. This does not mean to say that you cannot have a motorhome holiday when stopping at Aires, just that you should be motorhoming from place to place.
Dedicated motorhome parking areas are provided in many European countries and these bring welcome tourists into well known and undiscovered areas alike. Motorhomers have over 11,500 Aires to choose from and, as so many of them are free, it would be possible to take a motorhome tour of Europe and never pay for camping or parking. Aires make suitable night stops all year round and, unlike campsites, few close for the winter.
Municipally provided Aires normally look like any other municipal parking area and you are free to come and go as you please. After your day out, you should plan to visit two or three Aires en route to your next chosen activity. If your first choice is full or unsuitable, move on to the next. You may be worried about using Aires for the first time. On your first attempt, visit in daylight to get a feel for it. On arrival, park, put the kettle on, and have a nice cup of tea. Look at the facilities, talk to the other motorhomers, and then look around the local area.
In addition to overnight motorhome parking, most Aires also have a Service Point for water collection and disposal; however, there are some service areas without parking. Aires in rural locations normally offer free overnight motorhome parking and may charge €2-€3 for water. Aires near the sea and at popular tourist destinations normally charge between €5-€20 for parking and may charge for water as well.
Official Motorhome Parking Femanville, Normandy, France
WHAT ARE THE RULES AT MOTORHOME AIRES?
Motorhomes weighing up to 3,500kg are classified as cars in mainland Europe and, for safety reasons, car drivers are allowed to park and rest in their vehicles. This entitlement does not allow car drivers to put up tents or set up caravans because this is deemed camping. Owners of caravans and American-style fifth wheel caravans may think this unfair, but the rules are the rules and foreign tourists have no exemption. A motorhome is not deemed to be camping if it is self-sufficient; therefore the occupants can cook, eat, and sleep within the motorhome as long as they do not place anything outside. An onboard toilet is a necessity and waste water from sinks must not be discharged onto the ground or into containers that need to be placed outside. Some irresponsible motorhomers ignore these rules and use levelling chocks, put out tables and chairs, wind out awnings, hang up washing, run generators, and generally set up camp. Imagine how you would feel if people were doing that opposite your home. Presumably you would complain to your local council and demand that they banned motorhomes from the parking area.
Motorhome parking is mostly municipally provided, but some privately-operated tourist attractions and supermarkets have a section of motorhome parking. Normally signs depicting a motorhome identify the area to be motorhome parking, although the signage does vary significantly. Sometimes designated parking areas are shared with cars and can be busy during the day, but empty at night. Aires operate on a first come, first served basis and it is not possible to reserve a space. Stopping is generally limited to 48 hours, unless otherwise stated, because stopovers are designed to be used whilst touring and not for extended holidays.
Always park in designated bays, if provided, and never obstruct roadways or Service Points. Aires may not have designated spaces, and it is normal to park less than a vehicle width from your neighbours. If you arrive at a stopover that is full, find another one. To enjoy the freedom of motorhoming, plan your travels so that you avoid the obvious places. For example, if you want to drive around the French coast expect to pay at least €5 per night; you can get around this by heading inland each evening.
Responsible use of Aires is vital so that local communities keep them open. Use them, but don’t abuse them. Common stopover abuse includes: not cleaning up the Service Point after emptying the toilet, camping on the stopover, parking over more than one bay, hanging out washing, breaking the Service Point, leaving without paying, and overstaying the time limit. Sadly, there has been an increase of these abuses over the past decade. Often Aires are provided and funded by the local community, so make a conscious effort to repay their generosity. You should try to spend the equivalent of campsite fees locally in the village shops and cafés or buy some diesel from the fuel station. By using Aires, you are representing the motorhome community; being miserly, abusing facilities and other unacceptable behaviour leads to resentment and stopovers closing.
Private Aire at Royan, Charente-Maritime, France
HOW DO YOU FIND MOTORHOME AIRES?
You will stumble across Aires in certain areas, but they may be as rare as hen’s teeth ten miles down the road. To make the most of your trips you need to travel with the best information available. There are loads of online databases, some of which you can download onto your device which is necessary because 3g and 4g are rarely available outside of cities. Aires guidebooks fall into two categories, those produced following professional inspection and those compiled from customer and tourist board submissions. When available, buy guidebooks that had professional inspectors gathering the information so that you have continuity of information.
Vicarious Media is a specialist publisher of motorhome stopover guides. The directors of Vicarious, Meli and Chris, have been professionally inspecting motorhome Aires since 2006. The All the Aires motorhome guidebooks are the most comprehensive, accurate and data-rich available in any language, with professional photos and reviews that offer a personal insight you will not find anywhere else. Vicarious Media publish Aires guides for France, Spain and Portugal, and Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands.
WHICH COUNTRIES IN EUROPE HAVE THE BEST MOTORHOME AIRES?
Aires in France
Motorhoming is booming in France and over the past decade there has been a rapid increase in the number of motorhomes on French roads, and 95 per cent of them are local camping cars. French motorhomers rarely venture off the main trunking routes. Consequently, overcrowding often occurs at Aires within a short distance from a main road and is likely at those that are also in a quiet or pleasant location. Motorhomers from all nations appear compelled to drive to the coast and the sheer number of motorhomes has forced coastal authorities to put control measures in place to manage motorhome parking, often in the form of barrier entry systems. Motorhome parking is also likely to be managed at well-known tourist attractions, lakes, rivers and canals. With control comes cost, so expect to pay if you want to stopover in popular areas. Freedom seekers should plan to end their day off the beaten track.
Aires in Spain and Portugal
Traditionally peak season in Spain and Portugal was December to February with people seeking winter warmth along the Mediterranean coast and the Algarve. However, everybody loves the seaside, so the Aires in these locations are popular all year and normally charge for parking and servicing. Nowadays, Spain and Portugal are well and truly on the motorhome tourist map and Aires across the country are well used all year.
In Spain and Portugal the more remote Aires are underused by foreign motorhomers and may look a little abandoned, but don’t be surprised to be joined by Spanish motorhomers arriving between 8-11pm. At weekends and school holidays Spanish families often cause significant oversubscription.
The demand for motorhome parking has seen the development of commercial Aires that resemble simple campsites. This breed of motorhome-centric mini sites have toilet blocks, laundries and a few have plunge pools. Perhaps the most exciting development has happened along the Atlantic coast west of San Sebastián, where new Aires continue to be opened, some of which are beachside. In contradiction to the Mediterranean coast, northern Aires rarely have time limits, designated parking or rules posted.
Aires in Benelux
That being said, there has been significant growth in the number of Aires across Benelux, due in part to a large number of marina Aires across Flanders and the Netherlands. which often offer both waterside parking and campsite-level facilities. Nearly one third of the 350 Aires across Benelux are river/lakeside, at a marina or coastal. Unsurprisingly, any Aire with a good view of a navigation has the potential to be full or oversubscribed.
Traditional Aires that are located at tourist destinations or on the main migratory routes are likely to be full or oversubscribed in the evenings, but Aires in seemingly uninspiring locations or unserviced Aires off the beaten trail are likely to be empty.