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Aires de Service

the sani-station road signThere are many different types of 'aires' but the ones of particular importance to motorcaravanners are the places where you can fill your water tanks, empty your rubbish, dump your grey water and empty your toilet. These are also widely known as 'sanistations' though others terms may be used, like 'Entsorgungs-Station' in Germany. In practice if you see a sign similar to the one shown here, you've found it!  At some stations you can park overnight, get temporary mains hook-ups and dump black waste too.

Before telling you more, perhaps we should unravel some of the British confusion about the word 'aire', it simply means an open area or place. So an 'aire de jeu' is a playground, an 'aire de service' is a service area (yes motorway service area too), an 'aire de repos' is a rest area (again typically on a motorway but simply a picnic site, possibly with toilets). An 'aire de loisirs' is a recreation area (but not a child's playground), and an 'aire de stationnement' is parking!  No wonder we are sometimes disappointed when we go looking for one of these 'aires' everyone is talking about!  But since we can't make up our minds whether our vehicles are called motorhomes, motorcaravans or campers perhaps we shouldn't be too critical?!

filling up at a german entsorgungstation   at a shaded riverside aire in champagne   the flot-bleu borne - actually painted orange

The two important things about a camping-car aire de service are the sani-station itself often - called a 'borne' in France - and the vehicle parking area. The borne or terminal can be one of several proprietary makes often with 'euro-relais' written on it or it can a home made contraption - in this latter case wellies and a waterproof might be called for!! You normally expect to pay between two and four euros to use one and will receive in return about 100 litres of fresh water or 60 minutes of mains electricity plus access to rubbish bins, and grey and black waste disposal. The disposal side is often free - on the basis that proper waste disposal is a necessary public service of benefit to all. (A refreshing change from the British perspective!!). The parking area might be just sufficient for one motorhome to stop to fill up and empty or it might accommodate anything from two to twenty or exceptionally hundreds of motorcaravans for one to three nights but in a few cases no over-nighting is allowed. At the other end of the scale the whole aire, services, and parking can be completely free. The area can be a dead scruffy spot or really delightful but there's no easy way of finding out in advance.

a raclet borne in use entsorgungstation access to sports centre water and waste facilities filling up at a uk motorcaravan service point

So where do you find them? Well, they are all over the place, the current guide lists over four and a half thousand if you count all the town stop-overs and the 'France Passion' schemes. Sometimes they are associated with camp sites and trunk road parking but many are situated in small towns and villages where the locals hope their provision will bring your valued trade to the town or co-operative. We've even found a few in really delightful spots where you'd be happy to stay some time - but they are of course intended only for servicing and/or short stays, typically single over-nighting or about three days at the most. Limits on stays are usually displayed on site. Some of the campsite bornes are 'interieur' and some 'exterieur' and prices can vary wildly but a surprising number are really very cheap. Even more surprising is that quite a lot of the municipal and commune provided facilities are completely free! Now how's that for a welcome? Try this link for an excellent list of sanistations from Scandinavia to the Med http://www.eurocampingcar.com/ (click on English!) or maybe ...

Perhaps surprisingly to us Brits - not all aires are listed in any single one of the guides and not all listings are entirely accurate!

the official french guideOne of the best guides to aires is Le Guide officiel étapes touristiques camping-car which is published annually and is available from "Camping Car" magazine, from French supermarkets early in the season and from www.amazon.fr (not .co.uk nb!) in France. Ordering is easier than you might think since amazon.fr will recognise your UK login information. It can also be found in the UK from the Camping and Caravanning Club and by mail order from Deneway Guides on 01308 898017 or Camping Connections Partnership of Dorchester - see the France page for details. The 'English' version is called "The Official Guide to Motorcaravan Tourist Stop-overs" but only the index & short intro is in English so I wouldn't worry too much about getting that edition!  As usual a little French comes in handy but, as with all guides, entries are repetitive, so a few words go a long way. A separate map uses symbols to show the location of the aires - though it is somewhat confused by the numerous symbols for the sponsor - Renault at the time of writing. The map is used to find an aire in the area you want and then you have to look up the site name in the index at the front. As with many French guides, the number listed next to the name is the departement, not the page! So finally, you turn to the relevant departement to find the site listed alphabetically, all very French. Directions and details of the facilities on offer are given for each entry. The latest guides have aires 'communale ou privée' shaded for easy identification. <€10 in France by the way.

In Germany there is a similar - but slightly different - system of Stellplätze - listed in books called Der große Reisemobil-Stellplatz-Atlas, Deutschland, Nordband / Südband (& also other countries too) or the Reisemobil International Bordatlas 2004 or the ADAC Stellplatz Führer Deutschlandwohnmobile.net is one source and amazon.de of course - by the way all Amazon sites will recognise your login and stored credit card details so buying from sites abroad is fairly simple you just pay more postage. Our copy of the 2004 Bordatlas cost €19.54 delivered.

the blue aire symbolThe symbols are colour coded to indicate the type of aire but in true French style the colours vary from year to year, presumably to make sure you don't use a later free map with an earlier guide?! In the guide I'm looking at right now the green ones show the aires on the autoroutes and cleverly show which side of the motorway they are on; the blue ones show the farms and vineyards that participate in the France-Passion scheme (further details on this site); the red symbol is the most numerous and indicates aires found in campsites, as a condition of being in the guide, all will provide for filling up with water and emptying waste water and toilets but being private campsites the variations make it impossible to describe the facilities exactly; finally the yellow symbol for "aire de services - communale ou privée" shows the most interesting locations for many of us, the majority of these aires are provided by a village or town and usually have one of the proprietary bornes such as Euro-Relais, Sanistation, Flot Bleu or one of the unidentified green ones as shown in the pictures, all are very One of the less elegant bornesstraightforward to use provided you have your own hose. A few metres of hose with a screw-on tap connector is usually all you need. A surprising number of bornes are free, otherwise a few euros are paid either by coin-in-a-slot or by token (jeton). The guide should tell you where tokens can be obtained, often in the local bar or tabac or mairie. The most useful sani-stations are often the ones which offer overnight parking, so even if you have no need of the services you can still park up for the night. Do note though that "camping" is often seen as different to overnight parking and may not be allowed, so make yourself at home but without the external paraphernalia of picnic tables & chairs, barbeques, etc.

Aires can sometimes be rather elusive, you might find the directions given as "500 metres from centre" but this might not help much in a major town unless you have a street plan - it's easier in villages where almost anyone will know where it is. a motorcaravan service point at the forest enterprise site in snowdoniaMany aires are tucked away in obscure corners but some will be sited in more attractive spots, perhaps by a river, lake or reservoir and if parking is permitted, make delightful overnight stops. You might wonder why the village has gone to all the expense of providing an aire at all. Maybe they are hoping to attract visitors who will then spend some euros at the local enterprises! Hopefully you will too, remembering to mention that you are staying in your camping-car and then the villagers will see the value of the aire and of foreign visitors in general!

Also do look at www.eurocampingcar.com for excellent info on many sanistation locations from Scandinavia to the Med.

British Aires?  Well very few but yes there are some. Also there's a great new scheme more along the lines of France Passion ...

BritStops:  A great new British scheme along the lines of France Passion!  Well you'll want somewhere to stay won't you? ... Most UK 'stopovers' seem to be based on pubs and while this is quite valid, not all of us want to stay at pubs night after night. Britstops is different in that it also includes farm shops, breweries, vineyards, restaurants, hotels, seafood cafes, and even motorhome businesses, as well as quality pubs. The scheme is still quite young so there aren't yet huge numbers of overnight stops, around 150 at the time of writing, but I have to say the quality is very high - the best of all UK schemes in my opinion.  The idea is that your 'hosts' allow you to stay overnight on the premises free of charge in anticipation of your interest in their offerings!  There is no compulsion but I have to say the ideal deal - where we stopped behind the barn at a delightful rural farm shop and spent £30 on shopping we needed anyway - really does work well on both sides. True the Norfolk marmalade and specialist ice creams were dearer than Tesco but other things including the fruit and veg were cheaper!  Now do I want to give a big company trading as a campsite my £20-£30 to park or would I rather eat it and park for free or at least very cheaply, cripes that's a hard one isn't it?!  As yet not all the hosts can provide all the resources you'd like, they're not campsites after all, but many do offer water and some even have a full service point, I guess the more we use them, and spend money with them, all the more will invest in suitable facilities.  Is there a membership fee?  Yes it does cost to join but frequent users will get their money back in no time at all. You can even get a free year of membership by successfully recommending a new host.  www.britstops.com - tell them you read about it here!

Foreign words

Here are some useful camping words for you. They are not translations as such but simply words that are used in connection with the English 'topic'. It's up to you to enjoy finding out more about them!

Additions welcome, please - Email us  

Aire de service

Drinking water
eau propre
eau potable
eau douce
plein de l'eau
connection réseau
eau usées
eau vidange
eau de vaiselles
wc chimique
Service point
borne (de services)


Drinking water
chemisch Toilette
Service point


Drinking water
agua limpia
agua potable
toma exterior
aguas residuales
aguas negras
WC quimico
Service point




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