Motorhome Camping in France -- on a Budget
Our Camper on an Aire de Repose in SE france
Aires de Services /Aires de Reposes
Did you know that France is the most Camper friendly country in Europe? And if you want a fantastic holiday that will cost you very little, look no further.
Throughout the whole France there are more than 3000 Aires de Repose and Aires de Service, most of these are free to use. Okay, some of them charge a couple of Euros to fill up with fresh water and to connect to an electricity supply. The emptying of your waste water and toilet can usually be done free of charge.
These are excellent value for an overnight stop on your way to your next destination. As with everything else there are good and bad aires. In high summer the best and most popular aires can become quite busy, so always select a couple more nearby aires to try for a parking place, just in case your first choice is full.
If you are on a long journey and you choose to travel for a while on the Autoroute (paid or unpaid), you will find some really excellent aires on which to spend the night. Unless you want a really early start, don't park up too near the heavy lorries, they usually start running their engines for quite a while before they leave, often at 4 or 5am. The refrigerated lorries have a system whereby their engines run intermittently throughout the night to keep their cargo's temperature constant. So definitely keep clear of them!
The difference between the aires, are, that the Aire de Repose is really just an off road picnic area, with perhaps a WC that can be used by all road users,cars, caravans and often heavy lorries (trucks).Some aires are quite large, especially those on the Autoroutes, and those on the major roads.
The Aire de Service is purpose built for Motorhomes/Campervans and has a Borne ( a terminal with taps that supplies drinking water, and often a socket to plug in your electricity cable.) there is also a special drain where the WC unit can be emptied and finally another drain that you drive over to empty your waste water. Some aires have all 4 of these services, some only have 2 or 3.
Typical Aires de Sevice
Where are these Aires de Services then?
Most reasonably sized villages in France have a Municipal Aire de Service, these are usually found at the entrance to, or exit from the village. Sometimes they are found in close proximity to a recreational facility like the municipal swimming pool or Tennis courts, Stade de Foot etc..
Usually they are signposted off the main road through the village. Not all of these allow an overnight stop, but most do. 24 hours is the normal limit, but some offer 48 or even 72 hours. Not all of the aires are signposted for overnight parking, even though it is permitted. (It's a French thing!)
In addition to the aires there are some excellent Camp Sites throughout France. Some of these are Municipal, others are privately owned, and like hotels they have a star rating that indicates facilities and price per night. Obviously the more stars they have, the more expensive they are. A 2 star site will cost 8.50€+ ... A 3 star site 10.50€+ .. A 4 star site 13.50€+.
Often the municipal Camp Sites are in the most scenic locations, often by the side of a small lake, and are often less expensive than the private sites. Once again the Municipal sites are well signposted from the main road. As well as accepting Motor homes they also accept Caravans and Tents, it's the size of the pitch and hook-up facilities, which determines the price charged
Other Camping Options
Throughout France there are other great options, the first is the Camping Cheque scheme, which offers a fixed price cheque for £13.95 (€15) price correct for 2011, which entitles 1 Motor home and 2 people a one night stay on a standard pitch with electricity and full use of the facilities offered, on more than 500 designated Camp Sites throughout Europe, during the low season only. Usually the low season means all the months except July & August and sometimes the Easter week. Check out their web site for more info.(www.campingcheque.co.uk)
A second option is CampingCard ACSI. The way this works is a little different, you buy the book of over 2100 Inspected camp sites located all over Europe, the price for 2011 is €13.95 or if you take out a subscription for a minimum of 2 years, the price is discounted to €9.95 per year (excl. postage). Within your book is a discount card that you fill in with name and address etc.., then when you arrive at one of the campsites of your choice, you present your card at reception. Then at the end of your stay when you settle the bill you show your card again and receive your discount. The sites listed have discount prices of :- €11 , €13, or €15 per night, during the low season only, this price covers 2 adults and up to 3 children up to 5 years old, and 1 dog (if permitted on that site) Electricity included usually 6 Amps but sometimes more. Pitch size and GPS coordinates as well as directions are given for each site. We used them twice in 2010 and we are more than pleased to recommend this company.For lots more information see their website at www.campingcard.com
The third option is France Passion. This is a scheme which for a yearly subscription of £25.00 (2010 price) provides you with a guide to 1450 free overnight stops on carefully selected properties. French farms and Vineyards, Restaurants and Auberge's and Motorhome owners who have land available. It is an opportunity to get acquainted with French culture, and meet the locals. There is never any pressure at all to buy anything from them. For more info check out their website at (www.french-passion.co.uk) This site is well worth a visit as it offers other guides to camping in France. A must buy is the guide to Aires de Service that you can buy online through this site.
A new guide available for the first time in 2010 is Spanish Passion, which lists Spanish winegrowers, mainly in the Catalunya region, who offer free overnight stops for self-sufficient Motorhomes
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