Aires de camping car. Are we missing something?

Contis Plage: free showers, washing up facilities, toilets and just 11 Euros per night.
I can’t help but think, having just returned from 64 nights in Europe in our van, that we are missing a trick here in the UK. Or, more specifically, local councils are missing out on an opportunity that would improve our lives (as campervanners and motorhomers) and bring them much needed revenue at the same time.

I am talking about ‘aires de camping car’. These are overnight parking places that are specifically designated for motorhomes and campervans. The system is prevalent in France. The idea is that local councils provide an overnight stop for self contained motorhomes. Tents and caravans are not allowed, neither is putting out tables and chairs or awnings. Most ‘aires’ have fresh water and facilities for emptying waste water and toilet tanks. Some have electricity. Some local councils charge for the privilege and others don’t. Some provide showers and toilets, others just the basics – a parking place and somewhere to empty the porta potti. The police make daily rounds and take number plates to ensure no one abuses the system. We used them a lot on our trip because they offered us a cheap alternative to staying on campsites. In fact, the aire at Biscarosse was one of our favourite stops. It was close enough to town to be able to cycle to restaurants and just a stone’s throw from the beach.

I understand why the French have aires. They offer a neat solution to some problems.  With designated places they can police who stays overnight and control illegal camping on the roadside or at beauty spots. They can also control a little of the flow of traffic through busy summer resorts by signposting the aires via quiet routes or by placing them on the edge of town. It works. The system also works to attract people to a town and gives them a reason to visit. If there is a cheap place to stay, people will come and spend money in the town.

So why don’t we do this very much in the UK when there are over 200,000 motorhomes (not including camper vans) registered here? Well, a few councils do and I praise them for it (you can find them on the brilliant site here). Many others don’t. Where I live – the area controlled by Torridge District Council - there are at least four beautiful parking spots (with toilet facilities) that are empty overnight, every night. It’s a terrible waste of an opportunity and you have to ask where the motorhomes are going for their holidays! Europe, I’d wager.

The thing is that local councils have the power to change this. They are the ones who can grant exemptions and planning permission for camping on their land or car parks or on anyone else’s land (‘wild camping’ is illegal in England and Wales unless you have local authority permission). They can set the charges, but something like £10 per night seems reasonable enough. Some sites in France have capacity for as many as 50 motorhomes parked overnight. That’s £500 per night that the council wouldn’t have had before. Do the rest of the maths and you can see how it could begin to pay for itself.

Then there are the side benefits. When we were in France we were on a budget so the days we spent on aires were often days when we felt we had money to spend on restaurants. At one stop in the Pyrenees we spent 80 Euros eating at the local auberge. This is money they wouldn’t have had if we hadn't had free parking overnight. Times that by fifty and you have a further gain to the local economy.  And even if we opted to cook in the van we’d still have to go and buy food from the local shops. So everyone benefits.

I think I know why more councils don’t do this. There are two main reasons. The first is that they are afraid. Removing unwanted itinerants from council land is costly to them. They are afraid that people won’t go away. They don’t want Swampy and his mates turning up! But times have changed. Most motorhomes cost upwards of £25K these days so the people who opt to travel this way are often well off older couples who are living the dream. They are not poor. They are people who want to see the country and are looking for somewhere nice to stay. Of course there will be undesirables at some point and there will always be the odd problem, but if the system is planned properly and the rules are strict, these things will sort themselves out.

The second reason why I think councils won’t do this is because they fear it will take business away from local campsites and hotels. Well it won’t. People who want to stay on aires won’t necessarily want to stay on campsites, so if there isn’t an aire they won’t come. It’s as simple as that. They certainly won’t abandon the van and check into a hotel or put up with some grotty holiday camp or downmarket touring park. They will move on until they can find somewhere better.

Perhaps councils are ignorant of this opportunity or simply don’t care. Perhaps they think that providing safe overnights for the hundreds of thousands of motorhomers and campervan drivers who love to tour the UK doesn’t fit their ‘target audience’ or won’t bring in any revenue. Perhaps they have yet to tune into the way we like to holiday these days. Perhaps the guy who owns the local camp site is on the planning committee.

Maybe. But, come on councils! I know you are always looking for new ways to increase the length of the season. I know you are desperate for cash outside the six weeks of summer. I know you need to make your assets work harder. And I know – particularly in the case of Torridge District Council – that you have beautiful locations that some people would give their eye teeth to wake up in. Think about it.

Make them welcome and they will come (bringing their money along with them).


Straying from the well worn path. Other ways of staying in the UK: is a scheme that is new to the UK but is based on the France Passion Scheme whereby private land owners offer free camping in the hope that motorhomers will buy their produce or at least show an interest. In France it’s fantastic but here it's growing fast.

Nightstop is a scheme from Practical Motorhome Magazine whereby motorhomes can stay at pubs, sports clubs and private car parks.

Wild Camping is legal in parts of Scotland but there are places where it has been abused, particularly at Lunan bay and on the shores of Loch Lomond. It is now illegal to wild camp on the eastern shore of Loch Lomond. If you ever do wild camp, always make sure you leave it nicer than it was when you got there. lists 500 overnight stops in the UK where you can stay overnight for free if you are a member of the club. Membership is £30.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. It was the trick you’re missing! Thanks for sharing though and I really love you post… XOXO

    1. What intrigues e most about your comment is not what it means (and I can't work that out either) but what you deleted before you wrote this one.

  3. Happy to stand shoulder to shoulder with you when you start to lobby TDC! Would even pay for the experience - I have a feeling it could be quite a show! *smile*

  4. Yes, like you I spend months at a time touring Europe and find Aires very useful when moving about from one major location to another.
    But we live in Rip-Off Britain. To park for a kip on a motorway service station now costs you £10, and you get no service whatsoever, especially no security. Local Councils have no interest or mandate other than to 'spend' money. Making money to them is just sending out demands to the local populace, and if the poor serfs don't cough up, they have all the means at their disposal to use force to get it.

    And if some enterprising local sets up a Campervan 'aire' I bet the local council will be there, first thing to check and see that all their rules and regulations are met, and then slap a huge tax demand on the enterprise, guaranteeing its failure. What on earth our dumbos at the Town Hall would make of 'France Passion' beggars belief, even the description would get it banned where I live!

    No, there is something missing in the UK that the Continentals have solved, and it can't come soon enough.

    Rant over....

    1. Torridge, my local council, have just announced 5 new aires for 2013. Who'd have thought?!

    2. freeas.abird has it bang on for me ! -coupled with the fact that councils are petrified of gypsys (unsocial one's ) turning up and trashing the place, solution ? JCBs move and and the gipsy's go or get trashed , simple. They go and word gets round so NO return, hard line but why should decent people suffer ??? Foriegn tourists would come if we had French mindset

  5. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  6. Took me time to read all the comments, but I really enjoyed the article. It proved to be Very helpful to me and I am sure to all the commenters here! It’s always nice when you can not only be informed, but also entertained! Camping car

  7. Fair play to Torridge. Since this blog was published they have opened up 4 car parks to motorhomes. How it is going is not yet known. But, at last they get it and are prepared to take a risk. I really hope it works out for them. And I hope it will bring revenue out side the six weeks of summer - after all most motorhomers aren't restricted by their kids' holidays.

  8. Hi Martin
    Cant agree more with the sentiment. I think a lot of councils are worried about attracting the 'travelling' community and associated problems.
    Anyhow, thought you may also be interested in my website: that lists over 20,000 aires, campsite and motorhome parking locations (including Torridge!) across Europe.
    Can be found here:

  9. The Local Authorities really are missing a trick. Perhaps some of the Councillors own, or have very close links with, the expensive campsites that charge us in excess of £20 to park on their grass for the night. It's one of the reasons why the Brit Stops scheme is doing so well in the UK:

  10. Aires in France are plentiful beside motorways and major roads in France. A major advantage, apart from being free, is that you can arrive late at night and get off first thing in the morning which is great if you're going a long way and need to get on the road. Many examples shown on my blog

  11. Aires in France are plentiful beside motorways and major roads in France. A major advantage, apart from being free, is that you can arrive late at night and get off first thing in the morning which is great if you're going a long way and need to get on the road. Many examples shown on my blog

  12. This comment has been removed by the author.

  13. What a wonderful scheme. We travel through Europe quite often and find the Aires are a godsend. Our first encounter being at Gace in France where the town hall car park doubles up as an aire. Perfectly located and well signed . First thing in the morning fresh bread and croissants from the bakery across the square.
    Come on UK get with it, try to be a little more forward thinking than at present

  14. A great post apart from the bit that tries to argue for this on the basis of motorhome owners being 'upper crust' and respectable. I'm a single mother with a 21 year old van. I treat the areas that I stay with respect and indeed have just cleaned litter from the Breton beach where I've just stayed. Please do not use elitism as an argument for aires in England. It is an I'll conceived argument. There are many motorhomers who are by no means rich but know how to behave. Like your cookbook by the way.

  15. Hi admin
    Its extremely impressive that the diary you admire, I like it.
    Traveling has become a part of human activity. People love to travel and camp at places away from the crowd either in a forest or atop a mountain.
    Camping-car nouvelle zelande
    Best Regards
    Vivian Allen


Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

What do you call yours? #mycampervaniscalled LOVE!

Countdown to a camper van adventure