Aires are plentiful across Europe. They range from free overnight carparks to paying mini-campsites. If you have the right books, you can certainly travel for less by taking full advantage of free/cheap aires, camperstops and wild camping areas.
Aires are convenient locations where you can fill your water tanks, empty your rubbish, dump your grey water and empty your toilet cassette. Staying overnight is optional.
Sanitation areas vary vastly in terms of cleanliness and maintenance. During our tour of Europe, we used over 95 campsites and aires so we have some experience of daily ablutions and less-than-ideal sanitation standards.
Some aires were so disgusting that I would shout messages of support to my peg-nosed husband. I simply couldn’t have done it. Others were incredibly well serviced and could rival some of the best 5* campsites.
Perhaps the greatest advantage aires have over campsites is their location and proximity to famous landmarks, vibrant cities, peaceful lakes, mountain retreats, secluded woodlands, canals and marinas, castles, forts, beautiful nature walks and outstanding natural beaches. In my opinion, aires are much closer to the action (unless you pay a premium for prime location campsites).
The downside of aires…
Well, some apply time restrictions, especially those near capital cities. 48 hours is the norm for popular destinations. Others have rules about hanging out washing or taking out chairs. There are strict penalties in place for non-compliance of such rules. In Portugal, we saw one motorhomer fined 200 Euros for having his step out. Another was fined 50 Euros for drying a towel from his wing mirror.
Anything other than parking on an aire is considered camping – which is prohibited. Motorhomers who break ‘aire etiquette’ ruin it for the majority and often find themselves scowled at. Plenty of fantastic free overnight stops have been removed because of inconsiderate rule-breakers. Don’t do it!
A great aire in a fabulous location with all the amenities you need is like gold dust. Respect the rules and enjoy it year after year. When you find a good one, count yourself lucky. Some aires are so popular that they require bookings a year in advance!
To be honest, we never stayed at a bad aire. There are so many available that you simply move on if you don’t like it…but we had two general rules for safety:
- We would not stay at an aire if we were likely to be the only van overnight (safety in numbers and all that);
- We would not park in a lone spot (for the same reason).
Whilst it is nice to have some space and privacy, you are more vulnerable on your own at the back end of a dark carpark. A group of motorhomes is a far more difficult target for thieves. Stay together for safety.
So, based on all the principles above, here are our TOP 13 European Aires and Wild Camping Spots. We selected them based on COST, FACILITIES AND LOCATION;
1. Base de Loisirs – Fontet, France
Cost: 9 Euros Per night (including electricity and WiFi)
GPS Coordinates: N44 33.644 W0 01.296
When we first arrived at the gates of Base de Loisirs we were slightly disappointed. One van was already parked outside with the inhabitants munching through lunch at a small table. It didn’t look anything like the write-up in our book.
Seeing a pedestrian access gate to the side of a large metal entrance, I decided to explore. After a short walk over the brow of a small hill, I caught site of a reception area. We were greeted warmly. Pitches were inside the gates, over a small bridge and just 9 Euros per night inclusive of electricity and WiFi. Toilets were available and showers (if you asked for a key). A nice eatery was situated beside the reception. Fresh bread could be purchased in the village (which, I might add, sold the best baked baguettes in France!)
The aire is situated in the most idyllic location on the left bank of the Garonne, tucked away amongst parkland, a pavilion, small boating/swimming lake, man-made beach, children’s play area, picnic tables, boating harbour and cycle path along the grand canal latéral à la Garonne. The canal covers a distance of 194km and forms an important link in the 600km route across southern France from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean.
As well as being an amazing cruising waterway, the canal also has a fantastic cycle path that takes you through some of the most breath-taking French countryside.
If you love tranquillity, cycling, nature, fishing, cruising and relaxing in beautiful surroundings, look no further than Fontet.
We loved this place. I took out my easel, kicked off my shoes, relaxed my shoulders and inhaled the exquisite ‘aire’ that made Fontet one of our top three favourite camperstops.
Tables and chairs are permitted.
COST: Fantastic value for money – 9 Euros per night with electricity and Wifi – 9/10
FACILITIES: 25 pitches under the shade of pine trees. If it had slightly better sanitation areas, this aire would easily sit in a top 2 position 6/10
LOCATION: A surprising hidden gem in a perfect location! 10/10
2. Port de Gastes – Nr Parentis en Born, France
Cost: 7.50 per night
GPS Coordinates: Longitude 1.15339 Latitude 44.32846
This aire is situated just outside of the village of Parentis en Born, not far from the beautiful beaches of Biscarosse.
I can imagine in rainy weather, this aire would not be as enjoyable as the ground is not particularly great, but when we visited in September 2015, the weather was perfect and lake view pitches were plentiful.
This aire is facing a small boating harbour and a huge peaceful lake. The lake is perfect for kayaking and rowing. Also, incredibly safe for children as it rarely exceeds knee level. Watching the sea plane land and take off is a real treat for all ages.
In the mornings we walked to the nearby shop for fresh bread. In the afternoons we cycled to the glorious private lake beach of Siblu’s ‘La Reserve’ campsite. In the evenings we fished alongside French folk and watched the sun set from the small beach opposite the aire.
The cycle paths are superb and start at the rear of the car park. There is a children’s play park at one end of the road and a fishing port & tackle shop at the other. On Sunday’s a large carboot sale takes place opposite the play park. It goes on all day and is a fantastic place to find original antique French gems.
We loved this aire because of its friendliness and safety. We met great people and enjoyed watching the children play late into the evening chasing bats swooping between the vans. It was brilliant for dog walks too.
Tables and chairs are permitted.
COST: 7.50 Euros per night – pay at the barrier. Police check tickets! 8/10
FACILITIES: No electricity. No Showers. No WiFi. One very dodgy toilet. Waste and Water available. 4/10
LOCATION: Beautiful spot on the edge of a peaceful lake. Nearby beaches are lovely. 8/10
3. Arguedas – Spain
GPS Coordinates: N 42.17270, W 1.59130 or N 42°10’22”, W 1°35’29”
The caves of Arguedas make for the most unusual location for any aire we visited. The large car park is literally at the foot of troglodyte caves dating back to the 19th century.
At first, all you see is a few black holes/doorways in the rock, but upon closer inspection, you can still see the faded numbers above each door.
The caves were initially carved into the rock by people who could not afford to buy homes. In the 1940’s 52 families lived in the caves of Arguedas. The last family moved out in the 1960’s with the introduction of social housing. Three of them are still open for visitors to see. It is an incredible feat of perseverance – you expect to see a small hovel inside, but actually, the doorways lead to 3-bedroom homes with kitchens and living areas.
At night the caves light up, providing a fantastic backdrop for the motorhomes. This is a must-stop place just to photograph your beloved van against the illuminated caves.
There is not too much to do in the area but it was a fantastic overnight spot. The fact that the aire and caves are still free beggars belief. It gets busy, though, so arrive early!
Tables and Chairs are Prohibited.
COST: Free parking – Amazing! 10/10
FACILITIES: No electricity or Wifi. Free waste services. 2 Euros for water. Nearby village for fresh bread. No toilets. No Showers. Limited spaces. 5/10
LOCATION: The most unusual and intriguing aire you will ever stop at. Fantastic for a free overnight stop! Great exploration of caves – enjoyable for every age. 9/10
4. Stop-Go La Volta – Peniscola, Spain
Cost: 11 Euros without Electricity – 14 Euros with Electricity
GPS Coordinates: N 40.39794, E 0.40311 or N 40°23’53”, E 0°24’11”
Stop-Go La Volta is a close-knit, extremely popular aire on the fringes of the popular town of Peniscola.
The aire itself is very busy all year round but almost full throughout the winter. It accommodates large RVs and Concorde Vans but it can be tricky getting in and out of pitches.
The aire is a hive of activity amongst the Danish and the Germans who enjoy competitive games of boules during most days. The bar, swimming pool and restaurant are well-attended. The owners enjoy the benefits of repeat custom every year, which has nurtured a very friendly campsite atmosphere. Tables and chairs are permitted (so is washing!)
A short cycle into town brings you to the fantastic promenade of Peniscola. It is perfect for cycling and has defined cycling areas. The beach is popular with volleyball players, children and families. It is perhaps a little too civilised for our taste (we try to avoid anywhere with tourist bars and restaurants) but the castle and old town more than makes up for the tacky souvenir shops.
It was a great historical trip to learn about the Knights Templar and King Phillipe, who, with the help of a Pontiff by the name of Clement V, ordered a surprise dawn attack on the 13th October 1307, successfully capturing all French Templars and seizing their goods. Our kids listened raptly to the gory details of the Knights confessions at the stakes before they met their fiery deaths.
On a hot balmy evening, Peniscola old Town is a lovely place to drink a chilled glass of wine and relish in a delightful fresh fish dish overlooking the ocean.
COST: At the higher end of the price scale for an aire but as it resembles a campsite, 11-14 Euros is competitive. 7/10
FACILITIES: Excellent washrooms and showers. Boules court, Motorhome wash area, swimming pool, bar and restaurant, waste and water facilities. Electricity and WiFi available if you need it. Pitches a little too squashed. 8/10
LOCATION: 5-minute cycle ride to promenade and town. Supermarket 10 minutes by bike/20 minute walk. The old town and castle are well worth a visit. 7/10
5. Valencia Camper Park – Batera, Spain
Cost: 12 Euros per night (Including electricity)
GPS Coordinates: N 39.57963, W 0.44475 or N 39°34’47”, W 0°26’41”
Valencia Camper Park is a very well maintained, clean and friendly camperstop 25 minutes outside of Valencia by metro.
We were allocated a very spacious, sunny, level pitch with gravel. Our pitch fee included free use of the swimming pool and a free Sangria at the bar for each person staying. Paella is cooked whilst you watch (they even let the kids have a stir). Fresh bread can be ordered every morning.
The washrooms are heated and very clean with lovely hot showers. The reception staff speak excellent English and are very helpful with tips and recommendations for visiting Valencia. Metro tickets can be purchased from reception (16 Euros for 4 people).
The aire has a dog-walk area, basketball hoop, swimming pool, boules and play park.
For an aire close to Valencia, this place could not be better situated. The journey into Valencia was stress-free and fairly enjoyable, even with two kids!
We loved the river-bed park walk through Valencia and had an amazing time at the aquarium and new state of the art museums. Valencia is an awesome city, well worth exploring – but avoid the chaos and traffic by staying at Valencia Camper Park!
Tables and Chairs are permitted.
COST: Very competitive for the location and facilities 12 Euros including electricity and free sangria! 8/10
FACILITIES: Motorhome storage, electricity, water, WiFi, waste, washrooms, hot showers, swimming pool, play park, bar restaurant, shop, dog walk and metro tickets to Valencia. 9/10
LOCATION: Not much to do nearby but great commute to Valencia by metro (25mins). 6/10
6. Playa La Carolina – Aguilas, Spain – WILD CAMPING
GPS Coordinates: N37.37631 W1.62922
Fancy wild camping? Look no further…
Playa La Carolina is one of the best wild camping spots in the whole of Spain! But, you could easily miss it. I am likely to be shot for sharing the coordinates of this hidden gem, enjoyed by a privileged few who know about it!
We almost missed it. In fact, we had taken a wrong turn and pulled up to make lunch on a small patch of land overlooking a dirty stretch of coast. It was completely abandoned. Nobody in sight. Then, by a stroke of luck, an English couple hiked by and saw our GB number plate and stopped to say hello. They told us about Playa La Carolina. We would never have found it without them. It certainly was not in any of our guide books.
So after driving over a few rugged hills and taking a few turns here and there, we pulled into an area with two dusty car parks – one lower, one higher. We took the small dirt track to the higher car park and couldn’t believe the scene…
It is literally nestled between not one, but two deserted golden beaches! The ocean glistens for as far as the eye can see.
A set of wooden steps lead down to one beautiful bay, whilst the other beach faces the lower carpark. There are even caves to explore. If you fancy a dog walk, simply walk across the cliffs to find yet more wild camping spots.
It is rugged, unspoilt natural Spain at its best. Wake up to the sound of the sea. Watch the sun set from the best seats in the house.
Fresh bread delivered every morning at 8.30am.
Chairs are tolerated but don’t take liberties. The Police visited twice during our three-day stay. They turn a blind eye to a few chairs but they would turn you away if you rolled out your awning and hung out washing!
COST: FREE! Wild camping at its best – this is no aire – this is freedom! 10/10
FACILITIES: There are none, but who cares! The ocean is there to wash, solar panels will keep you going for weeks, a local garage 2km away allows you to fill up water and empty waste. There are no shops nearby so be prepared to drive to the shops. Stock up and return. Some people stay here for months! 5/10
LOCATION: The best wild camping location in Spain! Hands down….10/10
7. Pig Field, Tarifa, Spain – WILD CAMPING
GPS Coordinates: N 36° 04’ 05” W5° 41’ 11”
I’m putting this one in for all the hippies out there! If you love wild camping and a places where no rules apply, Pig Field in Tarifa is as back-to-basics and as natural as you are ever likely to find.
Pig field (which I agree, is an awful name) is situated on a 10 km stretch of pristine beach between Tarifa and Punto Paloma at the mouth of the Gibraltar Straits. It is about 45 minutes from Gibraltar by car.
With 300 days of sunshine and wind, the conditions favour water sports enthusiasts. It is the kite surfing mecca of Spain. Just sit in the white sand dunes and watch hundreds of colourful kites dance above the waves. It’s an awesome sight.
But don’t be fooled into thinking this is some hot trending beach for young people – it’s not. It is probably host to the oddest bunch of people you will ever meet, from posh couples in 5* Concorde vans, to bird watchers, naturists and full-on guitar playing, dope smoking hippies!
The location is incredible. The beach is amongst the most beautiful in Spain. You can walk to the traditional old town of Tarifa and back in one day wading through the waters of a spectacular clean coastline (we walked it on New Year’s Day 2016).
Heck, you can even see Africa from Pig Field. It is just 14 miles away. People stay here before taking the ferry to Morrocco or Tangiers. Whilst there are no facilities whatsoever, the field is perfectly situated to watch the sunset over Africa. What more do you want?
So, if you can handle the odd naturist washing in the sea, the odd sing-song around a campfire and a free-spirited laid-back culture, Pig Field is a hot favourite. Just for the beach alone, it is worthy of a top 10 position!
Tables and Chairs permitted. Hell, no rules apply!
COST: FREE in every respect! 10/10
FACILITIES: None whatsoever but there are aires nearby where you can dump waste. If you can’t handle the lack of facilities, head across the road to Camping Valdevaqueros. It was one of our favourite campsites! Sadly, though, it only scores a 1/10 for facilities.
LOCATION: Beautiful location amongst the dunes at the end of a 10km stretch of pristine beach. The field itself can get muddy in wet weather and it is difficult to find a level pitch with a view – but it is achievable! 8/10
8. Mikki’s Place to Stay – Pera, Algarve, Portugal
Cost: 7 Euros per night (plus electricity at 0.35 per kw)
GPS Coordinates: N37 07.692 W008 19.882
If you are struggling to find an aire in the Algarve during the winter that isn’t packed to the brim, then head to the delightful, creative, eclectic charm of Mikki’s Place.
It’s a commercial aire built by its current owner (you guessed it, Mikki) from scratch using only recycled materials. But this is no cardboard and recycled plastic affair. Mikki is an amazing artist and potter. Her aire is a testament to her talents and vision.
This aire has almost a commune feel to it because everyone mucks in to help. Motorhomers are encouraged to share their cookery skills in the open kitchen – which adds a brilliant twist to the evening menu. We had some amazing Danish food whilst we were there and a great Indian curry. Other campers help to lay stones, plant shrubs or attend to reception. It’s got a cool vibe!
There is an on-site pottery and ceramic workshop with weekly classes. The bar and restaurant are open-air with comfy sofas, lazing dogs, parrots and parakeets. Artwork and ceramics are exhibited everywhere from the washrooms to the pitch numbers. Great care has been taken over every inch of Mikki’s place. I think it will soon become a hotspot for motorhomers in Portugal. Watch this space!
The pitches are very large, gravelled and clean with electric hook-ups. This aire is treated like a campsite so campers can enjoy all outside dining experiences as usual.
There is not a lot around the immediate vicinity but a short ride to Praia da Armacao De Pera will lead you to a beach and a nice town with some great beach front restaurants. The aire on the beachfront is just 1.50Euros per night. Mikki has directions!
Plus, it’s the Algarve! The weather is fantastic, the countryside is beautiful, the people are incredibly friendly and the atmosphere is relaxed.
Mikki’s place was unusual, colourful, ultra-friendly and very creative. We thoroughly relaxed here – in fact, we left and then returned!
COST: Just 7 Euros per night for full campsite benefits 9/10
FACILITIES: Fantastic pitches, clean colourful washrooms, swimming pond, waste, water, WiFi and electricity. Excursions, culture nights, darts, cookery, pottery, art and ceramic classes. 9/10
LOCATION: Not much around but enjoys the weather of the Algarve during the winter months. You need to take the van to take advantage of the beach. Great aire but pretty much in the middle of nowhere (but we liked that!). 6/10
9. Figeuira, West Coast, Portugal
Cost: 6 Euros per night (including electricity and WiFi)
GPS Coordinates: N37 04.364 W008 50.726
This is a small commercial aire in the tiny village of Figueira on the west coast of Portugal. The pitches were a good size. The shower blocks were interesting, if not innovative. It is the first time I have taken a shower in a cardboard hut!
But this aire does not reach our top 13 list because of its facilities. It harbours one of the most beautiful undiscovered coves in Portugal!
Inaccessible by road, you have to walk 25 minutes through a field and woodland to find it. But my, oh, my, when you get there, it is worth it! From the shadows of trees, the most spectacular natural cove emerges, with white sands and crashing waves.
Take a picnic, strip naked if you wish, skinny dip, jump the waves, rock climb – do what the hell you want – you won’t be disturbed.
During the winter months we did hear that it is a naturist spot but don’t let that put you off. Unless you are staying in the aire, nobody knows about it.
This place is a real treat for nature lovers who dream of finding a deserted island.
COST: 6 Euros per night including Wifi and Electricity. Great value 8/10
FACILITIES: Free Wifi, electricity, water, waste. Toilets and showers are a bit primitive but work okay. Washing machines available for 4 Euros. Tables, Chairs, awnings etc. are permitted. 6/10
LOCATION: Pretty much in the middle of nowhere with just two shops in the local village but the beach is worth the trek off the beaten path. You won’t be disappointed. 7/10
10. Carrapateira, Praia de Amado – WILD CAMPING
GPS Coordinates: N37 19623 W8 90156
Carrapateira is an awesome place just a little past Cape Vincent on the west coast of Portugal. It reminds me of Cornwall’s north coast, except in the aftermath of an apocalypse. Despite miles and miles of magnificent golden sands and rugged coastline, there isn’t a soul to be seen! It’s almost completely deserted (well, it was when we were there in January 2016).
Carrapateira is a wonderful wild camping spot. The aire is situated on a large sandy car park at the foot of a coastal cliff path with a natural water inlet, great for fishing.
If you have a dog, they will love it here! let them off the lead and enjoy mile upon mile of unspoilt countryside. Follow the wooden boardwalks to the cliff edge and watch 20ft waves thrash over rocks causing sprays of rainbows. Stand over natural blow holes and feel completely energised by the power of mother nature. Let the wind blow away the cobwebs and then return to the van for a hot cup of tea!
If you surf or kite surf, this is a perfect spot. If you fish, why not join the local fishermen at the cliff edge? You will need a stomach for heights, though!
COST: Completely Free! 10/10
FACILITIES: Bins provided. No other facilities. I doubt anyone would see if you took out your table and chairs! 2/10
LOCATION: Just splendid, but deserted. 8/10
11. Porto Covo – West Coast Portugal
GPS Coordinates: N 37.85264, W 8.78894 or N 37°51’10”, W 8°47’20”
OMG! You simply must stop at Porto Covo. Miss this coastline at your peril!
Okay, the aire is pretty uninspiring. Just a huge carpark with very basic water and waste facilities – but it’s free.
The beauty of this place lies within the quaint and lovely town, the affordable traditional restaurants and the MOST AMAZING COVES!
I’m afraid I was so dumbstruck by the natural beauty of the place that I lost count of the number of coves along the coast, but suffice to say, it is peppered with them. Each time, you think a cove can’t possibly be any better, you discover yet another magnificent feat of mother nature. Be sure to explore – kick off your shoes and walk to the waters edge – look around you…we discovered an incredible cave that led from one cove to another. You could easily miss it.
Ride your bike along the coastal roads and be inspired by this understated, overlooked coast of unrivalled splendour.
At least one of these coves should be listed within the top 20 beaches in the world!
COST: FREE! Unbelievable, 10/10
FACILITIES: Large uninspiring car park on the edge of the village. Water and waste facilities but nothing else. Table and Chairs prohibited. 4/10
LOCATION: Conveniently located 5 minutes from the exquisite coves and beaches of Porto Covo. You can’t fault this coastline (unless you’re nuts!). Grab a bottle of wine and a blanket, pick any one of the beaches and watch the waves roll in. 10/10
12. Cabarceno Nature Park, Obregon (near Santander), North Spain
GPS Coordinates: N43.358643 W3.822242
Cabarceno Nature Park is an unbelievable nature park where over 150 animals roam about in semi-liberty. It provides an almost natural environment for all kinds of different species within the 750-hectare site.
The aire is situated on land to the right of the entrance to the park, opposite a huge picturesque duck pond. To the left of the aire, you can walk down to see the elephant reserve, which is enormous with a magnificent mountain backdrop. The elephants come and greet you up close. They share the space with wildebeest and antelopes. It really is a beautiful scene that captured our hearts.
Motorhomes are welcome within the park and can take advantage of over 20km of roads that lead through gorges and lakes with numerous parking areas, picnic spots and viewing places. Entry costs are a bit steep at 18 Euros per person so you might want to make a full day of it!
Our kids loved this aire, as did we. The view of elephants grazing throughout the day adds something special. The fact that the aire is free is an added bonus!
Chairs are tolerated but that’s about it.
COST: FREE 10/10
FACILITIES: Free waste facilities. No toilets or showers. Free WiFi at the local restaurant, fresh bread available at the village shop. 6/10
LOCATION: Where else can you park for free and watch elephants all day? This aire is awesome. Make sure you stop by on your way to Santander. 10/10!
13. Lake Gavirate, Varese, Italy
Cost: 12 Euros (including electricity)
GPS Coordinates: N 45.83951, E 8.72118 (N 45°50’22”, E 8°43’16”)
I could have picked any of the aires around the great lakes of Italy. We found good ones at Lake Como, Lake Garda, Lake Iseo and Lake Maggoire, but believe me, there is something very, very special about Lake Varese.
The Gavirate aire is literally 20ft away from the expansive and beautiful lake, next door to a lovely alfresco dining area. Whilst we were there in April 2016, para-olympian rowers from across the world were training for the Rio Olympics. It was one of the most inspiring things we ever watched.
This lake is so special that the Australian’s have captured a small part of it for themselves by building and Olympic training centre approximately 100 metres away from the aire – but rather than ruin the environment, it has really enhanced the vibrancy of the local area.
Athletes from around the world come and train at Lake Gavirate, Varese, taking full advantage of the 28km cycle path that runs alongside the whole lake. Runners, Cyclists, families, friends, school kids, elderly companions, dog walkers and fishermen all share this wonderful community space.
This aire is situated at the heart of the hustling bustling neighbourhood of Gavirate. It has not been ruined by commercialism. Experience true Italian life, eat real Italian cuisine, socialise with native Italian people.
The facilities on the aire maybe lacking but you hardly notice. We stayed at Gavirate for over a week but we left a part of our hearts there forever. If we ever fulfill our dream of living in Italy, Gavirate is where we shall call home.
It is for this reason, I left the best aire until last.
COST: 12 Euros per night, inclusive of electricity – much cheaper than the busier, less impressive great lakes 9/10
FACILITIES: Free water and waste area. No showers. Portable toilet near the lake. Toilets next door at the restaurant. Fresh bread available in the village. No Wifi. Huge supermarket within 5 minutes. Tables and chairs are permitted. 7/10
LOCATION: Easily the best Lake in Italy. You couldn’t get any closer to the lake unless you fell in it. Beautiful backdrop, fabulous atmosphere. By far, our most favourite aire, 10/10.
*We certainly have not seen the whole of Europe and there are probably hundreds of similar aires offering amazing facilities. We are not paid to endorse those we have selected. They are based on our own personal experiences between 2015-2016 and are shared in good faith to help other travellers enjoy their motorhome adventures.
Photos are our own.
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