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How to Stay in a Spanish Aire
If you’re planning a motorhome trip to Spain, you’ll probably want to stay in a Spanish aire. But what is a Spanish aire, how do you stay in them and where do you find them? We answer all your questions about motorhome aires in Spain here.
What is a motorhome aire?
The French word (stick with me here, all will become clear!) aire literally translates to ‘area’. Over the years it has come to describe an area designated for overnight motorhome parking, or aire de camping, and to provide access to essential motorhome services such as fresh water and waste disposal.
As with many other European countries, the Spanish have adopted the word aire – which is now recognised as a designated motorhome parking place in many countries. The correct name for a Spanish aire is area de servicios para autocaravanas which translates to ‘service area for motorhomes’.
The Spanish have taken on many of the French principles regarding motorhoming and have developed their own, much smaller, network of aires to support motorhomers travelling in their large country.
Spanish aires, although providing a similar service to aires in France, are different. They tend to be less picturesque and more functional – a place to sleep, top up your water and dispose of your waste, rather than somewhere to linger.
Camping car aires in Spain are usually run by the local municipality, and quite often are situated in sports centre car parks, on a piece of unused land outside town, in parking areas with designated motorhome spaces or even a supermarket car park.
There are around 500 such stopovers in Spain, mainly concentrated on the outskirts of cities and large towns, as well as near to popular tourist attractions.
Is a motorhome aire the same as a motorway aire?
This type of motorhome aire should not be confused with a motorway aire, properly called servicios de autopista, which is a fuel station and motorway services.
Motorway services in Spain are generally quite small and without any designated motorhome parking. They are not safe or suitable for motorhome stopovers.
How much do Spanish aires cost?
In our experience, more Spanish aires than not are free of charge. If you’re staying in a city aire, there is likely to be a cost for parking and services.
Where there is a cost for overnight parking and services it’s unlikely to be any more than €5 per night in rural aires, and €10 in city and seaside aires.
Aires in northern Spain tend to be cheaper than those along the Costa’s and in southern Spain.
Which vehicles can use an aire in Spain?
Area de servicios are for the use of motorhomes (called autocaravanas in Spanish), campervans and other self-contained motor caravans such as RV’s or overland vehicles.
Towing caravans, or those wanting to sleep in a tent, car or other vehicle which is not self-contained, are not allowed to use camping aires in Spain for overnight stopovers.
What services do Spanish aires have?
Every aire is different! Some have a full suite of services including electricity (although EHU is less common in Spain than France) and some have very basic offerings, with a few having no motorhome services at all.
In French aires, services are often provided through a Flot Bleu type of system where all the necessary services are housed within a large plastic column. It’s more common in Spain to find locally built arrangements for fresh water and waste disposal.
Sometimes the services have not been designed well leading to a risk of cross-contamination between toilet cassette waste and fresh water.
You will usually need your own hose and fittings at these types of services. Remember that the hose provided where you empty your toilet is for rinsing down the area afterwards, not for fresh water.
A few Spanish aires also have toilets and showers, which you may have to pay for. In our experience, these are not usually as clean or as well maintained as you might want them to be.
Rural aire with services
Are there motorhome service areas without parking?
There are, but there are less of them than in France. In Spain, motorhome services without parking are often at a garage or supermarket, along main roads where there is motorhome traffic. Just look for the distinctive blue and white sign. Usually, you have to pay for the services provided at these motorhome service point.
Are Spanish aires safe?
We would say that using aires in Spain is safe. After three years living in a motorhome in Europe, and spending at least a year Spain, we have stayed in many aires without incident or concern.
Some aires are gated, which helps if you want to leave your van for a day out. Many are not but this has never deterred us – we have always felt safe. Follow our top tips for staying safe when you’re staying on an aire;
- If you arrive at an aire and it doesn’t feel right, listen to your instincts and find another place.
- If you’re going out for the day, close your windows and blinds. Thieves want to know it’s worth taking the risk of breaking in and may just move on if they can’t see inside.
- Be prepared for the worst, even though it’s very unlikely to happen. We carry a heavy Maglite torch and self-defence spray.
- Double check that your habitation door, cab doors and storage bins are locked before going to bed.
- Keep valuables in a securely installed and well hidden motorhome safe or special hiding place.
- Don’t go out and flaunt your stuff. Your phone and watch may feel like everyday items to you but to thieves looking for an opportunity they are advertising your lifestyle. People living in poorer parts of Europe will see living in a motorhome as a luxurious existence, even though we know it’s not.
Helpful motorhoming resources;
- How to Tour Europe in a Motorhome 2021
- How to Find the Best Free Motorhome Parking
- Motorhoming in Europe After Brexit
- The Top 27 Free Motorhome Apps
- The Best Motorhome Holidays in Europe
- Hiring a Motorhome – All You Need to Know
- ACSI Camping Club Card – Review & Guide
- Top Motorhome Tips for Beginners
- How to Plan an Epic Motorhome Trip
What are the rules for motorhome aires in Spain?
All aires have rules which are often derived from local by-laws which exist to ensure that large groups of travellers do no arrive and stay for months. Often the rules will be displayed in English, German, French and Spanish.
The rules differ from region to region, but generally always include information on the following;
- Aires operate on a first come, first served basis and cannot be booked.
- There will be a maximum length of stay stipulated in the rules. No more than three nights is common.
- Whether you can put out an awning, use external cooking equipment, hang out washing or put out a table and chairs.
- You must only use one space (if they are designated). If you’re towing, your van and trailer must fit in the designated space.
- Tents, non self-contained vehicles and caravans are not allowed.
- Quiet time rules (although we have stayed in many aires in Spain where there have been no quiet time rules).
- Dispose of litter and waste correctly and in the designated places.
Often these rules are about making sure you are not ‘camping’ but ‘parking’, as the traditional aspects of camping are not allowed. In reality most people do use chairs or hang a bit of washing out, but it’s done discreetly and always packed away overnight.
Is there anything else I should know about rules?
Spanish aires are very laid-back, with lots of like-minded people making use of the facilities. There are a few unwritten rules to be aware of when you use an aire for the first time;
- If the aire is empty, don’t park right next to the only other motorhome there.
- Similarly, if the aire does not have designated spaces, leave enough room between your van and the next so that you can’t hear each other using the loo!
- The aire may not be suitable for large or heavy motorhomes (this could be due to access or designated space size) – think over 5,000kg or 7m long. Don’t try and get in if this is the case, as you’ll take up more than your share of room.
- In some super popular aires, there is just enough space to open your door or window and it’s obvious when you arrive that this is how you need to park.
- Keep dogs on a leash.
- You should also be aware that Spanish aires can be noisy – in Spain in summer, especially in the south, people keep very late hours. Expect fellow motorhomers to return late and noisily, so take ear plugs if you’re a light sleeper!
- Don’t hog the service area. Be as quick as you can and work efficiently.
- Clean down the service area after use. Wash away any remnants of grey waste and rinse down the toilet cassette area after emptying.
Having said all that, we’ve had some interesting experiences in Spanish aires! One holiday weekend, a group of of four Spanish registered motorhomes arrived at an aire at midnight. On finding it full of foreigners, they decided they were coming in anyway!
The aire had generous dedicated pitches and the vans decided to shoe-horn themselves in between motorhomes – we almost had our open windows taken off. At one point, there were nearly fisticuffs between the Spaniards and a German who decided to take a stand – it came to nothing but kept us amused (and awake).
How do I find the best aires in Spain?
Motorhome parking apps
The app is essentially a community database where users upload and share details and images of aires, campsites, service points and wild camping spots they have found or stayed in. Others then use the facilities and share reviews and images.
With over six million app downloads, that’s a large community checking out and finding the best overnight parking for motorhomes.
Park4Night is free to download, and if you sign up as a community member (also free), you can also share places and leave reviews, as well as access some spots which are only shared with members.
If you want to use Park4Night offline and on multiple devices, then there is an annual fee of €9.99 or €2.29 a month.
All the Aires
We also carry a copy of All the Aires Spain and Portugal 5th Edition, published by Vicarious Media. This is a large A4 size paperback covers 455 aires of Spain and 181 aires in Portugal and includes an aires in Spain map.
The books are broken down into colour-coded regions with maps, making it easy to search geographically around your location. A picture and a description are included and each aire is inspected by All the Aires periodically.
All the Aires books also show a separate map of autogas stations where you can fill with LPG when touring Spain.
We have found aires in the Vicarious books which don’t appear on Park4Night and vice versa. The books are a handy addition if you don’t want to pay to use Park4Night offline, or just prefer to use a list of aires across Spain which is in hard copy.
The downside is that the reviews are not in real-time as they are on Park4Night, so if an aire is closed temporarily or there is an issue with the services, you might not find out until you arrive. Equally, if new aires pop-up, which they do, you won’t find them in the current book.
Although this Spanish aires book is updated and republished most years, in reality aires don’t change much so there is no need for motorhome owners to update the book any more than every five years or so. The next edition of All the Aires in Spain and Portugal is due in 2022.
Is an España Discovery site an aire?
Espana Discovery is a fantastic and much overlooked scheme that allows you to stay with over 200 off the beaten path farms, bodegas (vineyards) and producers on their land and free of charge. The Espana Discovery guide costs €23 and includes access to their web based site for searching for places to stay.
Espana Discovery do not provide aires and their sites generally don’t provide any services.
Is staying in an aire the same as wild camping?
Staying in an aire in a motorhome is a totally different experience to wild camping in a motorhome. The former is a bit like staying in a very relaxed (and much, much cheaper) campsite where there are services.
Motorhome wild camping means finding a spot which is free, without any services, and often in a rural or out of the way spot.
When is the best time to arrive at the aire?
Popular aires fill up quickly, especially in summer and across the winter snowbird season. The optimum time to arrive is around noon, as people will have departed and others yet to arrive.
But there is never any guarantee, so it’s best to have a second option up your sleeve just in case!
Are aires open all year round?
Most Spanish aires open 365 days a year for camping, and make great stops when you’re touring Spain in the winter.
But some do close in the colder months, especially in the mountains. You’ll find this information on your motorhome overnight stop app and in the All the Aires books.
Are aires open in Spain now?
Some gated aires closed during the height of the Covid pandemic. Spain currently has few restrictions and most aires are fully open, although where there are services like toilets and showers, they may remain closed.
Before travelling to an aire, check using one of the apps for up to date information, and always use Gov.UK and the official Spanish government website to check about travel restrictions and conditions in Spain before your trip.
What should I do when I get there?
If possible, get to the destination and check out the aire before you park up. You don’t want to risk entering and not being able to turn around if the aire is full, especially when everyone is watching!
Some coastal aires can be very tight, especially those with a view, with little room between each van, so it’s best to look at and assess the space first.
Familiarise yourself with the layout of the aire and visit the services before parking if you need fresh water or to empty your waste.
Park in your chosen spot and get the kettle on! Before making tea, pop out to check the rules and arrangements, and pay if required.