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Aires: Everything you need to know about motorway services in France

The Local France
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Aires: Everything you need to know about motorway services in France
Travellers take a break at a motorway rest area on the A7 between Lyon and Vienne, south-east France (Photo by PHILIPPE DESMAZES / AFP)

The difference between 'aires de service' and 'aires de repos', what services are available at France's autoroute services, and how much you should expect to pay.


You will read a lot about France’s autoroutes here at The Local - usually relating to traffic jams or toll fees. Or, on rare occasions, discounts of sorts.

READ ALSO MAP: Where have French toll road fees increased the most?

There’s also some advice on what to do if you break down while using a French motorway, including how much it’s likely to cost you for a repair or a tow.

You may also find the occasional mention about the quality of France’s highway network - justified praise it is, too, because the pay-as-you-go autoroutes of France are excellent. The road surface is usually smooth; the traffic flow reasonable; the views generally stunning; and there’s quite often some road-side art to spot and discuss.

But, let’s be honest. They’re ribbons of asphalt intended to take people from place to place in as little time as possible while avoiding troublesome things like towns and cities. There’s a very finite level of praise you can lavish on that.


France, however, is not a small country. Its motorways stretch for more than 12,000km, according to roads watchdog Bison Futé, of which more than 9,000km are toll roads operated by private companies under contracts with the State. 

The A6 connecting Paris to Lyon is 445km long. The A7, from Lyon to Marseille is 312km. The point is, you’re going to need a pitstop at some point to freshen up and, maybe, take on some food and water. And fuel. Let’s not forget fuel.

But, where can you stop on a French motorway? Enter the aires de service and the aires de repos - two different off-motorway rest areas that offer some respite from all that driving.

Aires de service

You’ll see regular blue signs at the side of the highway telling you how far you have to travel to the next aire de service and, via the medium of pictograms, what services are on offer - so you'll know if there’s a filling station (there pretty much always is), a restaurant, café, a shop, toilet and shower facilities, facilities for caravan or camping car users and so on.

Don’t expect Michelin-starred food at the restaurant. But do expect reasonable, if pricey, food served canteen-style with hot meals including French classics such as a boeuf bourguignon or a steak.

Some service stations may also have a popular fast food chain on site.

The shop will sell the usual sandwiches, snacks and drinks, and may also sell a range of tourist produce from the region - handy for some last-minute gifts for friends and family.

Washrooms, meanwhile, are reasonably well-maintained, though they do get busy and, well, not everyone’s aim is entirely accurate. 

Most, these days, have charging points for electric vehicles (although they're not always fully functional) there’s routinely free wifi access. There will be an outdoor area with chairs and tables, if you’ve been organised enough to pack a picnic; for kids there will be an outdoor play area and an indoor area for arcade games. 

READ ALSO France marks 100,000th charging point for electric cars

At peak periods, notably in the summer, numerous service stations offer free activities for children and families. It’s actually a very smart idea - it breaks up a journey, gives children something to do which delays the inevitable "are we nearly there yet", and means families take a proper break before getting back in their vehicles for the next leg of their trip.


Smaller services

Not all French autoroute aires de service are the same. It’s a good idea to pay attention to the signs, which show what is available at the next one along. Larger services will have layers of pictograms; smaller ones, more basic ones, may only have two or three. Sometimes, some fuel and a loo and somewhere to eat your pre-wrapped shop-bought sandwich are all you need. 


Pay attention to the distance to the next filling station - aires are routinely 50km apart so do make sure you have enough fuel left to reach the next one.

If you break down on the autoroute because you have run out of fuel, the rescue truck will come and get you, but running out of fuel is deemed to be your own fault, so expect a hefty bill for the tow.

What price motorway services?

As you’d expect, they’re not cheap. Fuel is more expensive than in town service stations, and food prices are higher - and you’ll probably find a sandwich at the restaurant is more expensive than one in the shop.

You’re pretty much a captive consumer if you stop off at one of these locations, so you do pay a premium for the privilege. 


If you're passing a town, you'll often see signs for the nearest supermarket that sells fuel - these are significantly cheaper than filling up at aires, but make sure you know exactly where you're going - the siigns often peter out as soon as you're off the main road.

READ ALSO MAP: Where to find the cheapest fuel in France

Can you really buy alcohol at motorway services in France?

Yes. Restaurants are likely to serve alcohol with or without food. But the drink-drive limit in France is low - one beer is usually enough to put you over it. So, as always, the best advice is not to drink if you’re getting back behind the wheel.

Aires de repos

You’ll come across signs for these more often than the ones for aires de service. They’re, basically, parking areas at the side of the motorway, where you can take a break from driving and relieve yourself if necessary. 

The good news is that they’re usually landscaped, and have some benches and tables, if you have a picnic, plus toilets.

READ ALSO Who to call and what to say in a driving emergency in France

Like the aires de service, they’re well-signposted, with the handy pictograms that tell you what’s available at the next rest stop.

There’s one every 30km or so, which can be useful.


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mailbox_64c22068eadc1 2023/07/27 09:50
If you stop at an aire de repos, make sure you have some soap and toilet paper handy! They often don't have any provided, so it is probably worthwhile keeping some in the car. The toilets are usually clean though.
Charles Hodson 2023/07/24 14:45
Useful article. But perhaps you could also explain the 'village étape' signs. Literally translated, the phrase means a staging post village. It’s a great French idea which others would do well to copy: these are local villages with restaurants, shops, playgrounds etc. If you want to escape the monotonous motorway world for an hour or two and break your journey in a genuine French village rather than a plasticky service station, 'les villages étape' are just the ticket.

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