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Motorhoming in Europe: Campsites, or Aires?
Does it even count as a motorhome holiday if you stay at campsites?
…and we’re back!
Wow, that week just flew past! One minute I was all excited and getting to know the Dethleffs Trend I7057DBL, the next I was giving it back. The week with this motorhome was out of this world. We will gloss over the train journeys between Scotland and Germany which, unfortunately, were way too eventful in both directions. Eventful, and not in a good way.
Normally when I’m enjoying a motorhome trip, I travel out of season and tour without too many plans or rigidity, and stay at Aires (also called Stellplatz, or Area Sosta depending on the language of country you are in).
However, on this occasion, I was travelling at the end of July, possibly the busiest week of the year in the touring calendar.
Driving the GrossGlockner High Alpine Road was the Raison d’être for the entire trip, and as my Munich-based photographer Sophia had family staying, she could only commit to coming with me on one specific day. This meant I absolutely had to be in Zell am See, the town near the GrossGlockner, for the days that I would be filming and photographing.
In this case, it made total sense to book a campsite. Not only was I guaranteed a pitch in the place I needed to be at the time I needed to be there, but a layer of anxiety about winging it at a Stellplatz was removed. Would there be a space? Would it be noisy? Would it be closed for renovation? On my motorhome trip last September, I came across many Stellplatz that were over subscribed.
Sportcamp Woferlgut fitted the bill perfectly, and made for a great base for driving the GrossGlockner.
However, as with all things, it’s not simply a case of Campsite Good, Stellplatz Bad. You can get some terrible campsites and some amazing Stellplatz, although I minimised my chances of getting a bad campsite by using the Alan Rogers Travel Service to find decent, inspected sites.
What is a Stellplatz (or Aire, or Area Sosta)?
Aires are normally provided by local councils to help boost tourism and business in their district. By providing simple, convenient, and cheap (sometimes free) parking for motorhomes, it is hoped that the visitors who come will support local businesses. For this reason, most Aires aren’t very pretty, often boasting all the charm and allure of a municipal car park. The occupants of the motorhomes are meant to be out and about enjoying the area and spending money, not sat outside their motorhomes drinking supermarket wine.
You’ll need your own facilities on board, as there are rarely amenities provided other than a fresh water supply (normally chargeable), and somewhere to empty the grey water and loo. Camper vans with facilities are most welcome, but caravans are definitely not - they are barred from using Aires.
For this reason alone, if you are planning on doing a lot of touring in Europe, a motorhome is often the preferred choice of leisure vehicle. You enjoy far more flexibility with a motorhome than you do a caravan, thanks to the Aires.
You can’t normally book, you just turn up and hope that there is a space. This is great if your plans are relaxed, but not so great if you have to be in a set place at a set time. However, you are not constrained by office opening hours, and check out is normally 24 hours from checking in, rather than a set time of the day. A limit of staying two or three days is often imposed.
Aires generally attract an adult audience, as there is rarely anything for kids to do. This contrasts starkly to campsites such as Sportcamp Woferlgut, who couldn’t be more family-friendly if they tried. Whether this is an advantage or a disadvantage is down to your personal situation.
Campsite: Advantages and Disadvantages
Book in Advance
Staff on Site
Facilities normally provided
Can be expensive
Constrained by office hours
Might be further away from the town
Can be noisy with children peak season
Aires: Advantages and Disadvantages
Flexible - no set check-in or check-out times
Cheaper than campsites or even free
Location - normally closer to the town or main attractions
A more adult clientele for those without children
Cannot book and might be full
Limited length of stay
No staff on site - less security
Amenity block rarely provided
Not family friendly
Can be rather soulless and perfunctory
Oh, what a show!
After enjoying the GrossGlockner, I spent a night at a Stellplatz on the way back to Dethleffs in Germany. The Stellplatz at Wangen im Allgäu is brand spanking new, and what a relief it was to find plenty of space after a sweaty six hour drive.
What I didn’t expect was the firework display that took place that night - what luck!
Tour Your Way
It amazes me how certain people think that they way that they tour is the right way, and every other way is wrong. What a limiting mindset.
Don’t let anyone tell you that checking in and chilling out on a campsite isn’t proper motorhoming, whatever proper motorhoming is. For many of us, the certainty of having a booked pitch for the night and being pitched in a landscaped environment is way more important than saving a few Euro per night.
Likewise if your tour is an adventure and you just need somewhere to park for the night so you can sleep before getting out and about the next day, then the Aires are for you.
For most of us, a combination of the two works well.
However you decide to tour, I wish you safe and happy travels.
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