Gracious aires

One of the pleasures of motorway driving in France is the chance to have a sustained break in one of the aires, or service areas.  Not the run-of-the-mill petrol station plus eatery and shop. They have those too.  As in England, they offer the chance to eat indifferent food at over-the-odds prices, and to spend a small fortune if you’ve been unlucky enough to need to tank up there.

No, in France, roughly every other service area is all but unserviced.  There are parking spaces, toilets, a telephone, and not much else: nowhere to spend money, in any case.  There may be a children’s play space set among trees, and perhaps picnic benches.  And that is their charm.  They’re generously sized areas, set well away from traffic noise, and offer a real chance to get away from the stress of a long drive with a relaxing walk in the woods or a picnic in the shade.

Perhaps my favourite is on the southbound carriageway of the A20 in the Limousin.  I first stopped by chance at L’Aire de la Coulerouze when I was driving down alone to Laroque a few years ago.

Earlier that day, I had picked up the makings of a picnic at the market at Levroux.  I’d got bread, and a young goats’ cheese.  I’d bought fresh apple juice from some nuns who had a stall, and an apricot producer had sold me a couple each of every apricot variety he grew so I could have my own personal taste-test session.

Down by the riverside at Coulerouze

At Coulerouze, I found picnic tables and was about to settle myself down when I noticed wooden steps leading downwards.  There at the bottom was a bridge over a small river all but encircling a small wooded glade, with a single bench under an apple tree.  The only sounds were the birds singing, and the river tumbling along its path.  I spread out my lunch and relaxed.   Afterwards, I found there was a path.

The signpost to the path

It took me first of all along the river, and then along fields and hedgerows.  The walk wasn’t a long one, but it was all I needed to forget the many miles I’d already driven that day, and the four or five hours driving that still awaited.

Not all these aires are quite so special.  There are some horrors near Rouen.  But find a good one, and it’ll become a treasured destination, somewhere to aim for with pleasure on a long day’s driving.

10 thoughts on “Gracious aires”

  1. I’ll mark that one on the map. The one I love (but can’t remember exactly where it is but not that far from Calais) has a wind turbine next to it and over looks some very peaceful marshes. It also has a bicycle inside which you pedal to generate power.Both a bit different to Scratchwood Services methinks.


    1. That’ll be Widehem. It’s a favourite with us too. Wonderful views, but not to be attempted on very windy days, or your picnic will definitely blow away! I didn’t know about the bicycle though: we’ll look out for that.


  2. The aire sounds great, but I can’t seem to pinpoint it on the map. Could you let me know the general area it is near (Google maps won’t compute Coulerouze!).


  3. Found this post in Susan’s blog – I am a bit of a French service & picnic area nerd…. I couldn’t possibly count the number of wonderful picnics we had, the many ‘wees’ I left in those places and frankly, the pretty acceptable espressos (correctly it wd be espressi but we aren’t in Italy) in most service stations…. and for a fair price. With mother-in-law we had a less enjoyable experience but she was VERY GOOD about it. Having been off the motorway we did a long stretch of country roads with some lovely pic-nic opportunities but no toilets. When we just couldn’t hold it any longer (her and me, it’s a women’s thing) we had the choice between hiding behind a tree in a wood or doing it right in between the two opened car doors….. Mum-in-law was heroic and she has since another tale to tell involving her crazy daughter-in-law 🙂

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