Aire/Stellplatz: LA PALMYRE Avenue de l'Atlantique (Poitou-Charentes)
GPS Decimal: 45.691957 N -1.189141 W
Aire Location (static):
Aire Surroundings (interactive) NB - not compatible with all phone models:
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Per 24 hours: 8 Euros (2010) Maximum stay 4 nights, pay at insane ticket barrier (see below)
It is very easy to see why La Palmyre is a popular destination, and why this Aire is much in demand in summer - there's so much to do. The whole area is riddled with cycle tracks for easy access and pleasant rides up and down the coastline. There's an excellent variety of beaches, ranging from the busier resort-style beaches in front of the town, to the quieter flatter expanses of the Bonne Anse tidal lagoon, that provides an excellent shallow water spot for all manner of sail sports. If you want isolation, cross the mouth of the Bonne Anse in the craft of your choice and explore the Atlantic-facing sand spit that runs up to the Phare de la Coubre lighthouse. If you want to surf, take a drive up the coast to Pointe Espagnol or pretty much any beach south of that. The town has a range of shops and seaside attractions, while the port/marina area offers a more measured pace of life. Cockle pickers scour the Bonne Anse mud flats at low tide, and distant oyster beds are routinely harvested while everyone else gets on with their holiday stuff. If you love the beach life, and especially anything involving a sail or kite, this definitely is one of the better places to be.
So why in the midst of all this laid back leisurely lifestyle did the local Municipalite employ Beelzebub himself to design and install the ticket barrier at the Avenue de l'Atlantique Aire? What cruel vile grudge did they bear towards innocent camper van owners, who bring valuable tourist Euros into their community? If the ticketing system was remotely sane, it would be an absolute pleasure to stop here, but in its current state I've really got my doubts about returning.
Here's how it works - you pull up and wonder why camper vans are queueing all the way down the Avenue when there's clearly loads of empty spaces in the Aire. By the way, if you have to queue, do it on the Aire side of the road to avoid creating an obstruction. You look at the electronic entrance display and it says 'Parking Complet' (Full) but clearly the Aire isn't complet. A chassis-wrecking retracting bollard blocks the way in, and there are confused people of various nationalities growing increasingly hot and irate in the bright summer sunshine, all trying to work out what's wrong. Animated conversations abound, and there might even be a harrassed looking Police Municipale officer or two in the mix, or even a barrier service engineer (believe me I've seen them all). Then someone will pull up and innocently try to queue on the other side of the road and the multilingual conversations will become increasingly animated. Then, without anyone actually leaving the Aire, the sign will suddenly announce there are spaces, but the number will bear no resemblance to the number of empty spaces you can see. The queue will crawl forwards and somebody will gain entry, once they've worked out the payment instructions at the machine. The retracting bollard will drop to let them through, then may or may not rise again after they've passed. If you're the next in the queue and that bollard doesn't rise before you've paid your fee, whatever you do DON'T TRY TO BUCK THE SYSTEM AND DRIVE FORWARDS OVER IT. Reverse off the pressure plate to let it come back up, then pull forwards onto the pressure plate again. Your turn will come eventually, but we've seen people waiting up to three hours for their turn to come. If you want to see what retracting bollards can do to vehicles that unwisely try to jump them, take a cautionary look at YouTube here.
Have you worked out what the problem is yet class? Yes, you at the back? Excellent, take a sweetie from the jar. Did you all hear what Tarquin said? OK, here it is - the tickets are valid for 24 hours from your time of arrival. When you exit the barrier and leave the Aire for good, your tickets doesn't expire on exit, it runs on until the 24 hours is up. Then it expires. So, if you arrive at 4pm then leave at 8am the following morning, as many do, some poor soul is denied your vacated spot for another 8 hours. They have to wait around in summer heat, watching others trotting down to the beach, and wondering when the sign will ever stop saying 'complet'.
This is not your fault of course, but it's nothing short of insane.
Most camper van owners pull into an Aire and don't move their van until it's time to leave, then they go for good. They get around on foot, bike, or public transport - they don't commute in their vans. There should be a simple system for overriding the ticket's expiry time, but as yet there's not. Consequently I wouldn't recommend parking within 30 yards of the entrance barrier at La Palmyre unless you enjoy the sound of idling engines and non-stop multilingual expressions of despair and frustration.
OK, rant over. It just annoys me that what is potentially such a lovely stopover is marred by all the timewasting, stress and uncertainty on arrival. Like most we just want to pull in, switch the fridge to gas, then uncork the vin rouge.
If you are able to get a spot on the west side of the Aire (furthest from the road) you have the advantage of some shade, and a sandy bank you can shin up with your camping chairs to enjoy a bit of tree-lined peace and quiet in the evening sunshine, away from all the tarmac. At either end of the Aire are flatter grassy areas with picnic tables, and the Bonne Anse beach is just a short walk away past the ice cream kiosk. The main coastal cycle track runs past at this point too, so you really are very well set up for a range of activities. A little way down the track in the direction of the marina there's a beach shower - I found this quite handy when I couldn't be bothered squirming around in the cramped confines of our camper's washroom, and it's free to use. Penny pincher? Moi?
The service point is (mercifully) outside the entrance barrier - waste disposal is free, but water and electricity have to be paid for by converting Euros into tokens (Jetons) at an automated machine nearby, then putting the jetons into a slot in the service post. And guess what? When I tried this, the ****** jeton machine wasn't working. Consequence? Everybody having to fill up their water tanks from the free Eau Non Potable tap that most use for loo cartridge flushing, then buying bottled water to drink. Brilliant.
Still, this is the life we choose, and we will continue to choose it.
On the plus side: Lovely location, convenient for everything, loads to do, especially around the beaches. Cyclists very well catered for, sail and kite fans will be in hog heaven.
But: The ticketing system here is stark staring howling at the moon mad - be prepared to waste time waiting in the road on arrival. The Jeton machine at service point is not much better, so fill up water elsewhere beforehand and/or buy some bottled water just in case.
Alternative Aires: A number of people who grow weary of the barrier's demonic antics choose to park overnight on the verges of the Boulevard de Bonne Anse. Between September and the end of June it is also possible to stop overnight in the Boulevard de la Plage parking area in La Palmyre, which is very close to the beach and is clearly marked out for camper vans. However it is height restricted during July and August and reserved for cars only, which is a shame as it's empty overnight. There is another Aire at to be found at Les Mathes, a short distance inland.
Around La Palmyre: click thumbnail for bigger picture:
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