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motorway aires: 13

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motorway aires[1]
aires on the busy A7 autoroute

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featuring the aires of auberives, concource, savasse, montélimar west and others

A7 autoroute between Lyon and Marseille

Click for motorways and motorway aires in France.

marker at abelard.org the A7 autoroute (going south from Lyon to Marseilles)
marker at abelard.org   Auberives
marker at abelard.org   Le Bornaron
marker at abelard.org   Pont d’Isere
marker at abelard.org   Concource
marker at abelard.org   Savasse
marker at abelard.org   Montélimar West
      nougat
end notes

france

A7 autoroute map showing the aires and junctions. Image: ASF Click for the Tavel aire, A9 Click for the A89 autoroute Click for the Auberives aire Click for the Concource aire Click for the Savasse aire Click for the Montelimar aire

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New translation, the Magna Carta

Motorway aires are designed to provide a suitable environment for relaxing, refreshing and recovering during the long, hard journeys. As well as facilities of often dubious nature, picnic tables and seats, a telephone kiosk, there are often optional extras such as a play area or a display related to some local interest or event.

the a7 autoroute (going south from lyon to marseilles)

A7 is called the Autoroute du Soleil - the motorway of the Sun (this name is also given to the A6 which adjoins the A7 north of Lyon). It certainly take its users from grey northern climes down to the sunny south and the Mediterranean holiday resorts.

the motorway of heavy traffic

As you will know from elsewhere in the France zone, I tend to keep away from cities, and Lyon is the third biggest city in France after Paris and Marseilles This is where the mighty and turbulent Rhone river turns southward and heads between the Alps and the Massif Central, on its journey to the Mediterranean.

First opened in 1951, the 302-km long A7 motorway follows the Rhone for much of its route, until the motorway diverts eastwards at Orange to end near Marseilles on the Mediterranean Sea. The Rhone continues south into the 300 square mile [780 square kilometres] delta of the Camargue.

All around the largest cities of France tend to be crowded, rather unpleasant motorway ring roads, and Lyon is no exception. Thus, as you approach or leave these conurbations, the aires are generally dusty, unpleasant, polluted, crowded, noisy and otherwise do not find a place on our best aires guide. So if you are intending to spend time in these havens, and you are approaching or leaving the largest towns and cities, either stop before the countryside starts to smoke up, or expect to drive twenty or thirty miles away from the next city centre before the greatest marvels of airesdom become available.

The geography of the motorways around Lyon make it convenient to split the aires guide into four parts: north, east, south and west. This page is the southbound section. The westbound section (incomplete - 11.09.2006] is on the A89 page. North and east have yet to be born.

The A7 motorway is a heavily used north-south artery, taking traffic from northern France, Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany down to Marseilles, Provence and the Mediterranean, and on to Italy and Spain.

Other traffic is local, the A7 serving the highly industrial Rhone Valley from Lyon to Vienne, Valence, Orange and Avignon. There are also east-west connections to St Etienne, Grenoble and Aix.

The heavy industry means that the Rhone Valley often has severe air pollution. Even on hot summer days, it is wiser and more pleasant on some stretches to drive with windows shut and rely on your car’s air conditioning.

The third main group of users for the A7 is holiday makers. The A7 pretty well always has a heavy traffic load. During work holidays [ les congés] which, as well as the summer holidays, include Christmas and Easter, as well as extended weekends when a one-day public holiday falls a day or two before or after Saturday and Sunday.(Public holidays include Pentecost/Whitsun, 1st May - Workers’ Day, 8th May - 1945 Victory, Ascension, 14th Juillet - Bastille Day, 15th August - Assumption, 1st November - All Saints.
At these times, the normally busy A7 becomes saturated with vehicles, with sometimes 100s of kilometres of traffic jams [bouchons, embouteillages], particularly going south at the start of the congés and going north towards their end.

The heavy traffic load is even greater still during the last week of July and the first week of August, when those who take their summer holiday during July [the juilletistes] return home, while those who take their holiday in August [the aoutiens] are departing, and are all travelling in the grand autoroute holiday chassé-croisé.

The best way to avoid being involved in this slow-moving, sometimes fraught, procession is to travel mid-week, or if that is not possible early on Friday or on Sunday.

The French government always advises to take a break from driving every two hours. To enable travellers to do this, the A7 offers many aires, small and large, for pauses during the trip. Remembering the remarks above, and in the context that this is one of the oldest and most industrialised motorways of France, going south from Lyon, the first useful aire we come to is Auberives.

Auberives aire

Just south of Lyon, the aire of Auberives is the first piece of green and respite from the polluted inferno of vehicles pouring down the A6, and the A7 before it. Although the air (in the aire!) still smells somewhat sulphurous, this aire is large, with some pieces of shade and many picnic tables, as well as a small climbing frame and play area for children.

Our picture was taken in early August. There was still some parking, and a few picnic tables were free.

Auberives aire on the A7 autoroute
Auberives aire - parking, picnicking and green spaces.

Le Bornaron

A small aire with a ‘cooling shower’. This aire is a long and thin, open to the surrounding countryside with views over rolling maize fields. The picnic tables are in some degree of shade.

Pont d’Isere aire

This aire has basic service station facilities. For those whose taste buds were shot off in the war (or since), you might like to try the McDonald’s (French nickname : McDoh’s). For all others, there are picnic tables and a reasonable amount of greenery. The air here is cleaner, and by the time you are south of the next big town, Valence, the industrial smells have gone.

Concource aire

This enormous deserted aire is more like going into a park than going into a motorway lay-by. It is surrounded by short pine trees, and stretches down away from the motorway. Concource aire has a huge wild prairie with butterflies and other insects, as well as pigeons. There is a little bridge over a dried up stream, and an impressive view over the highly industrialised Rhone valley, complete with a decorated nuclear power station, open cast mining and factories.

There is a play area, a ‘refreshing shower’ and on summer weekends, there are organised sports - trying out activities like archery and golf.

the wide open spaces of the Concource aire
beetle camouflaged as a wasp at the Concource aireView from the Concource aire de répos to the Rhone valley
The Rhone valley from Concource aire
Top: View of the prairie at the Concource aire
Left: Beetle camouflaged as a wasp in the prairie (seen in mid-August)
Right:
View from the Concource aire de répos to the Rhone valley
Bottom: The Rhone valley from Concourse aire - the river is just visible.

Savasse aire

Savasse is a large aire that features a monumental granite sculpture called “la porte du soleil” - the portal of the sun. It is visible from the motorway alongside, and is spotlit at night. Made by Ivan Avoscan, and commissioned by the ASF autoroute company, the sculpture is made of several types of granite and other clearly textured stones. The texture comes both from the composition of the stone, and from different applications of polishing applied by the artist to the surfaces.

The installation has a huge, pink Porrino granite sun carefully placed so the sun’s rays appear to be focussed on it from the oculus several metres distant. The oculus is approached from both sides by a series of grey granite steps carved into an inclined cylinder. On the slope approaching the steps is carved a poem in French and, we believe, in Occitan, the local French dialect.

With your back to the granite sun, the oculus is a good viewing point for the motorway, lorries and Provençal landscape beyond - an arid zone countryside of garrigue planting - olives, pines and poplars, together with strong-smelling rosemary and thyme.

For those interested in plants, though not labelled, this aire is planted randomly with a variety of trees, some more common to regions further north, as well as many from the south. There is also a very French regiment of disciplined young trees learning to give welcome shade to visitors.

Although close to the heavily used A7 autoroute, this aire is peaceful, with sufficient room and corners to explore, potter around, picnic and rest, that the other users of the aire are not intrusive.

Savasse aire, showing the granite installationGranite installation with A7 autoroute beyond.
Grove of trees in the Savasse aire

Left above: Savasse aire, showing the granite Portal of the Sun
Right above:
Granite installation with the busy A7 autoroute beyond

Left: Grove of trees in the Savasse aire

Montélimar West aire

Montélimar Ouest aire de service is a huge aire, a bit like a holiday camp, with pedestrian access, but not for wheelchairs, to its sister aire on the northbound side. As well as a service station and self-service restaurants, there is a shop almost entirely devoted to the product for which Montelimar is known world-wide - nougat. Two, no, three walls of the large shop are devoted to nougat - standard; with added almonds, pistachios, walnuts [noix], chocolate, coffee, candied fruit; hard, soft; in bars or wrapped as separate candies in a bag, in tins, in boxes....

Nougat display at the Montelimar west aire and service station shopHoney and more nougat at the service station shop, Montelimar west aire
Left: Nougat display at the Montelimar west aire and service station shop
Right:
Honeys and more nougat at the service station shop, Montélimar west aire

The only problem is, finding some nougat that meets the quality of the best of Montélimar, and the prices are through the roof for the quality offered.

nougat

Nougat is made of almonds and pistachios, mixed with sweeteners and with beaten egg white to give form and texture. The problem is the sweetener. In the Provençal garrigue, there is produced wonderfully flavoured honeys including that from the lavender plantations. Lavender honey gives the most sublime favour to nougat, but I wouldn’t rate it as a top favourite out of this context (one day, I’ll do a honey page). For real, top quality Montelimar nougat, a list of ingredients might be

  • 50% lavender honey
  • 25% almonds
  • 5% pistachios
  • egg whites
  • sugar/glucose syrup

But is commercial nougat made using such joys? No, like commercial honey where the bees are fed sugar rather than waiting for them to forage for nectar, commercial nougat has much higher proportion of sugar, and perhaps a sniff of honey added in. An ingredient list for commercial nougat might be

  • 45% sugar
  • 10% glucose
  • 45% almonds

Your time will be spent in this shop reading the ingredients labels - whether there is any honey; and if there is, what percentage is honey and not sugar, and whether the honey might actually be lavender honey.

For best quality nougat, you will need to leave the motorway and go into Montelimar itself, to search there for well-made nougat. When last abelard.org visited, there were at least two boutiques making more than satisfactory nougat. But a great number of the old craft shops have been taken over by a single combine, with the usual reduction in quality. The only trouble is, if you taste the real stuff, you will never be satisfied again with anything less.

Finally, if you are going south and east towards Languedoc-Roussillon region, and even on towards Spain and Barcelona, there is another fascinating aire not far away on the A9 at Tavel - a giant sundial.

 

end notes

  1. aire: in this context, an area —
    aire de loisirs: recreation area;
    aire de pique-nique: picnic area;
    aire de répos: rest area;
    aire de services: services , motorway (GB) or freeway (US) service station.

  2. bouchon : literally, a cork. In this case, a traffic jam.
    embouteillage : literally, bottleneck. In this case, a traffic jam or tailback.

  3. chassé-croisé : continual coming and going. In this case, the flow of departing and returning holidaymakers.















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on first arriving in France - driving motorway aires, introduction
travelling by rail to and within France individual aires                                             
A75 autoroute from Clermont-Ferrand to Béziers and its aires Les Pyrénées, A64 Poey de Lascar, A64
A89 autoroute from Bordeaux to Clermont-Ferrand and beyond - aires Pic du Midi, A64
Hastingues, A64
Dunes, A62
Mas d’Agenais, A62
A7 - aires on the busy A7 autoroute from Lyons to Marseille Pech Loubat, A61
Port-Lauragais, A61
Mas d’Agenais, A62
Garonne, A62
A9- aires on the motorway to Spain Ayguesvives, A61
Renneville, A61
Catalan village, A9
Tavel, A9
A62 - aires on the autoroute of two seas three aires on the canal du midi, A61 Lozay, A10
Poitou-Charente, A10
A65 : the autoroute de Gascogne, from Langon to Pau Carcassonne, A61 Les Bréguières, A8
A64 and A61 - aires on the other autoroute of two seas  
A83 motorway in Poitou-Charentes - aires A63: the French Wild West, Bordeaux to the Spanish border - formerly the N10
A837 motorway in Poitou-Charentes - aires A20 - aires on the Occitane autoroute, from Brive to Montauban
A42 and A40 motorways - aires from Lyon to Switzerland and Italy A87 motorway and its aires in Poitou-Charentes

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