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We are making a long journey by car across England, France, Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany. It will take around 16 hours of driving which we are splitting over two days. We have the hotel booked at the halfway point, but we will also need a few stops for toilet and to stretch our legs during the day.

We would like to avoid traditional motorway services. Instead, we will be looking for places which are not so busy, cleaner and quieter. I found several websites with places like this in the UK, but I am looking for a sure-fire way to find these along whatever road we're on in Europe. A few more notes:

  1. I will be driving and my companion would prefer to avoid looking at screens for an extended period of time.
  2. The best way I can think off is to look for "country parks" along the route, but that way we weill miss lots of suitable locations.
  3. We're not fussy (I'd like to think) - Newton Lane Car Park, Cossall is an example of the sort of place we're after, 5 minutes from J26 of the M1.
  4. Another example: Harlow Wood near Mansfield - this is not near a motorway junction, but exactly the sort of place we're after
  5. We're a young family and cannot really schedule our breaks and research specific locations in advance - they will be dictated by when the kids sleep etc.

Is there an app that finds these? Or a European mapping service that has an online map with places like the above examples marked?

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    What is it you are wanting from these places? There's a lot of detail in your question but I don't actually understand what amenities/characteristics you are after, or what your use for these stops is. It's also worth noting that motorwayside facilities vary quite a lot across Europe. In france may "Aires" (the local equivilant of services) don't have shops and restaurants, but do have woodland, walks etc. I've sat in one and watched a kingfisher before! (And another had a boating lake) – CMaster Jul 31 at 14:51
  • With small kids, I would strongly consider splitting a 16-hour trip over three days rather than two. This will give you much more flexibility as to where you stop each day. (My family regularly did a 16-hour road trip when I was growing up, and we didn't start doing it in two days until both my sister and I were teenagers.) – Michael Seifert Jul 31 at 14:56
  • Guys, I edited my post a bit and hopefully clarified our needs. – pateksan Jul 31 at 17:48
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    'europe' may just be too broad for a single answer. I'd personally look on a map for anything containing the words park, forest, wood, etcetera. Or I might just stop at any small village and look for a square in it's center. The advantage of a village is that there will usually be a shop, a bar (toilets!) and perhaps a playground for your kids. – Berend Jul 31 at 18:12
  • You may indeed want to clarify which countries you are considering. In places like France where most motorways imply tolls, getting out of the motorway then back in may affect the cost of the tolls quite a bit (though it can probably work both ways). – jcaron Jul 31 at 22:06
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This answer is from the OP and is only a stub which I am hoping to improve if time allows.

In the end we just improvised. We just drove until we sensed a suitable location, we were lucky on all four attempts, and each time we found a spot in a reasonable time. We didn't measure the time but I would guesstimate never more than 20 mins from the decision moment "ok let's have a break". We found that:

  • it was easy to tell which motorway junctions were in rural areas, with access to minor, local roads.
  • each of the roads we tried had a good spot like a woodland access track etc.

We were probably lucky but I was impressed with how well it all worked out.

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My experience with motorway services is that in most places, outside of the extreme crowded times, they are mostly clean enough and acceptable.
On those days there are traffic jams on all motorways also the smaller towns and parks near motorways will struggle with the pressure.

In France, the motorway services on the toll roads are good, do not leave the tollroad as that might require paying extra.

When on a non toll road, look at a map or on your satnav for a small town or village with a park. (In these COVID 19 days some parks have limited access.) Most of these villages will have a cafe of some sort which has toilets or there will be public toilets near. On busy days these do get used much and will be no more clean than motorway services toilets. And for the same reasons.

Unlike the UK, the service area in the other countries on your lists are right on the motorway and there are also rest stops which often have parking, toilets and play areas.

Do not wait till your kids 'need the loo' but plan ahead and stop when you predict they will need them soon.
Kids can sleep while driving so stops for naps are not to be expected.

While I do not drive, I have travelled by car quite a few times in all countries you listed, mostly on long distance journeys, motorways as well as smaller roads.

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As you're in the UK, the book Off the Motorway, while dated, is still useful. An adult passenger can scan ahead. Since it was published, pubs have become more family-friendly if you want a sit-down meal, and searching "family pub" in Google maps, scrolling to the area around the next junction works well. Or just drive to a pub and ask.

I also tend to have a young child with me when driving long journeys, but come up with a planned stop (often somewhere that looks suitable for a picnic), using the services if a toilet stop is called for earlier. A theme helps here; I've routed by looking at a map of castles before, and picking ones where you can park/picnic for free.

In France, if you route along the D-roads for a bit (speed limit generally 80km/h so you may not want to use them for the whole day) you'll often pass through towns and villages with nice places to stop. However the Aires on the motorways can have more available toilets than having to visit a bar in a village, and many small shops shut for lunch. Look for the aires with fewer facilities, and take your own food, if you want a quieter experience. An alternative (at least in normal times) is a big out-of-town supermarket, which will often have a cafe. I tend to do this as long driving days are often moving from one campsite to another and I'll want some shopping. There's generally no problem just parking as using the facilities.

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