Driving in France

Jul 27th, 2004, 07:25 AM
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Driving in France

Any tips on driving through France? We are driving from the south all the way up to Paris over 10 days.
doc04 is offline  
Jul 27th, 2004, 07:31 AM
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Buy a good map. The one the rental agency gave us frustrated us.

I agree with the poster who said earlier to plan your route by the next two of three towns you want to go through. It's easier to navigate that way (than referring to road #'s etc.)

We were amazed at how you can't miss a town - you'll have a chance to turn toward it at the next two or three roundabouts!

We had a delightful time driving through Provence and the South of France. Enjoy!

Traffic closer to Paris is supposed to be a problem, but we picked up our car in Avignon. Some posters recommend picking up/dropping off rental cars at the outskirts of Paris and taking the train in to the airport or city.
gracieb is offline  
Jul 27th, 2004, 08:15 AM
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You need a DETAILED Michelin map of each area you are travelling.
And you find your way NOT by route numbers but by the next town down the road. The road signs will say "direction Arles", not route 9, for example.
Gretchen is offline  
Jul 27th, 2004, 08:38 AM
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We've been driving in various parts of France in June and July. A few personal observations:
1. Have plenty of small bills and change on hand if you are taking the autoroutes. The tolls can be stiff.
2. We found the road signs pretty good overall, but made a point of looking at the map carefully before we left.
3. The first exit for a town is not always the best route to take. Example: on the A77, the first exit sign for Bourges is given about 50 miles from town and is a secondary road. We stayed on the A77 for a few more exits and got off much closer.
4. Speaking of the A77, if your route takes you that way, it's an excellent highway and less crowded than other autoroutes (it's also called the N7). The Jardin des Arbres (tree garden) rest stop is very pleasant. Several other exits on the route feature jogging paths and walks around lakes, etc.
5. Diesel is called gazole or gasoil.
6. Avoid the rest stops closest to the big cities. They're more crowded, a little grotty.
7. Pay close attention to the reduced speed limits in towns. Also, check if there are any fairs or events going on in towns that could close the main road through town...these are common in July and August.
8. As you come up the A6 when it gets close to Paris, stick to right if you plan to take the Peripherique "est" (east). Stay in the middle or to the left if you want the Peripherique "ouest" (west).
9. On the illuminated alert signs and radio traffic reports, "bouchons" refer to traffic jams. On the A6 and peripherique, the electronic signs will tell you how long the drive is between exits (from Porte d'Italie to Porte Bagnolet, for example)...take those with a grain of salt.
BTilke is offline  
Jul 27th, 2004, 08:50 AM
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An old post with lots of good info.
palette is offline  
Jul 27th, 2004, 08:56 AM
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We have driven in France the last two summers. I usually do the driving, and my husband does the navigating. I have to say that I love driving there. Everything is well-marked and roundabouts give you extra chances if you miss the correct turn. I find the drivers very polite, and well-instructed on how to drive on the highways. This summer we headed from SW France toward Paris. We dropped our car off in Angers and took a train into Paris. I would not drive there and it makes the end of the trip more relaxing.
wren is offline  
Jul 27th, 2004, 10:35 AM
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It really takes 2 people to successfully drive in France or anywhere in Europe for that matter. One person is the navigator and the other is the drive. Don't laugh but my husband (Mr. Gadget) tkes his GPS with us when we drive in Europe. It has actually helped us out a number of times even thought I gave hima lot of grief the first time he suggested it. Also, hope you don't mind using turkish toilets at rest stops. We were impressed with the availability of picnic tables for stopping and eating while on the road.
julies is offline  
Jul 27th, 2004, 10:37 AM
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Buy the michelin road map of europe. it is worth its weight in gold.
jay is offline  
Jul 27th, 2004, 10:38 AM
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Forgot to mention one of my best purchases. Here in the US before we left I bought a huge Michelin map book with detailed maps of all of France and numerous cities. A great investment for $20. It is a little heavy to lug around, but well worth it for finding places.
julies is offline  
Jul 27th, 2004, 12:07 PM
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Wait until you're in france to get the Michelin road atlas--saves lugging it along, and you can mail it home. You can often find the atlas at a reduced price in hypermarchés.
Underhill is offline  
Jul 27th, 2004, 12:09 PM
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Two more tips. First, buy the Michelin map of the region in which you'll be travelling before you get there, as once in the region the maps will mysteriously vanish from the stands. Second, the larger rest areas along the autoroutes are great for shopping, meals, even showers at the larger ones; the smaller ones have picnic tables and restrooms. They all make stopping enroute very easy and pleasant.
Underhill is offline  
Jul 27th, 2004, 01:54 PM
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julies--my husband takes his GPS too! We have the Microsoft AutoRoute program on his laptop, and I have to say, begrudgingly, that it is amazing. He has had his share of grief from me about taking it...but it has gotten us out of messes plenty of times. We also took the Michelin map book w/us and while it was helpful, the GPS helped the most.
wren is offline  
Jul 28th, 2004, 10:35 AM
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European drivers take the "stay to the right unless you are passing" rule very seriously (unike many Americans who have adopted the "right is for the slower/left is for the faster" attitude). Stay right, unless passing; it is safer and you won't have other motorists angry at you and flashing their lights at you.

Watch for the sign saying "priorite a droite", meaning priority to the right. Unlike the US where those on the right (incoming traffic) must YIELD to those on the left (mainstream traffic), this sign gives any car arriving on the right the advantage.

Roundabouts are a life-saver! We often went around two or three times while comparing signs to map when suddenly confounded by too many direction choices. If you miss your exit, rather than making a quick cut through cars, just go around another time while working your way to the outside...sure beats an accident and much easier on you and everyone else! Have fun!
klondike is offline  
Jul 28th, 2004, 10:42 AM
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Klondike, sorry to disagree, but Europeans, esp. the French are big middle lane hogs. We've just spent the past few days driving around France (and spent two weeks doing the same last month) and the middle lanes were always jammed with drivers going slower than cars in the right lane. No amount of light flashing would get them to budge.
Also, drivers of big trucks have a bad habit of pulling into the left lane to pass another truck going very, very slightly slower than they are. So the truck holds up traffic while it inches painfully past the "slower" truck.
BTilke is offline  
Jul 28th, 2004, 11:27 AM
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Btilke: You've got me on the Trucks! They are a pain in the royal derriere, indeed.

As for regular cars, sorry to hear this is on the decline. I would imagine to some degree it might make a difference which region you were driving in - big city vs. rural. Last year driving through Normandy, Brittany and the Loire-Atlantique down to Bordeaux we enountered very civil drivers for the most part. We enjoy driving in France, but much prefer the side roads to the autoroute unless we absolutely have to make up time; we feel you get to experience so much more off the beaten path, but then we also don't travel with a set itinerary and hotel/dining reservations either...

doc04: We quickly established the rule: Anyone has the right to warn/say anything for the sake of safety. Navigator or driver. After the occasional tense moment/missed exit etc, it's important to just shake it off and not let it interfere with the marital chemistry...after all, you are in the land of love (though I bet the Ital/Span would disagree!). You'll have a wonderful time!
klondike is offline  
Jul 28th, 2004, 11:46 AM
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If you get the Michelin full size road atlas, make sure that it is spiral bound. The book type binding falls apart right away. And if you get it, you do not need local maps. Priorité de droite has pretty much disappeared, to the point that when entering a round-about, you must yield to those already in it. Speeding has decreased dramatically in France due to police crackdowns. One French friend got a ticket for going 5 km over the speed limit in a tunnel in the Alps. Driving into Paris can be a pain. It took us 2 and a half hours this July to do the last 70 km. It might be better to drop the car off in Chartres, Orléans or Fontainebleau.
Michael is offline  
Jul 28th, 2004, 12:27 PM
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You don't need a lot of bills for the tolls. All of the autoroutes in France take credit cards (we used our American Expres everywhere except when we hit Spain - they only take MC/VISA).
4totravel is offline  
Jul 28th, 2004, 05:54 PM
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I have driven around Provence, the Loire Valley, and Burgundy on three different trips, solo, and really enjoyed it. I stayed away from the autoroutes, and drove mainly on the smaller roads. I would never attempt to drive anywhere near Paris!

I agree with the other posters that the roads are well-marked, the round-a-bouts are great, and get a good map. However, I don't agree so much that the French are the most courteous drivers!
In Provence especially, they drove very fast, were up on my tail to pass constantly (and I was always going over the speed limit, out of necessity!). It was nervewracking on the winding, hilly roads. I had a easier time of it driving in Burgundy and the Loire. Anyway, I loved doing it, and am planning to drive around Alsace in October.
One thing that I would recommend is to buy the maps well before your trip, and study them. I was very familiar with all the town names on my routes, which helped considerably. And the planning is such fun!
Sue4 is offline  
Jul 28th, 2004, 06:05 PM
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We love taking the smallewr roads but if you get stuck behind a farming vehicle, you are really help up for time.
cigalechanta is offline  
Jul 28th, 2004, 06:25 PM
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I love the roundabouts in France and also the wonderful picture signs when you're coming up to an interesting site.
Other stuff:
- Rest stops are called Aire
- Found using credit cards at the tolls the most convenient method
- France has automatic speed traps at the the top of some overpasses. You can see them, but if you get a flashing light, you're busted.
- When passing let others know by using your left signal
- Stay out of Grenoble
Anyone know what the 60/80/90 sign means on the back of the trucks? I would think it means speed limit, but it is listed backwards.

job816 is offline  

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