driving in france

Oct 15th, 2000, 09:53 AM
larry weiner
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driving in france

we plan on being in the south of france in may and are thinking of driving north from montpellier through carcassonne or arles tothe caves around les eyzies, to the chateu country and then to paris.would appreciate any advice about driving in the french countryside and about our various destiations-hotels,etc.
Oct 16th, 2000, 04:15 PM
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I'm sure others can help more regarding this itinerary, but I just wanted to pass along that driving distances felt much longer in France! We consistently underestimated how much time it would take to cover various distances. The smaller roads really don't move that fast, and you run the risk of getting caught behind a truck or other commerical vehicle on a two-lane highway. I loved driving, but our itinerary was a little too ambitious. You might want to add 50% to whatever amount of time you are allowing for each leg.
Oct 16th, 2000, 04:52 PM
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You didn't say how long you'll be in France, but your itinerary suggests a minimum of three weeks. As Robin pointed out, driving on the country roads and byways can be slow going: two lane highways, and farm equipment (including horse-drawn carts) use the same roads. Until you get to a passing zone (there are long distances in between), you are driving at 10-15mph. If you use the autoroutes for driving the long distances, you won't have that problem (speed limits are WarpOne, Mr Sulu). French drivers appear to be maniacs, but they are in complete control of their vehicles (for the most part). Rotaries are de rigeur, so if you're not familiar with them, they take some getting used to. Once you get the hang of it, you'll find them so efficient for the potentially-lost tourist: you just drive around the rotary again if you miss your exit. Just before you get to one, there's a sign showing what exits are where off the rotary. We used the clock-method for the navigator to give directions 'exit 3:00' - gives you that WWII fighter plane feel. Get a good map for each region; Michelin makes very good ones with VERY clear representations of how the roads go in and around cities. We've never used any other maps, but I'm sure there are others that are just as good (I emphasize: get a map for EACH region, not just a big map of France. Worth the extra money, because every little town is shown on the region map). It's very hard to find automatic shifts, so if you really can't drive stick, then reserve WAY in advance - and be prepared to pay a *lot* more for the automatic. Gas is about 4X the cost of fuel in the US, so the stick shift saves money there, too. Gas stations are plentiful; most are pump-it-yourself, and many take credit cards or ATM cards right at the pump. If you go into high altitudes (like the Pyrenees or Haute Savoie), you will consume huge amounts of fuel. Just a warning so you keep an eye on the gas gauge.

The prehistoric caves in the Dordogne Valley/Perigord (that's where Les Eyzies is) are fascinating; some cannot be visited, but copies of the cave drawings have been recreated in other caves. Some of the caves take a maximum number of visitors a day, and you have to make reservations. Other, lesser known caves are extraordinary, and you may be the only visitors that day. Some of the caves have limited hours between October and May, so be aware and arrive in time to visit them.

The best information on the departments you're visiting comes from their tourist information bureaux. It's hard to recommend hotels/restaurants because I don't know exactly where you'll be on what day [many restaurants close Monday or Tuesday, or aren't open Saturday for lunch; *most* close between 2:00 and 7:00, so keep that in mind if you plan to eat at 5:00 (you'll have to eat at a cafe or brasserie, or buy do-it-yourself food at shops)]. If you write to or email the individual tourist information office for each department, they will send you info on hotels and restaurants, listed by town. They'll also send you maps, details on local sights and food, and general information on the region. And it's fun getting big, fat envelopes with French stamps.

Final word re the car: dump it before you get to Paris. For example, visit the chateau at Versailles, drop the car in Versailles, and take the train into Paris. Paris is a nightmare for driving and parking.
Oct 16th, 2000, 05:17 PM
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Hi Larry:

All the sdvice so far is really good. I have driven that route a number of times because my husband is from the southwest of Franceand just have a couple of things to add. First, you may have seen iti.fr noted on this forum-it is a terrific site that gives you mileage, tolls and helps estimate gas costs for route planning in France-it is in French but pretty straightforward to use.

The route from the south up to the "cave area" is quite hilly,not mountainous, butquite "winding" and there is not really a true highway, so just make sure you give yourself enough time. We were with friends who had 2 kids (8 and 12) and rented a mini-van, so it was always a long climb with 6 of us (particularly full of great French food!). The kids did really well, but it can really create car sickness, so just be aware-I am NEVER car sick and I even found myself rolling down the window to get some air occasionally. the trip between the Loire and Paris is easy and pretty, but as elvira says, you may want to consider dumping the car before that.

You could also look into the train/car packages and pick the car up in Montpellier and drop it in Tours or something like that...

We liked Avignon better that Arles, but lots of people prefer Arles-we thought there was more to do in Avignon. We stayed in a very cool hotel there, the Cloitre St Louis, which is a quality inn but is a 17th century clositer inside the walls at Avignon. Feel free to e-mail if you want any info-I know you can probably find there site on the web.

I was also curious how long you are giving yourself for the trip, because folks are right-it really do take longer than you think

Oct 16th, 2000, 05:46 PM
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Does this mean you're back in the land of Bore and Gush, Elvira?
Oct 16th, 2000, 06:34 PM
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yeah, oh crap, I am. Arrived in the U.S. yesterday (you may read about the unidentified American woman who was lead kicking and screaming to the plane at CDG - if you do, DON'T put two and two together). As soon as I unpack my FIVE bags (had to buy one while in Paris, plus the two nylon duffels I packed in a suitcase before I left the U.S.), find my journal (there's a first, I actually *wrote* in a journal instead of just lugging it around), and organize my thoughts (right now, I'm thinking half in French, half in English and I can't spell appartement to save my life), I will post the highlights and low points (wait, there weren't any, except, well, maybe, that little scene at the airport) of the adventure.
Oct 17th, 2000, 05:44 AM
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Elvira, you're delightful! Now I see why everyone's talking about you.
Oct 17th, 2000, 06:26 AM
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I think driving in France is about the same as driving in the US - highways are great (they go much faster, speed limit is 130km which is over 80 and everyone was going faster than that) and the two lane highways can be anything from dirt roads to very good. I had no trouble driving in France. One caution, the route numbers tend to just end and a new one starts with no warning - so you have to know the name of the next town in the direction you want to go - you definitely need a driver and a navigator, you can't just say I'll take route 5 till I get there. But other than that if you can drive here you can drive there.
Oct 17th, 2000, 12:15 PM
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We just did a very similar route to the one you describe by car, excluding the cave region. First, since we also toured Germany and Italy by car, I will say that the fuel costs and tolls seemed higher in France.

Our route was this. We entered France from Bordighera and drove through Monaco down the coast with stops at most of the popular or "talked about" destinations. I particularly liked Antibes, though I didn't expect to care. We then headed into Provence, staying at the fabulous Chateau des Alpilles in St. Remy. There we visited Les Baux, Arles and other towns. The drive from the south to the Chateau country seemed interminable, especially since we found a road closed and poorly marked detour signs (at night, no less) that took us on an amazingly circuitous route.

In Touraine, we stayed at the Chateau de Chissay (lovely outside, nice food but overrated rooms) and toured Chenonceau, Azay (my favorite town), Tours, Amboise (my second favorite town), Blois, Chaumont, and Chambord before heading into Paris.

Traffic heading into Paris was backed up from about 70 km out, so what we thought would take a couple of hours took more like 3 or 4. Once inside the ring, traffic was far less nightmarish than I had heard and we found parking at the Louvre to be perfectly convenient to our hotel and other spots. (We had planned on leaving the car in the garage during our entire stay, but it was actually a thrill to drive the city at night after rush hour, and we were able to see much more than we could have covered on foot or by metro.)

We then left for Versailles on our last day before heading to Brussels and had no problems other than, once again, the incredible traffic jams on the outskirts of Paris.

Hope that helps.

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