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Cruising through France - by Car | Cruising in France

Cruising in France

...Travel blog about river and canal cruise vacations on luxury barges and riverboats

 

Cruising through France - by Car

Written by Carolyn on December 30, 2009
Summary:

Before or after your cruise, you may want to rent a car and do some exploring on your own. Here are some tips to help you navigate the roads of France…

We just got back from a trip to France and Spain to see family and friends, check out a couple of barges and visit a few museums. We drove from Paris to Brittany to Bordeaux, then along the Garonne River and the Canal des Deux Mers, which links the Atlantic Ocean to the Mediterranean Sea. Before turning in our rental car at Perpignan, we took time to explore Collioure, a lovely little seaside village ”discovered” by the Fauvist painters Henri Matisse and André Derain in the early 1900s.

Bordeaux Canal des Deux Mers Collioure, France

As we ”cruised” along, I thought about how driving in France over the years has gotten to be much more like it is in the US, but it’s still helpful to be aware of some differences.

First, gas is still expensive - about twice as much as in the US. To cut back on the cost, we always rent the smallest car available - which has the added advantage of being easier to park in crowded city streets! If you can get a car that uses diesel, so much the better, as diesel is widely used and is cheaper than regular gas. I once rented a small car that went 500 miles on a tank of diesel! You’ll need to brush up on your stick shift skills, though, as small cars rarely come with automatic transmission.

French roads are really good these days, but the major highways (”autoroutes”) are toll roads - except in Brittany, which has some sort of exemption - so expect to pay up regularly. You’ll need cash or an American Express card, because even the manned toll booths don’t accept US-issued Visa cards or MasterCard. If you don’t need to cover long distances quickly, you can always take the free ”routes nationales” (national roads), which are well-maintained but pass through all the local towns.

My favorite aspect of driving in France is traffic circles or roundabouts. These can be intimidating at first, but once you get used to them, they are wonderful. If you’re not sure where you’re going, you can enter the circle and just keep going around until you’re sure where to exit. If you find you’re going the wrong way, continue on to the next circle and make a 360° turn to go back the opposite direction. Just remember that when entering a circle, you must yield to the other cars. You’ll see a sign showing the symbol for a traffic circle with the words “vous n’avez pas la priorité” (= you do not have priority or, in other words, yield).

With the roads all numbered now, finding your way is a lot easier than it used to be. However, the concept of using compass directions (north, south, east and west) has never caught on in France. The road signs still assume you know the towns along the route you plan to take. For example, you’ll see the word “direction” followed by the name of a town, so you’ll need to check the map for nearby smaller towns or more distant cities to make sure you’re going the right way.

Be sure to buy local and city maps. I especially like the yellow Michelin maps, which are scaled 1 cm = 2 km (approximately 1″ = 3 mi.) You can buy these at rest stops that have gas stations along the toll roads. You can also get directions and maps before you leave at http://www.viamichelin.com

Road signs can be confusing, but Avis and Hertz have PDF documents showing many of them, along with other helpful information (and some advertising, of course).

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