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Driving in France.

Hello, my sister and I are planning a driving tour of France in June, inspired by Rick's itinerary. I'm a little nervous about us driving from Chartres to Beynac. It looks like alot of country roads with roundabouts. We also plan to drive to Arles after Benyac. Has anyone driven in this area? Any input would be appreciated. Thank you. Colleen

Posted by
8832 posts

It looks like alot of country roads with roundabouts

Roundabouts are not to be feared. Found them much preferable to a stop sign or traffic signal while driving in Italy.

Wish there were more here at home

Posted by
1330 posts

We drove in France for 3 weeks (north to south) and found it not harder to drive than standard American roads. All you really need to do ahead of time is to study the international road signs. Also it helps if you can drive a standard transmission car. They are much less expensive to rent and are more available.

Posted by
11 posts

Thank you for responding- I feel better already. I plan on studying the road signs and printing out the directions before leaving US, so I hope that helps as well.

Posted by
186 posts

You should not be intimidated about driving in France. You will find round about easy once you navigate a few.

Make sure you have an international driving permit.

I have always used a gps, I would recommend one in addition to paper maps. I use a stand alone device, from home.

Have a great tr.

Posted by
16883 posts

You could stick to local roads with lots of roundabouts, but it would be the slow way. There are autoroutes to cover the majority of the distance, such as the A71 and A20. In addition to other maps, you might like www.viamichelin.com.

Posted by
4144 posts

Driving in France is like driving in the states. France has an abundance of toll roads from what I remember, and they are fairly pricey. We tried to stay on the local roads when possible to avoid tolls and enjoy the scenery. The down side to that is needing more time to reach your destination, so the roads you take may be dependent on the amount of time you have.if you have a GPS with European maps, take it. If not, download Google maps for France to your phone for offline use. They work just like a GPS. I also download the maps to my tablet to look up those small locations not on my GPS.

Posted by
5697 posts

Roundabouts:
1) you can keep going around if you're not sure.
2) GPS person may say "take exit #n" but you can't always tell if something is a true road or someone's driveway. See item 1.
3) roundabouts are still much easier than making left turns across heavy traffic.
Enjoy driving through the French countryside !

Posted by
31510 posts

colleen,

You may already be aware of this, but one other point to mention, as listed on the Embassy of France website.....

"You may drive with a valid U.S. driver’s license if it is accompanied by a notarized translation in French. It is strongly recommended that you carry an International Driving Permit. You must be 18 years of age or older to drive in France."

I concur with the suggestions in previous replies to pack along a GPS and/or a good map. If you have a good international roaming data plan for your phone, Google Maps works well too.

Posted by
38 posts

Hello Colleen,

We have driven around both Arles and Beynac, but on separate trips. I'll start with our most recent, when we drove from Amboise to Beynac. We found that the challenge there was the very windy roads as we entered the Dordogne valley. The speed limit was mostly 80km/h on the roads (one lane each way, no divider), but we were forced to drive much more slowly than that due to the windiness and the narrowness of the roads (allow more time than what Google maps says!). Some of the smaller roads were barely wide enough to accommodate 2 cars passing each other. The good news was that there was usually enough of a shoulder on the side of the road to squeak by, and traffic was very light- these are country roads far from major cities.

With our previous trip, we drove from Italy up to Arles. Getting to the outskirts of Arles was not a problem, but we did have difficulty trying to drive up to our accommodations which were quite central. We did not realize that our apartment was within a pedestrian zone, and puzzled about with our GPS for an hour as it kept taking us around in circles.

As for roundabouts, as others have said, you do get used to them after the first few, and there is no shame in going around a few times before you figure out which exit you need. :)

We find driving in France to be very enjoyable (and are already planning another French road trip), but we do choose to lease automatic vehicles as that is what we are comfortable with and don't wish to add the complication of trying to drive a manual car in a foreign country.

Posted by
153 posts

You should really have no difficulty if you do your homework with the sighs beforehand. One thing that surprised me, though was the rule that vehicles entering from your right have the right of way. Even if you are on a main street and they have a stop sign on a side street, they have the right of way. They must stop, of course, but watch them closely as they will calmly jump right in front of you. expecting you to give way.

Posted by
15037 posts

I would not rely on printed directions. A detour will throw you off and then how do you get back on track? I drove in Burgundy and Alsace, I found that on back roads (which are the scenic ones with the charming villages), signage is not always clear at intersections, I rarely saw signs indicating route numbers. Either use a GPS device or use a smart phone with data so you can use an app like Waze or google.

Posted by
3936 posts

We've rented in France a few times...I actually kinda like roundabouts to a point (there can be a lot of them)...but I will say - French drivers like to tailgate. Not all of them, obviously, but when you are studiously trying to drive the speed limit so you don't get a ticket in the mail 6 mos after you get home, we noticed some tailgating going on. Other than that (and we have tailgaters here too!) it was pretty much like driving at home.

Posted by
4716 posts

Driving in France is a breeze, even for those used to driving on the left however there is a noticeable difference between the north and south. In the north the drivers tend to be courteous and careful, rules are frequently obeyed and the pace is more relaxed. The south, on the other hand, is far more frenetic, lots of speeding, tailgating, aggressive and ignorant driving and a penchant for the horn.

As Bob has stated, automatics are no longer significantly more expensive than manuals. I've rented automatics in France for not much more than a manual and the automatic that I currently have in Mallorca was cheaper than some comparable manuals.

I wouldn't worry about the driving whatsoever, it'll likely be better than what you're used to in the US.

Posted by
28086 posts

I'd agree with JC regarding the north and south, with the exception of in the vicinity of Lille and other points in the Nord Départment - who tend to drive much more like Belgian drivers.

Posted by
3936 posts

Yes - I def noticed the tailgating the two times we had a car in the south rather than the once in the north...

Posted by
3239 posts

Be sure you have lots of change for toll roads. My husband found driving in France to be easy, especially compared to the UK where they drive on the "wrong" (to us) side of the road.

Posted by
4370 posts

We've driven in France a few times. It is pretty easy. The round abouts are initially nerve racking but you get used to them. You can go around again if you are not quite sure where to get off. We had a GPS that we rented from the company. The limitations were that they tend to route you the fast, easy way and we like to take more scenic routes. GPS can be confusing with the roundabouts.It is sometimes hard to determine what they consider an "exit" when there are small roads or entrances to places on the roundabout. A map and a general plan of the route is a good idea. I was happier with maps.me on my phone than a GPS. I downloaded the appropriate map when I had wifi. We picked up a car in Chartres. We rented through Autoeurope but the car came from Hertz which was on the edge of old town which made it easier to get out of town. My recollection is that there wasn't a lot of car rentals in Chartres, in fact, the Hertz may have been the only option close to the old town. I would learn the road signs. They are usually in the RS guide

Posted by
1240 posts

I've only driven in Alsace and Burgundy. Roundabouts are a joy once you've breezed through your first couple: they've even started to introduce them to newer subdivions in some parts of Ontario where I live, long overdue. I don't know about the widths of the roads where you are headed but I'm guessing they can't be any narrower than some of the tiny roads in Britain.

Try AutoEurope for your car rental.

Posted by
335 posts

We drove from cdg to the Dordogne, with a couple of overnights, last summer and returned our car at the Bordeaux railway station. Very easy to do. Petrol prices are expensive and as other have said the toll roads need to be factored in. Just have small bills available and or coins. We will again be renting a car in Provence this June. Getting a small car is advantageous. Driving gives you a better time to see things. Maybe bring a cooler bag so you can have cold drinks available.
At some point you will think you are on somebody’s driveway. No, it’s still a road. Plus the roads are generally better than the USA. Use a good map program. We like Michelin and google is good too. Some people had good luck with Waze. Have a great trip and relax. The roundabouts will be your friend. Happy travels

Posted by
153 posts

Thank you,

Thank you, The Other Bob, for the more complete and accurate explanation of the "priorité à droit" rules in France. My discussion was much too simplistic and based on a limited shouting match delivered by an irate French motorist when I almost dinged his car many years ago. It educated me just enough to be very cautious of traffic coming from my right.

Posted by
24 posts

My husband drives in Europe and I navigate using a GPS and a paper map. If I think the Garmin is taking us in the wrong direction, and yes, it has a couple times, have a good idea of what direction you want to go by planning ahead. If you do drive on the A/toll roads carry lots of coins. Euros have 8 different coins including a 1 and 2 Euro coin to pay the tolls or use a credit card. Some credit cards charge as much as 3% to convert to dollars on your bill so call them before you leave home. Can't remember if one can use AMEX on a toll road. I take a NFCU Visa card w/ no conversion charge.

Posted by
4370 posts

We've had bad luck trying to use AMEX in the machines for France toll roads. In general the VISA worked, but sometimes the only thing that worked for us was coins.

Posted by
11 posts

Wow everyone- thank you for the responses!! I appreciate the input- it really is helpful to have your insights and tips. I paln on reserving an automatic transmission, since I have ankle problems. I'm think the airport is best for getting one, since they are not as common as the manual transmissions over there.
Has anyone driven the lavendar fields and hill town from Provence? Those roads do look tricky.

Posted by
6003 posts

Lots of good advice, the only thing I would add is to do some research and understand the various signage you might encounter. Plus, many US drivers are a bit surprised that the speed limit is actually a limit, not speed limit plus 10 miles per hour or so. Otherwise, expect a few camera speeding tickets when you get home.

Posted by
99 posts

I’ve driven all through Provence (and the rest of France too). The roads through the lavender field areas are a little more crooked than some places, but they’re not especially intimidating. You simply adjust your speed accordingly. France is actually a delightful place to drive. The roads are good and well marked. With your phone or a stand-alone GPS you’ll get along just fine. Drivers aren’t any different from those you’ll find here. The cities can be a little stressful but mainly because you’re not familiar with them. Again, you’d have the same trouble here. One tip on your GPS: unless you speak French, set the voice to speak English. If your GPS is spitting out road names in French, you’ll have no idea how they’re spelled, so you may not recognize the street names on the signs. Also, they do enforce speed limits. They (usually) warn you that you’re approaching a stationary radar site. Learn the sign for it. But, if you get a speeding ticket when you get back home don’t worry. Use Google Translate to help you interpret what you owe, then go to the internet link on the citation (the payment site is in English), and pay with your credit card. The fine is usually pretty small if you pay promptly. I got one a couple of years ago. It cost me about $50. Your first indication that you got a ticket is a late, odd charge on your credit card from your rental car company. The ticket from the authorities will follow in the snail mail a couple of weeks later.

Relax and enjoy the road trip. I’ve made both the runs you’re planning. You’ll see some pretty country. Save time to stop in some small towns.

Bruce

Posted by
3936 posts

We did the lavender trail last July - driving wasn't bad at all - the only place we were really nervous was when we went to the Bories - very narrow road and very twisty - we just hoped we wouldn't meet anyone with nowhere to pass...but that's off a main road. Another tight spot was near Abbaye de Senanque - but that's because people were parked on both sides of the road and there was a huge tour bus that was having issues getting onto the road - I believe he left quite a rude note under the wiper of the guy who parked somewhere he shouldn't have (it took him a good 4-5 min to maneuver onto the road).

If you are interested in a HUGE market - Forcalquier had a huge Mon market. Veggies, food like chickens and cheese and baked goods and touristy stuff and flowers. My two fav spots were Roussillon and Moustiers Sainte Marie. But the lavender fields are just amazing.

Posted by
430 posts

We've driven quite a bit in France. You've got lots of good advice here.
I believe Rick Steves has a section in his France book about roundabouts. Different from what we're used to but easy to learn.
The only thing I didn't see stated clearly above is that routes are generally not marked by their number (although they'll appear that way on a map). Instead, they are marked by where the road is headed, usually the name of the next small town or two, and, if you're near a large city, the road signs will also also list that city's name. Someone has to navigate so that when you come to a town you know the name of the next town along the way. Just keep going towards the towns along your route.
You'll get the hang of it. Don't speed. And if you get a little lost, well, some of our best discoveries came when we were "lost".

Posted by
15037 posts

My driving experience in France has been limited, so far, to Burgundy and Alsace in the second half of June. Before going I'd read that since Alsace is a more prosperous area, roads are better-maintained than in Burgundy and I found this to be true. I avoided the autoroute as much as possible both because the lesser roads are more scenic and some of my chosen sights required it. On 2-lane roads there were no shoulders most of the time. A number of back roads in Burgundy were quite narrow. Luckily for me there was rarely any oncoming traffic. Also they were lots of potholes and signage was sometimes neglected, like signs turned askew so you couldn't tell which road was which. I'm used to tailgating drivers. It annoys me when it is obvious that I can't go any faster, usually because there are several cars ahead of me all going at the same speed. I didn't have that in France. I stuck to the speed limit and would pull over to let the locals pass me whenever I could. I assume that they know where the speed traps are. I wasn't willing to take the risk. On the autoroute, I didn't see anyone speeding or tailgating, both of which can get you a citation.

Posted by
2916 posts

La Clayette versus Charolles?

That's easy. Choose La Clayette. There's a great goat cheese producer there:-)