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France - Getting Around the Eastern French Countryside

We are considering doing our own Tour of the East side of France. We will start in Riems, and go to areas like Burgundy, Alsace, the French Alps, and Lyon.

We are open to public transportation on buses and trains having done it before in other countries. But, for the countryside we think a car would be better. So, I have a few questions:

  1. Should we rent a car for the entire 2-3 weeks? Or take public transportation between the main cities and rent a car in each city to explore the area?

  2. I am tall 6'2". What size car should I rent? I like the idea of a small car, but I also need leg and foot room. I would appreciate hearing from 6 footers on this one.

  3. I haven't driven a stick shift in over a decade. YIKES!

Any other things I should know about rtenting a car in France? Often we don't know what we don't know, and I am trying to avoid expensive and time wasting mistakes.


Posted by
16766 posts

I'm not the one to give car advice, but I'd suggest digging into a good guidebook with coverage of Lyon. It's a large city with a lot of sights. You won't need a car there--or want to pay to park one. Knowing how many of your days will be spent seeing the sights in Lyon could affect your car-rental strategy and one- versus multi-rental price calculation.

Posted by
99 posts

By all means, rent a car. We rented one on every trip for the last 20 years. We used to rent directly with companies like Avis or Hertz, but for the last several years we’ve used AutoEurope. They’re a broker and can find you the best rates. And, they’re based in Maine. If you call rather than renting on line, you’ll have a nice conversation to boot.

Your car might be from any company, but will most likely be through Europcar or Hertz. The biggest controlling factor on car size is how many people there are in your party and how much luggage you have. If you rent a smaller car, there’s a very strong chance they won’t have it and will give you a free upgrade. That can be a mixed blessing, since bigger cars get lower mileage (kilometerage?) and increase your operating costs. Also, bigger vehicles are a curse in medieval villages and modern parking garages.

Take every bit of insurance you can get. I like the peace of mind that comes from zero-deductible, full coverage. If I have to have the car returned as a burned out cinder on the back of a flatbed truck, I want it to be fully covered. Somebody will doubtless tell you that your credit card will provide this coverage. All I can say is you’d better be darned sure of the fine print. What are the restrictions? What are the limits of coverage? How long will it take for reimbursement? Will your credit be blocked up by the rental car company in the interim? Will it affect your credit score and interest rate? It doesn’t work for me. The insurance thru the car company isn’t that expensive. Buy it and be carefree.

My advice is to rent for the entire period. You’ll get a better price. And, by the time you add your intercity train tickets, you’ll be dollars ahead.

Oh, by the way, get the International Drivers Permit thru AAA. Nobody will ever ask you for it probably, but if you get stopped (unlikely) or have an accident, you’ll need it.

It sounds like a great trip. We’ve enjoyed touring that part of France in many occasions. Enjoy.


Posted by
4125 posts

I think you will want a car everyplace except Lyon and, perhaps, Riems. Not for city-to-city travel, but to see the rural sights.

Splitting the rental into two is no biggie (unless you find that a lease makes better sense for you), but are there advantageous train connections? It's not obvious that there are.

Posted by
1424 posts

Should we rent a car for the entire 2-3 weeks? Or take public transportation between the main cities and rent a car in each city to explore the area?

For me, this would depend on the number of city days (finding and paying for parking) vs country days: if you only have a few city days, as a previous poster said, you'll likely get a better rate for a longer rental. If you have a lot of city days, then the cost of parking could outweigh the inconvenience of multiple rentals.

I haven't driven a stick shift in over a decade. YIKES!
It wasn't quite as easy as getting back on a bike, but it came back to me pretty easily. I'd suggest giving yourself a few extra minutes to remind yourself how that clutch-thingy works!

Driving through the Burgundy countryside is absolutely lovely!

Posted by
76 posts

I would recommend renting a car to get around, but drop it off when you get to Lyon. There's no real need for one there and it's more of a hassle than an asset. When we go to Lyon for shopping or for appointments we just park our car for the duration and use transit.

So -- you could rent a car, use it for awhile, then drop it off when you get to Lyon. Spend a few days in Lyon, and then rent another car and head out of town to continue seeing the countryside. The main station in Lyon (Gare de Lyon Part-Dieu) has rental agencies onsite (though the station is undergoing part of a major, multi-year expansion right now). You should be able to get an automatic if you would prefer it -- specify it when you make the reservation and then I would recommend calling the rental counter a day or two before your pickup date to remind them you need an automatic.

As for size, I'm a bit shorter than you, so I can't say if you'd be comfortable in a French small car. Speaking of the Renault line, you'd probably want to avoid a Twingo or the larger Clio (though a Clio might work for you). I've rented the even larger Megane and it was fine in small towns and parking garages. Avoid the Talisman -- it's huge. Renault's smaller SUVs (the Captur or the Scenic) might work as well. Citroën and Peugeot have similar sized vehicles. You can check their dimensions and compare them to vehicles you may be familiar with by going to their various websites (,, and While there's no guarantee the specific model you rent will actually be there when you show up, it should be a comparable size under that vehicle class.

Posted by
125 posts

If you are considering renting a car for three weeks in a row, you might consider leasing a car for that period. I know that Renault and other French automakers offer this possibility. The big advantages are that you can pick exactly which car you want,and you will get that one; it will be a new car; and complete insurance is included. With that last perk, it makes it cheaper than renting a car, where you have to pay extra for insurance. We did this in the spring, picking our car up at CDG airport, and found it was a good deal. Just be sure they explain how the in-car GPS system works, unless you are good with tech stuff. It took us a while to figure it out. Peter