Please sign in to post.

Driving in France (Paris to Normandy and back)

ok, so me and my girlfriend settled on taking a 3 day roadtrip from Paris to the Normandy area via car vice by train, leaving early on a Sunday and coming back on a Tuesday, with a target time of around 6pm. How is driving in France, specifically from the Paris area to the Normandy area? We plan to stay near CDG and also rent a car from CDG to keep the logistics as simple as possible. Both my girlfriend and I are veterans of big city driving here in the US (Washington DC, NYC metro area, L.A.) so I'm not too concerned about driving in traffic. I'm just more concerned about how the road system works in France. Are there rest areas with bathrooms along the major roads to and from Normandy? What kind of tolls am I looking at paying to travel to and from Normandy area(Bayeux and Saint Mont Michel)? Are the tolls manned or are they all automatic, pay by credit card or inserting cash? How frequent are gas stations along the way? How do they operate, pay at the pump or pay inside (I don't like carrying around a lot of cash hence why I'm asking about this). What kind of traffic should I plan to expect to hit on a Sunday morning and on a Tuesday early evening? We will be doing this road trip the first week in October. Thanks.

Posted by
1078 posts

the driving is easy, the parking can sometimes be difficult, and if you have a GPS, set it to "home" where you pick up your rental car at CDG as they are not marked very well. As far as rest areas with "facilities," I don't recall any, and, suggest you get used to carrying cash as cc's without a chip and pin don't work at gas pumps or the toll stops-but manned stops will take your cc along with some of the manned gas stations. It's a fun drive through the area, and would urge you to check out the small villages along the way.

Posted by
1878 posts

The driving is great as long as you do not drive in Paris which I did by accident last year trying to off the car at Orly. Make sure you have a good map (or GPS) to the car. As much as one might think nothing could be easier than ping a car at the airport, we drove around in circles for a couple of hours because we did not have a good enough map and the signs were few. Generally I concur that the parking even in smaller towns in France can be tough. Try not to arrive during evening rush hour, small towns throughout Europe are a nightmare at that hour. Bayeaux is an exception to the rule, they have a nice pay lot in the center of town. A lot of times there are truck stops/gas stations that are really nice off of the main freeways, cannot recall whether that is the case in Normandy but I would not worry about it. The gas stations are modern in France, you should not have any trouble buying gas with a credit card. People complain about the tolls, but I am pretty frugal and I have never thought the tolls were a big deal.

Posted by
9110 posts

All the gas stations on the toll roads are manned and all will take your credit card inside. Most are open all night. There's one about every twenty-five miles. Any place with a gas station will have restrooms. The ones with just a picnic table might have an outhouse type affair. Hive out your tolls on viamicheline.com. They'll be stiff. Figure on having to pay cash for them. I'm sure all are manned along your route. Traffic won't be much of a problem. You'll be on freeways almost all of the way.

Posted by
27713 posts

Bayeaux ... (has) ... a nice pay lot in the center of town I remember that lot being free. Has the town started charging?

Posted by
1286 posts

Re the amount of tolls. You can check viamichelin.com and plug in your route. It will tell you the amount of the tolls. The roads are great but we also don't recall rest areas with bathrooms.

Posted by
107 posts

We just did this ( except stayed in Normandy longer). Getting out of Paris was AWFUL!!! May I say it again... AWFUL!!! Next time I think we would take a train to Bayeux and just rent the car there. Once getting out of Paris, it was fine. We payed cash at the toll booths and they normally have at least one booth that is manned. The manned ones are generally over to the right. I want to say we payed around 15 euros or so one way in tolls ( 3, 5, 4.5, 5.5 or so... can't remember as we also drove across France to Verdun). They do have rest areas along the way, some with gas stations. That said, the bathrooms are just holes in the ground.) We never stopped at the gast station on the toll roads. That was another thing that surprised me. We drove the car from Paris to Normandy, around Normandy, back to Versailles and over to Verdun and only had to fill up once. We would have been filling up our SUV at home every other day with all that driving. One thing we found VERY challenging about driving out of Paris and in a few of the cities is that the lights are set farther back and my hubby would pull up to much sometimes. The city streets are written high up on the buildings. Seriously, it took one person in our car to look at the light, two of us to try and read/find street signs and my hubby to try to avoid the motorcycles zooming in and out, people riding your tail, etc. He wrote back that the streets that that had people parked and 2 lanes on it were as big as a pedestrian street here in Texas!!! Bayeux has free parking and some paid. Most of the beach sites are free parking. Driving was an adventure. The traffic circles were sometimes well marked and other times, we felt like Chevy Chase circling around and around reading the small signs trying to figure out what direction to go!!! Christine

Posted by
425 posts

I just wanted to say that I DO enjoy reading these posts! :-) Roger

Posted by
27 posts

Here's my two cents. We live in the suburbs of Chicago so I know how bad traffic can be. We rented a car from Auto Europe last October,which turned into Hertz. I bought the extra insurance...just in case but regretted it afterwards. Normandy area (Bayeux) was a easy 3- 3 1/2 hour ride...this after an overnight flight too! The Normandt area was awesome. Great little winding roads. Loved every minute of driving in that area and down to Mont St Michel. Maintain your speed on the tollway and just stay to the right and you'll be fine. Sever "oasis" and gas stop are no problems. Tolls are easily marked and tolltakers were friendly. There are some speedy nuts on the road but it's like that everywhere anyway.
The one thing I'm glad I took and wouldn't go to France WITHOUT is a GPS. Paris is nuts as far as roads go and getting back to CDG is just as bad. Plus lots of the signs are very small. I would of ripped all my hair out if I didn't have one with me. If you don't have one you can always rent one from the car place as well. Have a great trip!

Posted by
524 posts

Hi Mike Great idea to go to Normandy from Paris. My one concern is you plan to stay near CDG for logistical reasons. I really urge you to stay in central Paris. You will have a much better feel for the city if you stay there. To be there early in the morning so you can go to a neighborhood cafe or bakery. To see the Eiffel Tower or take the bateau mouche (the tourist boats on the Seine River) at night. Walk the pedestrian streets and check out the restaurants and night life. You can take the Airport train/bus once in to get to your hotel and once out to CDG to get the car. Too far to go back and forth daily if you stay near CDG. Check out RS hotels to see if they meet your critiera. Or ask on the helpline if you have specific requirements. Bobbie

Posted by
17 posts

Mike, like others have said, the majority of this drive is through rolling countryside and it's painless. I did this a few weeks ago and I would say there are certainly rest stop/gas stations right on the side of the road. But they're a little fewer and farther between than we may be used to. I found an ATM right in CDG and I'm glad I did. It will be quicker to pay the tolls in cash. Some of the tolls are automatic and some have humans-you'll see signs. If you have cash, go to the humans. I rented my car through AutoEurope which ended being Hertz. I was really surprised that I didn't have to take a shuttle out to the middle of nowhere to pick the car up - it was right there in the terminal. And I didn't find it challenging getting out of CDG. The roads were well marked and I had a Google map printout of my route to the Sainte Mere Eglise area. (If you do this-remember which terminal you picked the up at for when you return it!!) I actually did my last night in Versailles. It was less than an hour to CDG the next morning but I left my hotel at 7 a.m. on a Friday. Traffic was no problem. Have fun!
Renee

Posted by
39 posts

thanks for all of the suggestions....to address some of the comments: 1.) we are staying near CDG because we are on a budget. We are visiting Spain and the UK so we really had to stretch ourselves. My girlfriend has been to Paris already and I'm only really interested to see the Eiffel Tower and just see the sights and sounds of the city. We don't really plan to see all of the "touristy" attractions. We will be going to Versailles for the day as well. 2.) with regard to rental cars, I have been checking rental rates on Travelocity but I keep seeing this Europcar name come up. Do they offer better deals? I only drive automatic.

Posted by
10344 posts

"I only drive automatic." Unlike renting a car here, not being able to drive a stick shift can be a big and unexpected problem, because a very high percent of rental cars in Europe are stick shiftthe opposite from here. And checking the box for automatic, when you make the rental reservation online, does not assure you that they will actually have an automatic for you at the car lot when you get thereas a number of travelers reporting in here have found. Unfortunately, there's not a perfect solution to this problem. What has worked for some is phoning the rental location (yes, calling France) a few days before you pick up the car, hopefully getting someone who speaks English unless you're fluent in French, and telling them something like: "I really, really need the automatic, please." And then keep your fingers crossed. And if you do end up getting an automatic, you shouldn't be surprised to pay a higher rate.

Posted by
39 posts

well me and my girlfriend did our hotel bookings for France last weekend and we booked the Radisson Blu at CDG for our initial stay near Paris, then we booked an economy hotel near CDG as well for when we get back from Normandy(we plan to return to CDG in early evening and are flying out the next morning to the UK). We checked travelocity for any type of deals for hotels within Paris and we didn't like the pricing, especially since we are only using the hotel as a place to "crash". We want to spend as much time outside of the hotel. So we felt that it was a waste of $$$ to spend the extra money on hotels within Paris. If we were planning to hit a lot of the tourist attractions and do some shopping, I could see the value of staying within the city limits but we are not going to be doing much of that...we are more of the "bring a backpack with a couple bottles of water and a camera" and just hit a couple spots here and there.

Posted by
9110 posts

Mike, I think you're about to go broke in the name of economy. What hotel are you staying at out by the airport?

Posted by
524 posts

Mike What is your budget for a hotel in Paris or CDG? RS and the helpline folks have lots of recommendations for budget hotels in Paris. Really, it is worthwhile to be in central Paris. And as you are not going to see lots of touristy places, you can get the best experience of Paris and Parisians while walking the neighborhoods. IMHO, you will be so disappointed by staying in the suburbs. Expect Versailles to be very busy. Follow RS recommendations for the best way to get tickets and see the palace and especially the gardens. Although I love to see the fountains on during the weekend, friends are saying it is ridiculously crowded then. Yes, as Ed says about automatic cars in Europe. And availability. And don't drive a stick if you haven't ever or not for a long while. Trust me on this. It would be good to spend the money on RS Europe through the Back Door and RS France. The $40 spent on these 2 books will save you tons of money and time. Even if your girlfriend has been in Europe before, these books are worth their weight in gold. THE BEST practical information ever and great restaurant info. Bobbie

Posted by
2 posts

Honest opinion? As veteran Los Angeles drivers, we found aspects of the Loire Valley very daunting. Extremely narrow streets (and if you make a wrong turn, you may find that you are head to head with some other car and have to back up some curving medieval street while someone else bears down on you - and they can't see you until the corner the curve, etc.) Backing up to avoid head on collisions happened three times (and in one case, resulted in a minor collision with a car coming behind us). Some towns have these barriers that make it clear which direction gets the right of way on these "almost too narrow to pass" roads and we realized the local drivers sometimes drove with one wheel on the sidewalk in order to allow passing - that helped to know). Of course, we were in some pretty small places with medieval streets, which we thought would be easier than it was. We got used to the turnabouts, although my usual use of maps was almost pointless as often larger destinations weren't mentioned on the signs (and there would be about 10 destinations to read). Another couple we talked to said they actually did some roundabouts a dozen times! We had GPS - thank god. And I agree about the stoplights often being hard to see, being more set back than ours (and street signs being hard to see when too far back from the intersection). But you get used to it. We should have planned WAY more time for getting around and practicing. Michelin was great for getting city to city, but not around the cities - which in our case included some pretty twisty turny places (which we couldn't enjoy while driving, it was too stressful). And parking is, well, difficult.

Posted by
188 posts

We have used Andy at Gemut.com for car rentals and very useful info on Europe car rentals the web site has contact info

Posted by
8396 posts

!. Try autoeurope.com for your car rental. US residents don't have to pay some of the taxes Europeans pay on a rental. 2. Each ticket each way from the airport into Paris is 10 euros. So that's an extra 40 euros for the two of you. Is the airport Radison still less expensive when you add in the 40 euros? 3. It doesn't make sense to rent a car at the airport because CDG airport is on the exact opposite end of Paris from the road to Normandy. You should try to pick up a car in St. Cloud, the 16th or the 8th arrondisement. Those are on your way.
4. The toilets at rest stops are squat toilets with running water. You don't sit down; you squat instead of sitting on a seat. The toilets in gas station and restaurant rest stops are sitters.

Posted by
1501 posts

I just did the Paris/Normandy thing end April. The tolls are @35eu each way.........gasoline @$7.00 per gallon. We found all things considered, it was cheaper to overnight in Bayeux especially if you are planning on driving back and forth several days in a row, figure @70 eu a day in just tolls! There are some inexpensive hotels up there you can find in RS book. We stayed at Hotel Bayeux. They will negotiate price with you, as it will not be peak tourist season. (I would have preferred a nicer place, but they were all booked.) You DO need a car if you want to see all of the D-Day sites, as they are spread out through a (beautiful & charming) 50 mile area. It was cold and rainy, so make sure you bring a heavy jacket, as the wind blows hard off the English Channel. When you return from Normandy, ditch the car at CDG, see the Eiffel Tower and train to Versailles.

Posted by
76 posts

A word about using your GPS . To avoid it sending you through the crowded highways of Paris, look at your map and set it to a "via" town away from Paris to get you away from traffic, otherwise it might send you into the heart of it thinking it is the shorter route.