Please sign in to post.

Southern France Driving Queries

I'll be renting a car in southern France for about a week, and was hoping for some tips on driving around the area. I'll be renting in Arles and driving from Provence to the Languedoc-Roussillon region, specifically Carcassonne, Perpignan/Collioure and Montpellier. I'm not sure which routes to take, whether the auto-route is best (though expensive) or if there is a slightly slower series of roads that will be more relaxed but still efficient. I haven't been able to purchase driving maps for the region, is it best to get those from the car rental company, or do they have them in tourist offices?

Posted by
1154 posts

We drove all around southern France but bought our own GPS, learned how to use it, long before we tried it in France. We also bought a Michelin map of Normandy because the well-beaning GPS might send you down a cow path for the shortest route. We had no trouble with the Michelin maps and the GPS as we drifted along the back roads, stopping where we wanted, buying cheeses, Calvados, sandwiches, or souvenirs from the villagers. France now requires an international license but you can get one from the US AAA. I cannot tell you the freedom a rental car gives you, anywhere in the France countryside, a full tank, a flexible schedule, and an entire day at your leisure. Lucky you....

Posted by
9 posts

Is it necessary to purchase an international license to drive in France? I keep reading different things regarding this issue, and it seems to ultimately come down to whether the police officer that stops you speaks English and can read a US driver's license.

Posted by
3696 posts

I believe the license is required in France, but even if its not, just get it. It takes a few minutes at AAA and costs $15 or so. I have driven all over numerous times with just a map, but last few trips to Europe brought my own GPS and it does make life a little easier. But, don't trust it completely, as has been stated. I have drive both the toll roads and back roads and it depends on how much time you have... I typically prefer the back roads, because of the scenery and slower pace. I found signage to be very good and was never lost for too long of a time:)

Posted by
345 posts

We have driven all over France and Italy without a GPS. We don't even have one here in the States. I know...low tech.

The last time we rented a car at CDG, my husband was asked if he wanted a GPS. He responded that he already had one and her name is Bev.

We use a large fold-out map that we purchased at Barnes and Noble. The brand name is Borch. It is laminated and the front cover is a gold color with blue letters. It cast about $12 a few years ago. We also have one for Italy and Germany.

You can easily take the E and the A routes for speed but you will pay the tolls. You can also use the N and D roads but they will be slower. We try to do some of each but if we have to get to a place in a hurry, we use the toll roads. This map does show a lot of the very tiny roads so we didn't need a special map for each section.

Enjoy your trip! I wish I was going back this year!

Posted by
8774 posts

I believe the International Drivers Permit is now required in France. The IDP is available at AAA. Driving in southern France is easy. I do bring a GPS from home and a paper map. I decide on my route using the map and the ViaMichelin app or website. That way if the GPS tries to divert me the route I know I want to take I can ignore it.

Don't count on the car rental company to have a map, not only for a broad area but also for their local vicinity. I bought a Michelin map at Barnes & Noble. I also bought a small Road Atlas in France. You can familiarize French road signs and traffic laws online.

Posted by
1878 posts

I drove that general route in reverse as part of our 2003 France trip (traveling with my wife). We came from Sarlat and stayed a night in Carcassone, then on to Arles for two nights. The toll roads are the way to go unless time is no object, I think. We did not find the tolls to be too big a cost component, neither did we on our 2010 trip to other regions of France where we also covered a lot of ground. Watch out for speed cameras which are plentiful in France. The hard part of driving in France (and in a lot of countries) is entering a new town for the first time, and trying to get to your hotel or parking. We had trouble with this in Arles, where we arrived around 9 p.m., also in Sarlat where we arrived around 5 p.m. (Note to self: don't arrive around 5 p.m. or late into an unfamiliar foreign city.) Arriving in Carcassonne was a breeze. We did not even have a room booked, but there are a number of hotels right outside the walled city with easy parking. The Perpignan-Provence route had extremely heavy traffic of big trucks. No big deal, but just be prepared for that. I never saw so many trucks, one after the other, anywhere. Maybe it was a tractor trailer convention, but I think that's just a major trucking route. I still remember it vividly almost twelve years later. GPS might be good if you are used to using one in the U.S., but I would not try it for the first time in Europe. Guess I am old school but I prefer a good map. I have wanted to visit Collioure for years, it looks great in photos. I strongly recommend checking out the Cathar castles Peyreptuse and Queribus on the way. I think we drove with regular AAA maps, but you will probably want something a little better. It's common to see good driving maps in gas stations in France, so I would not worry too much about being able to procure good maps. Maybe get a AAA map at home and as soon as you find a gas station, get a better map.

Posted by
8774 posts

VS, that interesting about the Provence - Perpignan route. I've driven it twice and don't remember more trucks than on any other route.

Posted by
3306 posts

I'd just like to add a word of caution about D roads. Their quality varies enormously. Some years ago, we wanted to visit Conques from where we were staying near Cahors. Taking what appeared to be the most direct route, we wound up on an extremely narrow (1 and 1/2 car widths?) road, without even a center stripe. For the return, we took a longer route, that included a portion on an N or toll road; and shaved half an hour off the time. The outbound trip wasn't even particularly charming; and, far from being relaxing, the road's narrowness made us pretty tense. You can use viamichelin.com to get a sense of trip length on various routes. Just add around 25% to whatever they say.

Posted by
1005 posts

Just to clarify, you do NOT need an International Driver's Permit to drive in France. This is from the French embassy in Paris:

"If you are a temporary visitor to France (less than 90 days,) you may drive with a valid U.S.
driver's license. In addition to having your U.S. driver's license, visitors are strongly advised to
carry an International Driving Permit or attach a French translation to their U.S. driver's license.
Also, you must be at least 18 years old to drive in France."

Having driven in France, I recommend taking the autoroutes when possible. It is less stressful that navigating the country roads, and you get to your destination faster. Also, I would seriously consider getting a chip-and-PIN card (not a chip-and-signature card) to use in the automated gas pumps, unless you are sticking to autoroutes which have rest areas. Americans are amazed at the number of unattended gas stations in France, where you can only fill up if you have a chip-and-PIN credit card. Even staffed gas stations are usually closed on Sundays, when only a credit card works.

Posted by
8293 posts

The website for the French Embassy in Washington says you may drive in France with a US drivers licence "if it is accompanied by a notarized translation into French." Seems to me just acquiring an IDP from AAA would be simpler and cheaper than a notarized translation.

Posted by
759 posts

Take your own GPS with a European map card in it and know how to use it forbore you arrive. Back it up with a good Michelin map with a scale of 1;400,000 or larger. The maps are easy to find by just looking on line for European maps. Yes the French government says it is only highly recommended that you have an International Driving Permit or a certified translation of your drivers license. The translation of highly recommended is you are a damned fool if you don't and if you have any kind of a traffic infraction without one they will gladly make your life a living hell.

Posted by
16883 posts

www.viamichelin.com will suggest "discovery" routes appropriate for tourists, with driving times and road tolls estimated. If you have the paper version of their regional map, then scenic roads are marked with an adjacent green line; some other map brands may do the same. I have rarely found the map I needed at the car rental office, but they are usually sold at highway rest stops and large gas stations, if you don't buy one from home.

Posted by
2580 posts

I rented the GPS along with my car from Avis and had the counter guy set it up for me beforehand, before I even got in the car. You can choose from "American" English or "British" English, we went with the Brit. It worked very well and thank goodness we had it when returning to our countryside inn from dinner on a dark and stormy night. But always have paper as backup.

My wife and I did get IDPs from the Auto Club before we left, when we were at the Avis counter in Dijon we showed them to the guy, he chuckled and said let me see your REAL drivers licenses. I suppose if you're in an accident or pulled over by the po-po, the IDP makes everything more official and will perhaps help to distract them. It's very simple to get them at an AAA office, just call to make sure they can do pix and the document both or bring your own.

Posted by
8889 posts

Phred,
The IDP is a certified translation of your licence. It is worthless without the original licence, and a US licence is not valid in France without the certified translation which the IDP provides.

But, what the car rental company wants to see is irrelevant, it is what a policeman wants to see if you are stopped and asked to show your licence that matters. In this case without both documents you are an unlicensed driver; this results in fines, possibly arrest and definately not being allowed to drive the car any more. This is a legal requirement, not just something to "help to distract" a policeman.

P.S. US licence + IDP is a temporary concession for tourists. If you become a resident (> 90 days) you need to pass a French Driving Test and get a French licence!

Posted by
2580 posts

Chris F, I'm sure you are technically correct according to the letter of the law.

But really, with all the thousands of tourists who arrive and drive in France every year, do you really think these laws are strictly enforced? It's not physically possible. Which is not to say someone shouldn't think twice before foregoing the IDP.

Posted by
8889 posts

Phred, they don't go out of the way to look for non-European tourists without an IDP. But, if you have an accident or are stopped by the police for any other reason (admittedly this will only happen to 1 in 10,000 tourists, or less), then you can have a problem.