Driving in France….
…really is a total joy… if you have an insider’s guide. Imagine quiet village lanes, blue skies, vineyards, empty roads…..but of course, it helps if you know the rules of the road and can deftly navigate French roads with the ease and confidence of a local!
Our Top 10 Tips for Driving in France
Here we are going to tell you some of the quirky rules you need to know; how to compare petrol prices (they can vary wildly even within a couple of miles – /+25% is not unusual); tips for navigating those pesky toll booths and what the heck the speed limits are. Looking to hire a car for all the family, from the airport and not be ripped off? Or perhaps something a little special…..dreaming of a 2CV or an open-top sports car? Yup, we can tell you where.Full disclosure: We have no affilliations/receive no commissions/payments from any of the companies we mention on this page. We’re just happy to share our hard-earned knowledge 🙂
Living in France we really do know France from the inside and have picked up lots of local knowledge & contacts. Even better, we know who are THE local experts to help make your France driving trip a reality in 2016.
1. Ferries, Eurotunnel or Fly?
Your means of travel will largely be determined by your location and whether you wish to take your own car to France or hire one when there. (We will cover this in more detail in another blog). Brittany Ferries have crossings to France from Portsmouth, Poole, Plymouth & Cork and we are delighted to be able to offer our guests a 20% discount on their crossing (please ask us before you book). Direct Ferries are a nifty comparison/booking site which show all the ferry routes & companies. They even include details of Eurotunnel – ideal if you get seasick and want a super-fast (35 minute) journey time to France.
Flying is the perfect option if you want to do less driving and have more choice of destinations within France. Ryanair, Easyjet , British Airways, Aer Lingus & Flybe all fly into our local airports of Bordeaux or Bergerac. (Full list of UK airports that fly to SW France click here)
2. What stuff do you legally have to have in your car?
So, first things first. If you are going to drive your own car, you need to make sure it is as prepared as you for the voyage! Here is a list of the requirements (thanks to the super-informative website Drive France)
- Headlamp converters*
- High-visibility vest* (one for each passenger in the car)
- GB sticker*
- Warning triangle*
- Spare bulbs*
- Breathalysers* (still a legal requirement, although no fines for not having them)
- Driving licence & passport
- Insurance documents
- Proof of ownership (V5 log book)
- Credit card (nearly always needed) plus possibly a recent utility bill (this is for car hire purposes)
An all-in-one travel kit (all the items marked with an asterix) is available to buy from Drive France for £24.95 inc UK delivery.
3. Car hire
Always a tricky one this. The internet is full of horror stories of who not to use. We, however, would like to actually recommend a decent car hire company. Buggs is an independent family-run firm based at Bergerac airport. We first used Buggs when arriving in France in 2007 and they were absolutely fantastic. Even had done our shopping for us! Many of our own family and guests hire from Buggs and we are delighted to continue to recommend them for a friendly and professional car hire service. The also operate out of Limoges and La Rochelle airports. For car hire at Bordeaux, whilst we cannot recommend any specific company, here is a handy link to all the car hire companies who have a presence at Bordeaux airport.
4. Classic car hire
So you fancy hiring a classic car to tour around South West France? A Morgan, Mustang, Lotus, MGB or even a 2CV? Car enthusiast Andy Sayle runs the classic car hire business Cross Channel Sports Cars . There is the possibility of airport pick-up and drop-off so you can be stylish from the moment you step foot on French soil 🙂
5. Petrol price comparison
Petrol prices can vary wildly across France – not just from region to region, but also within a couple of miles there can be a 25% difference. Here is a handy, official government website that lets you plan your trip so you’re not paying over the odds for your fuel.
6. Speed limits & radar detectors
Radar detectors are illegal in France (and subject to hefty fines/confiscation), as are Sat Navs that warn you of speed camera areas. The French work-around is having warnings in your satnav of “dangerous road segments”! Here are the speed limits, so you have no excuse 🙂
Type of Road Dry weather limit Wet weather
Motorway 130kmh / 80mph 110kph / 68mph
Dual Carriageway 110kmh / 68mph 100kph / 62mph
Other roads 90kmh / 56mph 80kph / 50mph
Towns * 50kmh / 31mph 50kmh / 31mph
By schools 30kmh / 18mph 30kmh / 18mph
*Built-up areas such as towns and villages are demarcated by a rectangular road sign with a red border around the name of the town.
7. Driving Tips
Driving in France is generally a joyful experience. Road rage is infrequent and manners are generally good, as long as you can get to grips with the French driving pysche:
- You must drive a Renault, Peugeot or, at a push, Citroën.
- It must be a hatchback.
- Silver, white or black are the only acceptable colours.
- Rules 1 – 3 are excused if you drive a blue 2CV. What could be more French than that ?
- Under no circumstances must you drive a blingy German 4×4 (do you want the taxman after you ??)
- You must give way to the right. This means that as you happily drive along a road (unless on a priority road (signed with a yellow diamond) and spot a small road on your RH S – you must stop dead and let this traffic join your road, in front of you. Yes, really. (It’s called Priorité à droite).
- However, if you are on a roundabout, give way to the left.
- No. 7 is a relatively new rule and causes problems with those who were only brought up with No. 6.
- In bastide towns with a grid-like layout, only ever attempt to drive through once you have mastered No. 6, but also be mindful of No. 8.
- On narrow country roads, drive roughly in the middle of the road and only swerve, to avoid oncoming traffic, at the last second.
- Remember to cheerily wave, stop & chat with absolutely everyone you know, however inconvenient this is to other road users.
- Following on from No. 11, always pause to chat with joggers you may know because they naturally appreciate a little chat mid-way through their run.
- Picking up stray children and returning them home is the done thing.
- Road rage is not la norme or de rigueur in provincial France. A little tolerance and patience goes a long way. So, if you can’t keep your toys in your pram, please don’t get in your car
Road signs: LHS: You must give way to the right. Middle/RHS signs: You have the priority.
8. Toll roads
Driving any distance through France will nearly always necessitate using a toll (péage) road. These always have blue signs (the free road signs are green). Bear in mind that it often isn’t practical to avoid the toll roads, especially when covering a long distance. Different companies own different motorways and charging varies across the country. Autoroutes has a toll route calculator.
On entering a toll road, you stop at a barrier and collect a ticket, and then pay it when leaving the toll road. The ticket and payment machines are on the left, so can be tricky to use (if you are without passengers) in a right hand drive car. One way around this is to use an automated toll payment system. In essence you have a electronic transponder (a tag, to you and me) that sits on the windscreen. As you approach the tolls (using the speedy tag lanes) your tag is automatically read and the toll is billed to your UK debit card. Sanef is the only UK company to offer this service.
9. How to avoid traffic
Always handy to know where the traffic is and routes to avoid it. The French government website Bison Futé is the place to consult. (Has an English translation).
Outside of the main cities, parking is generally free. There are very few paid parking spaces and the chances of spotting a traffic warden in a provincial town must be on a par with finding a free hospital parking space in the UK. (Parking at hospitals in France, in my experience, is also free)! Many towns have car parks that are also, delightfully, free with plentiful parking spaces. For those who like wandering around vide greniers (car boot sales), these are also free to park at.
If heading into a city, say, Bordeaux, the best advice is to head to one of the Park and Ride tram stops on the edge of the city. Here you can park up for the day and take the tram into the city centre. Price is €4.50 for the full day’s parking and tram travel for all the car’s passengers. The French really don’t seem to have got the hang of ripping people off!
One last thing. Don’t forget to drive on the right!
BONNE ROUTE 🙂Acknowledgement and thanks to Aer Lingus, Autoroutes, Bison Futé, Bordeaux Airport, Bordeaux Tram, British Airways, Brittany Ferries, Buggs, Cross Channel Sports Cars, Direct Ferries, Drive France, Easyjet, Eurotunnel, Flybe, Legispermis, Prix Carburants, Ronde Aliénor Aquitaine, Ryanair & Sanef.