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ALL ABOUT FRANCE
France, officially the French Republic (French: République française), is a country with which almost every traveller has a relationship. Many dream of its joie de vivre shown by the countless restaurants, picturesque villages and world-famous gastronomy. Some come to follow the trail of France’s great philosophers, writers and artists, or to immerse in the beautiful language it gave the world. And others still are drawn to the country’s geographical diversity with its long coastlines, massive mountain ranges and breathtaking farmland vistas.
WHEN TO TRAVEL?
If possible, try to avoid French school holidays and Easter, because hotels are very likely to be overbooked and traffic on the roads is simply awful.
- Holidays: search internet for “French school holidays”, as they vary from region to region. Mostly, the winter holidays are 10 Feb-10 Mar. The spring holidays are often 10 Apr-10 May. Also try to avoid travel around the 14th of July. (quatorze juillet) These times the roads are full of people, leading to the much dreaded Black Friday traffic jams which can grow in length to over 160km (100 miles)!
Winter gets very cold, sometimes freezing. Make sure to bring appropriate clothing to keep you warm while visiting.
Hotels are very likely to be overbooked and road traffic will be awful during the 1 May, 8 May, 11 Nov, Easter Weekend, Ascension weekend too.
RENTING / LEASING CARS
Many cars in France have a manual gearbox (stick shifts), you may find difficult or even impossible to operate if you have only ever driven vehicles with automatic transmissions. If you rent a car, and you want an automatic, then be sure to explicitly request this requirement in advance .
Many personal cars run on diesel fuel; make sure you know whether your car runs on diesel or gasoline (petrol) (l’essence). Diesel cars are more economical to operate than gasoline fuelled cars.
When renting a car in France, it is often advantageous to rent in advance from your home country in order to secure a vehicle that you want and at the best available price. Leaving the rental plans until the last minute will leave you vulnerable to the foreign currency exchange rate and possible volatile prices during the height of a tourism season.
For short term rentals, you will find numerous familiar big name agencies (Hertz, SIXT, Avis, Alamo) which you can book through globalCARS. Pre book before departure form Australia and Save.
For rentals exceeding three weeks, it is often advantageous to use a “short term” lease program. The lease programs are uniquely French and offer a tax-free alternative to car rentals that can often have an overall lower cost and better value than a tradition car rental. The programs are typically run by the big three French auto makers Peugeot, Renault, and Citroen. Short term leasing offers clients a brand new vehicle, full insurance, unlimited mileage, and flexible driving rules compared to traditional car rentals. You must be a NON European resident to take part in this and one downfall is that you must have need for a car for more then three weeks in order to benefit from the service. Only certain agencies are authorized to sell these leases in Australia. We are the Leading agent with all 3 brands.
Roads range from the narrow single-lane roads in the countryside to major highways.
Most towns and cities were built before the general availability of the automobile and thus city centers tend to be unwieldy for cars, especially large ones. The most scenic roads in mountain areas also tend to be winding and narrow. Keep this in mind when renting: large cars can be very unwieldy. In cities, it often makes sense to just park and then use public transportation.
Roads are classified into the following categories:
- Axxx: autoroute (Motorway/freeway) (red number sign)
- Nxxx: national road (red number sign; sometimes referred to as RNxx)
- Dxxx: departmental road (yellow number sign; sometimes referred to as RDxx or CDxx)
There also are municipal (white number sign) and forestry roads (green number sign).
Note that though major map brands also use a red/yellow/white chart for roads, it has a different meaning: red means major roads, yellow means intermediate roads, and white means minor roads. A departmental road may be major, for instance.
Note that “Routes Départementales” are strictly that: each Département has its own D1, D2, etc., and D-road numbers change at Département boundaries. The government has gradually transferred national roads to départements; they are then generally numbered in a way that reminds of the original numbering. For instance, in some départements, national road number xx becomes departmental road number 9xx, in others 60xx, in others 90xx. Older signs and maps may refer to the original number.
Autoroutes, national roads and most departmental roads are almost always in good or excellent conditions. In some rural areas, secondary departmental roads may have worse conditions. In mountainous areas, roads may also have been damaged by frost, landslides, and so on, though such dangers are always signposted.
Main roads are signposted with the names of towns or cities in the direction you’re going and only secondarily with the road number. Directions in green are for major destinations through major highways ; in blue, for directions through Autoroutes. Péage means “toll”. When driving out of town, look for toutes directions (“all destinations”) or autres directions (“all other destinations”, that is, all places other than the ones on an adjacent sign), which will point you to the main route.
If you have time, use the smaller roads. The speed is decent and you don’t pay tolls; however you’ll have to slow down to 50 km/h when driving through villages. Still, you have the opportunity to drive through small towns and villages, stop and grab a bite in the restaurants or buy local wine.
Detailed maps (1/200 000 scale approximately) are highly advisable unless you stick only to main cities and main highways. France has many useful or scenic secondary roads that you will not find on less detailed maps. Michelin and IGN provide good maps; they also make bound atlases containing all maps for metropolitan France (the European French territory). GPS with a detailed map may also be a good choice, especially if you do not have a passenger.
Do not underestimate driving times, especially if not going by autoroute. A rule of thumb is to expect an average speed of 60 km/h going by major roads outside autoroutes.
Most of the autoroute (motorway/freeway) links are toll roads. Some have a toll station giving you access to a section, others have entrance and exit toll stations, and it is rather common to encounter both on the same autoroute. Don’t lose your entrance ticket or you will be charged for the longest distance plus additional fees. All toll stations accept major credit cards but you can use the automatic booth (Télépéage) only if your car is equipped with an appropriate transponder.
Paying tolls is quite easy: just insert a credit card (or give it to the cashier along with your ticket) and go (Note that Maestro and Visa Electron cards are not accepted.) You can pay with coins as well. Sometimes you get a ticket to calculate the toll. You may have to slide the ticket and then the credit card into the same slot or into two different slots. Generally, though, €500 bills are not accepted at toll booths.
There are almost 12 000 km (7500 mi) of Autoroutes in 2012. Toll Autoroutes(3/4 of the network)have good road condition and are well-maintained. Free Autoroutes(1/4 of the network)are situated near big cities and have good to bad road condition.
The vast majority of the network is composed of 2×2 lanes (two lanes in each directions), but you can find 2×3 lanes on crowded autoroutes like the A10 or A6, 2×4 lanes and 2×5 lanes near big cities.