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En route!
Driving in France


Tips from an American who loves the French roadways . . .

The 2CV - once as common as the VW bugNo longer for rent - dommage!

All set? Bags packed? French phrases ready? Now the fun begins. If you're renting a house in France, you're probably renting a car as well. And once you've gone through the logistics of actually signing for and picking up the car, you will suddenly find yourself pulling out of the lot and onto the French road system.
Whoa! After going through the predictable, fairly familiar environment of the airport or train station, you are now about to encounter your first 'real' taste of France. Be prepared - it's not a shock, but you will find that some things aren't where you expect them to be, some aren't there at all, and there seem to be some different rules over here. So we've put together a primer of Big Differences for the first (or second) time driver in France.
But first, get a good Michelin map of the area. Do we recommend them? For our money, they're the best. Yes, you can use Google maps or Mapquest, but once you're on the ground, it's great to have a proper foldout map for exploring the back roads. Great maps


En route!
Driving in France


Vive la difference!

Great old signs

Big Difference #1: road signs point to destination cities, and don't always show route numbers. In the States we follow route numbers to get where we want to go. On French signs, they don't always appear (although now seen more and more). So plot your trip on the map first.Road signs are configured from top to bottom by destination town or city: Distant large towns or cities are shown on top in green,

Then smaller intermediate towns in white below,

Then nearby villages below that.

Points of interest are shown with a small brown logo and italics.

The route may take on several route numbers along the way. They're handy, but keep the destination town in mind.
For instance, to get from Avignon to Apt, you'll change route numbers several times. You may not even notice these route numbers, but at every crossroads there's a large green sign for Apt. Just suivre Apt.


If there is a French toll road (autoroute) nearby, the top sign will be blue with the autoroute logo.

A note on converting kilometers to miles:
Muliply the kilometers by 6 and move the decimal point 1 place to the left.

8 kilometers = 4.8 miles

12 kilometers = 7.2 miles

Speed limit 70 = 42 miles per hour

Remember the town
Big Difference #2: route designations always start with a letter. The route that you are on appears at the top of the sign in a small orange rectangle. Abbreviations are:A- Autoroute - the limited access toll road.N - National routes - the old main routes, often multiple lane or divided highways.

D - Departmental routes - major roads within a department (similar to a state). These can be duplicated from department to department. Thus there are many roads named D2 throughout France (but only one N100).

The D99
A personal favorite -
the D99 near St-Rémy-de-Provence


En route!
Driving in France


More tips from an American point of view . . .

On the roadAllons-y!

Big Difference #3: lots of traffic circles! Les ronds points - they're a great alternative to red lights and you'll encounter them everywhere you go. At first they may seem like a free for all, but there are rules and etiquette:YIELD going in - the traffic in the circle has the right of way.WATCH for turn signals - drivers getting out of the circle use the right signal; if they're staying in, they use the left (though you won't see the left signal as much, that's what it means).

USE your signals, too. Flick on the right signal when exiting the circle (or left if you're not) for the benefit of those waiting to get in.
Some of these circles are pretty big, much larger than the one shown at right. They can be 2 or 3 lanes, quite speedy, and you'll be sharing them with trucks. So the turn signals become very important.


Note: negotiating these in Paris is too advanced for this primer!

Le rond point
Big Difference #4: finding your way through a town is (usually) easy!Most of the old French roads lead through towns, not around them.The best way through town? Just follow Toutes Directions. This is the main route and usually the fastest way if you're just passing through. If you come to an intersection with several destinations posted and don't see yours, then follow Autres Directions. You'll find this pattern throughout France.And of course, to stop and look around, head for Centre Ville. Getting around town


En route!
Driving in France


More Big Differences . . .


Big Difference #5 - the Autoroute: Don't cruise in the left lane!If you want to get somewhere in a hurry, you'll be taking the autoroute. The big, ultramodern, smooth as silk, beautifully maintained high speedtoll road.Big Difference #5 comes as a shock to many Americans: you can't dawdle in the left lane.The right and center lanes are for traffic and trucks, the left lane is for passing. Only. If you're not keeping up in the left lane, expect drivers to come right up on your bumper and flash their lights. Don't take it personally, that's just how it's done. Move over. You will observe drivers passing traffic at over 150 KPH*, then pulling back into the right or center lane to make way for somebody who's going even faster. And on the A8 for instance there probably will be.

*  Note: not condoned by us. In fact, getting caught speeding in France is very expensive.

The Autoroute
Big Difference #6: they really take care of the roads.I notice this every year - in most places, even small country roads are usually very smooth and well maintained. You don't often find yourself bashing through potholes to get from point A to point B. And this allows in turn a slightly zippier pace on French roads, city or country. It definitely adds to the fun. An old  bourne - still a few around


En route!
Driving in France


Other fun things to know


Entering town . . . leaving townI like they way the city limits signs are so intuitive . . . City limits
White posts - red postsMost of the curves on country roads are marked with these reflective white posts. If you come upon two with red stripes, that marks the entrance to a side road. Very helpful for finding your way, especially at night.Some curves are marked with arrows: one arrow, slight bend; 4 or 5 arrows, SLOW DOWN! Curves
At the crossroadsYou'll see these all the time: a crossroad is coming up, and you have the right of way (the wide stripe is in your direction). Crossroad


En route!
Driving in France


Signs you'll see a lot of . . .

. . . you'll need to know these:

Deux CheveauxAllons-y!
Speed limit End 70 kph No passing
Speed limit End speed zone No Passing No Parking
Rond point Priority End priority
Rond point
with exits
Right of way
in black
You have priority
(right of way)
over cross traffic
Priority ends
We hope you've enjoyed the mini-tour. If you have any items or observations you'd like to add, please send them along to Bonne route!
- Vero -