Driving through France - the main routes for driving to the south or
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Motorway driving in France is normally quite relaxed...
The Millau viaduct
holidays in France.
The following days are public holidays ("jours
fériés") in France, when
all or most shops tend to be shut.
- January 1st, New year's day
- Easter Monday (though not Good Friday
except in Alsace),
- May 1st, Labour Day, Fête du Travail
- May 8th, Armistice Day
- Ascension Thursday
- July 14th, Bastille Day, Fête Nationale
- August 15th, French August bank holiday
- November 1st, Toussaint, All Saints' Day
- November 11th, Armistice, first world war.
- Christmas (though not Boxing Day)
Unlike in the UK, when a public holiday falls during a weekend, there
is no extra compensating holiday on the following Monday.
Note that on public holidays, hypermarkets will generally be shut, so
unless you have a chip and pin credit card that works in French
automatic petrol pumps, you'll need to fill up on the motorway or in
normal filling stations.
"driving in" pages....
You may also like....
Photo above: Joe Schlabotnik
in France is generally a pleasure for anyone used to the heavy traffic
encountered on all roads in much of the south of England or the
Netherlands. Apart from round big cities like Lille, Paris, Lyon,
Marseilles or Toulouse, and apart from the country's busiest motorways,
the A1 (Paris - Lille) the A10 (Paris - Bordeaux) the A6, the A7
and the A9 (Paris - Marseille - Nice - Perpignan), and apart of course
from the busiest holiday Saturdays, traffic is generally free-moving on
the main network, and light to very light on minor routes.
About-France.com helps you pick the best routes, and avoid the worst bottlenecks and the busiest periods.
MOTORWAYS OR NOT ?
problems. When driving in France, in spite of the cost,
it is generally worthwhile taking motorways (autoroutes)
unless you have time to go at a more leisurely pace. However, there are
some useful tips to help you cut down on the cost of your trip across
(gasolene) (fr. essence):
don't fill up on the autoroute! Wait until a major intersection near a
town or city, and come off the autoroute. You will almost certainly
find a hypermarket / superstore within a kilometer or so of the exit,
offering cut price fuel. The saving can be us much as 15 centimes per
intends to do lots of driving in France could find it in their interest
to have a diesel car, particularly a modern fuel-efficient model. Diesel fuel in
France (often called gasoil,
used to be about a third cheaper than unleaded, but that is no longer
the case; today - 2016 - diesel retails for about 20 centimes a litre
less than unleaded, but it also goes further. Very few service stations
now stock the old leaded petrol, known as "super". See petrol prices in France below for
free autoroutes or dual-carriageways where they exist. See below for
See below for ideas on avoiding
Signs indicating a motorway
route (whether on the motorway or pointing to it) are indicated with
white lettering on a blue background, as in the picture below left.
Signs indicating a non-motorway main route (route nationale or other)
are indicated with white lettering on a green background, as in
French motorways, known as autoroutes, are designated with numbers
preceded by the letter A (for Autoroute). Thus, when driving to the
south of France from Calais, you can
either take the A16 autoroute towards Amiens and Paris, or (normally an
easier solution) the A26
motorway via Rheims. Most
French autoroutes are toll motorways, and entrances to
them are marked as such with the word "Péage" (pronounced pay-arje).
The normal procedure is to pick up a ticket from a booth as you enter
the autoroute (just press the button); tolls are paid either when you
leave the autoroute, or else when the toll section comes to an end. In
a few places, there are fixed toll points on the autoroute, notably in
urban areas or toll bridges.
on French toll gates:
Many toll-gates are for both credit-card payment and
Telepéage... meaning that if you have a
télépége transpondre, you may still
get held up
behind people paying by card, if there is a queue.
- Red cross: closed -
arrow: open, all methods of payment
- Blue CB
rectangle or black and white
credit card pictogram : debit or
credit cards only
Télépéage – slow
no stopping - only for vehicles fitted with toll charging
toll-gates (green arrow or pictogram of coins) will
provide change – even the automatic ones.
Frankly, for occasional French motorway users, subscribing to
the Liber-T system is a waste of money - unless you think that 20
€ a year is worth paying in order to save perhaps a total of
minutes at the tolls, or are only travelling at very busy periods. On
normal days, you can be through a credit-card payment booth in a minute
The "Liber-T" charging sensor is available in the UK,
the French motorway operators' company, charges higher rates for users
applying via its English language website than for applications from
its French website - which can only be used by people having a bank
account in France.
Motorway tolls in France - Tolls valid as of January 2016
The cost of motorway travel for a car without caravan or
about 1 €uro for 10 miles. For example, in March 2016
on the 1060 km trip from Calais to Marseille,
via Reims, almost all of
it on toll motorways, cost 88.2 €uros, about
Here are the toll
costs for a selection of other common journeys that use toll motorways
over long distances:
selection of motorway tolls : Jan 2016 (for
+ caravan or
normal size motorhome ; add about 50%).
Truck / HGV toll rates (class 4) : approximately three
times the rate for cars.
(- Rouen). 8.00 €
- Paris, via A 16: 20.60 €
Calais-Marseilles, via Reims: 88.20 €uros
Calais-Bordeaux, via Rouen & Chartres
Calais-Bordeaux, via Rouen & Le Mans
Calais-Toulouse, via Paris 56.40 €
Calais-Toulouse via Rouen, Dreux: 37.10 €
- Perpignan via Rouen, Chartres & A 71:
via Reims, Dijon & A39:
via Reims, Dijon, A39: 74.00 €
Le Havre :
Havre - Montpellier via Chartres & A 71: 44.70 €
Le Havre - Bordeaux, via Alençon: 62.80 €
Le Havre - Bordeaux, via Paris: 74.20 €
- Toulouse via Bordeaux: 43.00 €
- Nice via Beaune 75.00 €
Paris - Bordeaux via A10:
Paris - Bordeaux via A10 to Poitiers then N10 via Angoulême:
/ Brussels - Marseilles, via Valenciennes and Reims: 78.60
- le Perthus (Spanish border): 69.80 €
im Breisgau / Mulhouse - Perpignan: 68.20 €
Freiburg / Mulhouse - Montpellier, via Lyon: 54.30 €
Freiburg im Breisgau - Bayonne, via Châlon sur
Saône and Bordeaux:
The average cost per kilometre depends on what
proportion of the journey involves free motorways or other roads.
Drivers wanting to avoid French the tolls should remember that it
is not necessarily the best solution, particularly
in fairly populated areas. Using other roads, with their
lights, speed restrictions and roundabouts will mean longer journey
times and more stress. ... even if you have a satnav to help you
check out this low-tolls
route to Southwest France and the Spanish border.
: Ways to save on motorway tolls when driving to
Though it is usually easiest and in the end worth it to take direct
motorways and pay the tolls, there is one journey where you can make an
appreciable saving for just a few extra kilometres.
If driving from Paris to
and southwest France, do not follow the A 10 motorway
all the way. Leave the A10 at Orleans, following A71 > A20
At Limoges, follow N141 > Angoulême. At
Angoulême, follow the
for Bordeaux. All but about 60 km. of this alternative route to
Bordeaux is on autoroutes or dual carriageway, but after Vierzon, it's
all free. Saving
about 36 €uros less in tolls, for a distance of about 15 miles
extra.... and cheaper off-motorway petrol if you need it.
, check this low-tolls or no-tolls
to Southwest France and the Spanish border.
Click here for a zoomable detailed
road map of France
For more information on French motorway tolls, follow this link to the French
motorway network website
in English: this site provides a
form to fill in, to calculate the cost of a motorway trip through
For a detailed route, use the route-finder
map and distance calculator
page on About-France.com.
motorways and routes avoiding tolls
There are a few free
motorways in France, and some long-distance dual
carriageways that are up to motorway standard. It is even
possible to drive right
avoiding all tolls - though this is not
necessarily the best nor the
most economical solution. The two links below show our
routes to the South of France avoiding most tolls - and alternatives
avoiding all tolls.
Among free motorways
note in particular
- two thirds of the section on the A16 - A28 route
between Calais and Rouen
- the A 84 from Caen to Rennes
- 275 km of the A20 from Vierzon to just
south of Brive la Gaillarde
(the longest stretch of free motorway in France, and the main
- the A75 motorway between Clermont Ferrand
and Beziers -
an alternate route for people driving to Languedoc and the
Spanish border. Note however the Millau
viaduct has a toll (Toll
prices). Mountain motorway not recommended for caravans or in
- the motorway between Dunkerque and Lille.
urban and peri-urban autoroutes in France are also free; and even when
they are not, it makes more sense to pay the toll and avoid miles of
traffic lights and congestion.
For other dual carriageways, check on a detailed map of France.
These in France are still popularly known as "routes nationales".
However, in the framework of "regionalisation", responsibility for most
roads has been devolved to local authorities, and the concept of
"routes nationales" has largely disappeared. The only "N" roads that
now survive are ones that - in the absence of an "autoroute", form part
of the strategic national road network, such as the N21 from Limoges to Tarbes, or
the N13 from Cherbourg
as far as Caen.
numbering in France
roads, such as A71, are motorways, or Autoroutes
roads are strategic trunk routes - the National
roads are roads whose upkeep is paid for by the local Department,
or county. They can be anything from busy local routes or former
National routes now downgraded, to the quietest of country backroads.
driving in France, it is always best to follow destinations
road numbers. Following the regionalisation of responsibility for many
roads, the result - if you want to travel by following road numbers -
is a classic state of confusion; Drivers following the N13 south from
Cherbourg lose it at Caen, as it becomes the D 613 thereafter! From
Evreux to Mantes the "N 13" signs reappear, but after that it's the D
113....For another example, anyone wanting to avoid the toll motorway
by driving along the old "route nationale" to the southwest corner of
France, from Chartres
Biarritz, will follow three disconnected sections of main road known as
"N 10"; but in areas where the old N10 is now close to a parallel
motorway, the road is now signed as "D 910" or the "D 1010". Some old
"N" roads now blithely change their number each time they pass from one
department to another !!
This is all very confusing for foreign
visitors driving in France, but not so much for the French,
since with the exception of motorways, they follow a
rather than a road number. Destinations via main trunk routes are
indicated by the names of towns in white letters on a bright green
background, as shown above.
Note that France also displays European
route numbers where appropriate; these are marked with a white number
on a green background, and are in addition to the French road number.
For example the A
6 motorway from Paris to Lyon is also marked as
- E15 being a European route running
from Inverness to Algeciras.
In the motorway sign on the right, the A43 autoroute is also indicated
as being the E70; the main towns it leads towards are indicated in
normal lettering; other destinations, such as airports, are indicated
in italics. The word "Péage" at the bottom indicates that
this is a
Click for information on Traffic
accidents in France
main roads in France
"Bison Futé" and driving on the byways
Photo: In bygone
great "alignements de platanes" - or avenues of plane trees - were
planted to give shade to travellers on French roads, specially in the
south of France. Though the plane-lined road remains one of the iconic
images of France today, few remain, except for short sections on
country roads, such as
here in Languedoc.
Sometimes you may see direction signs starting with the word Bis,
in italics. These are the equivalent of the British "HR" (holiday
route) itineraries, using less crowded main roads. Thus a sign saying
"bis Lyon" is an alternative route avoiding the main roads, and
generally with less lorry traffic. Bis, in French, means second (as in
the prefix bi-).
The "Bison futé" (in English the cunning bison) is
the motorist who does not follow the crowd, but seeks out less crowded
easier roads, the "routes bis", thus the "bis-on". If you see a bison
futé sign, it will be directing you either
routes themselves or to an information point. On summer Saturdays,
being a cunning bison is often well worth it, unless you love driving
in heavy traffic or sitting in traffic jams.
on the backroads of France requires a good map - or a Satnav that
allows you to wander off the beaten track; but in many places, it can
still make driving a pleasure, rather than a chore
This is a good idea on most days. When driving from Calais to the south
of France, use the A
26 motorway via Reims, Troyes and Dijon.
If driving to south western and central France, avoid Paris going via
Rouen, Evreux, Chartres and Orleans. There is no motorway between
Evreux and Orleans, but the road over this section is currently being
upgraded to dual carriageway, and over half of it is now complete. Avoiding
Paris- click for details and route map
Avoiding peak periods
If you can avoid travelling on Saturdays between July 10th and August
30th, this is very advisable. On these days, many French autoroutes -
and in particular all the main arteries to the south - are liable to
reach saturation. The worst bottlenecks are in the Rhone valley south
of Lyons, along the south coast, and around Bordeaux.
In January and February, Alpine motorways can get hyper-snarled up with
Check out the busy
holiday weeks for 2016
However, outside these periods, Saturday and Sunday are the best days
for driving in France, on motorways and arterial roads. Indeed, on
these days, HGV's - lorries or trucks - are banned, meaning that unless
you get stuck behind caravans or camper vans, combine harvesters or
other various slowdowns, driving is relatively hassle-free.
driving in France
between the hours of 8 p.m and 6 a.m. can be a good way to avoid the
traffic. Motorway driving can be considerably easier at night during
peak holiday travel periods. Leaving Calais at 6 p.m., you
almost half way down France by midnight. Depending on the route you
take, you can book a hotel near the motorway near Tours (A10 route)
or Bourges (A71
route) or Dijon (A26
it is vital to ensure that you have had sufficiient rest or
in the day before setting out on an overnight journey. Cars from the UK
and Ireland must
have headlight dip deflectors if driving after dark
restrictions in France
► Petrol (Gas) stations in France
Almost all petrol stations in France accept Visa and Mastercard;
however take care with 24h automatic pumps in supermarket forecourts.
Many of these do not accept credit cards without integrated chip and
PIN number. Most UK cards now have integrated chip and pin, so the
times when UK cards did not work in French petrol stations are now
history for most travellers. However, if you think you may need to fill
up in an emergency while driving in France, check your card out at a
supermarket self-service pump well before you run out. If it doesn't
work, nip round and join the queue for the pay-at-the counter pumps.
Make sure that you don't have to fill up in an emergency using an
untested card at an unmanned filling station at night or on Sundays.
Compared to the UK, there is not a big difference, except for diesel
which is much cheaper (about 15%) in France. In
early August 2016
fuel prices in France were :
In non-supermarket and motorway filling stations, petrol prices can be
anything from 5 to 20 cts. a litre more expensive, depending on the
Euros per litre
Euro per litre
||1.05 Euros per litre.
E10 graded fuels (containing 10% of ethanol bio-fuel) are
a couple of centimes cheaper, where they are available. These
compatible with most modern cars; if in doubt check with your supplier.
(There are 3.79 litres to 1 US gallon; but generally speaking cars in
Europe are smaller and consume less fuel than cars in
Click for information on Traffic
accidents in France
Motorway hotels or something else? France is very well equipped in
hotels and other types of accommodation. Many of the chains , such
stars) , Mercure
(3 stars), Ibis
(2 stars) , Ibis budget
(2 stars), and Formule 1
(1 star), have outlets clustered near
motorway exits, notably
near the exits from toll motorways and around towns and cities. The
hotel links below list only the French motorway hotels that are really
easy to find.
See the French shopping guide page
for useful information if you are planning to stop to shop on your way
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