In my opinion, the best way to see the French countryside and enjoy what Provence has to offer, is via a road trip. Given the limited public transport options, hiring a car is your best best.
Unfortunately, driving and I are not friends. Hence this post has been co-authored by Scott (the husband), as I was simply not going to drive in a foreign country. I thought better leave the driving to Scott who would actually enjoy it (or so I like to tell myself).
For our 8 day road trip in France, we picked up the car at Montpellier and returned it in Nice.
Here are the main things about driving in France:
- They drive on the right.
So for all of us Aussies, it means a slight shift in how we approach driving. I found that I had to think a lot more about the basics of driving. Who knew that how much of driving is actually inherent habits. The hardest aspects of driving on the right are reversing out of a car park or pulling out of a small road onto a main road. The good news is that it gets easier after a couple of days on the road.
- Round-a-bouts galore
I think the French have a love affair with round-a-bouts. They are everywhere. While round-a-bouts are more efficient than traffic lights, it is a little confusing when driving on the other side of the road. Remember to look right, as the right has right of way (priorité à droite).
- Manual cars
The majority of cars in Europe are manual. Expect to pay a premium if you want an automatic car. In fact, it is actually quite hard to book an automatic car, so make sure to plan in advance if you need one.
- GO GO GO
Being a super careful driver, I always get cranky when Scott backseat drives and tells me to go before I am ready. But in France, you cannot hesitate, or you will not get anywhere. This is especially so when you are at a round-a-bout.
- The autoroutes are expensive
If you want to get from point A to point B in an efficient manner, then the AutoRoutes are your best bet. They are however not a great way to see the countryside and the tolls are also quite expensive. Make sure to have some coins on you in case they don’t accept cards at the toll booths.
Parking is difficult to find and, if you do find one, getting into the small space can be a torturous experience. Europeans are great at touch parking. I am not sure how they get cars into the spaces sometimes, but they do. There are also limited or no parking spaces within a village, so in that case, you need to park on the edge of the village and either walk or use public transport.
Parking is also quite expensive. When you are looking at accommodation, make sure that they include free parking.
- Petrol is expensive
When booking a car, make sure to take the fuel consumption into account. You however need to juggle economy versus the size of the car for the number of passengers and luggage. We usually travel with two medium suitcases and two backpacks, so for the tiny (“economy”) size cars this means putting a suitcase on the back seat. This is not ideal if we have to leave our car in a parking space.
- Some inner city areas are car-free, so watch out when driving into town. We generally avoid this as parking is impossible in the narrow streets. Instead, we usually try to park on the edge of the city where we can catch public transport into the centre.
We used Google Maps for navigation, as it has directions and works really well. I would not recommend renting a GPS from the car rental place as these can be quite expensive. Also, built-in GPS is becoming more common and so the car you rent may have satellite navigation built-in (ours did). This was handy as a backup, but Google Maps was more user friendly.
All in all, while driving in France can be tricky especially in the smaller villages, I still think it is the best way to think the countryside. What do you think?
Have you driven in Europe? If so what would be your advice?