Ok, let me be your guide as I take you on a journey to France… This time traveling by car, we will take the fastest route from the Netherlands to the Charente Maritime in the south-west central section of France. It’s also the very first long distance trip where we have used our “Tom Tom” satellite navigation system.. It will be interesting to see how it copes with both the large network of motorways and small networks of rural French village roads…
If you speak some French then of course both your travels and your stay will be easier, but if you don’t, then this is a beginner’s guide to achieving easy navigation on French roads.
There are many choices of roads that you can choose in France, of course a quiet meander along the very smallest of roads are the most scenic, delightful in charm and charactor and will introduce you to to the heart of French culture, but these roads are also winding, sometimes painfully narrow, often difficult to navagate and very very slow. If you get stuck behind a local tractor, then I hope that you have no pressing appointment to attend and a lot of patience. The next biggest roads are reasonably quick, but often do not take the most direct route, a quick succession of larger villages will have you repeatedly slowing down to negotiate directly though the main street and low speed limits. Then there are the motorways, and all you have to remember here is that there are two sorts: ones that are free of charge and pay (Toll) motorways.
First, you need to know which are the Toll roads… they are marked with the word “ Péage” in italics below to directional signs. Sorry for the quality of the photos… taken from a moving car on a motorway is not ideal but at least it should give you an idea.
you drive up and get a ticket… but DON’T drive into the lanes (on the left side of the following photo) that are marked on the road with large arrows. I haven’t researched this yet, but these appear to be for people who have prepaid a subscription or some kind of debit system and filled out documentation in advance, there are no tickets, and the lanes appear to work on number plate recognition. Users of these lanes only have to stop mega briefly and are let though very quickly both at the Entrance and Exit points of the Toll roads. We did however see a few other motorists trying to ” jump the queue” and try and use these lanes, (especially when later there was a queue to make payments at the end of the Toll road)… believe me they didn’t get though and after extracting themselves from the blockage with other angry motorists they had caused, they were very unceremoniously sent to the very very back of the regular queues.
The ticket machine looks like this… all you need to do is to drive up to the box, there must be a sensor somewhere, becuase you don’t even have to push a button, upon your approach the ticket will pop out at you automatically. Then it is on to to motorway for smooth driving that often takes a far more direct route than the non paid roads. French motorways have a speed limit of 130 kmph (80 mph) except where indicated, or where weather conditions and common sense dictate.
Once you have reached your desired exit ( or if this section of Toll road ends close to a large city nearby) then there will be the Exit and payment lanes. Large Exits have manned booths, so it’s easy to get change if for instance the bank machine only gave you Euro 50 notes, but Exits to smaller places have unmanned Toll booths and the machines take the larger coins, but only Euros in 5, 10, and 20 note denominations. (So no possibility to put in a Euro 50 note and get change) Keep some smaller denomination notes in reserve so that you don’t get caught out.
Our return journey this trip covered more than 2000 kms of highways, we went on Toll roads often. Charges depend entirely on where you enter and exit of course, and we paid as little as Euro 7,00 and as much as Euro 65,00 for various legs of our journey. Our Tom Tom Sat.Nav. System has a feature that calculates expected Toll charges for you if you enter a destination via Toll roads. Handy for planning the cash you will need on the road…
It’s taken as given that Euro’s should be the only currency accepted.
Be prepared that there may be some long queues at some points in the system, especially during the day at peak holiday times. Avoid the 1st August for your motorway travels if it’s at all possible because it’s French tradition that for many summer holidays start on that day and they say that the vast majority of Parisians evacuate en masse to the countryside… actually it’s the day when it seems that every Man, Woman and Child in France ( no matter what city) appears to be on the move and the traffic jams on this day are mega-massive and legendary.
Once again, avoid the Reserved lanes that are for the prepaid motorists. (it’s empty because they get though quicker than I could take an unobscured photo of the few who used it)
From far away you might think that it takes all credit cards… not so… our Maestro(Mastercard) card indicated by the blue / red circle logo is not accepted here, even though it’s one of the most widely accepted cards throughout Europe. It appears that Visa is not accepted here either.
Playing Safe, we queue up at one of the cash booths ( indicated with green arrows and the logo below) Be aware that if traffic is heavy it might not be too easy to see which lane you should be in.
….and pay your Toll charge ( in this case it’s in an manned booth). Offer your money with a friendly smile and a few words of French (Hello, Good Morning , Good Evening etc) and we found that everywhere , the operators were very friendly indeed and smiled and cheerfully wished us Good Morning etc back.
Hopefully this has helped you to learn how French Toll roads work…
…and will make you better prepared for your French travels and thus enjoy the whole experience faster, easier, better.
Once off the Toll motorways, the beautiful, quirky, the new, the old and the amazing character of the French countryside await you,… so whichever type of road you head out on, … …safe travels!