Many of us find the drive through France is a chore and some people dread it. Especially when they have little time and are travelling almost exclusively on motorways. Thousands of people decide to get a ferry direct to Spain and not drive through France at all.
On a trip to say, Benidorm; the Spanish Ferry might save over 600 miles but the cost of the ferries are high, and there are no real savings to be made unless you have a big American gas guzzling motorhome. Many ferry users feel that the holiday starts as soon as you are onboard. They tell us that missing out on all that travel in France is sensible, especially when all they want to do is get to the sun. It must be said, as long as the Bay of Biscay is behaving itself, then these trips can be very pleasant.
We are not all the same, so while some are getting excited about their 24-hour mini cruise (sometimes it’s a 24hr vomit-fest) from Portsmouth or Plymouth, plenty of others are equally enthusiastic about finding yet another scenic route or detour through France. I say another because there is always another! The country is vast, and if you have never been, you only have to watch the Tour De France highlights to appreciate how much there is to see, and even then, you are just scratching the surface. France is a delight to tour, lots of open roads and very little traffic.
If you are in a hurry you’ll likely decide to stick to the autoroutes (motorways), these are certainly quicker, but you’ll pay a price for that speed in Toll Charges; which, depending on the weight of your motorhome might well be considerable. With heavy twin/tag axle motorhomes the tolls might cost as much or considerably more than the fuel.
A quick intro to the French roads classifications.
In France, Motorways are not M roads as in the UK, they are known as Autoroutes and are A roads. You’ll pay to travel on most all these A roads. There are exceptions, and some motorways are free, especially those that form the fast ring roads around cities. The free ones carry green signs the toll road signs are blue. Toll roads are efficient and pretty boring. When you study a map to find alternative routes to paying a toll. You’ll quickly appreciate that some tolls are great value for money; saving time, stress and a great many miles. Others offer much less advantage and when using them you are blindly whizzing through and missing some spectacular sights and plenty of real France.
The alternative is the N Road. Route National is the main road network, and roads are known as ’N’ roads. You can travel anywhere on this network. Some of these roads are often as straight as the autoroute and only marginally slower. On all of them, you will find yourself slowing down as you travel through towns and villages. This is not a disadvantage as when you slow up you’ll see lot’s more glimpses of French life, along with plenty more scenery than on the autoroute. You’ll be able to stop to eat at restaurants and maybe buy local wine. If you like what you see, you’ll find even some of the smaller villages will have somewhere for you to park for the night and enjoy the locale often for free!
The other type of road is the ‘D’ these are generally good local roads, but should not be considered suitable for long distances. You should study routes with D roads carefully if you intend to use them in mountainous areas.
So what scenic route should I take?
There is so much to see and experience when travelling through France, so many detours and places to explore. The place to start your planning is http://www.viamichelin.co.uk/
What should you include? Honestly, it’s much harder to decide what to leave out. Could you go to your grave without seeing the Gorges of the Ardèche? Have you ever ventured onto Route des Grandes Alpes? Marvelled at the vistas on the Cote d’Azur, watched early morning surfers in Biarritz. How could you speed by Bordeaux; known for much more than it’s wine and worth a visit any time of year? Have you ventured into the Loire Valley; full of castles and culture that will amaze while following the last truly wild river in Europe? So much to see. The best advice – Whenever you are in France, never be in a hurry.
Tell us about your trips through France. What sights and experiences should we take in during out scenic tours of France? Thanks in advance for your input.