When deciding how to travel through southwest France this past August we decided that road-tripping was the way to go. I have heard horror stories of the cost of the dubious French toll booths on the highways, especially near Cannes and Nice but we decided to go anyway. If you’re planning to drive in France, consider local roads if you don’t want to pay for the tolls, otherwise save at least 50-100 euro if coming from Italy.
Change in our pockets, credit card as a backup, we filled our car with gpl (natural gas) and went on our merry little way from Florence, Italy to Castelnaudary, where we were stopping for a few days at a friends house.
Coming from Italy, the scariest part of the trip was driving through the many many tunnels in Genova and huge bridges overlooking the mountains and coastline. Coming into France from Italy, the views are spectacular, if you’re not scared of heights that is. Luckily in France, the people are more calm drivers and we made numerous pit-stop for coffee’s and a much needed leg stretch. Driving from Nice further into the south-west France towards Toulouse, the scenery changes dramatically from huge hills and rock faces to rolling hills and green fields. The tolls were much less expensive than Nice & Cannes area and we were generally more relaxed behind the wheel.
After stopping in Castelnaudary for a few days we also visited nearby Toulouse, and on the Mediterranean coast we backtracked to Saint Cyprien. This part of our road-trip gave us views of marshes and wetlands and we passed a very large lake before arriving at the pretty seaside resort.
Probably one of my favorite time in the car was our final road-trek to the Basque country, specifically Biarritz, Saint jean de luz, Sare, Ainhoa and San Sebastian. You can smell the ocean in the air passing the Bay of Biscay and the road to our bed & breakfast in Sare was a hilly one, and have us gorgeous views of rolling hillsides and lots and lots of sheep.
On our way back to Italy we stopped in Monaco, word to the wise, be prepared for a very steep drive! It was a little scary to work a stick shift stopped on an incline but we somehow managed. It was worth the stop over to eat a fabulous club sandwich and gamble at Monte Carlo casino.
Some advice about road trips, travel from Italy to France. Check the condition of your car before you leave. Air in tires, oil, windshield wipers etc. If you have a gps, great! but don’t rely just on that alone. Sometimes the gps can lead you into a lake, literally. Bring a good regional map of France and double check with the gps. Also if you want to avoid expensive food on the road, pack ahead. Autogrill – gas stations are expensive so it pays to think ahead. Bring a French phrase book in case you need help, don’t expect people to speak english.
-you can not turn right on a red light (like Italy)
-Emergency number in France from your cell phone : 112
-It’s an emergency – C’est un cas d’urgence.
-My telephone number is – Mon numéro de téléphone est:
-Drunk driving is a very serious offense. The tolerated limit is 0.50 g/L (0.05% BAC) in blood
-Talking on a cell phone while driving in France is forbidden.
-Fire service/Pompiers: 18
-Always have your valid identification papers with you.
-To drive in France, you must have a national driving licence (international, if you are not a national of the E.U.), the registration document called a “carte grise” (grey card) in France, and an insurance certificate. If you plan to stay less than 6 months, you can drive freely throughout France with your vehicle.
-be careful for speed cameras!
-The normal speed limit on French motorways is 130 km/hr (just over 80 mph). – or 110 km/hr in rain.
-If you are involved in any accident involving two or more vehicles while driving in France, you will be asked to fill in a “constat amiable” (an amiable declaration) by the driver of a French car involved. This is standard practice.
-Breakdown or accident: if your car is stuck due to a breakdown or an accident, you must set up a red warning triangle (have them in your trunk) at a suitable distance behind the vehicle, to alert approaching traffic to the hazard. All cars driving in France must carry a red warning triangle, available from any auto store, and also a yellow fluorescent jacket (carry that in the inside of your car)