Route planning your trip to France
Most will be using the many Sat Nav applications available for finding routes to your holiday destination. There is still no substitute for a bit of old fashioned background knowledge before you set out though!
Route finding and traffic:
Well, nothing can beat Google Maps now in our opinion. This easy to use app will plot your course for you, provide alternatives and keep you updated on heavy traffic and delays. You will need data on your phone, but it hardly uses any data at all when you are abroad. Most of the data is used when you plot your route, so do this before you leave the UK if you want to save on data usage.
If you’re old school, then purchase a good French road atlas before you leave home (we recommend the Michelin Tourist and Motoring Atlas of France 1:200,000). Also it’s worth getting a good Michelin map (series bleu) for the area of your destination. This can be invaluable when you get close to your destination.
Traffic advice: Although French roads are generally very quiet – there are far more miles of road than in UK – they can get incredibly busy at peak holiday times. If you want to avoid the jams follow our advice:
- if your children aren’t of school age, try to avoid going on holiday in the peak holiday season (2nd half of July and all of August). It will be much quieter and cheaper as well!
- try and bypass autoroutes around major cities by using N roads.
HOT TIP: If you are heading south towards Orleans and beyond, then circumnavigating the Paris périphérique can be avoided. Although navigating your way around Paris is not impossible, other routes can save you a lot of hassle in the long run. One such route is to drive south from the channel ports via Rouen (A16 and then A28). Rouen is straightforward to drive through and rarely has delays. Once through Rouen follow signs for Evreux and Dreux, by taking the A13 east for a couple of exits in the direction of Paris and then exiting at Junction 19 for the A154 to Evreux/Chartres, joining the A10 north of Orleans. Just before Junction 19 and the turn-off to Evreux there is a rest area that makes an ideal stopping point for lunch if you have been on an early morning crossing. Otherwise it is a useful toilet stop as there are no more ‘conveniences’ until reaching the either the A10 or the A11 at Chartres.
- try not to travel on the main changeover days ie. Saturdays and especially not on the first Saturday of August.
- try to have your lunch break outside of the peak periods 12 – 2PM. The roads will be quieter during this time and the rest areas therefore will be much more busy!
The French tourist board maintain a website of traffic information, Bison Futé, showing details of roadworks and traffic blackspots. This can be found at: https://www.bison-fute.gouv.fr/index,langen.html
Before you travel it is really nice to have your route planned out. There is a fantastic web facility provided by Michelin at which will advise you on the best route to your destination. It will also give you a reasonably accurate journey time indication.
Sat Nav Tip:
Gone are the days when Sat Navs worked on co-ordinates (Hands up if you forgot the change W to E when you left England and went totally in the wrong direction!)
Most small hamlets and areas are now listed on SatNavs, especially those built into cars. If you can’t find the place you are looking for, try prefixing it with ‘Lieu-dit’…. (literally translates as ‘Place named’)
An alternative way of making the long drive south:
Travelling through France en route to your holiday destination can be a joy, and most of the time journeying is hassle free. However during those peak weekends in the summer when the French are setting out or are returning from their annual ‘congé’ it can be an entirely different story. By checking beforehand on the excellent French web-site www.bison-fute.equipement.gouv.fr you can find out which weekends and more importantly which motorways (autoroutes/péages) will experience traffic delays.
How we avoid the notoriously bad Rhône corridor – This solution may help some of you in your future travels.
Normally we would take 2 days to travel south, making a stopover on the way around Dijon/Beaune. Leaving England on a Thursday night and staying in a hotel in Calais left everyone refreshed for an early departure on Friday morning. The roads were empty and we had an easy journey south on the A26 to Troyes, A5/A31 and finally the A6 on down through Lyon. We arrived in our holiday area and decamped for a further night not far from where we were holidaying. Not only had we saved ourselves long delays and time spent in the car but we also gained an extra day’s holiday.
Advice for travelling on the main motorway through Lyon:
There are 2 options for travelling on the autoroute through Lyon. Our preferred route has always been to stick on the A6, driving through the long tunnel that takes you on to the A7 (literally following the Rhône River through the middle of Lyon). This is an excellent route providing traffic is free-flowing. However this year a momentary loss in concentration of the car map reader (!!) resulted in us following signs for Marseille at Junction 32 just south of Villefranche-sur-Saône (which was the direction that we were heading!).
The A46 is an excellent autoroute which goes round the eastern side of Lyon and comes highly recommended. It may be a few kilometres longer (but only a few) but we reckon that outweighs the risks of taking the main route through Lyon itself.
Travelling south on the A75 – Millau Viaduct.
Travelling to/from the south of France on the A75 is made much easier by the Millau Viaduct (see right) which avoids the very problematical bottleneck where the autoroute used to come to an end…promptly followed by a steep drop into the valley of the river Tarn and having to pass through Millau town itself. Millau viaduct is an amazing engineering feat – at the time of writing the highest viaduct in the world. Bizzarely, now the autouroute takes all the traffic away from the town, the old route makes a pleasant break to autoroute driving and if you can time it right, there are some lovely parking/picnic places on the south side of the town which offer great views of the viaduct.
Getting around this Section:
Practical Advice: This section is for the first timer with helpful hints on how to make your first drive in France a relaxing experience, even driving on the right hand side! For example making sure that you always have some cash ready for the autoroute tolls.
Preparing your car: There are things you need to remember before you leave, some are legal requirements, some just good advice.
Priorité à Droite: This famous feature of French driving etiquette still causes confusion today! Priorité a Droite info here.
Route Planning: Advice on route planning with the best maps, traffic advice and the best rest areas on the main autoroutes
Read more travel in France:
- Before You Go
- Getting there
- Day Trips
- Overnight stops
- Entertaining the kids in the journey
- On arrival