Citroen Mehari by Spottedlaurel, on Flickr
I love our holidays in France, which usually involve plenty of driving on rural roads (and as little as possible on the autoroutes). Since 2010 it's been in whatever modern-ish family car we have, but back in the '90s it was the Acclaim and Sunny that we took.
French D-road driving by Spottedlaurel, on Flickr
Whatever we've taken has been a car that was in regular use beforehand at home, if possible timed so that it gets serviced a little while before we go (not the day before). After quite a few trips we have all the gear we need, I just need to remember to sort the breakdown cover before we go. With Mrs SL and the children on board I don’t think some of the creative options outlined above would be looked on very favourably…..
In my experience the roads are usually in great condition and much quieter than here. The towns and villages we pass through often seem to be as closed as the Irish places Junkman has been finding, which is handy when there is interesting car rubbish to stop and take photos of.
Citroen & Peugeot line-up by Spottedlaurel, on Flickr
Unless it’s market day or there’s some sort of fair/sale/festival on, in which case the place will be rammed and there’s even more oddball stuff to be seen:
1980-84 Datsun 280C Diesel (430) by Spottedlaurel, on Flickr
The autoroutes are great when they work properly, cruising at 130km/h when everyone else is doing the same and there aren’t too many HGVs certainly covers a few pages of the atlas:
and contrast! by Spottedlaurel, on Flickr
But when it goes wrong, or there are big queues for the tolls, it’s pretty grim:
Friday 13th accident queue, France by Spottedlaurel, on Flickr
We got stuck there for 3-4 hours and they were landing helicopters on the road. We were literally the very first car they stopped and Mrs SL has never forgiven me for flashing to let a truck out in front of us who was the last one to get through…..
I always allow plenty of time for our journeys, which I roughly plan out on Google beforehand. I use their directions thing to get a route between A and B, which I then pull into as straight a line as possible avoiding autoroutes and larger towns and cities. Rouen is somewhere I try and stay well clear of now, for example, after having several experiences of getting it wrong there.
Watch out for locally lower speed limits and fixed cameras at some bridges, level crossings and the like.
The priority at junctions is something that still gets me sometimes, in towns and villages at least. I think some have a system whereby whoever is there first has priority, so occasionally I’ve stopped as the natural right of way seems to come from another direction, and then someone frantically waves me through. Best just to go slowly enough to stop if in doubt….
Always slow down and take a good look when passing any rural garage, even the new car dealerships. It’s mind-boggling what they have festering away at them.
Peugeot 604 V6 SL by Spottedlaurel, on Flickr
Have a French sentence or two in your head in case anyone does ask what you’re up to, even if it’s just politely smiling and saying you like their car.
This year we’ll be doing the Newhaven-Dieppe ferry on the way out (overnight crossing with a cabin booked – if it’s rough crossing we may not sleep much but at least we’ll have our own toilet to use….) and then the tunnel back.
Boarding the Cote d'Albatre at Newhaven by Spottedlaurel, on Flickr