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Advice from MNetters about driving in France please.

(26 Posts)
Ruthiebabes Mon 21-Sep-09 15:52:14

Have booked a gite for two weeks next August nr Saintes In Charente Maritime. Have ruled out fly/drive due to the cost of car hire/flights.

We are now looking at the different options for ferry crossings. Thinking daytime Newhaven to Dieppe crossing, then driving to Le Mans for an overnight stop. Then driving to Saintes the next morning.

What do you think... or can anyone advise me on alternatives??!!!

This is our first holiday to France so advice much appreciated.

littlerach Mon 21-Sep-09 15:56:38

Dh drove from St Maol to Charent Maritime last year and was fine.

Use the toll roads, they are much quicker then others.

The services, Aires, are either v good or crap!

We almost ran out of petrol as we didn't account for non 24 hour stations blush

Saintes is nice, we went to the amphitheatre and the dds spent hours running around and climbing the steps.

Cognac is nice to look round too.

Ivykaty44 Mon 21-Sep-09 15:59:33

ok well from the port it is 603 km and this will take 5 hours and 35 minutesto drive.

Caen to saintes would be 498 and reduce driving time 4 hours and 49 minutes.

Not sure whether there are peage/toll roads on this route so bare in mind this could be an extra £20 ish if so.

Ivykaty44 Mon 21-Sep-09 16:03:33

Yes the route will have peage - the a roads are not that bad though - I drove last easter from La rochelle to calais on a roads and they were pretty good.

I would warn you Tours can be a nightmare - are french friend moan and have found some short cuts that take a long time and you need to know the roads - so DO use peage around Tours for ease.

Samur is a lovely lovely town if you want an overnight stop and strol through the town.

ParisFrog Mon 21-Sep-09 16:20:04

Haven't looked up the distances but my advice would be not to expect to drive too far the first day in France (5 hours would be ok) because it is quite stressful the first time (trying to understand which direction to go, cars coming at you from the wrong side etc.).

As for 24 hour petrol stations they exist but you need a credit card to use them (they are unmanned at night and Sundays) and I'm not sure a British card would be accepted...however my parents have asked a nice French person if they would accept cash and use their card to fill their car up and the person accepted no questions asked.

More advice - don't panic if you see your destination on one signpost and then find that it has disappeared on the next. Quite often the French will signpost a direction, then if you don't have to turn-off that road, it isn't necessarily signposted again for a while.

Get a GB sticker for your car - it'll make you feel safer when everyone around you knows you're driving on the "wrong side" (for you!).

Very important - unless signposted otherwise, you have to give way to the person coming in from your right. This is odd and takes time to get used to, but don't be surprised if cars pull out in front of you, or if they beep you when you don't let them pull out. Just shrug and accept it.

I would advise using the autoroutes - yes you have to pay but it's so much simpler and you're less likely to get lost!

Grisette Mon 21-Sep-09 16:25:43

How old are your kids?

Use the peages definitely. French services are on the whole really good with nice picnic areas and stuff.

Poledra Mon 21-Sep-09 16:30:46

You need to have a hazard triangle and a high-vis jacket in the car (got mine in Tesco smile). Your high-vis jacket should be actually in the cabin of the car with you, not in the boot, as you are assumed to need to put it on before you get out of your broken-down car, IYSWIM.

GB sticker is, I think, also a legal necessity.

annh Mon 21-Sep-09 16:44:03

You actually now need hi-viz jackets for every member of your party. DH and I thought we were so clever because we had two but at the ferry port the ferry people had girls going round handing out leaflets saying that everyone needed one and they sold them in packs of two on the ferry for some ridiculous price like £12. Decided to risk it and stopped at the first big supermarket in Calais to buy two more which cost about 5 euro for the pair.

You also need to cover your headlights with the light-deflecting stuff (can't remember what it's properly called) to change the direction of the lights.

Poledra Mon 21-Sep-09 16:54:25

Ooooh, thanks for that, annh - am heading off to France in Oct and was cockily assuming I knew it all as I go there every year. blush

Poledra Mon 21-Sep-09 16:54:49

PS where do I get a high-vis jacket to fit 14-mo DD3? grin

Ponders Mon 21-Sep-09 17:02:14

Ikea good for high-vis jackets - possibly not 14-mth-old size grin but still, they do kids in sml, med & large.

Ruthie, you don't say where you're coming from in the UK? But there is a high-speed crossing from Portsmouth to Caen - it leaves at 7am & takes 3h45, arriving around noon French time. If you caught that you could easily do the France bit in one day.

You don't need a GB sticker if your car's number plate has the blue GB badge on the side of it.

And you'll only need the headlight deflectors if you'll be driving in the dark.

Autoroutes are brill & even the dead basic Aires are OK as long as you don't need the loo (we actually came across some squatters this year, I didn't know they still exist shock)

Oh, & satnav is a huge help esp for getting on & off intersections where you need to change lanes as you go.

Ponders Mon 21-Sep-09 17:04:21

Oh, & we were able to use 2 UK credit cards in service stations (inc automatic pumps) - one had been pre-advised that we were going to France, the other hadn't, but both worked OK.

Ivykaty44 Mon 21-Sep-09 17:06:11

As for 24 hour petrol stations they exist but you need a credit card to use them (they are unmanned at night and Sundays) and I'm not sure a British card would be accepted.

No nationwide and barclay card refused in petrol pumps??

Ruthiebabes Mon 21-Sep-09 17:07:58

Our boys are 6 and 4. It would be a very early start if we got the 7am ferry from Porstmouth.. we live in Herts.

I have read that the first weekend in August the traffic is terrible in France.. would Sat 31st July be considered the first weekend of Aug!! Would hate to be in traffic jams esp when we have a long drive.

Ponders Mon 21-Sep-09 17:16:09

Or you could do an overnight in Portsmouth beforehand?

Yes, I think 31st July will count as 1st weekend of Aug next year - it's a "black" weekend on French roads. Have a look at Bison Futé (link here) which does traffic reports all year. There is a chart somewhere which shows colour-coded dates of predicted bad traffic. (I think they have green, amber red & black)

Ponders Mon 21-Sep-09 17:18:03

OR you could get the overnight ferry from Portsmouth, which is fun - although you have to pay for a cabin of course.

Ivykaty44 Mon 21-Sep-09 17:20:11

Or you could do the overnight Portsmouth to St Malo erry cutting the drive down yet agian and you will set o driving at 8am from St Malo so would get to near Saintes around early afternoon.

Just book a diferent erry home as the st malo one is a 7 am start again so to early for you.

Ponders Mon 21-Sep-09 17:21:54

Have just checked & Calais to Saintes is only predicted to be 7 hours; Dover-Calais is way cheaper & with many more crossings than the other routes. (Or you could get the tunnel, which goes from Folkestone which is much easier to get to than Dover, & if you have any Tesco vouchers you can pay with those!)

Ponders Mon 21-Sep-09 17:27:27

Bison Futé colour coded calendar

Ony has 2009 on at the moment but bookmark it for later smile

Ruthiebabes Tue 22-Sep-09 10:25:09

Thanks for all your advice..much appreciated.

Milliways Tue 22-Sep-09 18:55:05

We have done Newhaven/Dieppe to the Charente Maritime in a day, and also from Caen. If you get an early ferry (easy for us as we live in the S.E.) then you can stop for a few stretch breaks and be there mid afternoon / early evening.

This site has a route planner that tells you all toll charges so you can be prepared. (I cannot find my preferred site as new puter so lost bookmarks!)

Milliways Tue 22-Sep-09 18:57:32

Also, I think it is "preferred" that all passengers have a high-viz vest, but only legal for the driver to actually have one.

Rebeccaj Wed 23-Sep-09 10:07:09

You don't all have to have a vest, just the driver -

The ferries are just drumming up business, very naughty!

JumeirahJane Fri 25-Sep-09 04:46:27

Sorry can't advise on route options, but do think ahead and take enough cash for any autoroute peages/toll booths. It may seem more convenient at the time, but if you use a UK credit/bank card, your UK bank will charge a fee for each and every transaction (you can easily stump up £10+ of unnecessary extra charges this way).

Ooh yes go to Cognac, I was dragged taken round the cognac house tours as an 8-year-old and remember the tour guide pointing to the blackened cellar walls and telling us that they were 'sozzled little mushrooms' from all the cognac infused air - teehee.

Bonnes vacances!

CaurnieBred Thu 01-Oct-09 12:03:02

Can def recommend a European SatNav too - takes a lot of the stress away as it gives you plenty of notice re exits and speed cameras (as they have them on the motorways in France and they look nothing like the ones we have here).

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