If you’re looking for an epic road trip through mainland Europe, look no further than France. For starters, it’s the easiest country to get to, either by getting one of the many ferries across the channel, or the Eurotunnel from Folkstone to Calais. It’s also home to a variety of many incredible locations, ranging from the historical sites in the north, to the beaches in the south, the scenery in the Alps and all the vineyards and quaint towns in between. Other than driving on the wrong side of the road, there are a few ways that a road trip in France differs from one in the UK. Here are a few tips on what to expect and how to make the most of this adventure.
It may sound like common sense but definitely make sure your route is possible before going ahead with it. It’s easy to forget how far apart a lot of places in France are so check your journey times before you start your trip to make sure your journey realistically fits into one day. It’s also worth booking any campsites or accommodation in advance before your trip starts. France has a lot of campsites and is very campervan-friendly, but places do sell out, especially in summer, so you do not want to end up stranded for a night.
Whilst it is legal to wild camp, you do need permission from the landowner, which can be hard to find, and it is also illegal in national parks and coastal areas. You can allow yourself a bit of spontaneity, so if you find anything that looks amazing whilst you’re there then go for it, but planning your route beforehand will help a lot.
First thing to remember about driving through France, is that France is huge. It is almost three times the size of the UK and whilst the roads are nice and fast, it does take a long time to get from A to B, just due to the sheer distance. It’s important to break your journey up, not only to give yourself a break but also to make the most of your trip. France is full of quaint little towns, and stopovers in some of these make the whole trip a lot more exciting. This will also help you discover loads of little gems that you wouldn’t know about otherwise. At the end of the day, the point of a road trip is to see as much as possible.
When taking a break, try to get off the main motorways and head into one of the smaller towns. There are lots of service stations along all the main roads, where you can get fuel and stretch your legs, but you’ll get a much more authentic experience if you head off into a nearby town instead. Each town will have a small town square, lined with cafes and a few shops, and are all very different to what you’d find in the UK. You’ll also be able to find food and fuel for a lot cheaper if you come off the main roads slightly. A good stop off point if you’re heading south from Calais is Abbeville, but you can literally pick anywhere that looks like it’s on your route and you’ll be able to find everything you need.
One thing to consider if that all the main motorways in France have tolls on them. It’s not worth trying to avoid them, because your journeys will take three times as long, and you’ll probably spend the money you saved on the tolls in fuel, but it’s worth knowing before you drive. Most of the tolls are automatic now, and you’ll get a ticket from a machine when entering the toll road. You’ll then pay the toll when leaving that road by putting your ticket into another machine when exiting the road, and you can pay by card or contactless. If you lose your ticket, there is a button where you can ask for assistance, but this would be a waste of your holiday time so keep the ticket safe. The whole system works well and is pretty straightforward, but it is worth considering when you’re planning and budgeting your trip.
A road trip to France is definitely something I think everyone in the UK should look at doing at some point. For one country it has lots to offer and there’s something there for everyone. It’s also the easiest to get to by car and the number of campervan sites makes it perfect for a road trip. Hopefully, these tips should go a long way to making your adventure around France run that little bit smoother.
By Tolly Byrne