Autoroutes in France

Why we (and our more experienced clients) think you should avoid French autoroutes when you can

November 20, 2019

Most of our newly arriving clients automatically assume that the French autoroutes (motorways or toll roads) are the best way to get around France but our regular clients don’t use them unless they absolutely have to. There are very good reasons for this so we thought we’d share the benefit of our extensive knowledge on the topic and give you our top four reasons why you should only use autoroutes when you have no choice.

This is what you will see from your motorhome on the autoroute

This is what you will see from your motorhome on the autoroute

French toll roads (and other European ones for that matter) are there to provide a fast and convenient way to cover big distances but that speed and convenience comes at a high price. French roads are incredibly well maintained and the infrastructure is, mainly uncongested and more than sufficient to meet traffic demand. No annual road tax is charged for vehicle ownership in France so the money to pay for this stellar road network is collected via toll roads. Since we moved to France in Y2K we have seen the cost of these tolls rise at a staggering rate. Here’s why you should give them a miss if you can:

1). They are very expensive. You can check out the cost of the road tolls for any journey on the Via Michelin Route Planner. Just bear in mind that the tolls shown are for vehicles under 3 metres in height and the charges rise significantly if your vehicle is taller than that. Not only are the toll charges high but fuel in the service stations is about 25% higher than in say a supermarket fuel station so if you do have to use the autoroutes, make sure you won’t need to fill up whilst on them.

2). They are boring. We have not yet met anyone who enjoys driving on the dull, fast autoroutes so the less of your trip you spend on them the better. A road trip is supposed to be fun so plan a trip using non-motorway roads and allow yourself the luxury of taking more time to get from A to B. There are 32,500 villages in France, each one is different and most are peppered with historical architecture so you see a great deal as you drive through them. The spaces in between villages and towns are interesting too with bucolic pastoral scenes, dramatic mountains, deep gorges, mighty rivers, green forests and incredible coastal views to name but a few of the interesting sights you will see off the autoroutes.

3). There are alternatives. Long before the autoroutes, there was an extensive and excellent road network in France and it is still in place so there are viable roads to use if you decide to stay off the motorways. It is difficult to pick out the more major routes when looking at online maps so we suggest you buy a route-planning map to help you pick a good route. You can read more advice on the map topic here.

4). Autoroute service stations are a rare exception to the very safe and crime-free feel of France and motorhomes are prime targets whilst parked in them. It’s fine to stop to use the facilities or grab a snack but don’t leave your motorhome unattended in an autoroute service station and NEVER spend the night in one as your chances of experiencing a break-in will rocket from virtually zero in most of France to really quite high.

Typical views you might see when you steer clear of the Autoroutes

Typical views you might see when you steer clear of the Autoroutes

If you are reading this and thinking you have far too much to fit in to stay off the autoroutes, you may need to adjust from short holiday travel mode to long European tour mode before you plan your trip. Ask yourself why it matters if you don’t travel more than a few km per day, what are you rushing to get to and think about how much you will miss if you tear through the country at 130 KPH on the autoroutes.

France is the jewel in the European crown when it comes to touring in a motorhome so don’t try and swallow it down in big, greedy gulps, sip it slowly and savour all of the contrasting views it has to offer. Covering big distances achieves little more than an exhausting and expensive trip. With ever-changing scenery and interesting sights every few kilometres, the best experiences are to be found much closer together than you might think.

Ask yourself if you would prefer to spend your days trickling through medieval villages, visiting the farmer’s market, stopping to people watch on a café terrace, driving through idyllic countryside and taking time to find somewhere great to stay or would you prefer sitting on the autoroutes, looking at huge trucks between destinations and stopping in a service area for an expensive, cardboard-flavoured croissant?

Everybody’s experience is different but the lessons learned are always the same as our more experienced clients will tell you. Even if you really enjoy driving (in fact, especially if you really enjoy driving), keeping off the autoroutes is vastly more enjoyable than driving on them and you don’t have to cover big distances in record time to see the best of France.

You’ll find much nicer spots to stop for lunch than autoroute service stations when you avoid toll roads

You’ll find much nicer spots to stop for lunch than autoroute service stations when you avoid toll roads

Great trips are about the sights you see, the people you meet, the welcome you enjoy and the camaraderie with other travellers. Those elements will be the same if you travel 20 kilometres or 200 kilometres per day so setting your schedule should be about covering fewer miles and seeing more rather than trying to drive the furthest distance you can.

Those who take time to explore and travel at a gentle pace have wonderful trips that are memorable for all the right reasons and return singing the praises of this beautiful country and the French people. Those who try and rush through it at breakneck pace always return complaining there is nothing to see here which is hardly surprising as they have spent most of their trip on the autoroutes!

Stay off the autoroutes, see more, save money and enjoy the journey as well as the destinations. You will be spending a fair bit of time on the road on a motorhome trip so don’t forget to look up and see France as you pass through it.

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