The autoroutes, the national roads and lesser roads are all first class and kept in good order. Like almost all autoroutes, the French ones are usually monotonous and expensive. The speed limit is 82mph (130kmh) and overtaking in a right-hand drive vehicle is not a problem. The Routes Nationales, which divide the country into long straight lines are hardly less dull. However, because they have priority over all others and have no blind corners, they are fine for quite fast driving. Speed limits vary between 56-68mph (90-110kmh).
It isn't easy to be precise about journey times. The variables are many: time of day, season, degree of familiarity with driving on the right hand side of the road and many more. Years of driving in France has led us to express journey times as follows: D roads: 35mph (56kmh) N roads - Routes Nationales: 45mph (72kmh) A roads - Autoroutes: 70mph (112kmh). These do not of course take into account stops for meal breaks, etc., but time has been allowed for negotiating towns or getting trapped behind lorries and caravans (especially the latter) on N roads. They are almost never encountered on D roads and are easily passed on autoroutes.
It is the lesser roads that we want to tell you about. Not only are they pleasant, wandering as they do through lovely countryside and delightful villages and hamlets, but surprisingly, not that much slower, especially in August, when you will find them relatively free of traffic - and not a caravan in sight. You can draw a straight line on a map between almost any two places in France and find that with minimal changes in direction (circumventing mountain ranges and large cities) you will, if you have the time, enjoy what we think is the most beautiful countryside in Europe.
The truth is, even if you dislike driving, the leisurely pace, the good D roads and the ever-changing countryside will more than likely change your mind. The speed limit on these roads is 50mph (80kmh). Keep an eye out for the green-arrowed signs (fléches vertes). These routes avoid the larger cities. Michelin map no. 911 shows autoroutes and fléches vertes and in addition gives approximate journey times for both. Another useful map showing the secondary routes avoiding the main towns is the "Bison Futé" (www.bison-fute.equipement.gouv.fr), available free on request from the French Government Tourist Office, 178 Piccadilly, London W1V 0AL. A carefully planned itinerary based on this map will keep you off the heavily travelled roads.
The scenic route
If you cross to Calais or Boulogne, the N1 will take you to Abbeville, then the N28 to Rouen and from there to Evreux where you will meet up with our recommended route from Le Havre: Le Havre - Port Audemer via D180. Port Audemer via D130 & N13 to Evreux. Evreux - Dreux - Chartres, N154 Chartres - Châteaudun, N10 Châteaudun - Blois, D924 Blois - Contres, D956 Contres - Chatillon, D675 Chatillon - Le Blanc, D975 Le Blanc - Bellac, D975 & D675 Belloc - Rochechouart, D675 Rochechouart - Châlus, D901 Châlus - Périgueux. N21
The scenic route
Calais - Bethune, N43
Bethune - Arras, D937
Arras, via Bapaume, Peronne and Roye to Senlis N17
Senlis - Meaux, N330
Meaux - Fontenay Tresigny, N36
Fontenay Tresigny, take N4
at intersection take D209
then D412 to Bray and via D976 and N6 to Sens
Sens, via Auxerre and Avallon
Saulieu - Autun, D980 Autun, via Toulon-sur-Arroux
Digoin - Marcigny, D982
Marcigny - Roanne, D482
Roanne - via Feurs - St Etienne, N82
St Etienne, via N82, D82 and N86 to Valence
Valence - Crest, D538
Crest, via D538, D6 and D9-Grignan
Grignan, via D541 to meet up with the N7 to Orange
and on to Aix-en-Provence and Nice.
Every region in France has its specialities, but there are three which are generally considered outstanding: Normandy, Burgundy and the Southwest. So if you are in a gastronomical paradise we think you would be doing your palette a disservice to take your meal on the autoroute.
Plan your own route via the following websites:
Choose from recommended routes, quickest routes via Motorway or D roads.