One of my best friend’s mom is taking a trip to the south of France next year for a big birthday celebration. Since she’s planning on being the driver she was very curious about how the driving went for us. So after a little persuading (i.e. batch of chocolate chip cookies) I convinced my husband to write-up his thoughts on driving in the south of France.
Here’s his advice:
“Are we going to fit?” is a common phrase that you’ll be sure to utter while driving through the south of France. The reason (pictured below). Yep, that’s a road. Yep, cars actually drive down it.
But fear not, if you follow these tips you’ll stand a better chance of making it to your destination with your side mirrors and relationship in tact.
#1 – If you have to get an automatic book it in advance.
Generally speaking our friends across the pond seem to prefer driving manual shift cars. So for American travelers automatic rental cars are few and far between. If you need an automatic you’ll want to make sure you book it well in advance. It usually costs a lot more to rent automatic cars in Europe, so factor that in too.
#2 – Embrace the wrong turn.
Provence is filled with charming country roads that date back hundreds of years. It truly feels as though you’ve been transported through time to a very special place. However, that also means street signs are a little more inconspicuous and directions are a little more involved. You’re going to make a wrong turn here and there. It’s all part of the experience. Keep your cool and you’ll be the hero. Jenny saved google maps offline on her smart phone, so we used that to get to our hotels. She has a how-to guide here.
#3 – Have cash with you.
Most of the main motorways in Provence have tolls littered throughout the region. Tolls are not a foreign concept, but running out of cash and using your credit card on a machine that’s broken is not the place you want to be. The toll booth attendant and the people behind you will have no problem letting you know how you’ve wronged them. Take my word on that one. Also, toll booths are insanely expensive in France so having 20 euro available at all times is a safe bet. That said, because the tolls are expensive the roads are relatively free of heavy traffic.
#4 – Slow is smooth and smooth is fast.
The kind woman at the Hertz desk took pity on my ignorance of the French language by offering Jenny and I a Mercedes sports car – queue the Bond theme music. I was ready to hit the open road and open up the engine, but I soon remembered that it makes more sense to make it to your destination in one piece. The French drive insanely fast, but slow and steady wins the race.
#5 – The Passenger is responsible for finding beer, wine, and cheese plates the size of your head upon arrival.
If you’re the driver and you’ve spent the last hour hugging the cliff side of windy narrow roads, or squeezing through back roads built for bikes–not cars–then you deserve a little break. Take a walk or grab your iPad and lounge by the pool. Have your copilot check into the hotel and find you a libation!
And when things get stressful just remember there is plenty of brie and rosé waiting for you upon each arrival. Take advantage. Kick back. Soak up the ambiance of this wonderful place.
Jenny (and Mike)