The main autoroute, the A7, or "Autoroute de Soleil", connects Beyond to the north (Lyon, Paris) and the east (Italy). Road travel is excellent in Beyond, with autoroutes along the coast, and highways (Routes Nationales) between the main towns.
Roads in the Cote d'Azur "Back Country" tend to be narrow and winding, but with, for the most part, good surfaces. (The photo shows some "lacets" near Sospel; note the two cyclists at the left.) Major two-lane highways (Routes Nationales) connect the principal towns. A limited-access toll road (Autoroute) runs along the coast between Italy in the east and Marseilles or Aix-en-Provence in the west, where it continues on north to Lyon and Paris.
Comments contributed by Gordon Hartney, 05/6/2001
We traveled via car through the Loire Valley, to the Dordogne region, and on to Provence. We found the roads of France to be in excellent condition including the small rural ones.
Small Roads and Smaller Roads
In our descriptions of sites and villages we use the terms roads, small roads
and tiny roads. These terms are both relative and subjective, but our intended meaning
- small or narrow roads: most of the road is wide enough for two medium-small cars to pass in opposite directions, slowly and carefully.
- very small or very narrow roads: much of the road is as wide as one car, and when two cars meet, one must sometimes back up to a wide spot to let the other pass.
Routes Nationales (RN)
The main highways are the Routes Nationales, directed by the green signs.
The autoroutes are indicated by blue signs. The autoroutes in France are toll-roads. The toll booths are Péages [See also our Autoroutes page.]
Autoroute - speed limit is 130 km/hr. Your average trip speed could be about 110 km/hr, or roughly a half-minute per km.
Highways and open roads - speed limit is 90 km/hr. Your average trip speed could be 70-80 km/hr depending on area and traffic (1 minute per km, with time to spare). We often travel at 70 km/hr on small roads with light traffic and good scenery.
Towns - speed limit is 50 km/hr.
Coastal Areas - roads are very, very packed in the summertime. Go early. Coast roads between Saint Tropez and Fréjus, for example, is more of a single-file parking lot than a road.
Rules for passing one-at-a-time
- the uphill car has priority over the downhill car
- a group of cars has priority over a single car
- a heavy truck has priority over a light vehicle
- a bus has priority over a truck
Like anywhere, 90% of drivers are polite and reasonable, and traffic flows smoothly. If you do meet rudeness on the road, make up for it by doing something nice or polite the next time you have the opportunity it's catching, and it will spread.
Watch out for bicycles
The roads in the hills and mountains might be narrow and twisty and steep, and then get steeper and steeper, but you will find bicyclers on all these roads. Usually struggling up, sometimes coasting down. There will be groups of them, all decked out in bright-colored uniforms, travelling together. Every so often you'll see a lone biker, or a couple of them together, with the typical bright outfits favored by the Southern European bicycle racers. In the summer there will also be touring bikes: with soft bulging bags on the handle bars, astride the rear wheel and low astride the front wheels, peddled slowly but courageously by two or three Dutch or German or American or Scandinavian tourists.
If the cyclists are too far out in the road, blocking your way, they might be inconsiderate. But they might also be avoiding the sharp gravel and broken glass that lines the edge of most roads anywhere, and which is not evident to motorists. Be patient, and hope that you'll be out there on a bike yourself one day.
Route de Grenoble, N202
This route national goes North up the Var river, just west of Nice. One long section has an exciting concept in highway design that used to be popular in France fifteen or twenty years ago: three lanes! No, not three north and three south; one lane northbound, one lane southbound, and a center lane shared as the passing lane for both directions. This is a concept that Darwin might have developed to test his survival theories.
After twenty minutes of roadside ugliness, the N202 passes the beautiful and wild Gorges de Vésubie at Plan-de-Var before curving to the west up the Var river valley.
The scenery, towns and villages along this route range from lovely to beautiful, and the many side roads into the valleys and gorges lead to spectacular scenery and isolated little villages. Check out the Train-des-Pignes which follows much of this route, passing through Villars, Touët, Puget-Théniers, Entrevaux, Annot, St. André-les-Alps, and Barrème.
Route Napoléon, N85
The N85 highway (Route Napoléon, N85) from Cannes follows much of the route taken by Napoléon when he traveled from Elba towards Grenoble in March of 1815. From Grasse, the N85 goes northwest to Castellane, Barrème, Digne, and then via Sisteron to Gap and Grenoble.
Tow Away from Legal Parking Zones
A little-known traffic law could cause grief for long-term visitors to France. If your car is parked in a legal parking zone for over 7 days, it can be towed. This time-limit restriction is not marked on signs; it's considered a general traffic law which every driver is assumed to be aware of. The rule is applied only in certain towns, and then only in certain areas, but it's a potential hazzard if you're planning to park down the street from the station before touring Europe for a few weeks.