Our journey from Ireland to the South of France and back is now complete. The drive back from the Côte d’Azur was long but passed reasonably well, even if the journey was lengthened somewhat by the need to pass by Nice Airport to drop family members who had chosen to fly. After that, it was a case of turning our white van west again to head to Aix-en-Provence before turning north towards Lyon, St-Etienne, and onward to Clermont-Ferrand for an overnight halt at the Novotel.
Novotel is the middle-of-the-road brand of the Accor hotel group, which also includes brands such as Etap (all the cheap plastic that you can endure in a room) and Sofitel (the most expensive brand). It usually provides good lodging with large rooms, comfortable beds, and a restaurant that serves acceptable food. In this case, the Clermont-Ferrand Novotel delivered on the first two points but failed on the last as the dinner we were served was not good. We were served tough ravioli in a sauce that allegedly had some relationship with cheese and a risotto that featured three fillets of rouget (fish) dried artfully into the rice without adding much taste or anything else to the dish. We were too tired to complain, except to ourselves, and ate the food. Maybe the accompanying wine dulled the pain.
Next day, we headed north again via Bourges, Tours, Le Mans, Caen, and eventually to the ferry terminal in Cherbourg. The roads were clear and the drive was easy. The autoroutes in this part of France are new and less heavily used than those in the east, which makes me think that this is a better route than the traditional flog around Paris and then south through Beaune and Lyon.
Driving in France can be expensive, especially if you make extensive use of autoroutes. A van is classified as a “type 2” vehicle (cars are type 1, the other types are coaches and HGVs), so we spent about EUR330 on tolls for the journey to and from the Côte d’Azur (about 2,500 km in total). Depending on the route followed, a car costs around EUR270 for the return trip. Some other points to bear in mind include:
- The French road network is evolving all the time as new autoroutes are built with the consequent effect on minor roads. An up-to-date satnav is essential. Even so, good maps are a big bonus, especially when figuring out the right places to stop. Several companies including Michelin and IGN (French geographic institute) publish updated books of maps annually and the EUR15 investment is well worthwhile.
- Autoroute rest stops continue to serve overpriced so-so food that doesn’t add anything to the experience of driving through France. It’s a better idea to leave the autoroute at a peage (toll location) to take a lunch stop in a small town where you’ll probably find a range of restaurants to choose from.
- Fuel prices vary enormously. The cheapest price we found for diesel was EUR1.12/litre in an automated station in Cherbourg. The dearest was EUR1.32/litre in some autoroute rest stops. Usually the cheapest fuel is found in the stations attached to major supermarkets such as Carrefour and E. LeClerc, so it’s a good thing to fill up there before venturing onto the autoroute. Petrol prices are much higher than diesel in France and were usually around EUR1.45/litre on the autoroute.
- The speed limit on an autoroute varies from 90 km/hour to 130 km/hour, depending on road conditions and location (urban/rural). Our van had the aerodynamic qualities of a white brick and the fuel consumption dutifully climbed according to speed. Keeping a steady 110 km/hour proved to be much more economical than the occasional bursts of 125 km/hour.
I returned the van to VanRentals.ie, who handled the check-in process with speed and accuracy to send me on my way as a happy customer.
Now back to normal day-to-day work with some blogs to write on different aspects of Exchange.