Wandering down through France


It was time to head back from Ireland to France. This time we decided to take the ferry from Rosslare to Roscoff on the basis that the route was shorter and we’d spend less time cooped up on the boat being a captive audience for Irish Ferries. We’d also have a chance to drive through Brittany and a change of scene is always welcome as Normandy is well-trodden ground for us.

The M.V. Oscar Wilde left Rosslare at 16:00 local and arrived in Roscoff on time at 10:30 local, an elapsed voyage time of 17 and a half hours (there’s an hour difference between Ireland and France). This is a couple of hours shorter than the alternate route to Cherbourg so it’s the right decision if you don’t like the rolling motion of the ferry. The voyage passed without incident. Despite some wind-whipped white-topped waves outside Rosslare ferryport, the ferry departed smoothly in some nice sunshine that offered the chance for us to bask on the sundeck. There was a good crowd embarked and this made reservations in the “nice” restaurants difficult to obtain, so we went with the crowd and ate in the Left Bank self-service. All I can say about the food is that it filled both a gap in time and some space in our stomachs. No more…

Roscoff is a much smaller town than Cherbourg and the route southwards is predominantly on single-carriageway roads until you get close to Rennes. By comparison, the roads from Cherbourg towards Caen and then south to Le Mans are all dual-carriageway as they form part of a “Euro-route”. As the speed limit is typically at 110 kph or higher and trucks don’t act so much as mobile blocks, it’s easier to make ground faster from Cherbourg.

In any case, we pressed on towards Tours. For the first time, the car was equipped with a “télépéage” badge from Vinci. This is a transmitter similar to those used in many other countries that you stick to the windscreen of the car to allow you to pass through special toll booths. The newer booths allow rolling transits of up to 30 kph but even those that force you to come to a complete halt are usually far quicker to get through than the booths that serve cars that pay tolls with cash or credit cards, especially those on popular tourist routes where people unfamiliar with the French autoroute system frustrate everyone else with their relative slowness at navigating the tolls.

By their nature, the French don’t like queuing as much as the Anglo-Saxons, and any slowness at toll booths is likely to be met by expressions of disgust, beeps on the horn, or passionate reminders that one should engage one’s brain into gear before attempting to operate any complex mechanism such as a toll payment system. At least, that’s the nice translation of what is normally said.

You don’t have to be a French resident to get a télépéage badge. We use the “temps libre” version, which means that Vinci sends us badge free of charge and only charges a monthly EUR2.00 fee for the months that we actually use the badge. Apart from that, you are charged whatever the normal toll fee is for the section of autoroute you use – there’s no discount for using télépéage.  Bills are sent monthly and collected via direct debit from your bank account. However, as there is seldom any queue past a couple of cars for the télépéage booths, the big benefit is to be able to save time by avoiding the long queues that often form at peak times at tolls throughout the autoroute network.

Although it’s more than possible to do so, driving the 1,350km from Roscoff to the Côte d’Azur isn’t something that most people will do in one day. We elected to stop in Vierzon (roughly half-way) and booked a room at the Arche Hotel. I usually use Booking.com to find hotels and had chosen the Arche Hotel on the basis of its location and that it offered a free underground car park (too many people traveling through France suffer car break-ins when en route to a destination) and free wifi. The reviews about the hotel were OK too.

Evening view from Arche Hotel

Some who stay in the Arche Hotel will be offended by the decoration, which appeared to be a melange of American movie posters, pictures of 1950s movie stars, and French antiques. It made a pleasant change to the bland ordinariness of that afflicts some many other hotels today. The room was OK and had a nice view over the Cher river. As we arrived on a Sunday, the hotel restaurant wasn’t open so we went looking for food in the town. We didn’t have far to go as we found an excellent pizzeria called La Scala just around the corner. The restaurant was busy with many locals coming in to eat (always a good sign) and we passed a pleasant couple of hours people-watching, including looking at the fishermen who were trying their luck in the river just outside the doors of the restaurant.

Early morning view of the bridge over the Cher

We set off again early next morning and had a good drive down via St. Etienne, Valence, Orange, and Aix-en-Provence without meeting any real “bouchons” (French for cork in a bottle – literally, a traffic jam). The weather improved steadily as we drove south and was at a comfortable 26 degrees C as we entered the Var.

We’re now settled in the small village of Flayosc and intend to stay here for a lot of the summer. Internet access makes the world much smaller and we are well connected to Ireland and other contacts around the globe. Possibly too well connected for our health and sanity, but we shall test that theory over the next while.

– Tony

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About Tony Redmond ("Thoughts of an Idle Mind")

Exchange MVP, author, and rugby referee
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