Traveling around France in a rental car can be many experiences- crazy on the autoroutes, frustrating when looking for parking in a city, expensive when it comes to filling up with gas. But the best thing about a rental car is the freedom it gives you to explore France.
We have always rented our cars through Auto Europe. We have never had any problems, even when there was that incident with the picnic table... but that's another blog!
When renting a car, I would suggest getting over jet leg before driving any great distance. Once we picked up our car at the Paris airport then drove for 10 hours to get to southern France. This makes for a long and dangerous drive!
The price of gas or petrol is very expensive in France so if possible rent a car with diesel. Filling up at the supermarket gas stations is cheaper then the big gas stations such as BP, as much as 15 cents a litre cheaper. And if you can avoid the gas stations at the "aire" along the autoroutes do so because they are really expensive and can have long line ups. But remember most gas stations are closed on Sundays.
Traveling the N and D roads are lovely ways to see the countryside of France but it can be a slow drive when stuck behind a tractor, going through villages where the speed limit drops to 30km and there are several roundabouts to slow you down. The A or autoroutes are fast but expensive. Entrances to them are marked as such with the word "Péage". The normal procedure is to pick up a ticket from a booth as you enter the autoroute (just press the button); tolls are paid either when you leave the autoroute, or else when the toll section comes to an end. In a few places, there are fixed toll points on the autoroute, notably in urban areas or toll bridges. One has to weight the cost of the toll highway vs time when driving around France.
Parking in the cities and in villages on market days can be a bit of a challenge (and expensive for the pay parking lots). If you are willing to walk a few blocks look for parking on side streets outside of the centre-ville. Parking is well-signed: as soon as you hit the downtown you start to notice “P” signs, and often these are electronic signs that include the number of open spaces. Like any city, do not leave valuables in the car.
One great thing about having a rental car is it can be like your really big suitcase! As you can see from the photo above, our car carries our our luggage plus bottles of wine, hats and of course the stuffie who made this trip with us. We have returned rental cars that look like a croissant and baguette explosion occured! Crumbs everywhere. On one trip, we purchased a cooler to keep out picnic food cool (and of course the bottle of Rosé chilled). We bring old bed sheets to use for picnic blankets and can pull over at a quiet park or beside a river for a picnic and a refreshing swim. If you are on a train or bus this experienced would be missed.
The freedom that you have in a rental car can make for a memorable holiday. We have discovered cute villages, not listed in guide books by just driving on the N roads. We stumbled onto a fête in a small village outside of Arles and spent a few hours there meeting the locals and participating in the activities. A car allows you to explore other options for accommodations as well. We often rent a gîte in rural areas. Which is a future blog entry!
Have fun exploring! Safe travels on your next trip to France!