the fp is getting-around
Getting Around France
The main airline connecting towns and cities within France is Air France (www.airfrance.com). Other options include easyJet (www.easyjet.com), Ryanair (www.ryanair.com) and Air Corsica (www.aircorsica.com).
Air France’s France-Europe-North Africa Discount Pass offers up to a 35% reduction on flights operated by Air France and HOP!.
Environmental badges are obligatory for Paris, Lyon and Grenoble. Cars that are licensed abroad also need environmental badges, which can be bought on www.crit-air.fr.
Side of the roadRight
Motorways and main roads are generally in excellent condition. The bulk of smaller roads are well maintained, but some more remote routes can be in poor condition.
Motorways (autoroutes) bear the prefix 'A'; some are free while others are toll roads (autoroutes à péage). National roads (routes nationales) are marked 'N'. Local roads are usually classed as 'D' roads, while minor rural roads are classified as ‘C’ or ‘V’.
Car hire is widely available from international and domestic companies. Most of these require you to be over 21 years old and in possession of a licence for at least a year. You may have to pay a surcharge if you’re under 25.
Taxis are widely available in all towns and cities. Train stations are the most logical place to find a rank.
France is passionate about cycling and much of the country lends itself well to exploration by bike. There's a good number of urban and rural bike paths, as well as an extensive network of minor roads with little traffic. Most cities and towns have at least one outlet hiring bikes; some, such as Marseille and Paris, have a large-scale public bikeshare system.
Almost all regions are served by a bus network, although these tend to operate over relatively short distances and services can sometimes be infrequent.
The minimum age to drive a car in France is 18, and 16 for a motorcycle under 125cc. The minimum age for hiring a car in France ranges from 21 to 25. Speed limits are 50kph (31mph) in built-up areas, 90kph (56mph) outside built-up areas, 110kph (68mph) on dual carriageways separated by a central reservation, and 130kph (81mph) on motorways.
Visitors who have held a driving licence for less than three years may not travel faster than 80kph (56mph) on normal roads, 100kph (62mph) on dual carriageways and 110kph (68mph) on motorways. Drivers are required to carry a breathalyser kit in the vehicle, however you won't be penalised for not carrying one.
For emergency breakdown services, dial 17 from a roadside box or call 112 from a mobile.
A national driving licence is acceptable. An international sign, distinguishing your country of origin (eg GB sticker or plate), should be positioned clearly on the vehicle. However, EU nationals taking their own cars to France are strongly advised to obtain a Green Card, although it's not compulsory. You must also carry the car's registration document.
Urban public transport is excellent. There are comprehensive public transport systems in all the larger towns and cities.
Paris: RATP (Régie Autonome des Transports Parisiens) (www.ratp.fr) controls the underground (métro), rail (RER) and bus services in and around Paris. The public transport network is split into several different fare zones and a single ticket allows travel on any of the systems within that zone (although interchange is only permitted on the métro and RER, and not on buses). The Metro's network of 16 lines makes it a good way to get about central Paris. The RER (fast suburban services) operates five main lines connecting most areas of the capital. There is also an extensive network of conventional suburban services run by French Railways (SNCF).
Other cities: There are trams, trolleybuses and an underground in Marseille; trolleybuses, an underground, buses, trams, and two funiculars in Lyon; and a tramway, bus system, and automated driverless trains in Lille. There are excellent tram and bus services in St Etienne, Nantes, Grenoble, Limoges and Nancy.
SNCF (tel: 3635, in France only or +33 892 353 535; www.sncf.com) operates a nationwide network. AutoTrain (autotrain.voyages-sncf.com) is a car-carrying rail service running between Paris Bercy and a handful of destinations in the south of France.
It’s essential to validate (composter) tickets bought in France by using the orange automatic date-stamping machine at the platform entrance.
InterRail One-Country Pass: offers travel for three, four, six or eight days in one month within France. The pass covers two journeys free-of-charge in the passenger's country of residence: one journey to and one journey from the border. Travellers under 26 years receive a reduction. Children under 12 travel free when accompanied by an adult using an Adult Pass. Supplements are required for some high-speed services, seat reservations and couchettes. Available from Voyages-sncf.com (tel: +44 844 848 5848, in the UK; www.voyages-sncf.com).
Eurail France Pass: offers travel for three, four, five or eight days in one month within France. Available to non-EU nationals from Eurail (www.eurail.com).
Cheap fares: various kinds of tickets in France (including Family and Youth Tickets) offering reductions. In general, the fares charged depend on the day of the week and time of day you’re travelling; timetables giving further details are available from SNCF offices.
Car ferries known as ‘bacs’ connect the larger islands on the Atlantic coast with the mainland; they also sail regularly across the mouth of the Gironde. The island of Corsica is served by ferries operated by Maritima Ferries. Services run from Marseille, Nice and Toulon to Ajaccio, Propriano, Porto-Vecchio, L'Ile Rousse, Porto Torres, and Bastia on the island. Corsica Ferries/Sardinia Ferries (tel: +33 4 9532 9595; www.corsicaferries.com) also offers services from Corsica to the mainland.
There are almost 9,000km (5,592 miles) of navigable waterways in France, and all of these present opportunities for holidays. The main canal areas are in the north (north and northeast of Paris) where most of the navigable rivers are connected with canals; the east, where canals link the Rhine, the Moselle and their tributaries; Brittany and the Loire on the rivers Vilaine, Loire, Mayenne and Sarthe; and Burgundy, where the Saône and many old and picturesque canals crisscross the region. Several other beautiful waterways cannot be forgotten: the Seine (from Auxerre to Le Havre, but sharing space with commercial traffic), the Rhône (a pilot is recommended below Avignon), and the Midi (including the Canal du Midi, connecting the Atlantic with the Mediterranean) are among the most notable and historic rivers France has to offer. Each of these waterways offers a variety of scenery, a means of visiting many historic villages and localities, and an opportunity to learn much about rural France at a leisurely pace.
Cruising boats may be chartered with or without crews, ranging in size from the smallest cabin cruiser up to converted commercial barges (péniches), some of which can accommodate up to 24 people, plus crew. Hotel boats (large converted barges with accommodation and restaurant) are also available in some areas, with a wide range of prices and comfort levels. For further information, contact the national or regional tourist board.