One of the advantages to being based in Europe is that you can easily change cultures, cuisines, and languages within a few hours. I’ve been taking full advantage of that–in August I went to Skopje, in September to Luxembourg, and in October some friends and I took a road trip through France staying in the towns of Amboise, La Rochelle, and Mont St. Michel.
We learned many things along the way and below we offer you ten tips if you too are considering a road trip through France…
1) Pack snacks
“Dining hours” are an issue of perspective, but as I’ve been based in Greece for many years, I’ve gotten used to eating late lunches and dinners. Not so in France. Outside of the big cities, most restaurants offer very specific and narrow dining hours—12:00-14:00 for lunch and 19:00-21:00 for dinner. This was a big surprise the first few days, and we learned that packing snacks was important to avoid those uncomfortable moments of being super hungry with nowhere to eat…
2) Reserve ahead
The second big surprise was that many restaurants fill up and if you don’t book ahead, you won’t be able to get in. It makes sense—with abbreviated hours of operation and limited tables, the best places fill to capacity quickly. The good news is that crepe diners seem to be everywhere so we always found a spot to eat, but we learned to book in advance for the more popular restaurants.
3) Say “cheese!”
Camembert, Roquefort, brie, comte, chevre—these are just a few of the quality cheeses available all over French menus. We ate pomme frites (French fries) with camembert dip, mussels in Roquefort sauce, chevre salads, and brie gallets (savory crepes). When in France, try the cheese. It really is amazing.
4) Bring an umbrella
I’ve been to France about a dozen times, and I can’t remember a trip where it didn’t rain for at least one day. The good news is that all the rain makes the countryside lush and green. The downside is that there are lots of random downpours which can ruin your day if you are unprepared. If you are heading to France, even in the summer months, bring an umbrella…
5) Tune in
One of my favorite parts of travel is connecting with a different culture, and one of the easiest ways to connect is to tune into the local radio stations. We had lots of time in the car to hear what people from the Loire Valley to Normandy are listening to on radio stations called Alouette and Helene. I’ve created a playlist for you here..
6) Slow down!
It’s easy to get speeding tickets while road tripping abroad and driving in France is no exception. Despite using cruise control and trying to follow the speed limit, we fell prey to a speed trap and got a radar-controlled ticket. Oops! If you are driving in France, pay attention, especially when entering small villages. It is easy to get a speeding violation
7) Brush up on your French
There is a stereotype that French people are unhelpful and won’t speak English. I didn’t find them unhelpful at all but especially in the smaller towns and villages, we did have some language barrier issues. This wasn’t for lack of trying—most of the people I ran into wanted to communicate but actually didn’t speak much English. Learn a few words in French or prepare to do a lot of gesturing.
8) Learn the locks!
Most countries have a few idiosyncrasies that can make your life difficult if you don’t know them. The door locks in France are one of these. You must push the handle firmly up to lock the door. If you don’t know this, it will seem like doors are impossible to lock. We had a local friend teach us early on–otherwise it would have made for a difficult trip..
9) Bring sheets and towels
I always think of France as a cultivated country which is why it was a surprise that several of the places we booked for accommodations expected us to bring our own sheets and towels. These were mid-range Airbnbs in popular areas so I am not even sure what to say about this–I guess it is a French thing..
10) Bring your Covid passport
Restaurants, cafes, bars and movie theatres enforced the Covid-certificate policy. If you plan to travel to France, make sure to bring your Covid-pass. I will also say this was the first time since March of 2020 that I went to an indoor movie theater (No Time to Die). It was sooooo nice to sit in an indoor movie theater again. 🙂
I hope these tips make your road trip even more enjoyable–bon voyage!