France is one of those countries that begs to be driven.
The last time we were there, in 2008, we were on bicycles but it was February and the Mistral winds in Provence blew so hard that we took refuge on the trains instead. But in the summer, when the sky is French blue and the sun is as warm and golden as a fresh baked baguette, it’s the perfect time to hire a car and drive the countryside.
When Jade and I hit the ground in Paris, the first thing we did was pick up a little black roller skate of a car from Carrentals.co.uk , just big enough for her and me and our two backpacks and hit the road. The drive south, towards Bordeaux gets prettier with every mile you drive. The bustle of the city gives way to rolling countryside dotted with farm houses and idyllic villages with cafe lined streets just begging to be explored.
Tips for travel:
1. Be prepared for tolls
If you are planning on traveling the A roads be aware that there will be tolls, and they are hefty ones! We spent more than 50 EU on tolls between Paris and Bordeaux! Yikes! If we had it to do over again, we’d have taken more secondary roads and made an extra day of it.
2. Be prepared to drive standard
If you’re North American, it might be news to you that most car rentals in other parts of the world are not automatic vehicles. If you need an automatic, be sure you request it in advance!
3. Get an International Driver’s License
This is something I pooh-poohed for years. The only one I’d ever bothered to procure, years ago, had never been requested, what a waste of twenty bucks and the time. Now, however, some of the reputable rental car agencies are asking for them and some won’t rent to you without this document. What is an International Driver’s License? Basically, it’s a translation document that makes your license accessible to officials in other countries. You can get one at AAA or whatever your local version of an automobile assistance club is for about twenty dollars. Take a passport sized photo with you. They are valid for only one year, so make sure you keep an up to date one with you.
4. Consider renting one way
Jade and I rented our car in Paris and dropped it off a few days later in Pau. It’s easy to do. There’s an additional fee for a one way rental, but to us it was worth it to have the freedom to make our own way, stop where we liked and avoid being tied to an arbitrary schedule. We sat and ate fresh cherries and locally made cheese for our lunch as we watched the high speed train whisk past, so glad not to be on it!
5. Take photographs
Not of the scenery, but of the car itself. When you pick up your car you’ll be given a form on which to mark any damage you find on the vehicle, we’re all familiar with those, right? Take it one step further and photograph the car all over, your camera phone will do. That way you have a visual record of the exact condition of the vehicle upon pick up. Should you encounter a problem with the company upon return, you’ll have evidence of any prior damage!
There are so many beautiful back roads to drive, tiny towns to explore and secret spots with the perfect pastries or coffees to be discovered that you simply must take your time, stop a lot, and make the best of the freedom of having your own vehicle. Sample the local delicacies, savour the sunshine, explore the lesser known local treasures and be the master of your own destiny!