Nobody drives off
a foreign holiday unprepared. However, many British experience smaller
and larger problems in "La Douce France" because they don't fully
understand the habits or the language of the French. The author will
try to help you on track, the proverb "Forewarned is forearmed" in
mind. Remember that a well-informed traveler is a wise traveler.
Before you drive off, you obviously need to check: oil level, coolant
fluid, windscreen washer level, tire pressure, etc. .. But have you
remembered to put a reflective vest in the car? These are
required by law in case of a breakdown. (In France & Belgium)
And if you intend to use your mobile phone on the go, buy a handsfree
set or a Bluetooth device. These will set you back around
£25,00 while a fine will cost at least £90,00
refective vests, legally required in France & Belgium
French police carry out more and more speeding controls, with high
fines. It is therefore important to mind your speed. The Maximum Speed
Limit in town is 50kph or 31MPH. Please note that in the proximity of
schools there is often a "Zone 30" ( 30 kph = 18 MPH!) On the highway
you can basically frive at 130kph (81MPH), except when it rains: then
the maximum speed is limited to 110 kph (68MPH). On the other roads the
speed limit is 90 kph (56MPH), when it rains it drops to 80 kph
(50MPH). Also important to know is that a speed limit indicated by a
traffic sign, applies until it is lifted by another traffic sign. As
opposed to the Benelux, where a traffic sign applies to the next
intersection and should then be repeated to remain valid, in France the
speed limit remains also beyond the next crossroads!
f you have to refuel in France, the lowest petrol prices are to be
found in petrol stations that belongs to a supermarket chain. Outside
the cities you will find such "Centre Commercial" often marked. There
are supermarkets such as Auchan, Carrefour, Cora, E. Leclerc. In most
cases they all have their own petrol stations, that are a lot cheaper
than the stations along the motorways. Most supermarket petrl stations
are provided with (Maestro-)bank- and creditcardreaders, and
most of the time there are certain pumps where you can pay with cash.
Most supermarkets have one or more ATMs under their roof, in case you
want cash Euro notes.
prices at Leclerc supermarket in February 2010
Looking at the pump in vain to find "diesel" or "LPG"? It is
useful to know that these fuels are called respectively "Gazole"
and "GPL"... LPG car-owners are advides to bring their own
French adapter, since it is different from the UK-model. In Belgium
-where LPG is the cheapest in Europe- they have yet another type of
nozzle. Not all petrol stations can loan you an adaptor. A small number of petrol stations are offering "E85", a green
fuel based on Ethanol (alcohol). Some models by FORD, SAAB and
VOLVO (so-called "duofuel") can run safely on this fuel, that is very
cheap in France.
Before leaving for France, get yourself a good detailed map of the
area. For most locations described confine you to Michelin
No 51. This is a map with a scale of 1/200.000. This map will show
'all' roads and paths on your forays through Northern France. An
GPS can help, but a map is essential to plan your journey
and avoid blunders. If you blindly follow "LILLE" you might end up in a
tiny Belgian village near the Dutch border, rather than in the capital
of the Nord department, like an British coach driver experienced last
The main motorways in Northern France are the A16 and the A26. The A16
is sometimes called the E402 in France, and leads froms Normandy to
Belgium where it is called the E40. From exit 29 just off
Boulogne-Sur-Mer to the Belgian border you DO NOT have to pay toll. The
A26 runs from Calais to Reims (the capital of the Champagne region) and
is called the Autoroute des Anglais
, due to its many British users.
Keep in mind that there are a lot of lorries on the motorways to and
from the UK and that around the ferry terminals of Boulogne, Calais
and Coquelles you may encounter many British drivers unaccustomed to
driving on the "right" side of the road, being the "right" instead of
the "left"... Especially in parking lots and roundabouts they sometimes
dare to drive the wrong way around! So watch out for those scattered
Since the focus of these webpages is on restaurants and fine cuisine,
please take note that the French tend to eat quite late in the
evening. Most restaurants only open at 7.00PM, sometimes even 7.30PM.
Please keep this in mind if you don't want want to wait outside with a
rumbling stomach... At noon many restaurants open from 12.00AM until
2.00PM. They often serve a special "déjeuner" (lunch) menu
for a reduced price. Watch for signs such as "menu 10€", you
might get a fine two course meal and a beverage for that kind of money!
Monday is traditionally a day of rest for many French. Smaller
supermarkets are sometimes closed all day! And often those same
supermarkets close at noon, as do the bakers and butchers. If you fancy
a picnic with fresh local delicacies, make sure you have your food
purchased before the magical 12:00AM!!! "Midi" (="noon") is sacred and
only around 2.00pm the doors will open again. (In the large
hypermarkets you can shop the whole day, sometimes until 10.00PM!) At
the bakeries one can purchase freshly baked bread all day long (except
during the noon-break). Even in the afternoon you can have fresh crusty
. And don't forget to try the croissants
, the traditional French breakfast !
With the exception of the village of Hondschoote, there are no
vineyards in Northern France. But there is an abundance of breweries
and beers. If you are used to drink British ales and beers, you might
get a (nasty) surprise: these traditional beers often contain a much
higher alcohol content than expected ...
A few miles behind
Dunkirk and Calais are real polders, you might even
encouter the odd windmill, and often you drive along canals for miles.
almost believe that you're in the Netherlands! Well, until the 18th
century, "The Netherlands" stretched out to Boulogne-Sur-Mer and the
people living in this northern region still call it "Les Flandres". So
do not be surprised if you encounter the Flemish Lion flag in this
area: these people are proud of their roots.