French toll roads: All you need to know

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There aren’t many toll roads in the UK. Drivers have to pay to use their cars in central London, and you pay to cross major bridges across the Thames and Severn, but the huge majority of our motorways remain free of charge. The story is very different across the Channel, though. Whichever way you head once you drive off the ferry or out of the tunnel and onto French soil, you will quickly hit a motorway tollgate, or ‘peage’ – unless, of course, you decide to avoid the toll-charging auto-routes altogether.

Taking a toll

The tolls charged can make a big difference to the cost of your journey through France. The main auto-route – or motorway – heading south from Calais, for example, costs €22.10 if you are going to Paris in a car. Taking the motorway all the way down to Lyon with a caravan, meanwhile, will set you back a massive €93.90. So is it worth paying to take the motorways, or should you head for the French equivalent of our A-roads instead? And what else do you need to know about French toll roads?

Route and branch

Calais remains the most popular choice for Brits taking the car to France. It is the destination of the quickest (and usually the cheapest) ferry crossings and is also where the channel tunnel pops out on the Continent. The main roads out of Calais are the A26, which heads south past Reims and Dijon before running into other motorways that take you down to the Alps and Provence, and the A16, which runs the other side of Paris, offering access to Brittany and west coast destinations such as Bordeaux and La Rochelle. Other motorways you are likely to encounter on your way south from the various other ferry ports include the A71, the A20 and the A39.

Typical costs

The amount you pay in tolls will depend on the auto-routes you take and the length of time you stay on them. Costs also depend on the type of vehicle you are driving – vans and motorhomes cost more than cars, while those towing caravans also pay more. Here are some examples to give you an idea of how much you might have to pay in tolls:

  • Le Havre to Paris – with a car €19.70, with a caravan €33.60
  • Paris to Strasbourg – with a car €38, with a caravan €57.80
  • Calais to Reims – with a car €22.20, with a caravan €32.60
  • Reims to Chamonix – with a car €55.60, with a caravan €85.20
  • Bordeaux to Toulouse – with a car €18.30, with a caravan €29.20
  • The bridge from La Rochelle to Ile de Re – with a car €16, with a caravan €27.

Top tip – that there are no toll roads in the popular holiday destination of Brittany, which used an edict passed many years ago to say no to tolls.

Automatic payment scheme

One of the problems with toll roads is that queues can often form at the tollgates – or peages – at busy times. But you can avoid waiting in line by signing up to the tele-peage scheme offered by Sanef Tolling. It gives you the right to use special, automatic payment tollgates marked with a “t”, through which you can pass at speeds of up to 30km/h. You have to pay €10 to receive your tele-peage tag, plus an annual management charge of €6. Any tolls incurred are then added to your bill at the usual rate and debited from your account on a monthly basis.

Is it worth paying the tolls?

There are fewer cars on French motorways than on English ones. So unless you hit a traffic jam, you can generally travel at the top speed of 130km/h (or 110km/h in wet conditions) if you wish. The French equivalent of our A-roads – routes nationales, or N-roads – on the other hand, often pass through towns and villages, where the maximum speed is 50km/h. And even elsewhere, the speed limit is generally set at 90km/h, meaning that travelling on them can take a lot longer than on the toll roads. That said, driving on the N roads often means a much more attractive journey.

French motorway facilities

French motorway services, or ‘aires’, range from stops where there is nothing more than a few parking spaces, a picnic table and a toilet, to large areas where you will find a petrol station, a restaurant and, in some cases, a hotel. So it’s worth keeping an eye on the signs showing how many kms to the next petrol station in case the next few aires you pass are of the more rustic kind. These simple “aires de repos” can be a good bet if all you want to do is nip to the loo or take a quick snooze in your car.

Dormez vous?

For longer sleeps, meanwhile, there are lots of hotels on or near to French motorways. The budget hotel chain Formule 1 or F1, for example, has some 230 hotels across France – many of which are located near the main motorways. Prices start from just €19 a night, making them a cheap way to break up a long journey from say Calais to the south of France. The rooms are very basic, however, with shared toilets and showers. For extra comfort, you may therefore want to consider staying in one of the many Ibis Hotels in motorway services or getting off the road and booking a room in a gite or bed and breakfast nearby.

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