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DRIVING

When – and where – to avoid driving on France’s roads this summer

Summer in France means busy roads especially on certain days throughout July and August. Here's a guide of when you might want to avoid driving and which roads you should try to steer clear of on those days.

When - and where - to avoid driving on France's roads this summer
(Photo: Jeff Pachoud / AFP)

In France, the summer holidays are nigh – schools break up for the grandes vacances on Thursday, July 7th – which means the roads will get busy in the days and weeks to come as people escape to the seaside by the carload.

And with flight cancellations, strikes and other disruptions expected at French and European airports this summer — not to mention soaring air fares — many are opting to drive to their holiday destinations despite the cost of petrol.

READ ALSO Planes, trains and roads: France’s timetable for 2022 summer strikes

Each year, France’s roads watchdog Bison Futé publishes a road traffic calendar, which lists the times of the year when travel can be particularly bad. Unsurprisingly, the summer holidays are among the heaviest travel periods, as French and foreign holidaymakers head for the sun.

It operates four levels of travel status, which are colour-coded.

Image: Bison Futé

The standard days, with ‘normal’ traffic are in coded green, meaning that circulation is running as expected. There may be a few jams on certain stretches, notably around cities, but nothing out of the ordinary. Higher traffic days are in orange.  Days with very high traffic volumes are listed in red, while extremely traffic volumes are listed in black. 

On ‘black travel’ days, Bison Futé has calculated that the combined length of all traffic jams on France’s roads could stretch a total of more than 1,000km – or the length of the country from north to south.

We’ll issue regular travel updates, like this one, throughout the summer. But for July and August, the roads monitor forecasts five black travel days, on July 9th, 23rd, and 30th, and August 6th and 13th – all Saturdays.

Only one of those days – July 30th – is graded ‘black’ for the whole of the country. That day is the notorious “chassé croisé” when traditional July holidaymakers head home, and the first of the August breakers set off on their holidays.

READ ALSO Juilletistes vs Aoûtiens: Do France’s two summer holiday tribes still exist?

Image: Bison Futé

The other ‘black days’ are for certain areas, identified by number according to the geographical area where traffic will be heaviest. The areas correspond to the numbers shown on the following graphic.

Image: Bison Futé

The busiest routes of the summer are those that lead to the coasts of the Mediterranean and the Atlantic Ocean – notably the southwest of the country, though Brittany and Normandy are also always popular. Bison Futé even highlights the direction of travel in which traffic will be heaviest – using Départs to describe travel away from main cities, such as Paris, to popular resorts, and Retours for travel away from resorts and back to the cities.

So, on July 30th, the heaviest traffic will be heading to holiday resorts, hence the black ‘extremely difficult’ code. Travel back to the cities in comparison will be classed as ‘red’ – merely ‘very difficult’.

Any route will get busy as it passes large towns or major cities, and at the toll booth entry and exit points of France’s motorways.

READ ALSO Driving in France: What is télépéage and how does it work?

Delaying your departure outside peak periods is frequently the best solution, and Bison Futé offers daily updates on the travel situation on arterial routes across France, including travel times to avoid.

These are consistently difficult stretches of French roads in the summer, but it depends on which way the traffic is heading – whether people are leaving the big cities or returning to them after holiday.

  • The A7 particularly between Vienne and Valence and the Fourvière tunnel in Lyon
  • The A7-A8 between Salon de Provence and Saint-Maximin – where two busy motorways collide
  • The A10 around Tours from Paris to Bordeaux, and the Bordeaux ringroad
  • The A9 between Nîmes and Montpellier, and between Narbonne and Perpignan
  • The A50-A55 around Marseille
  • The A8 heading to Monaco from Nice. The La Turbie toll area is a recurring nightmare for motorists
  • The A10-A71 link between Orléans and Vierzon
  • The A13-A84 between Rouen and Caen
  • The A6 and A10 motorways leading in and out of Paris  

Avoid these routes if you can, especially at peak travel times, for a holiday roadtrip that’s less fraught. For example, instead of braving the A10 around Tours, perhaps consider taking the A71, A20 and A89 to bypass the area altogether.

And the most obvious plan to escape the worst of the traffic – don’t travel on a weekend if you don’t need to.

READ ALSO ‘Something always goes wrong’: What I learned taking the train through Europe with two kids

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TRAVEL NEWS

What to expect from traffic during upcoming three-day weekend in France

L'assomption - or the Assumption of Mary - is coming up for Monday, giving people working in France their last three-day weekend of the summer. As such, the roads are expected to be very busy.

What to expect from traffic during upcoming three-day weekend in France

As the last three-day weekend of the summer approaches, France’s traffic watchdog, Bison futé has announced their forecast for congestion on the roads. 

Traffic is expected to be quite difficult this weekend, with Saturday classified as almost entirely ‘red’ across France for both departures and returns, with the Mediterranean area coloured black – the highest alert level – for departures.

The different congestion levels range from green (normal), orange (difficult), red (very difficult) to black (extremely difficult).

“Throughout the weekend, traffic will be very difficult in Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes and on the Mediterranean Arc, especially on the A7, A8 and A9 freeways”, warned Bison Futé in their statement.

Here is the breakdown per day:

Friday, August 12

Friday is mostly green for departures, aside from the Paris region and the Mediterranean, which can expect some minor delays, as they are coloured in orange. The traffic watchdog recommends leaving or crossing through the Paris region prior to noon.

For returns, however, the situation will be less calm. The majority of the country is on orange alert, with the Mediterranean area coloured red. 

Bison futé predictions for Friday

Specifically, for departures motorists are advised to:

  • leave or cross the Île-de-France before 12:00,
  • avoid the A10 freeway, between Paris and Orleans, from 2pm to 8pm,
  • avoid the A63 freeway, between Bayonne and Spain, from 8am to 8pm,
  • avoid the A7 freeway, between Lyon and Orange, from 11am to 9pm and between Orange and Marseille, from 2pm to 8pm,
  • avoid the A9 freeway, between Orange and Narbonne, from 10am to 9pm,
  • avoid the A75 freeway, between Millau and Lodève, from 3pm to 8pm,
  • avoid the A62 freeway, between Bordeaux and Toulouse, from 3pm to 7pm,
  • avoid the A61 freeway, between Toulouse and Narbonne, from 3pm to 8pm,
  • avoid the Mont-Blanc tunnel in the direction of Italy, from 12:00 to 15:00 (wait time will likely be greater than 30 minutes)

For returns, Bison futé’s advice is to:

  • return to or cross the Ile-de-France before 2pm,
  • avoid the A10 freeway, between Bordeaux and Paris, from 2pm to 7pm,
  • avoid the A63 freeway, between Spain and Bayonne, from 5pm to 7pm,
  • avoid the A6 freeway, between Lyon and Beaune, from 3pm to 8pm,
  • avoid the A7 freeway, between Marseille and Lyon, from 10am to 8pm,
  • avoid the A8 freeway, near Aix-en-Provence, from 10am to 7pm,
  • avoid the A9 freeway, between Narbonne and Orange, from 11am to 7pm,
  • avoid the A62 freeway, between Toulouse and Agen, from 2pm to 8pm,
  • avoid the A61 freeway, between Narbonne and Carcassonne, from 2pm to 8pm,
  • avoid the Mont-Blanc tunnel on your way back to France, from 2pm to 9pm (wait time will likely be more than 1 hour)

Saturday

Saturday is slated to be the most difficult day on the roads this weekend.

For both departures and returns, the whole of the country can expect significant delays and congestion, under the ‘red’ classification. For departures, roads in the Mediterranean area are expected to be the most packed and will be classified as ‘black.’ 

Bison futé predictions for Saturday

Bison Futé advises you to avoid the big cities, from as early as 8am for the Paris region. 

The roads you should pay avoid for departures on Saturday are:

  • the A1 freeway, between Paris and Lille, from 10am to 5pm
  • the A84 freeway, between Caen and Rennes, from 10am to 12pm
  • the A11 freeway, between Paris and Le Mans, from 8am to 7pm and between Le Mans and Angers, from 8am to 5pm
  • the RN157 national road, between Laval and Rennes, from 10am to 5pm
  • the national road RN165, between Nantes and Lorient, from 11am to 8pm
  • the A10 freeway, at the Saint-Arnoult-en-Yvelines tollgate, from 6am to 2pm and between Paris and Bordeaux, from 7am to 5pm
  • the A63 freeway, between Bordeaux and Spain, from 9am to 8pm
  • the A6 freeway, between Beaune and Mâcon, from 8am to 12pm
  • the A7 freeway, between Lyon and Orange, from 6am to 6pm and between Orange and Marseille, from 9am to 7pm
  • the A54 freeway, between Nîmes and Salon-de-Provence, from 10am to 4pm
  • the A9 freeway, between Orange and Narbonne, from 7am to 5pm and between Narbonne and Perpignan, from 8am to 5pm
  • the A20 freeway, between Limoges and Brive-la-Gaillarde, from 10am to 12pm
  • the A71 freeway, between Orleans and Bourges, from 9am to 12pm
  • the A75 freeway, between Clermont-Ferrand and Saint-Flour, from 10am to 12pm, and between Millau and Lodève, from 8am to 6pm,
  • the A750 freeway, between Lodève and Montpellier, from 11am to 1pm
  • the A62 freeway, between Bordeaux and Toulouse, from 9am to 5pm,
  • the A61 freeway, between Toulouse and Narbonne, from 8am to 4pm,
  • the A43 freeway, between Lyon and Chambéry, from 10am to 4pm,
  • the Mont-Blanc tunnel towards Italy, from 12pm to 3pm (wait times expected to be more than 30 minutes).

Motorists are also advised to:

  • return to or cross the Ile-de-France before 2pm
  • avoid the A83 freeway, between Niort and Nantes, from 10am to 4pm
  • avoid the A84 freeway, between Rennes and Caen, from 10am to 3pm
  • avoid the national road RN165, between Lorient and Vannes, from 11am to 3pm
  • avoid the A10 freeway, between Bordeaux and Paris, from 10am to 5pm
  • avoid the A63 freeway, between Spain and Bayonne, from 11am to 1pm
  • avoid the A6 freeway, between Lyon and Beaune, from 9am to 6pm
  • avoid the A7 freeway, between Marseille and Orange, from 8am to 5pm and between Orange and Lyon, from 9am to 7pm
  • avoid the A8 freeway, between Italy and Fréjus, from 10am to 12pm and between Fréjus and Aix-en-Provence, from 9am to 2pm
  • avoid the A54 freeway, between Salon-de-Provence and Nîmes, from 10am to 12pm
  • avoid the A9 freeway, between Perpignan and Narbonne, from 10am to 1pm and between Narbonne and Orange, from 9am to 5pm
  • avoid the A20 freeway, between Brive-la-Gaillarde and Limoge, from 10am to 1pm
  • avoid the A71 freeway, between Clermont-Ferrand and Orléans, from 1pm to 5pm
  • avoid the A62 freeway, between Toulouse and Bordeaux, from 9am to 5pm
  • avoid the A61 freeway, between Narbonne and Toulouse, from 9am to 7pm
  • avoid the A43 freeway, between Chambéry and Lyon, from 9am to 1pm
  • avoid the A48 freeway, between Grenoble and Lyon, from 10am to 12pm
  • avoid the Mont-Blanc tunnel on your way back to France, from 2pm to 9pm (wait times are expected to be greater than 1 hour)

Sunday 

Bison futé predictions for Sunday

The traffic situation will be considerably calmer this Sunday, with slowdowns for departures mostly concentrated around the Mediterranean area and for returns around in the greater southeast region.

For departures, motorists are advised to avoid:

  • the A63 freeway, between Bayonne and Spain, from 10am to 8pm
  • the A7 freeway, between Lyon and Orange, from 9am to 7pm and between Orange and Marseille, from 2pm to 8pm
  • the A9 freeway, between Orange and Narbonne, from 10am to 7pm
  • the A61 freeway, between Carcassonne and Narbonne, from 10am to 12pm

For returns, you should also avoid:

  • the A7 freeway, between Marseille and Lyon, from 9am to 7pm,
  • the A9 highway, between Narbonne and Orange, from 10am to 8pm,
  • the A61 freeway, between Narbonne and Carcassonne, from 5pm to 7pm,
  • the Mont-Blanc tunnel on the way back to France, from 1pm to 8pm (wait times will be greater than 1 hour).

Finally, traffic will be more or less back to routine circulation in both directions on the jour férié of Monday, August 15th. The Paris region is the only part of France that is not green, and this is still only for returns. 

Motorists heading back to Ile-de-France are advised to either cross through or return before 2pm.

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