There is a particular pull to the French Riviera. In the summer months, this stretch of coastline sees thousands of visitors, French and foreigners flock to the beaches. But the long beaches still are able to offer privacy and seclusion. This is thanks to the many narrow strips of sandy beaches on the French Riviera. And if traveling around by car they all become accessible. But to travel by car to Cote d’Azur requires some planning. The roads are narrow and the pace of the traffic can be hectic on the roads following the coastline through Cannes and Antibes. After all, these used to be old fishing villages that saw a renaissance of popularity thanks to the influx of millionaires’ money in postwar times.
SUV? Maybe not..
If you are planning on taking your SUV or large Sedan car to the French coast in the south, you may want to think again. The roads show the signs of modernization, asphalt is everywhere to be seen, but the width of the streets leaves a bit to be wanted. Yet, the narrow streets add something to the seaside charm. Some awareness of the road conditions goes a long way. On paper, a road trip on the French Riviera sounds like a dream trip. To swoosh around in a car with a view of the coastline, only to pop into small villages for a bite or an iced coffee on hot summer days. But to make your trip enjoyable and avoid small annoyances, there are some things to take note of.
Road tolls and speed limits
They are many and cost a handsome amount for each one you pass. If for instance you leave Cannes and enter Antibes, you can expect a road toll on the way. The same is true if you continue to Nice. The road tolls are set up along the road between Toulon and Menton and the A8 runs between these. You can pay by card or cash, but make sure you enter the right lane so you avoid having to back up and go into one that accepts your payment method.
Speed limits seem to be advisory only on the French Riviera. In the old town centers, you can expect 30 km/h as a speed limit and that might just be better, for the locals and you. The streets are winding and one has to keep the eyes peeled to catch the right exit before it disappears in the rearview mirror. And yet we noticed how scooters and cars would zip past way above the speed limit, often taking turns that could have resulted in nasty accidents.
Parking as an activity with meagre results
Expect to look for parking if you have not arranged it beforehand. It helps if you arrang for parking in the hotel you are staying, or the apartment complex that you will be staying in. But even so, a smaller car will open up more possibilities for parking spots. Keep in mind that the French like to park close to each other! If there is just enough room for a small car to squeeze in between yours and a zebra crossing, do not be surprised to come back from the beach to find a car parked at an angle almost touching bumpers with your car.
Travel around when others do not and park when they are in the office. You will notice the rush hour on the French Riviera just like anywhere else. Just before the working day starts and just after it ends, there will be many micro traffic jams on smaller roads, and you can even expect it on highway A8 which runs the length of a great part of the Cote d’Azur. The A8 is another interesting discussion point. If you use it, you can travel faster between popular places such as Nice, Cannes and St. Tropez, but on the other hand you will miss out on the sea views and the cutesy small beaches that can be found in random places on the French Riviera. So, consider exploring the coastline by essentially hugging the beach by traveling on the roads that follow the beaches in cities such as Cannes and Antibes.
Think ahead when you park your car
Take note to leave enough space for you to wiggle your car out of where you managed to tuck it in earlier. Chances are that when you return from the beach or the jaunt in a seaside town, you will need that extra room back or front to get out because someone decided to park way too close to your bumper on either side. Such is the car culture on the French Riviera! Remember to smile and keep your hands firmly on the steering wheel as you check out Cote d’Azur by car. To see the French Riviera by car is a unique experience that requires a good sense of humour when it comes chaotic driving, and patience. Just don your sunglasses, plot a route for anywhere on the French Riviera and prepare your music playlist for your unique road trip on this stretch of exciting coast in southern France.