vendredi 13 mars 2015

How to enjoy your stop on a French highway rest/service area?

I have written this post for all of those who want to have a nice and safe travel on the French highways. As it was first written in French for the blog de fil en tartine, I have added below a few tips for foreigners visiting my beautiful country.

The majority of the French highways (noted "A" and then the number of the road) have rest areas scattered on their course. Some are called "rest areas" and possess just a few trash cans, some tables and benchs and of course toilets (roughly each 15 km). Others, bigger and with multiple services, can be found each 40 / 50 km and are called "service areas".
When you click on this link (stay on that page, don't try the english version, because the map doesn't exist in this language), you can see all the places you will encounter during your drive on the French highways. That's a tip you will love to use to prepare your road plan, with the meal rests or gas station stops... even more when there are kids in the car!

Playgrounds for children, inside or outside:
Speaking about children, a great number of rest areas provide games for them. You can find slides and rocking animals, swings... or inside the service areas' buildings you will have games, TV spots, etc.
And during the summer holidays (July and August), animations are held along the road to the touristic places and the beaches (for example: A6, A7, A9, A10 or A16, etc), as you can see here for the Vinci highways.
Remember to fix a time for the departure or you will have to stay the whole morning / afternoon (highlight the right word).

The toilets and the "Baby corner":
It's the most important place in a rest area. It's for it we crash stop because the son can't anymore refrain from peeing in his auto-sit, or the baby has poisoned the air in the car with what is now in his diaper, or even when Mom must REALLY do something about her "monthly girl things". And when it's not meeting our expectations, it can quickly become a living nightmare.
Usually, the toilets are cleaner and you feel more welcomed in the service areas than in the simple rest areas. However, I have already been surprized, in the good way, by toilets lost in the middle of nowhere and that are equiped with a self-cleaning system and all the necessary to go back on the holidays road, lightened and with soap smelling hands (and not hydroalcoholic gel).  

Three tips for when we stop to go to toilets in a small rest area:
- Take paper roll or tissues with you. You never know when you will find an empty roll holder...
- The disinfectant for the hands have to be easily reachable in the car (even better: put it in your pocket, so that you can have it as soon as you go out of the toilets)
- Leave your coat/jacket in the car, even if it's freezing outside. There are mostly no hooks on the doors of the toilets and the state of the floor don't allow us to put them down. You will already be busy with the trouser falling near the water puddle and your buttocks hanging in the air... (because NO, you don't put this part of your anatomy on the toilet seat! Only if you have no conception of hygiene, of course...)

It has to be noted that since I use French highways (since childhood), I have noticed a certain improvement in the cleanliness of the toilets. It's mostly due to new systems for cleaning, but also the  motorway network managers' realization that they have to do something...

Tell the other customers and the cleaning team when a toilet is "dirty" by sliding the window on pas propre (= not clean).

Most Babys corner in the service areas include: a change room with sink, trash can, changing table/matress, and electric outlet. Some have also a nursing room (I have seen it in one place but can't remember where). It's too rare and I hope it will be developed because a comfy armchair is way more pleasant that a piece of concrete bench...
However, you will easily find a microwave to warm up the baby food (also sold at the convenient store three feet away, if forgotten...) And in the eventuality of a "out of order" engine or a long waiting queue, ask nicely one of the cafeteria employee: whenever I have asked them, they were always benevolent and brought back the food warmed up just like needed. And sometimes, with a plate and a spoon (must be left on the empty trays... not taken out!) 
Of course, if you don't speak French and the person in front of you is not talented with languages, use your best smile, and show him / her the food jar/plate. Don't forget to say please and thank you, in English or whatever language you speak. These words are "understood" when used at the right times. But if you want to embrace the French spirit it will be "S'il vous plait" (please) and "Merci beaucoup" (thank you very much).

Shops and restaurants:
You're a tad hungry, you can't track down where the heck the road map has gone, the camera needs new batteries? Don't panic, the shops at the service areas should have all that...

... and everything you didn't envisage to buy. Like a book or magazine for your daughter, a poster about medieval castles or european geography for the son or even madeleines "pur beurre" for Mister-I-am-the-driver-who-likes-the-cookies-that-are-in-the-car-but-wants-something-else-for-a-change... The choice is large, so be careful with your wallet! The prices are higher than in a supermarket.

Restaurants and bakeries are owned by food chains. For example (not an exhaustive list): La Brioche Dorée, Paul, Pomme de Pain, Mc Donald, El Rancho, CourtePaille, AutoGrill, L'Arche, etc. According to your budget and tastes, you will savor a panini with salmon, a croissant, a steack with french fries, a full menu in a cafeteria or ready to eat pastas (remember, free microwaves to use. Just check if it is operational before buying the pastas). Of course, it's the option "no picnic". 

When the weather permits it, the picnic basket can be appropriate and enjoyed by the whole family. However, beware of rainy days, freezing temperatures or heat waves. One, having lunch on a bench outside or scrammed in the car is not comfortable or relaxing in these weathers. And two, because on very sunny days, the meal could become harmful: cheeses, creams, delicatessen (etc) that can hide a future bacteria infection, warm fruit juices leading to stomach aches... Well, if you are the owner of THE cooler bag that resists several hours of road trip under the heat, spread out the cloth on the grass and put some sun cream on your arms and face!
Otherwise, don't risk a food poisoning (I have tested, not cool for the start of the holidays), and stop at least one hour to nibble a sandwich or a salad you will buy at the service shop. It will be more expensive but less risky for your health and you will be protected against the bad weather. Bonus: more place in the car without all the picnic stuffs!

Nota bene: service areas are open 24h/24. For those who love to travel during the night, they are illuminated outside and you can drink a hot chocolate or eat a breakfast after hours of driving, and that's not a luxury! Rest areas are to be avoided during the wee hours of the night (10pm to 6am). Stories about robberies, carjacking, rapes and other news items are sadly not fictional. Ok, it's not every night in every rest area, but when you have kids sleeping in the back seats, chose the safety and hold on your bladder a bit longer.

Gas stations, to avoid being out of gas: 
More expensive near the highways, filling up at a gas station will often be unavoidable before reaching your destination. On the website I quoted at the beginning of this post, it's easy to locate the gas stations you will encounter on your journey. Most of them propose, besides gasoline and diesel, recharge terminal for electric or gas cars. You can also control your tires pressure, which is important when your car is loaded or the weather is "summer hot".

Space to walk and have a bit of fresh air: 

Combe du Tréboulou, on the highway A20

Don't forget to stop 20 minutes every 2 hours for a must needed walk! And when we have children, we can't escape these rests (only but: when they're napping). So spot, before your travel, the rest areas that have panoramic point of view or spaces for lounging, or even better the "villages étapes"  on the free motorways and national roads (villages where you have touristic attractions, restaurants, service shops, etc) and have a bit of adventures! Don't we say that what is important is not the destination but the travel?

Panoramic overview, rest area "Marvejols", A75 in the Massif Central.

Have a nice travel on our French roads!


This post is part of the MKB Global Pick of the day. 
You can follow all the daily picks with the hashtag #mkbglobalpick !

5 commentaires:

  1. I agree, French rest stops have gotten much cleaner over the years! Not so sure I can actually bring myself to "enjoy" them, though. Some of them do sell interesting French "produits régionaux", though.

    1. Well, "enjoying" ourselves there is a bit ironic sometimes, but it's better to be prepared and know what you will find than have really nasty surprises or when you can't find a rest area (in Germany they are few, as the roads are free... For a French, it's a tad enrving to not know when we can have a "pause pipi" or refuel) ;-)

  2. Well, I have to say this does seem to be something the French do better than Americans. I absolutely refuse to stop at rest stops in the US. Maybe I've watched too many episodes of CSI (ha!) or maybe I've just had too many bad experiences, but I will stop almost anywhere other than a rest stop. Even the woods. :)

  3. Good point about leaving your coat in the car Eolia! I'm often caught out by that and end up doing some crazy balancing act! French "aires" are pretty good overall, we drive loads all over the country so we're quite the experts too. I know all the best play areas between Nice and Paris! Thanks for linking up with #AllAboutFrance again, lovely to see you here.

  4. I agree - the "Aires" have greatly improved over the last few years and I love the bigger ones. Some of smaller ones leave a bit to be desired, though and I for one refuse to pee in a hole ion the ground toilet! #AllAbout France


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