Sunday, 23 January 2011

See What I'm Driving At

Over the past two weekends, trips to visit friends on the other side of the Ile-de-France and in Franche-Comté have probably caused me to more than double my hours of driving experience in France. In the course of approximately twenty hours, I have experienced miles of traffic jams where you can’t even get the clutch up in first gear, rain stotting like hailstones off my windscreen, black ice, thick fog, hairpin bends, roads with no lines on them, the Boulevard Périphérique and the very best of il fallait le savoir driving rules. (And yes, when I brought the matter of the invisible speed limit signs up with Understanding Frenchman, that is exactly what he said: “You just know what to do. You learn it at the driving school.” Which explains why the French driving theory test includes hundreds and hundreds of potential questions and why it’s very common to fail it several times. And then, after all that effort and angst, everybody just ignores it anyway.)

Anyway, the aim of this post was not actually to have another rant about the French tendency to value theoretical knowledge above all else, even their own lives, but to report on the fact that, once you get out of the Région parisienne, driving in France can actually be very enjoyable. I really don’t mind having to figure out the speed limits by myself when I’m not worrying about the fact that some moron is trying to overtake approximately two centimetres from my right-hand wing mirror.

Franche-Comté was particularly beautiful. It’s the region next to the Swiss border where the Jura mountains are.The summit of the highest mountain, Mont d’Or is at 1463m, but because the whole area is on a high plateau, the landscape is more one of rolling hills than jagged peaks. From the summits, though (which in the case of Mond d’Or can be reached in an easy 5 minute stroll from the high car park!), there are stunning views over the Swiss border and south to Mont Blanc mountain range, as well as glimpses of Lake Geneva and Lake Neuchatel.

As well as being a mountain, Mont D’Or is also a cheese. Without a doubt the best way to eat it is local style: whole and melted in its own crust and container, with potatoes and local charcuterie to dip in, just like fondue but, because of the crust, even more delicious.

As you drive away from the mountains, the roads take you through pretty villages and past castle fortresses. At one point, we thought my faithful TomTom was leading us astray (especially when she told me to turn on to a bumpy road full of potholes with no markings other than a sign warning us that it was never cleared of snow) , but it turned out to be a beautiful drive, with the hairy hairpin bends more than compensated for by the spectacular views down from the plateau to the plains below. If you want to discover one of the more “hidden” regions of France, Franche-Comté is definitely recommended!

1 comment:

  1. I lived in France for a year and never drove at all. Just driving on the right hand side of the road would have done my brain in, without worrying about road rules and other drivers as well! Well done for taking to the roads and exploring!