Scary as it may seem at first, to truly "profiter" of some parts of France, you're going to need to suck it up and get a car. (I'm looking at you, Provence). Getting to know a new car in a new land is no simple feat, but totally worth it in your quest to scour every nook and cranny of France's landscape.
Here are some helpful hints we learned the hard way, so that you can learn the easy way!
Maps: dust off those 9th grade cartography skills because your GPS system has the potential to SUCK. Ours was a slow poke and didn't have satellite in many small towns, and of course the iPhones we've become accustomed to relying on were unable to save us. Close to tears from exhaustion and being turned around on the countless roundabouts led us to a gas station where we quickly made our first, most useful purchase of the trip.
Highway numbers: highways are assigned their own codes (D114, N113 for exemple). Check the map before you head out and make a mental note of the major highways you'll be traveling on that day.
Roundabouts: they're everywhere! At first, they freaked us out and we would panic and go the wrong way. Just keep your eye peeled for the highway numbers indicated at the top of the road signs; usually you'll be going straight, which is like a semicircle around the roundabout so that you continue straight ahead rather than veering off in another direction.
Towns you're heading towards: like American highways, French roundabout exits are marked with the next major towns you're heading towards. Check the map and see which towns come between you and your destination so you can have the security of knowing you're heading the right way.
About the cars: even automatic cars are really hybrids! They're not what we're used to. Mom and I had a few heart attacks the first few times we parked and the car seemed to be inexplicably continuing to roll! We figured out that there's a safety break you always need to engage. Also, "A" is forward, "R" is reverse and you have to park and start the car between the two.
Vocabulary for driving:
Première, deuxième, troisième, quatrième, cinquième: first, second, third, fourth
L'embrochement: Split (in the road).
Tournez à droit/gauche: turn right/left
Ou est ______?: where is ______?