Get off the beaten track in a Europe rental car
Get off the beaten track in a Europe rental car

There’s nothing quite like the privacy of your own rental car to explore the historic villages and vineyards along the back roads of France. You travel at your pace, with no schedule, away from tourists and busy train stations. And whether you are picking up that France rental car at Charles de Gaulle airport or a small, rural office, you want to be sure the right car is waiting when you arrive. When you book with you’ll have a confirmed reservation with a major, multinational supplier (usually Hertz, Avis, Europcar, Alamo or Dollar) and your written confirmation will clearly set out all charges, terms and conditions…no hidden fees. But best of all, if something goes wrong…at the rental counter, with the car, or with the final bill…you’ll have our 24/7 in-Europe support. English-speaking help is just a phone call away.

Thus it’s fortunate that one of France’s tourism bargains is its rental cars. As of September 2019, a four-door economy rental car in France is about $125 per week, including VAT (Value-Added Tax LINK to best page to explain this), unlimited kilometers, and liability insurance, only about $15 higher than the same car in Europe’s least expensive rental car country, Germany.

As in nearly all western European countries, France rental car suppliers don't require the purchase of CDW and theft insurance, thereby allowing customers to rely on free, zero-deductible credit card coverage. Liability insurance covering persons and property outside the rental car is required by law and included in the rental price.

Rental car fleets consist mainly of local brands such as Peugeot, Citroen (owned by Peugeot), and Renault, supplemented by the usual Fords and Opels. In the upper rental categories, such as fullsize, premium and luxury, are mostly Mercedes, Audi and Volvo.

Rental cars with automatic transmission are in limited supply, especially in smaller towns. Automatics are very popular with North American travelers and become particularly scarce in the high season months.

Most France rental car companies charge extra to pickup in one city and return in another. These domestic one-way fees depend on the vehicles and cities involved but start at about €65. International one-way fees range from about €350 to more than €2000.

Minimum age to rent a car is 21 to 25, depending on the rental company. Drivers 21 to 24 can expect to pay a young driver fee that can run to more than $35 per day. There is no upper age limit.

Travel to other western European countries is permitted and most rental companies do not impose cross-border fees. Driving a France rental car to eastern Europcar countries is generally not permitted, though special, higher “east-travel” rates for economy to intermediate category care are available from one or two suppliers (call 800-521-6722).

Many motorways in France are toll roads. Pay with cash or credit card when exiting the highway. Rental companies don’t offer electronic toll transponders.

For those requiring a car for an extended period (longer than about six weeks) an excellent option is the buyback program offered by French auto manufacturers. recommends Peugeot/Citroen. Cars are factory-new with built-in navigation, full, zero-deductible insurance and can be driven to virtually any European country. Customers select a specific model and there are no extra driver fees, premium station fees, road taxes or cross-border fees. Vehicles can be picked up and returned in any of 15 French cities, no one-way charges. The program extends to other major European cities though there are delivery and collection charges starting at about $200.

For’s personal, full-service with 24/7 third-party in-Europe support, plus post-rental billing assistance,

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Memories of France Wine Country
by Robert Bestor

By far, the best part of my very first visit to Europe in October, 1973, was a rental car trip through France’s wine regions. That tiny car took us to the champagne country, the Beaujolais region, the Loire Valley, Burgundy, and Bordeaux. A few scenes from that trip remain fresh in memory.

  • Following a late-morning tour of Mumm’s champagne cellars in Reims, our personable young escort opened a half-bottle of Mumm's delicious bubbly which the three of us shared. It made for a bit of a drowsy afternoon drive to Strasbourg (not recommended).

  • A minor thrill at that young age was standing under the very windmill displayed on labels of Moulin-a-Vent, possibly the Beaujolais region’s best wine.

  • Watching stout, ruddy-faced workers shouldering huge wicker baskets haul in the ’73 harvest from the storied vineyards of Romanée Conti, Clos Vougeot and Nuits Saint-Georges, near Beaune and Dijon. Though today those wines are, like some of us, past their best, you will pay thousands of dollars for just one bottle of ’73 Romanée Conti.

  • Near the end of one rainy day we parked the rental car on the grounds of a seemingly deserted Chateau Mouton Rothschild. It was in 1973 that Mouton was elevated to “First Growth” (Grand Cru), joining Latour, Lafite Rothschild, Margaux and Haut Brion at the top of the Bordeaux Classification of 1855. The world’s very best red wines. That was also about the time the Baroness Philippine de Rothschild unveiled the now famous and fabulous Museum of Wine in Art. As we poked around the quiet property in the gathering gloom of that October day in 1973, we saw no one until a 60-ish man in a work smock emerged from a shed and spoke to us. We understood no French, but he motioned us to follow. At a plain, low structure he opened a door to a long, dark room. Once inside, he hit a switch that dramatically revealed the museum’s priceless treasures, each piece bathed in its own illumination. Amazed and delighted, we took in as much of it as we could while our host patiently stood by. For 15 minutes, it was just us and the highlights of centuries of wine culture. You can book a museum visit at

A few weeks later, I saw the man's picture in a wine magazine. It was none other than Raoul Blondin, for 50 years Mouton’s cellar master, the winemaker.

All these years later most of these places are still there—mostly unchanged—and accessible by car.

Bob Bestor, President,