On leaving Lourdes, our planned route took us up into the Dordogne, on the first leg of our route back to Calais. At this point, I decided to conduct an experiment – I’ve long been a fan of France’s toll motorways and always use them for long drives in France. They save time, fuel and wear and tear, and are simply much faster for long journeys.
However, I’m aware that there are people who don’t share my fervent admiration for the autoroute system and resent paying tolls. Some of these people (apparently) even believe that the national roads represent a viable alternative for long journeys.
For the journey from Lourdes to Najac I decided to conduct an experiment. I had looked in my wallet that morning and found fewer Euro notes than I was hoping for. All of a sudden, the need to pass them out to toll booth attendents was unattractive – so I decided to use non-toll routes (i.e. National and Departmental roads) the whole way.
The results were clear. The journey took almost twice as long as it would have done if I had chosen the autoroute option, which would have covered almost the whole journey. The national road option was about 250km and my average speed was just 50km/h – about half the (true) average speed I achieve on a motorway. The reasons for this are obvious – crawling through towns, stopping at traffic lights, road works and, of course, a maximum legal speed of 90km/h on the open road and 50km/h or even 30km/h in most built-up areas.
On the other hand, the scenery was much better than it is from the autoroutes and we saw some interesting towns. Overall, however, I regretted my choice of route and had to eat a considerable portion of marital humble pie!
Back to the sights and sounds – Najac. Lonely Planet raves about its castle, which is picturesque, but for me, the real treat was the perfectly preserved Place du Faubourg, full of beautiful old houses, many timber framed and some dating back to the 13th century. A real treat – it’s simply amazingly well preserved and hardly betrays the existence of the 21st century at all.
We also discovered that Najac has an excellent motorhome aire – it’s well signposted and is about 2km out of the village at Najac Gare, next to the swimming pool (closed in May, when we were there). Here’s a short video showing the aire: