x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

A rip-roaring ride - or a rip-off through the Mediterranean...

Road trips in France can cost a small fortune so it's worth having air conditioning in your car to guarantee yourself at least one comfort.

About this time a year ago, I fled the blazing heat of Abu Dhabi to fly to Sweden. A fat lot of good it did me; I was constantly wiping away perspiration. Civilised as the Swedes are, their notion of when and how to use air conditioning, even in newish buildings, had me longing for the over-cooled indoor environments to which I was accustomed in the Gulf. Knowing what temperatures are likely to be in the UAE just now, I expect little sympathy after my most recent European ordeal: a nine-hour return drive in France, with a hefty slice of work in between each leg, all accomplished within 30 hours and using a car showing increasing signs of advanced age, one being that it has no air conditioning.

There was one consolation: the driving, between the Mediterranean coast and Lyon, was done on successive evenings so that the heat was felt mainly in the early part of each journey. But I quickly discovered the flaws in my simplistic belief that no car actually needs AC provided the windows can be wound down. A visit to the bank, cap in hand, may soon be necessary. But let me be upbeat for a moment. Even a flying trip to Lyon was enough to remind me what a beautiful city it is. In my first travels between the English Channel ports and the south of France, it was no more than a place where you could guarantee to be stuck in gigantic traffic jams because the autoroute went straight through the heart of the city. Then a network of new bypasses made things much easier, whichever route you chose.

It took the first of what has become a series of working visits to make me appreciate the city itself, the grandeur of the boulevards and squares and the exquisite qualities of Lyonnaise cuisine. Other parts of French compete for culinary capital status, but Lyon's claim has a lot of merit. The city is not, however, perfect. No hotel that charges ?145 (Dh740) for a small room for one night (after first asking for ?175) should also be a hotel that cannot produce a scrap of food after breakfast, or a teaspoonful of anything to drink before 6pm.

And no attendant-supervised car park should employ attendants who help themselves, as I strongly suspect was the case, to the most valuable coins in the little stash kept for those ubiquitous road tolls. That spot of petty larceny did at least remind me of a warning I have been meaning to pass on ever since my return to France at the end of April. Anyone contemplating a motoring visit to France should build le péage into their calculations when working out the budget.

Drive from the exit of the Channel Tunnel at Coquelles to the Croisette in Cannes and you will pay a grand total of ?126.48 (Dh653) in tolls, according to www.mappy.com, a mine of road travel information. Bearing in mind the shock you should also expect when you need to fill your tank, take your place after me in the queue for appointments at the bank.