The fastest (almost) toll-free routes to Spain
November, 28 2020
Are we there yet, are we there yet? When you set off for the sunny south, there are many miles ahead of you. The most obvious way to cover these distances is to use the motorways. But in both France and Spain, you pay a toll for the distances you cover. Not happy about that? There is a great alternative!
Simply use the tourist routes that will take you to Spain via lovely country roads (and only a couple of toll roads). Nice and inexpensive! And you will happily take that extra travelling time for granted as you pass through the beautiful countryside you would otherwise have missed. We will share with you the best and (almost) toll-free routes in France and Spain in this blog.
Motorways take you quickly from A to B, but keeping the roads maintained costs money. So governments ask drivers for a contribution. In France and Spain this is different to Britain. On many motorways there you will pay a toll to use the section you are driving along. In France these roads are known as péage, in Catalonia they are peatge, and in the rest of Spain they are called peaje. Foreign visitors also have to pay their way. To reach the South of France, you can expect to pay up to 120 euros, depending on the type of vehicle (with or without a caravan or trailer tent). For many holidaymakers, that’s a good reason to drive along the country roads.
Via Paris to Spain
Life is full of choices, also when it comes to camping. Toll roads are ideal for those who want to sit firmly attached to the steering wheel, so they can flop down on the beach as quickly as possible. Ridiculous, say those who favour the tourist routes; by not sticking to the beaten path, you will discover any number of wonderful regions in France and Spain. And that can be fun!
- Western route: Paris – Biarritz – San Sebastian
If your destination is in the western half of Spain, the shortest route is via Paris. No tolls are charged in the Paris region and around Bordeaux. There is an interesting alternative to the A10 motorway from Poitiers until just before Bordeaux: the N10. This is completely dual-carriageway and has no traffic lights or roundabouts, except at the start and finish. The A10 between Bordeaux and Biarritz is mostly toll-free. Only where the A10 merges with the A63 does it become a toll road again.
- Central route Paris – Limoges – Toulouse
If you are travelling to the centre of the Pyrenees, you can drive via Toulouse. This route, via the A20 between Vierzon and Toulouse, is two thirds toll-free.
- Eastern route Paris – Clermont-Ferrand – Béziers – Perpignan – La Jonquera
The eastern route through France is the obvious choice for travelling to eastern Spain. More than 340 kilometres of the A75 (Clermont-Ferrand – Béziers) are toll-free apart from the Millau Bridge. Avoiding the toll bridge to save costs is pointless: the long and winding descent into Millau and the steep climb after Millau will cost you more in fuel.
- Eastern route Nancy – Lyon – Béziers
The A31 from Luxembourg is free from beyond Nancy as far as Toulouse. There is no good alternative for the rest of the A31.The same goes for the continuation of the route to Lyon, the A6. The N7 from Lyon to Orange is possibly an alternative to the A7. There are several longer stretches here without too many traffic lights and roundabouts, but the N7 passes through a number of villages. There is no real alternative to the A9 from Orange to the Spanish border.
Tolls in Spain
Spain itself has relatively few toll roads, but tourists will encounter them quite often. The AP-7, which extends along the most important tourist destinations from La Jonquera to Tarragona, such as the Costa Brava, is no longer a toll road since September 2021. South of Alicante the AP-7 is also still a toll road. The N-11 is a reasonable alternative to the AP-7 as far as Girona.
Another route with a toll is the AP-2 from Barcelona to Zaragoza. This toll will also end in September 2021. The AP-68 from Zaragoza to Bilbao will remain a toll road until the end of 2026. The motorway from Bilbao to San Sebastian and the French border will remain a toll road for the time being, as will a number of routes around Madrid and smaller routes in the rest of the country.
Avoid the tolls using the autovías
The network of autovías (A roads) is very extensive and serves the whole country. They are motorway standard roads, are free, but have many junctions. In some cases they run parallel to the toll motorways.
The advantages of a toll-free route
- Filling up with fuel is quite a lot cheaper in a village than on a motorway. You can save anything from 20 to 30 cents a litre.
- Country roads in both France and Spain are generally very well maintained.
- There are often long queues at the toll booths in high season, you will avoid these tailbacks.
- Nowadays there are often convenient ring roads around smaller towns and larger villages, meaning you don’t always have to drive through the centre.
- You will pass through beautiful countryside on your journey and will suddenly find yourself in a picturesque village which you would otherwise not see.
- Stretching your legs is a lot more enjoyable in a pleasant street with stylish restaurants than in overcrowded service areas with trucks racing past. And you will need to stop every couple of hours, but as pleasantly and safely as possible. It’s your holiday, after all!
Things to watch out for
In order to be well prepared for your journey, we have a number of tips and tricks for you if you want to avoid toll roads in France and Spain.
- Which route? You can let your navigation system do the work for you by selecting the ‘Avoid toll motorways’ option. That will save a lot of searching.
- The days when traffic fines abroad would never arrive in your letter box are, unfortunately, a thing of the past. Take care, there are also speed cameras on country roads!
- You cannot drive so fast on country roads, and that saves petrol or diesel. On the other hand, country roads are full of roundabouts, width restrictions and traffic lights as you approach the built-up area. That can also affect your speed and make your fuel gauge drop.
- On the notorious Black Saturdays and other days when traffic is busy, it can often be busy on country roads too. The best plan is not to get into your car at all.
- What type of driver are you? Whereas one driver can find it very tiring to drive continuously on motorways, another can be affected by continually changing gears and braking.
- If you like the idea of stopping in Lyon, Grenoble or Paris, you will need to pay for an environment sticker to be allowed to drive into the city!
Free toll-roads in France and Spain
The French thankfully make an exception for a number of motorways, where you don’t have to pay tolls. To mention a few, there is the A20 near Limoges, which is free for a large part. Another popular route is the A75, where you pay only to use the Millau Bridge. Definitely a ‘must’ so you can enjoy the views by this spectacular bridge!
In Spain, next to the autopistas (motorways) there are autovías which are free and for which the same maximum speed limits apply. It makes an ideal and cheap alternative and will take you almost no extra travelling time.
If you’re not going any further than France, there are also many child-friendly campsites there with lovely camping pitches and luxurious accommodation. There is plenty of choice with Suncamp.
Do you know of any more toll-free, or almost toll-free routes that we haven’t mentioned? Let us know below and lend your fellow campers a hand!