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'Autoroute des Anglais': Do you know the nicknames for France's motorways?

Genevieve Mansfield
Genevieve Mansfield - [email protected]
'Autoroute des Anglais': Do you know the nicknames for France's motorways?
Motorists drive on the A6 motorway, also known as the "Autoroute du soleil" (Motorway of the Sun), near Lyon in 2017 (Photo by ROMAIN LAFABREGUE / AFP)

Drivers in France might be familiar with the country's "autoroutes", but do you know how the French refer to them colloquially?

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France is a big country, with several notable motorways criss-crossing through mountains, forests and along the coast. These autoroutes may have official numbers like A6 and A1, but the French often refer to them differently. 

L'Autoroute du Soleil

The A6, or the Sun Motorway, though perhaps it would be better named 'les autoroutes' seeing as it involves two motorways, totalling 769km, connecting France's largest three cities

The A6 runs from Paris to Lyon, and then the A7 descends to the mediterranean city of Marseille. 

READ MORE: Driving in France: What are the French 'villages étapes'?

The autoroute du soleil is particularly popular (and crowded) at the start of school breaks, as holidaymakers travel toward the sunny riviera. 

L'Autoroute des Anglais

The A26, this motorway runs between Troyes, located to the east of Paris, and Calais, the port city with frequent ferry connections between France and England.

It is aptly nicknamed the Autoroute des Anglais, or the "Motorway of the English", because it is known as the most direct route to the UK from southern and eastern France that allows drivers to avoid going near Paris.

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There are plans in 2025 to extend the road toward Auxerre and Bourges in Burgundy.

 

L'Autoroute des Deux Mers

The "two seas motorway" - or better known as the A61 and A62 - this axis connects the southern cities of Bordeaux, Toulouse and Narbonne.

Unsurprisingly, the road runs between two coastlines: the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean. 

There are several key landmarks along this highway. Motorists will pass in front of the UNESCO site, the Cité de Carcassone, while the eastern section of the A61 runs alongside the Canal du Midi. 

READ MORE: 5 must-visit towns in south-west France you've (probably) never heard of

 

L'Autoroute de la Cigogne

The maps may call it the A35, but to locals it is "the stork motorway". While the A35 does not bring babies to those who drive on it, it does cross the historic Alsace region, running from north to south. It connects the cities of Strasbourg, Colmar, and Mulhouse. 

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As for its title as 'la cigogne', this is a reference to the bird's status as a symbol of the Alsatian region. If you visit the area in the spring or summer, you will likely notice several nests.

The A35 also has a second nickname: some simply refer to it as l'Alsacienne.

 

L'Autoroute des Titans

The "Motorway of the titans", the A40 earned this title for highly technical and large-scale building projects that were required for its construction.

The motorway is composed of 12 viaducs and three tunnels, and it crosses the Jura mountain range travelling both above and below the hills.

It connects eastern France with Italy, running between the cities of Mâcon and Milan.

 

L'Autoroute de l'Est

Running between Paris and Strasbourg, the A4 is also referred to as the 'motorway of the east'. It has been in use since 1971 and it is one of France's longest autoroutes, measuring 482 km in length.

Quite popular during the Christmas season as holidaymakers travel to the Strasbourg Christmas market, the journey usually takes around five hours.

 

L'Arverne

Starting in Orléans and running to Clermont-Ferrand, one might have assumed that the A71 would earn a volcanic nickname, given the extinct range of volcanoes dotting this part of France.

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Instead, the A71 has a very Gallic nickname. L'Arverne refers to a Gallic people that lived in what is now the Auvergne region during the Iron Age and Roman period. They were known as one of ancient Gaul's most powerful tribes.

 

L'Autoroute de l'Arbre

The motorway of the trees, otherwise known as the A77 which runs from Nemours and Nevers in central France.

The road was designed in order to create a minimal environmental impact, and zoologists were called in to help design a landscape that would facilitate the passage of animals from one side of the road to another. 

While costly in terms of construction, motorists can enjoy rolling their windows down and taking a breath of fresh air.

 

L'Autoroute de Gascogne

A relatively new motorway, the A65 was inaugurated in 2009 and its 150 kilometres run between Pau and Langon in south-west France. 

As for the name, it is an ode to Gascony, a former French province and prior to the French Revolution, the 'Duchy of Gascony'.

 

L'Autoroute du Nord

The 'motorway of the north' might sound like a Game of Thrones reference, but in reality it is the A1, which connects Paris to Lille. 

As it travels north, the name is simply geographic in nature. 

 

La Méridienne

The Meridian, or the A75, runs south from central France in Clermont-Ferrand to Béziers. It also is parallel to Greenwich (Prime) Meridian.

Widely known for being France's 'highest' motorway, the A75 is also home to the Millau Viaduct which crosses over the Gorge valley of the river Tarn. The cable-stayed bridge consistently wins engineering achievement prizes and it is one of the tallest in the world at 343m.

L'Européenne

The French A16 motorway, known as L'Européenne, links the north of the Paris region (at the Croix Verte interchange) to the border with Belgium at Bray-Dunes in the Nord département.

Other motorways in France might be referred to as 'routes européenes' if they start with an E, followed by a number. These are part of the numbering system for roads in Europe, as named by the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE). 

 

La Francilienne

While it is not quite the Périphérique (Paris' immediate ringroad or beltway), the Francilienne does wrap around the capital city. It is the third ringroad to go around Paris, and it connects other key parts of the region including Cergy-Pontoise, Roissy-Charles de Gaulle airport, Marne-la-Vallée, Sénart and Évry.

READ MORE: Why the Paris périphérique is more than just a ringroad

It is made up of several motorways, including the A104 which links much of its eastern portion. 

Do you know of any other nicknames for French motorways? Let us know in the comments below.

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Comments (4)

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Tony Curtis 2024/01/04 16:52
Reference La Méridienne. France & Great Britain were competing to set the base from which all time zones are set, the French had their own Meridian running through Paris, whilst London had the Greenwich Meridian. Until just before WW1 France continued with their Meridian. The line of the Paris meridian passes through the A75, hence La Méridienne. There are markers on the autoroute where it intersects.
Christopher Proctor-Smith 2024/01/03 21:35
La Languedocienne or La Catalane The A9 between Orange and Spain
Mary Jane Wilkie 2024/01/03 20:57
Which is Nationale 7, from the song by Charles Trenet?
David Pearson 2024/01/03 19:49
I fear you've forgotten the poor old A13, France's oldest autoroute, which is widely known as either the Autoroute de Normandie or the Autoroute de l'Ouest. Then there is the 8.5 kilometre A12 between Roquencourt and Bois D'Arcy, which used to be called the Autoroute de Bretagne, but no one calls it that any more..

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