By far the easiest way to get around this area is by car. While it is technically possible to rely on public transportation while working in Sophia Antipolis, it simply is not practical to do so. For shopping, exploring the area, and just being independent, a car is an absolute necessity.
To drive a car in France, drivers need to have the following items with them:
Before the year 2001, it was also mandatory to have a Vignette (road tax sticker) affixed to one's windshield, but this is no longer required. One still sees many cars on the road with these round stickers. Every year, the color of the Vignette changed, so one can encounter some pretty colorful windshields!
France uses a point system for driver's licenses. A license starts out with a credit of 12 points, and offenses may lead to a deduction of one or several points. Any deduction leading to a status of zero points or less results in the temporary revocation of the license. Lost points may be regained by driving without incident for a certain period of time or by taking a road safety course.
See the Arrival page for additional information concerning driver's licenses.
The registration is called a carte grise (literally: gray card). It contains various details about the vehicle, including the numéro d'immatriculation (registration number), the registered owner, and information on the make, model, type, color, and weight of the vehicle. The carte grise is obtained at the Préfecture (see the Arrival page if you don't know what that is). Interestingly enough, there is nothing official about the license plates themselves. One simply takes the carte grise to a garage and has the plates made to order.
The insurance certificate is called a carte verte (literally: green card). French law requires that one have at least assurance au tiers (third party liability coverage). You have to have the carte verte with you when you're driving; in addition, there is a green insurance sticker that needs to be affixed to the inside of the car's windshield.
French insurance companies usually offer a no-claims bonus of up to 50%; they will generally honor existing discounts, although not necessarily at the same rate. If you already have a no-claims bonus, ask your current insurance company for written evidence (a simple letter on company stationery is good enough).
You can ride a motorcycle in France provided that you have a license that corresponds to the bike engine's cubic capacity. As with other licenses, you must exchange your motorcycle license for a French one within one year of being issued your carte de séjour except if your license was issued in a European Union member country. In France, it is mandatory to wear a crash helmet when riding any motorized two-wheeled vehicle.
It is possible to drive a motorcycle with an engine capacity of up to 125cc with a car license, provided that one has had the car driver's license for more than two years. Scooters and mopeds up to 80cc may be driven without a license from the age of 14. These are unregistered vehicles, though it is now mandatory to pass a road safety exam (brevet de sécurité routière).
Like many other countries, France uses the Priorité à droite concept, meaning that the vehicle coming from the right usually has the right of way, unless there are signs indicating otherwise. Even if you are driving on what you consider a main road, watch out for traffic emerging from the right (or cars ahead of you stopping suddenly to yield to such traffic).
One of the things you notice almost immediately when driving around here is the incredible number of rond-points (traffic circles or roundabouts, depending on where you're from). Here, those vehicles already in the circle have the right of way. Traffic circles are great once you get used to them; for example, we can drive to and from work or from home to the airport encountering just a single traffic light! After a few years in France, we find it very hard to drive on Long Island where one is stopped by a light every few yards.
The wearing of seat belts in both front and back seats is mandatory in France, and you can get fined if you are found in violation of this law. Infants and very small children must be seated in a child seat in the rear of the car.
The national speed limits in France are:
The last two are reduced to 80 km/h (50 mph) and 110 km/h (68 mph), respectively, in case of rain, snow, or fog. Where other speed limits apply they will be indicated by appropriate signs. The start of an urban area is indicated by a rectangular sign with a red border and the name of the town. The end of the area is a similar sign with the name of the town crossed out by a diagonal line.
Autoroutes (highways, motorways) are toll roads that are designated by the letter "A" followed by a number. For example, the autoroute going through the French Riviera is called the A8. In France, signs giving directions to autoroutes are blue with white lettering; sometimes they also bear a highway symbol or the word péage (toll), On the other hands, signs with directions pointing to normal roads are green with white lettering. Confusingly, this color scheme is reversed in some countries (such as Italy, Switzerland, etc.)
In most towns in the area, there is regular local bus service. Schedules can be obtained at the tourist offices. If you work or live in the Valbonne - Sophia Antipolis area, the bus company most useful to you is the Syndicat Intercommunal des Transports en commun Grasse Antibes, or simply STGA (for once, we are grateful for the way the French have to create acronyms for absolutely everything!). The STGA web site provides routing and schedule information.
In addition to the local services there is also a network of inter-city buses serving the major towns of the French Riviera. These include connections between Nice and Cannes, Menton, Vence, Grasse, Eze, and Beausoleil. For details, check the Yellow Pages under "Transports urbains et régionaux de voyageurs".
Rail services in France are provided by the SNCF (Société Nationale des Chemins de Fer Français). In this area, there are frequent local and intercity trains between Cannes, Antibes, Cagnes-sur-Mer, Nice, Villefranche, Monte Carlo, Menton, and Ventimiglia (Italy). The intercity services operate to various other parts of France. The region is also connected to Paris, via Marseille, by the high speed TGV (Train à Grande Vitesse).
For long journeys, especially overnight trips, you can book various accommodation types: reclining seats, couchettes (bunk beds in compartments), or a Wagon Lit (sleeping car), more comfortable but also more expensive.
In France, you punch (composter) your ticket immediately prior to your journey, using one of the machines at the platform entrances. Simply insert the ticket into the slot of the machine. Failure to punch your ticket, or not having a ticket at all, can result in an immediate fine.
Nice Côte d'Azur is France's second busiest airport (after Paris). International flights depart from Terminal 1, while domestic flights and most Air France flights leave from terminal 2. The Nice-Paris route is the busiest in Europe; there are hourly flights to Paris. Of particular interest to us is the daily non-stop flight to New York's Kennedy airport that is jointly operated by Air France and Delta.
In addition to Nice Côte d'Azur, there is a much smaller airport, Cannes Mandelieu; it is mostly used for private airplanes and cargo.
Regular helicopter service is available between Nice airport and Monaco or Cannes as well as between Cannes and St. Tropez. Charter flights may also be arranged. There are two main companies: Heli Riviera and Heli-Air Monaco.
The Société Nationale Maritime Corse Méditerranée (SNCM) operates regular ferry services between Nice and Corsica as well as some other destinations. The company offers some great package deals for passengers and a car when one books long enough in advance. Some other ferry companies operate out of Nice as well; consult the Yellow Pages under "Transports maritimes".
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