Getting from point A to point B is never as simple as it looks in France. One-way streets, traffic jams, road works and demonstrations are just a few reasons why you often need to find a way around.

I quickly learned the words for this on moving to France.

Contourner: to go around something (an object but also various rules and regulations, or the ‘interdictions’ I posted about here.)

Contournement: the act of going around something or, in road terms, a route that takes you around. Most people call this a ring road. It’s also known as a rocade.

When we lived in Lyon and were looking to buy our first home, there was much talk of a potential ‘contournement ouest lyonnais’ (Lyon west ring road). The famous ‘COL’ was a much talked-about project that would have freed up the huge mess of north-south traffic on the A7, the main motorway that serves traffic between Paris and the south. It has the misfortune of cutting through the heart of Lyon via the Fourvière tunnel – a crammed, polluted and sometimes scary experience that is best avoided.

As you can see from this map, the city has no major alternate route on the hilly west side. Which, by the way, is the most picturesque, pastoral part of the countryside.

The eastern side of the city, with its broad plains, has all kinds of highways and byways serving the airport, leading east to the Alps and to parts south. Using these routes can save time when you factor in traffic, but they do add considerable distance. Therefore, many drivers prefer to avoid them. Or look for another way around. Un contourement au contournement. Am I making sense?

So when we were considering buying near a village in a pretty corner of the southwest of Lyon, we went to the city hall to check that there were no plans to start work on a big highway project just beyond our doors. Just to be safe.

Can you tell us if there any plans for the ‘contournement’ in this area? my husband asked the nice lady at the Mairie. Ah oui, she said, nodding her head vigorously. It’s supposed to be just on the other side of the village from where you want to build.

My heart fell. Mais non, sans blague? (No kidding?)

Further probing revealed that she was talking about the ‘contournement du village’. A local way around rather than straight through the village. We were relieved. It was nothing more than a minor road around the village.

Many towns and cities in France have ring roads, rocades or contournements. If your objective is get from A to B as quickly as possible, they’re probably a good bet. If you want to see the local sights, stop and smell the roses along the way, it may be best to avoid them.

But if you want to think and act like a French person, you need to learn to find your away around by using alternate routes. Believe me, I know. I’ve been getting lost on them for years!


  1. francetaste · April 8, 2019

    I am jealous of the villages that managed to get a departementale moved a bit to just glance off them tangentially, rather than tear through their hearts. Drivers hate slowing down, and traffic seems antithetical to village life. Unfortunately, our village is bifurcated by a a busy road. It was a real hindrance when our kid was little–friends wouldn’t be allowed to cross the road.
    The way the French get around traffic jams is is the Bison Futé, worthy of a future post, I think.

    • MELewis · April 8, 2019

      It’s sad to see so many wonderful towns ripped in half by roads with far too many cars driving too fast. I suppose you have to understand it historically: the village centres grew organically and the roads with them. But from an urban planning point of view, definitely not compatible with quality of life. Getting them moved can be extremely complicated and depends on both available alternatives and political will. I will look forward to your post on the Bison Futé!

  2. Heide · April 8, 2019

    How sad that one has to ask whether any “contournements” are planned before buying real estate — but how smart of you also to consider the question! And you’re right that the concept of contournements applies to more than just roads. I’ve been amused over the years to see the creative ways in which the French sidestep the law sometimes. Great post!

    • MELewis · April 9, 2019

      It may have been paranoid, but I am very nervous about where I hang my hat. And a house is such a huge investment, both materially and emotionally! Fortunately we got lucky both times and landed in peaceful locales. Glad you enjoyed my little ‘clin d’oeil’ — I can always count on you, Heide! 🤩

      • Heide · April 9, 2019

        I don’t think it’s paranoid at all to investigate your new environs before you commit to buying a house! In fact, I wish I’d been a bit more diligent in that department myself. 🙂

  3. Dale · April 9, 2019

    Ouin… pas évidemt… definitely something to look into when you are moving!

    • MELewis · April 9, 2019

      For sure! I am super sensitive to noise and anti feng-shui energy drains, so no stone was left unturned!

      • Dale · April 9, 2019

        Smart woman!

  4. Pingback: Le périph – FranceSays

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