Variety the spice of life for French: Deregulating the provision of new service areas on motorways has led to renewed demands for cheaper, greener and more relaxing stops

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The Independent Online
MOTORISTS in France can expect to be able to pull off the motorway on average every 30 kilometres (20 miles). The facilities vary from picnic areas with well-kept lavatories to motels run by big chains such as Pullman hotels.

In between, there are various degrees of operation, from straightforward petrol stations - sometimes with pumps that are credit card-operated - to service areas with a choice of restaurant. This usually means a cafeteria and a smarter establishment, some of which have made it into in the Les Routiers guide.

Not surprisingly in a country whose people have no guilt complexes about creature comforts, the restaurants serve relatively upmarket food in comfortable surroundings. In the warmer regions, there are even terraces and parasols. Wine and beer are served, but only to customers who take a full meal. Almost all services have playgrounds which are a boon to the harassed parent. For the tourist who is in too much of a hurry to get off the beaten track, there may be shops with regional specialities, wine, cheese and charcuterie, packaged to take away.

Some stations, especially on the roads south, have a hotel-booking system. Customers say where they are heading for that night, what category of hotel they require, and are told what is available and bookings can then be made.

But all is not perfect. Recession has hit even the motorways and, with reductions in staff, food can no longer be found at all hours.