Stopping off – Villages �tapes

Situated close to motorways, the Villages �tapes offer drivers a place to stop with a range of services and a warm welcome.

Situated close to motorways, the Villages �tapes offer drivers a place to stop with a range of services and a warm welcome.

As well as conventional motorway services and rest stops, France has a growing number of small towns which are signing up to the Villages �tapes scheme, which started in 1989. They’re all villages and small towns of no more than 5,000 inhabitants, close to either toll-free autoroutes or important stretches of dual carriageway which are autoroutes in all but name.

Participating towns agree to provide a certain level of service, including food, fuel, rest areas and shops, and guarantee certain opening hours depending on the season (see www.village-etape.com for full details). Of course, there are countless towns which fit this description all over France, but as any regular traveller will tell you, it’s hard to know from a glance at the map whether a short detour from the main road will find you a thriving small town with every amenity you could wish for, or a sleepy village with no fuel and a caf� that’s closed for most of the day.

Participating towns, worth hitting the slip road for, include:

• Torigni-sur-Vire on the A84 in Manche.

This pretty market town has plenty of restaurants and caf�s, as well as small shops, supermarkets and a choice of filling stations.

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• Pougues-les-Eaux on the A77 in Burgundy.

As the name suggests, this is an old spa town, once famed for its hot springs. Now it’s a quiet but pretty village, accessed from junctions 31 and 32 of the autoroute.

• Ligny-en-Barrois on the RN4 in Lorraine.

Ligny is where the RN4 crosses both the River Ornain and the canal which links the Marne and the Rhine.

All Villages �tapes must provide the following services:

• Shops offering ‘basic’ requirements (baker, butcher-delicatessen, grocer, newsagent)

• A range of eateries giving visitors the opportunity to discover the culinary traditions of each village

• Star-rated hotels

• A tourist office or a tourism information point

• Shaded parking places

• A telephone kiosk

• A shaded picnic area

• 24-hour-accessible toilets

• A cash point

Certain villages can also offer:

• Play areas for children

• A class-rated campsite (open from at least June to September)

• B&Bs and g�tes

• A chemist

• A post office

• Various services (doctor, vet etc.)

• Walks, heritage trails etc

How did it start?

The Villages �tapes initiative was created in the Haute-Vienne d�partement of Limousin in 1989 to develop village services situated close to the A20 motorway. The aim of the initiative was two-fold: to help stop the economic decline of villages situated close to major roads, while also creating new services for road users. Many key members of the community in Haute-Vienne rallied behind the new initiative including mayors, hoteliers, restaurant owners, tourism workers and garage owners. Their efforts paid off and the first Village �tape – Bessines-sur-Gartempe, in the Haute-Vienne – was established in 1995. The Mayor of Bessines-sur-Gartempe, Bernard Brouille, declared, “The alternative was simple: if we hadn’t become a Village �tape, it would have been disastrous for the village. A road isn’t simply a way of getting from one place to another. It must also serve as a means of developing a territory.” Since then the network of Villages �tapes has spread across the whole of France.

A warm welcome

The French Ministry of Amenities awards the Village �tape label to villages that adhere to a strict quality charter in terms of their commitment to guarantee a warm welcome to visitors. Every five years, the villages in the scheme are reassessed to make sure they are meeting the requirements to keep their Villages �tapes label. Find out more

www.village-etape.com