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motorway aires: 17

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motorway aires[1]
on the A42 and A40 - from Lyon to Switzerland and Italy

featuring ceignes-cerdon, ceignes-haut-bugey, lac de sylvan aires

Motorways/autoroutes of France, showing the A42 and A40 autoroutes

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Route map showing the A40 and A42 autoroutes. sylvan a42 a40 ceignes mont blanc lyon cathedral lausanne motorway aires 13 - A7 RN 205
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end notes

Click for motorways and motorway aires in France.

Motorway aires are designed to provide a suitable environment for relaxing, refreshing and recovering during the long, hard journeys.

As well as facilities of often dubious nature, picnic tables and seats, a telephone kiosk, there are often optional extras such as a play area or a display related to some local interest or event.

This featured motorway system, comprising the A42 and A40, is the main route from central eastern France to Switzerland and north Italy.

Lyon - the picturesque old quarter, with more recent urban buildings beyond, as seen from the Fourviere hill
Lyon - the picturesque medieval city, with more recent urban buildings beyond,
as seen from the Fourvière hill

A42, from Lyon

The A42 was finally put into service in 1987, linking the large cathedral city of Lyon to just to the north of Pont-d’Ain and the A40 in the direction of Geneva, Switzerland and Chamonix (just on the Italian side of the Mont Blanc tunnel).

As with so many large industrial cities in France sited in river valleys or estuaries (in the south, Marseilles and Toulouse come to mind), the motorways are highly polluted from stagnant air generated by both vehicles and industry. Lyon is in a valley of two converging rivers, the Rhône and the Saône; and is a major centre for biotech, chemical, and pharmaceutical industries, as well as petroleum processing. Because of this, like, you will not want to stop unnecessarily in the stinking air. saw nothing of interest on this highly industrialised autoroute, though of course, there is the lovely cathedral in the centre of Lyon. photos

Lyon cathedral

Lyon cathedral, nestled amongst houses of the original medieval city (Vieux Lyon)
Lyon cathedral, nestled amongst houses of the original medieval city (Vieux Lyon)

Construction of the Cathédrale Saint-Jean-Baptiste de Lyon began in 1180, the new building rising from the ruins of a sixth century church. The cathedral was finished about two hundred years later in 1476. Thus, this cathedral is mix of both Romanesque and Gothic styles.

Lyon cathedral - exposed for the stoneworkThe cathedral is an impressive example of Gothic building and art, with its original medieval apse, a Late Gothic facade and a rose window that dates from 1393. The high point of the many beautiful stained glass windows, which date from the 13th and 14th century, is the magnificent central rose window in the cathedral’s west facade.

The 14th century astronomical clockAs well as the splendid stained glass, there is also a fourteenth century astronomical clock, one of the oldest of its type in France.

The cathedral is open every day from 08:00/8:00 am to 19:00/7.30 pm.

related page:
Cathedrale Saint-Jean-Baptiste de Lyon photos

return to the index

A40 - autoroute des titans/autoroute blanche

The A40 autoroute
The A40 autoroute

Put into service in 1990, the A40 motorway links Mācon to Passy Saint-Gervais. It continues as the RN 205, to the Mont Blanc tunnel and thence to Italy. The A40 has twelve imposing viaducts, often clinging to the flanks of foothills and mountains, as well as three twin-tube tunnels.

The A40 is managed by the APRR [Autoroutes de Paris, Rhin et Rhône] and ATMB [Autoroutes du Tunnel Mont Blanc] companies. This motorway is nicknamed l’Autoroute des Titans [Motorway of the Titans] in the part maintained by APRR Autoroutes, between Mâcon and Bellegarde, and l’Autoroute Blanche [White Motorway] in the part managed by ATMB, between Bellegarde and Passy St. Gervais.

The A40 allows access to Geneva and Switzerland and the valley of the Arve from Paris; and to northern and eastern France from Italy and Switzerland. It is part of the axis between the north and the south of France, joining up with the A39 in Viriat and the A42 just north of Pont-d’Ain. The A40 also is the French side of the main road access to northern Italy, through the Mont Blanc tunnel.

A previous French President, François Mitterand, said of this motorway, which he inaugurated on 18 December 1986, “the chain of viaducts and tunnels and the sight of the mountainous landscape will bring wonderment to those travellers who make this journey.”return up to index

Scenery, mountains, lakes, clear air, cold but sunny

View of the Italian Alps from the Aosta Valley, north Italy
View of the Italian Alps from the Aosta Valley, north Italy

The Autoroute Blanche is a main route to many major winter resorts, and reaches high elevations - the French entrance to the Mont Blanc tunnel is at 1, 274 m / 4,180 ft, with the Italian entrance at 1,381 m / 4,530 ft; Geneva is at a mere 374 m / 1225 ft.

Along its route, this motorway also borders the Jura mountains - home to lynx and to orchids in spring and summer, with snow-capped mountains for much of the year.

As its name - the White Motorway - implies, this motorway is clearly subject to snow and other winter weather. To keep the roads clear, from November to April, 58 motorway patrols work continuously, with 33 combined salting and snow plough trucks, to keep the surfaces clear and safe. However, if you do go on this motorway during those months, we would advise you to include warm clothes, rugs or blankets and some food and drink in your vehicle, just in case you might break down or be waylaid by continuing snowfalls.[4]return up to index

featured aires

ceignes-cerdon aire

From the parking to the Jura mountains at the Ceignes-cerdon aire on the A40
From the parking to the Jura mountains at the Ceignes-cerdon aire on the A40

Going east from Lyon or Mâcon, and just before Sortie 8, is the Ceignes-Cerdon aire de service - with a service station. Like many large aires, the first impression is of the sprawling car parks and, of course, extensive lorry parks. There is also a somewhat confusing network of access roads. In mitigation to all the asphalt, there is a café in an architecturally interesting building with a cable-supported wooden roof (completed in 1988). And of course, there is the most astounding view towards the nearby snow-covered Jura mountains, part of the reason for the name of the Autoroute Blanche - the White Motorway.

Google satellite map of Ceignes-Cerdon and Ceignes-Haut-Bugey aires, A40
Google satellite map of Ceignes-Cerdon and Ceignes-Haut-Bugey aires, A40

ceignes-haute-bugey aire

Temperate orchids can be seen in the Jura mountainsThe landscape of Bugey can be divided into two: Haut-Bugey is colder and rugged while further south, Bas-Bugey is much flatter and warmer.

Haut-Bugey is the southern, mountainous extension of the Jura mountains. Historically, this province between Lyon and Geneva was part of the States of Savoy, becoming part of France in 1601, together with with the Bresse and the Pays de Gex regions - regions both known for their blue-veined cheeses.

Going west, towards Mâcon and Lyon, is the aire that twins the enormous Ceignes-Cerdon aire. Being on the north side of the motorway, it is close to the foothills of the Jura mountains where, in spring and summer, many orchids bloom in the diverse environments of lowlands and uplands. Because of its proximity to an area where wild temperate orchids grow in abundance, there is a permanent exhibition with the theme of orchids.


The Orchidaceae family comprises more than 17,000 species in 850 genera. The growth of orchids is either sympodial (from a rhizome emitting shoots in several directions), or monopodial (from one shoot). Epiphytes, or terrestrial orchids, are adapted to difficult environments and are often grow in symbiosis with fungi that can further exploit this environment. This symbiotic relationship allows ground-growing orchids to colonise land little occupied by other species. There are many orchid species to be found in the different landscapes in the Haut-Bugey region.

Orchids are particularly abundant on high ground where fertilisers are not used and which often have never been ploughed. They do not survive ammonium nitrate, used in fertilisers, or repeated ploughing. However, fields ploughed early in the year are often highly conducive to orchids that no longer have competition from grasses. Thus, temperate orchids are found on land that is undisturbed, abandoned or lying fallow. Orchids love extreme conditions, such as continuous sunlight, or poor soil mainly composed of limestone. Such environments include fallow hayfields, dry limestone meadows abandoned from agriculture, road and railway embankments. Here, you may find Orchis, Traunstein, Dactylorhiza species.

Orchids are also plentiful in damp zones such as the floors of woodlands, floodable meadows, marshes, limestone bogs. Orchids found here include Lisparis loeselii, Epipactis palustris, Orchis palustris, Herminius monorchis. And, of course, orchids appreciate alpine prairies. Here, you can see Pseudorchis albida, Dactylorhiza, Nigritella, Orchis sptizelli.

lacde sylvan aire

Lac de Sylvans aires, A40
Lac de Sylvans aires, A40

This aire, in the direction of Switzerland, Mont Blanc tunnel and Italy, provides a pleasing break during your drive. The aire has two large picnic areas, with a raised viewpoint overlooking Lake Sylvan, stretching down the valley. There is not a lot of shade, which could uncomfortable in bright Alpine summer sun. There is also a grand view of the 1,300 metre Viaduct de Sylvan, clinging to the hillside, and dividing mountain from lake. This serious bit of engineering is made on two levels, with one motorway lane going in each direction.

Lac de Sylvan aire also houses the Musée de Construction - the Construction Museum - whose displays show road-making methods over the centuries, as well as how motorway viaducts are built. Note that the building looks closed until you open the door, when the lights and sound come into action.

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Click for an introduction to cathedrals and stained glass in France.

on first arriving in France - driving
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paying at the péage (toll station)

Click for motorways and motorway aires in France.

Transbordeur bridges in France and the world 2: focus on Portugalete, Chicago, Rochefort-Martrou
Gustave Eiffel’s first work: the Eiffel passerelle, Bordeaux
a fifth bridge coming to Bordeaux: pont Chaban-Delmas, a new vertical lift bridge

France’s western isles: Ile de Ré
France’s western iles: Ile d’Oleron

Ile de France, Paris: in the context of Abelard and of French cathedrals
short biography of Pierre (Peter) Abelard

Marianne - a French national symbol, with French definitive stamps

la Belle Epoque
Grand Palais, Paris

Click to go to pages about Art Deco at

Click to go to 'the highest, longest: the viaduct de Millau'

Pic du Midi - observing stars clearly, A64
Carcassonne, A61: world heritage fortified city

Space City, Toulouse

the French umbrella & Aurillac

50 years old: Citroën DS
the Citroën 2CV: a French motoring icon

the forest as seen by Francois Mauriac, and today
Les Landes, places and playtime
roundabout art of Les Landes

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mardi gras! carnival in Basque country
country life in France: the poultry fair

what a hair cut! m & french pop/rock

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Le Tour de France: cycling tactics illustrated

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The Museum of Construction, with newly laid mosaic outside.
The Museum of Construction, with newly laid mosaic outside.
Picnic areas at the Lac du Sylvan aire, A40
Picnic areas at the Lac du Sylvan aire, A40
Display showing viaduct construction methods
Display showing viaduct construction methods
View of the Viaduct de Sylvan from the picnic area, A40
View of the Viaduct de Sylvan from the picnic area

aire on national route 205

Above: in the N205 aire
Above: in the N205 aire
Right: traditional dwellings, with the Aiguille de Varan in the distance
traditional dwellings, with the Aiguille de Varan in the distance  

There’s a nice aire on the portion of the RN205 [or N205] going east before the Mont Blanc tunnel. Its small, but has the most spectacular views of mountains to the north and to the south, including Mont Blanc. The northern view includes many farmhouses traditional to this area. There are panoramic pictorial maps that show the names of the surrounding peaks.

Google map of the N205 between the A40 and the Mont Blanc tunnel

Just before you reach the turn-off to the Mont Blanc tunnel road, on the right, there is a turn-off to an open air café. [Note, we have not visited for several years, so cannot guarantee that the café is still functioning.] Park by the at the bottom, and mount the footpath to a café whose backdrop is the glacier below Mont Blanc. Even in bright sunshine, there is a certain chill to the air but the ambience is peaceful and relaxing.

The zigzag road, shown on the map above, must be negotiated carefully. You will be coming up a steep hill with lorries both going up and down. Those going up will be labouring to climb the hill, while those coming down will be racing after the enforced speed limits of the Mont Blanc tunnel. Further, the drivers are likely to be continental, maybe even Italian, and can be trusted to drive with little care for others. [Remember, according to an Italian, the reason for the excellent Italian hospitals is the large number of road accidents.] Going up this zigzag road, met going downhill, a lorry overtaking another lorry on one of the blind zigzag bends - not funny. Downhill lorry racers also cling to your exhaust pipe to intimidate you into driving ever faster. Other Italian driving habits include overtaking on the inside [undertaking] a car that is preparing to overtake another vehicle, thus slaloming around both vehicles. Italians also take little notice of traffic lights and other controls at road junctions. Italian drivers can drive but are mad, whereas French drivers cannot drive.

the mont blanc tunnel

The Mont Blanc tunnel is 1.6 kilometres/7.25 miles long, 8.6 metres/28.2 ft wide, and 4.35 metres/14.3 ft high. When opened in 1965, this tunnel was the longest road tunnel in the world.

Safety measures: Since the mortal 53-hour fire within the Mont Blanc tunnel in 1999, when 39 people died after a lorry caught fire deep in the tunnel, safety has been much improved.

  • There are now 37 concrete-lined, pressurised safety shelters with fireproof doors and video links to one of three command posts, at 300 metres.
  • There is a parking area every 600 metres, which can be used if there is a problem with your car.
  • Every 100 metres is one of 116 smoke detectors.
  • There are 76 fresh air ventilators and 120 video cameras.
  • The cargoes of all commercial vehicles are checked before entering the tunnel from either end.
  • There are now heat sensors at both tunnel entrances to check for a lorry starting to overheat.

Safety distance: All vehicles must keep150 metres between them from each entrance of the tunnel. To ensure this, the toll barriers are timed to let a vehicle pass through about every 7 seconds. Thus at busy times, traffic can back up at the entrance areas.

Other safety points:

  • Mobile phones must be turned off in the tunnel. At every 100m, there is an emergency call post where you can get in touch with a traffic surveillance operator.
  • LPG-fueled vehicles may use the tunnel, but drivers must inform the toll booth attendant, who will provide a label to put on the windscreen during passage in the tunnel.
  • The tunnel operators broadcast messages on 12 radio frequencies. You are advised to listen to the radio so you can hear any relevant announcements.

Tolls: These can only be paid with main credit cards or cash (Euros, Swiss Francs), and exceptionally with a bank cheque on the French side. Current toll costs [note: Course simple means one way; Aller-retour means both directions].

visiting switzerland

Sign for motorways in Switzerland Much influenced by its Protestant and German sense of precision, neatness and formality, Switzerland is well ordered, tidy and highly regulated. Thus, immediately on crossing the border, after checking your passports, the border police sell you a road toll disk and affix it to the interior of your windscreen. It is a nice little earner for the Swiss administration. This disk is valid from 1 January to 31 December. It costs 40 CHF even if you are only in Switzerland for a day, and gives access to all motorways [autobahns/autoroutes], whose speed limit is 120 km/h - 75 mph.

Note that, as in Italy, the colours of road signs are the inverse of the colours used in France and the UK. Here in Switzerland, motorway signs are in green and road signs are in blue! Also, Switzerland has four official languages - English, French, German and Italian, so look forward to practicing your multilingual skills.

notre dame cathedral, lausanne

Regarded as the most beautiful Gothic cathedral in Switzerland, this building has arguably one of the most impressive rose windows in the world. It has five towers, the central one being 75 metres/246ft high. The main doorway (originally from the16th century) and the Apostles’ or Painted doorway (originally from the 13th century) are decorated with fine sculptured decoration.

[Lausanne is about 50 km from Geneva.]

Lausanne cathedral. Image:
Lausanne cathedral. Image:
Rose window at Lausanne cathedral

rose window, 13th century

1924 'real photo' of Lausannre cathedral, with lake Geneva and the Alps beyond
1924 ‘real photo’ of Lausanne cathedral, with lake Geneva and the Alps beyond

related pages:
Cathedrals 7: the Cathedrale Notre Dame of Lausanne
Lausanne rose window - photo-analysis

end notes

  1. aire: in this context, an area —
    aire de loisirs: recreation area;
    aire de pique-nique: picnic area;
    aire de repos: rest area;
    aire de services: services , motorway (GB) or freeway (US) service station.

  2. Chamonix
    At the foot of Mont Blanc, Chamonix is a popular mountain and snow sports resort, hosting the Winter Olympics of 1924. A spectacular cable car goes up to the Aiguille du Midi at 3842m. In summer, Chamonix is a magnet for alpine mountaineers, while in winter it is a centre for advanced winter sports, whether on- or off-piste skiing or snowboarding.
    Officially, the commune of Chamonix changed its name to Chamonix-Mont-Blanc in 1916.
  1. Species of orchid found in the Bugey region:
    Cephalantera damasonium,
    C. longifolia,
    C. rubra,
    Coeloglossum viride,
    Corralorrhiza trifida,
    Cypripedium calceolus - Venus slipper,
    Dactylorhiza fuchsii,
    D. incarnata,
    D. maculata,
    D. majalis,
    D. sambucina,
    D. traunsteineri,
    Epipactis atrorubens,
    E. helleborine,
    E. leptochila,

Epipactis muelleri,
E. palusris,
E. purpurata,
Epipogium aphyllum,
Goodyera repens,
Gymnadenia conopsea,
G. odoratissima,
Himanto glossum hircinum,
Herminium monorchis,
Limodorum abortivum,
Liparis loeselii,
Listera cordata,
L. ovata,
Neottia nidus-avis,
Nigritella nigra,
Ophrys apifera,
O. araneola,
O. fuciflora,

Ophrys insectifera,
O. sphegodes,
Orchis laxiflora,
O. mascula,
O. militaris,
O. morio,
O. pallens,
O. purpurea,
O. simia,
O. ustulata,
Platanthera bifolia,
P. chlorantha,
Pseudorchis albida,
Spiranthes aestivalis,
S. spiralis,
Traunsteinera globosa.
  1. Three golden safety rules when driving on a motorway in snowy conditions:
    • Do not overtake any snow ploughs or salt-spreading vehicles
    • Increase the security distance between vehicles
    • Drive at a moderate speed (if visibility is below 50 metres, your maximum speed should be 50 km / h).
    return up to index
on first arriving in France - driving motorway aires, introduction
travelling by rail to and within France individual aires                                             
A75 autoroute from Clermont-Ferrand to Béziers and its aires Les Pyrénées, A64 Poey de Lascar, A64
A89 autoroute from Bordeaux to Clermont-Ferrand and beyond - aires Pic du Midi, A64
Hastingues, A64
Dunes, A62
Mas d’Agenais, A62
A7 - aires on the busy A7 autoroute from Lyons to Marseille Pech Loubat, A61
Port-Lauragais, A61
Mas d’Agenais, A62
Garonne, A62
A9- aires on the motorway to Spain Ayguesvives, A61
Renneville, A61
Catalan village, A9
Tavel, A9
A62 - aires on the autoroute of two seas three aires on the canal du midi, A61 Lozay, A10
Poitou-Charente, A10
A65 : the autoroute de Gascogne, from Langon to Pau Carcassonne, A61 Les Bréguières, A8
A64 and A61 - aires on the other autoroute of two seas  
A83 motorway in Poitou-Charentes - aires A63: the French Wild West, Bordeaux to the Spanish border - formerly the N10
A837 motorway in Poitou-Charentes - aires A20 - aires on the Occitane autoroute, from Brive to Montauban
A42 and A40 motorways - aires from Lyon to Switzerland and Italy A87 motorway and its aires in Poitou-Charentes

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