On the ground: Renting a car on your arrival at the airport may not be the smartest option. Navigating the narrow streets of a bustling, unfamiliar French city can be less than delightful -- especially in Paris, where drivers often seem intent on justifying their reputation for being uncompromisingly aggressive. The navigation system in the otherwise excellent Citroën SD5 I rented in Bordeaux seemed to delight in sending me the wrong way on one-way streets and trapping me down dead-end alleyways.
A better idea is to hire a town car. Lafayette Travel (www.lafayette-travel.com) specializes in organizing high-end visits: their drivers are prompt and professional, and cars are spotless and spacious.
Outside the cities, on the other hand, a car can be fun – drivers are sane and courteous, and navigating the roundabout system demands alertness and caution, which turns out to be a boon. (Incidentally, on the highway it’s advisable to use the cash lane at the toll plaza, marked by a green arrow – the machine refused to accept any of my credit cards, forcing me to back out.)
Best option of all might be to travel by train to each city. France’s high-speed trains are among the fastest in Europe – nearly 200 mph – and extremely convenient: it’s a five and a half hour drive from Paris to Bordeaux, but on the high-speed train it’s a mere 3 hours and 15 minutes, which will be shaved to a mere 2 hours this year. For getting around to the sights and restaurants in Bordeaux, mass transit is supremely usable; save the car rental for your excursions to the vineyards and golf courses in the surrounding regions.