Whilst I was over in France earlier this month I noticed the significant price rise in unleaded petrol (sans plomb) and diesel (Gazole) since I was last over at Easter.
In just a couple of months I've been away Unleaded has risen from €1.30 to around €1.50 a litre, and diesel's now about €1.40. It wasn't that long ago I can remember petrol being around the €1 a litre mark - a 50% increase ! Combined with the poor UK/Euro exchange rate it means that unleaded petrol is roughly £1.19 a litre (i.e. about the same as the UK) and diesel £1.11 (i.e. still about 15% cheaper).
Every time we went over to France we've got into the habit of filling up our 20 litre petrol can at the last petrol station just before we get back on the boat, but this time it just didn't seem worth it for me to do this. With my wife (Liz's) car which is a diesel, rather than the unleaded mine takes, it'll probably still be worth it as the French government has historically charged a significantly lower tax rate on diesel so the price differential is still worthwhile.
Back in November 2006 I wrote about the MINEFI website that compared French fuel prices to the rest of the EU but looking back at the site this week I found that it hadn't been updated since then January 2007 when unleaded was €1.16 a litre.
As always there's easily a 10% price difference between fuel prices at the hyper-market and those paid on the autoroute so I thought I'd try to find an easier way of searching out cheap fuel than my usual approach of following the signs for centre commercial (commercial centre) which if you're at an unfamiliar town will usually lead you to where the hypermarkets and out-of-town retail parks are located.
After fruitlessly searching the MINEFI site and a couple of other French government websites for more up to date fuel pricing information I thought I'd give Google a turn and rapidly found the Prix des Carburants website which is a doddle to use (even if your French isn't perfect).
Firstly you can either search by department or commune (town) and you'll be presented with a list of all the fuel stations in that area, and their most recent prices for gazole (diesel), GPL (LPG) or SP95 (unleaded). You can sort the list alphabetically or by cheapest/most expensive, and produce a popup map of where to find the petrol station:
On this you enter your starting address (either postcode, town or road within town), end address and what fuel your car uses, then on clicking 'Lancer la Recherche' (run search) you're presented with a route from your starting to end destination and a list of fuel stations along the way.
For each fuel station there's the name, what chain it's in, the distance along the route, and of course the most recent fuel price (and date the price was received).
What I noticed was really clever was that as well as showing all the petrol stations that are directly on your calculated route, which on the motorway would of course only show those at the fairly infrequent service stations, you're also presented with the petrol stations in the proximity of your route (Proximitéé du parcours), and against each the distance off your route that they lay so you can easily see whether it's worth a detour.
I did encounter a few random screen-draw problems where the map sometimes got a bit corrupted. Not sure why, maybe they'd not tested it properly on Firefox (I didn't try with IE), but zooming out and then in again tended to fix the problem.
This example shows the E Leclerc hypermarket near Outreau which is just outside Boulogne on the route towards the autoroute. Needless to say I've been there more than once on my way to and from Brittany!
Finally for regular users you can create an account to bookmark your favourite petrol stations and frequent routes across France.
All in all, I thought that Prix des Carburants was an excellent website and a great example of what the Internet can do.