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Summer getaway starting today

Motorways, stations and airports prepare for a very busy weekend as the summer holidays get underway all over France

DRIVERS are being advised to postpone setting off on holiday from big cities until Sunday if possible to avoid the worst of the traffic jams on the first weekend of the summer break.

The school holidays begin today across all of France and six out of ten French people are planning to stay in the country, according to an Ipsos poll.

Official traffic monitor Bison Futé has classified today and tomorrow as "red" on all the main roads leading out of Paris and the Ile-de-France.

Nationwide, an orange alert is in place - meaning traffic jams of up to 350km on motorways. Drivers are being encouraged, where possible, to travel on Sunday which will be relatively quiet.

The biggest delays will be heading south to the popular holiday spots in the Languedoc-Roussillon, Paca and Corsica.

Speed restrictions are in place in the Gard, Vaucluse, Bouches-du-Rhône, Alpes-de-Haute-Provence and Alpes-Maritimes, where drivers are being urged to cut their speed by 30kph because of high pollution levels.

A number of service stations and aires along the French motorway network are providing entertainment for children taking a break from a long car journey. Motorway operators Vinci and APRR are both organising weekend events to teach young people about nature.

The SNCF is expecting 1.4 million passengers to travel by train this weekend.

The Gare de Lyon in Paris will be the busiest. It is preparing for 340,000 people and has set up a beach café in the courtyard outside to get travellers in the holiday mood. Montparnasse is handing out free fruit smoothies and salads.

Another 900,000 French holidaymakers will pass through Paris Orly and Charles de Gaulle, according to Aéroports de Paris.

Tourism Secretary Hervé Novelli said he was confident that this summer would be a positive one for French tourism.

He said the industry would be "the first to get out of the economic crisis in 2010", with an estimated 10-15% increase in visitors compared with last year.

Early figures for the year so far suggest the British are coming back to France - something that the new strength of the pound against the euro should help. The euro's weakness against the dollar should also appeal to more American tourists.

Overall, the number of foreign visitors to France since January is up 5.5% compared with the same period in 2009.

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