10 Best Road Trips in France
France has more than 248,573 square miles of stunning landscape. Washed by the warm waters of the Atlantic in the...
France has more than 248,573 square miles of stunning landscape. Washed by the warm waters of the Atlantic in the West and the Mediterranean in the Southeast, this is a country that’s never devoid of things to be admired. With the Alps, Jura, and the Pyrenees providing the backbone of the country, France boasts of one of the world’s widest collection of beautiful and magnificent routes for a road trip of a lifetime. Here are 10 of the best road trips to have when you are in France.
The Coastline of Normandy
This region in the northwestern corridor of France is one of the best areas to go exploring on a road trip. The journey provides a remarkable combination of stunning white-cliff coastline, colorful and quaint harbor towns, and famous D-Day beaches. It’s a trip that blends history with natural geography, culture, and the arts.
Starting the journey at Vierville-sur-Mer, feel the gallantry of Allied soldiers as they secure Omaha Beach inch by bloody inch. The Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial Museum of Omaha Beach are a must-see. Before you continue on your road trip, make a stopover at one of the beach restaurants that line the coast. They can offer you seafood specialties that mix well with the produce of the land. Get ready to have your senses seduced by the sweetness and charm of Normandy life.
As you travel north, visit the Merville Battery Museum and marvel at the Longues-sur-Mer battery. Your next stop is at Honfleur. Make a stop at the 17th century Vieux Bassin, where restaurants serve the best seafood delicacies in the region. Sample the fish soup and the Moules. You’ll never forgive yourself if you don’t. There’s also the unusual-looking 15th century wooden Eglise Ste. Catherine. Finish your 165-mile road trip in Etretat. Stretch your legs and take a hike along some of the town’s most famous white-cliff walking trails. It’s a view that’s worthy of a postcard.
Valley of the Kings in the Loire Valley
The Loire Valley is to the French as Luxor is to the Egyptians. Spanning some 170 miles that follow the River Loire, this part of the French landscape boasts of a rich and colorful history. It is an enchanting drive, complete with stunning landscapes of vineyards and castles that will make you feel like you’re driving on a fairy tale road. The region boasts of a cultural legacy made more spectacular by the works of King Francois I and the Renaissance court.
The region’s forests and rolling hills embrace the winding Loire River like a long-lost lover never wanting to lose her again. From the Ile-de France, make your way to the city of Orleans before heading westwards to Nantes on the French Atlantic coast. Most adventurers start their road trip in Tours, although Orleans would be a nice starting point, too. But if you want to explore what this region has to offer, then make Saumur, Amboise, or Blois as your base.
If you start from Orleans, try to follow Joan of Arc’s route to Chinon. If you’re a hopeless romantic, don’t forget Chenonceau’s storybook chateaux; although those at Usse and Azay-le-Rideau are also worth checking. Villandry and Chaumont are perfect for garden lovers while gastronomes will love the dishes that rustic auberges serve.
The Volcanic Trails of Auvergne
Located in the heart of France, the Auvergne region provides adventurers with a very different French experience. It’s a mountainous area, dotted with small rural towns that can give you a taste of French countryside living. Don’t even think that Auvergne has nothing to offer but rolling hills and majestic mountains. It features dormant volcanoes on a blanket of lush forests. This region is perfect for skiing and hiking, although the roads that snake through the region are perfect for road trippers.
This is a road trip that will take you through spa towns like Vichy, which is famous for its pristine and healing mineral water. There are other spa villages throughout the region, each one capitalizing on the natural heat that the more than 450 dormant volcanoes generate. Head over to the university city of Clermont-Ferrand and feel the vibe of young professionals and college students as they go about their business.
A road trip through and around the Auvergne region will never be complete without a hike to the Puy de Dome. The peak gives you a fantastic view of the Auvergne landscape to as far as the eyes can see. Within the Puy de Dome is the Vulcania volcano theme park. It’s a must-see for visitors as it provides a different experience altogether.
Alsace’s Vineyard Route
What’s France without its fantastic wines and out-of-this-world cuisine? That is why one of the best routes whenever going on a road trip in France is the Alsace-Lorraine region. While the region is famous for its wines and culinary creations, it is also a cultural mélange. It is the home of Joan of Arc and was once under Germany. Of course, going on a road trip in the Alsace-Lorraine Region means traversing the celebrated Alsatian Wine Road.
Starting from Marlenheim north of Strasbourg, make your way through quaint villages and small towns heading south. The 100-mile Alsace Vineyard extends all the way from Marlenheim in the north to Thann in the south. Strasbourg and Mulhouse are the key cities that guard the ends of the Wine Road. Most adventurers prefer to stay in Colmar, right in the middle of the Wine Route, however.
Regardless of how you want to proceed with your road trip, each quaint little village can offer you a wine that is very unique for that locality. We advise getting someone who doesn’t drink to sit behind the wheel as you drive through the Alsatian landscape. You may no longer be able to drive that well once you get to taste every single wine that the French Vineyard Route has to offer.
La Route Napoleon
He may have been loathed by other European leaders but no one could question the charm that Napoleon Bonaparte had over his people. From his exile in Elba in 1815, Napoleon marched towards Paris from Golfe-Juan, now a famous resort in the French Cote d’Azure. The enigmatic Napoleon avoided the royalist Provence and instead made his way through the Alps, stopping in Grenoble when the royalist 5th Infantry Regiment famously joined his swelling army en masse. Today, this route constitutes the scenic 195-mile La Route Napoleon.
Start your journey from the famous glitzy streets of Cannes and make your way north via Grasse, Digne, Sisteron, and La Mure. As soon as you see the 19th century Bastille hilltop fortification, you’ll know that you’re already in Grenoble. Grasse should always be a major stopover, especially if you’re into French perfumery. As you drive up the mountain route, the sparkling blue waters of the Mediterranean will make you want to look back. However, always keep your eye on the road as the route features plaques and gilded eagle markers.
Make your way through the Col de Valferriere. Find time to explore the ruins of Chateau de Broundet in the quaint town of Seranon. Make sure you don’t have a queasy stomach since the hairpins in this section can be very testy. However, the cliffside views can pretty much negate whatever queasiness you may have.
Fine Wines at La Cote d’Or
You may know Cote d’Or as a celebrated brand of Belgian chocolates but this small French departement in Burgundy happens to be known for its fine wine. We mentioned that the Alsace region is France’s official vineyard. However, there are also pockets of fine vineyards throughout the French landscape. One of them is the Cote d’Or.
It is one of the shortest road trips you can ever take in France. It may only be 40 miles long but it will make you feel like it’s 400 miles. The reason is simple. There are many fantastic short stops along the route that takes you from Dijon to Santenay.
At Dijon, it’s a must to climb the tower of Philipe Le Bonne to get a fantastic view of the city. Don’t forget the 13th century Eglise Notre-Dame. Wish yourself luck by touching the Owl on the Notre-Dame’s north side. From Dijon to Beaune, the vineyard is breathtaking. Make a stop at Vosne-Romanee to bring home the most collectible wine on the planet – the Romanee-Conti. A case of 8 bottles of this Pinot Noir can fetch $250,000 on a good year. Santenay may not have famous vineyards but their wines come at more reasonable prices. A must-visit is the village of Volnay where you get to go on a cellar tour and wine-tasting.
Provence and Languedoc’s Scenic Route
With flower fields that blanket the landscape, the area of Provence and Languedoc is ideal for beauty connoisseurs and nature-lovers. The dramatic bastides will have you swooning in no time while the stunning scenery provides a wonderful backdrop for a remarkable experience.
Starting in Avignon, drive all the way to Uzes where you can rekindle the passion of your life. There’s the Haribo Candy Museum for the sweet-toothed road tripper and the Le Jardin Medieval d’Uzes for the garden fan. Continue driving south to Nimes and explore the 2-millennia old Roman Pont du Gard aqueduct. The Maison Carree also waits for you. From Arles to Camargue and Aiges Mortes, there are plenty of French stories to hear.
Crossing into Provence makes the drive even more spectacular. The breathtaking roads start at L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue, snaking its way through the Luberon before stopping in Roussillion. The lavender fields of Valensole can make for a more splendid road trip in this part of France.
Bordeaux Countryside to the Biarritz Coast
The stretch of road from Bordeaux to the Biarritz Coast offers a different kind of road trip that’s perfect for those who want a more laid-back journey. It’s the perfect antidote to a stress-filled life and one that is sure to have you feeling invigorated afterwards.
The road from Bordeaux to the medieval quaint village of Saint-Emillion boasts of France’s other famous vineyard routes. Visit the Chateau La Dominique or Chateau Soutard for a sample of their wine. Les Corderliers should also be on your list. Make a quick stop for the artworks and beautiful gardens of Domaine de Laas before having lunch at the charming village of Navarrenx.
Barcus offers road trip adventurers a fascinating drive up the surrounding mountains. And as you reach Saint Jean Pied de Port, the road opens up to the Instagrammable views of the Pyrenees. Drive along until you get to Saint-Jean-de-Luz. Park your car and head to the Playa de Saint-Jean-de-Luz where its warm waters invite you to take a dip. Have a Basque lunch while relishing the sea view.
Montpellier to Nice Coastal Road Trip
The 202-mile road trip from Montpellier to Nice offers a stunning view of the Mediterranean. You’ll be hugging the coastline and provide you with a taste of the French Riviera from Toulon. From Montpellier, make a stopover at Aigues-Mortes for lunch while marveling at the Tour Carbonniere and the Constance Tower.
Driving through the Camargues wetlands may offer you a very rare opportunity to see the wild white horses that have made Camargues very famous. Along the way to Arles, there are also vineyards and wild blooms to stimulate your fancy. Keep driving towards Aix-en-Provence and spend a few hours at the beach. Pack your things and drive towards Cassis and sample the Crème de Cassis, a black currant-derived dark-red, sweet liqueur.
From Cassis, keep on driving until you reach Marseille. The old port has restaurants that serve fabulous seafood dishes. The Basilique Notre-Dame de la Garde is also a must-see for its architecture and the city views that it offers. Your final destination should be Nice; although it would be very difficult not to make a stopover at glitzy Saint-Tropez and playground of the rich and affluent, Cannes.
The Epic French Road Trip from Paris to Rennes to Rouen and Back
For those who would like to go on an epic road trip of the famous French landscape, we’re offering a 500-plus mile journey that takes you to some of France’s most iconic places. The trip offers an excellent balance of some of the country’s most visited attractions and locations that will make you feel you’re on Lonely Planet.
To make this road trip more worthwhile, you may want to have a stopover at Versailles on your way to Chartres from Paris. A visit to King Louis XIV’s beautiful palace and chateau will etch this trip in your memory forever. At Chartres, make sure to check out the Cathedral and the St. Aignan Church. And if you have the stomach for some delicious pie filled with game meat, then head over to the local market and bring enough for the rest of the trip.
And since this epic journey takes you to Le Mans, it makes perfect sense to try your skills at the Circuit de la Sarthe. However, make sure you do not schedule your road trip during the 24 Heures du Mans season. Otherwise, you may find LMPs and GT3s leaving you in the dust. As you leave the high-speed roads of Le Mans, the road opens to reveal the beautiful French countryside. Drive north and you’ll come upon the historic city of Rennes, best known for its half-timbered houses.
Leaving Rennes, head towards the beaches of Normandy and marvel at the beauty of the small island of Mont Saint-Michel. While you may not set foot on the island, having a look at the imposing structure on the island is nothing short of magical. Continuing on your journey towards Caen, get ready to relive the exploits of the brave men of D-Day at the War Memorial. The L’Abbaye-aux-Hommes, Abbey of Sainte-Trinite, and Caen Castle are also worth the trip.
If you want to see smaller French towns and more idyllic countryside, you can head back to Paris from Caen. However, part of this epic road trip is a visit to Rouen, where Gothic churches, medieval half-timbered homes, and a cobblestoned pedestrian center can define your French adventures. Of course, what’s a Rouen visit without basking in the splendor of the Cathedrale Notre-Dame de Rouen? If you’re a fan of Claude Monet, then this cathedral is a must-see.
Follow the River Seine and head towards Giverny, where more Monet goodness awaits. There are museums, lavish gardens, and fantastic chateaus to satisfy your Monet curiosity. And as you head back towards Paris, you’ll know that you’ve made one of the most epic road trips on the planet.
From the historic shores of Normandy to the ski resort-dotted landscape of the French Alps to the vineyards of Alsatian region, France has a lot of beautiful sights and places to offer. You could be driving the whole year and there will still be places that you haven’t seen. At least, you can always start with these 10 best road trips in France.
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