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Your Complete French Road Trip Planner
Ahhh, France. A country so eclectic and beguiling, it is the most visited nation on the planet. A French road trip is the best way to explore the wonderful diversity and beautiful landscapes of this country.
A road trip in France showcases the dramatic landscapes, historic cities, abundant UNESCO sites and some of the most picture-perfect villages in Europe, like no other way to travel does.
As you road trip through France, you’ll find yourself stopping regularly for Insta-worthy images, and along the way you’ll find fantastic adventures to try like chateaux hunting, hiking in some of Europe’s highest peaks, kayaking and wild swimming in crystal clear rivers, and sampling the wonderful gastronomy across the country.
In this France travel guide you’ll find a round-up of all the best road trips in France by region, with France travel tips and information to help you plan and prepare. Come with us as we share our unmissable French road trip itineraries.
Getting to France
If you choose to fly, France has international airports in Paris, Lyon, Marseille, Nice, Toulouse, Bordeaux and many other French cities, making it easy to find the perfect airport from which to start your trip. We recommend booking through Skyscanner for live deals and the best prices.
Driving to France from UK
If you’re planning to drive to from the UK to France, then you’ll find everything you need to know, including the best, fastest and cheapest routes, as well as driving tips, in our driving to France from UK guide.
Are you planning to rent a car in France? As one of the largest car hire aggregator companies in the world, we recommend Rentalcars.com because they have massive purchasing power which enables them to secure the best rental prices, which benefits you when you’re planning a road trip.
For a real adventure, hire a motorhome or campervan in Italy. We recommend Motorhome Republic, an aggregate booking site who pull together all the best deals from a number of rental agencies, to offer you a wide choice of options alongside an excellent English speaking expert motorhome Concierge Team.
Use the Park4Night app to find overnight spots and campsites, and sleep on a high mountain pass, next to a beautiful lake, or in a wildflower meadow.
Best Time to Take a French Road Trip
December to February
The winter months can be very cold throughout France, even in the south of the country and rain is quite common at this time of year. But, the roads and cities will be quiet and less crowded, although not all attractions will be open.
March to May
Spring is a wonderful time to visit France, with temperatures warming up across the country. Markets increase in size, restaurants start preparing different dishes and the countryside is glorious. You’ll still find the roads and cities less crowded, and most attractions will be open.
June to August
June and July are busier months to roadtrip France, with perfect temperatures for camping and outdoor activities. June is probably the best month, as schools have yet to break up across Europe and the family rush to the coasts has not yet started.
August brings the French annual holiday when many businesses close for the duration. If you’re planning on road tripping in tourist areas, then this won’t affect you too much, and you’ll have perfect holiday weather.
September to November
Autumn is a fantastic time for French road trips, especially in the south of France. The coast will be quieter but if you’re lucky, you’ll enjoy an Indian summer amongst the grape harvest and changing fall colors of the countryside.
Is this your first time visiting France? Get all the information you need in our France Travel Guide, including what to pack, the best time of year to go, getting there, and practical tips to help you have the best trip!
Road Trip France Planner by Region
Whether you like coasts, mountains or rolling countryside, historic cities, elegant palaces, or wild landscapes, you’ll find your perfect road trip here, and there’s no dount that you’ll be ticking plenty off your France bucket list!
A road trip to France is an easy win for most Europeans and Brits, who are on the same continent, or just a hop across the English Channel.
For everyone else, Paris makes a great place to start any France road trip itinerary. Book with Skyscanner and fly in, pick up a rental car, or even a campervan, and you can be anywhere in the country within a day – that’s the beauty of a voyage en voitre, or road trip in French!
France Road Trip Map by Region
A huge region, the Auvergne-Rhone-Alpes stretches from the volcanoes and plateau of the Massif Central in the west to the highest point of the French Alps in eastern France, offering some of the best roads in France, with spectacular scenery, rugged landscapes, and historic cities.
Divided by the mighty Rhone river, and with the center of the region being the vibrant foodie city of Lyon, there is great diversity here and four distinct climates. The further south you head, the more you will notice the flora, fauna, and climate taking on a Mediterranean feel.
A UNESCO Road Trip
Lyon – Clermont-Ferrand – Le-Puy-en-Valey – Saint-Etienne
Start in the fabulous city of Lyon, the capital of the Rhone region. The historic heart, Vieux-Lyon, stretches across the base of Fourviere Hill and its grand basilica.
There are lots of things to do in Lyon, eating is one of the best! As you stroll the medieval streets and iconic traboules (or hidden passageways), stop in Lyon’s traditional restaurants, known as bouchons, and get up close to Renaissance facades and buildings that boast over a thousand years of history.
Next on your Auvergne road trip is one of France’s oldest cities, Clermont-Ferrand, known for its string of volcanoes called the Chaine des Puys. The dormant volcano Puy de Dome is one of the highest and has been a tectonic hotspot on the UNESCO World Heritage List since 2018.
In the city itself, don’t miss the jewel of Notre-Dame-du-Port Basilica and the highly distinctive black lava stone Gothic Cathedral.
In Le-Puy-en-Valey, visit the imposing cathedral, the silhouette of which stands proud on the slopes of Mount Anis. The building, celebrated for housing the enigmatic Black Madonna, and one of the most beautiful cloisters in Europe, is a key monument of Romanesque art.
Finally, around Saint-Etienne, a UNESCO Design City, the site at Firminy hosts Le Corbusier’s largest European work. Visit the four buildings featured on the architectural walk, including the famous Maison de la Culture, where you can trace the legacy left by modern architecture.
Not far from Lyon, pay a visit to the Tourette Convent, the last great building by Le Corbusier in France, which will be a fitting end to your UNESCO road trip.
Road trip here if you like…
- Mountains – if outdoor activities are your thing, start hiking the Tour du Mont Blanc from Chamonix at the foot of the country’s easternmost mountains, explore the medium-high extinct volcanoes of the Massif Central, or take a road trip on the Route des Grandes Alpes.
- Gastronomic delights – There’s so much to do in Lyon, not only one of the most beautiful cities in France, it is the food city of this gastronomic country. Regional dishes are influenced by the mountains and tend to be hearty and wholesome.
- Water sports – with Lake Geneva, Lake Annecy, and Lac de Bourget in the region, summer sailing, wind-surfing, paddle boarding, and kayaking are on the doorstep.
Make sure you have travel insurance you can trust when visiting France. We recommend True Traveller for their 5-star TrustPilot reviews, variety of cover options, best activities cover as standard, great prices, and excellent service.
This beautiful region of France is famous for its rich history and viniculture. Sometimes abbreviated to BFC, this area is around a five to six hour drive from Calais on the A26, and just a few hours from Paris, making it a great option if you’re short on time.
Part of this area is the old historic region of Burgundy, once the heartland of France and known for its wines, such as Beaujolais and Chablis.
BFC is sparsely populated and sees relatively little tourist footfall, making this cross-country road trip a joy for anyone looking to get off the beaten path. The route takes you through a mix of low agricultural lands to the fabulous mountains and lakes of the Jura.
RELATED POST: Off The Beaten Path France – 8 Unique Places
The Jura Route des Lacs
Dijon – Marigny – Thoirette
Start in the beautiful historic city of Dijon, surrounded by the Cote d’Or vineyards where over 3,000 winemakers produce their world-famous wines in the heart of ancient Burgundy.
The UNESCO old center of Dijon is packed with half-timbered medieval houses and elegant Renaissance buildings. Make sure to try the wines from the region, and Dijon’s other claim to fame, Dijon mustard.
Head south to off-the-beaten-track Marigny for the deep navy and turquoise lakes of the Jura Massif, where you can explore museums, regional crafts, and local gastronomy, as well as remote places, natural sites, and plenty of waterfalls.
You might want to get in the water too, there are twenty lakes to choose from!
Road trip here if you like…
- Great gastronomy – the home of the unique Vin Jaune, Boeuf Bourguignon, Coq au Vin, Comte cheese, and Dijon mustard is a powerhouse of French cooking, particularly where the use of wine is required!
- Atmospheric historic cities – Beaune and Dijon are just two gorgeous cities in this region, packed with history, Gothic and medieval architecture with a typical French ambiance.
- Breathtaking castles – there are well over thirty well-preserved chateaux in the northern half of this region, you’ll see them literally on every bend in the road!
The rugged peninsula of western France, Bretagne, is an ideal place for a one or two week northern France road trip itinerary.
With Rennes, the capital of the region, being just an hour’s drive from St Malo, it is literally a hop over the channel and the perfect place for a road trip from the UK to France.
With a wild and dramatic coastline and an undiscovered feel beyond the well-known tourist spots, this western France road trip offers a shared Celtic culture, ancient mysticism, and every type of beach imaginable!
Brittany Coast to Coast
Saint-Malo – Brest – Quimper – Vannes – Rennes
The peninsula of Brittany lends itself to a jaunt around its coast, enjoying the superb seafood and friendly nature of the locals.
Start in historic St Malo before taking in the endless sightseeing opportunities of the peninsula’s varied 1600km long coastline.
There’s a beach here for your taste, from secluded coves and surfing hotspots to long white stretches, dramatic cliffs, and rocky outcrops.
Around Perros-Guirec is the Cote de Granit Rose with its pink beaches, one of the most interesting coastlines in France, and across to the west is the Finistere coast with its huge beaches and quaint fishing villages.
If you want to dip into every cove, explore every interesting finger of land that protrudes into the sea, and visit all the charming towns and villages en route, then allow at least two weeks for this magical road trip.
Road trip here if you like…
- Beautiful gardens – also known as the Garden Coast, Brittany has some of the best gardens in France. From English-style cottage gardens to exotics, there’s something here for every green-fingered visitor.
- Delicious cider – Brittany is the cider country of France. With more than 600 apple varieties grown in the region, there’s a cider to suit everyone’s tastes.
- Customs and tradition – the pan-Celtic tradition is very evident here; the Breton language is spoken with pride and widespread cultural festivals celebrate Celtic music and dance.
Centre-Val de Loire
Centre-Val de Loire is a landlocked region, located to the southwest of the French capital Paris. As the name suggests this region is all about the magnificent river Loire. Just four to five hours from Calais to the capital of Orleans, and three from Paris, this region is a popular holiday region and makes an ideal destination for a road trip.
This is a real France bucket list trip. Fine historical cities and towns, many of which stand on the banks of the Loire, offer superb Renaissance religious buildings and architecture and of course, the fabulous and extravagant chateaux the region is best known for.
Chateaux of the Loire
Orleans – Blois – Tours – Angers – Nantes
The enchanting chateaux and picturesque towns of the Loire Valley make this historic region the perfect place to take a 10 day road trip in France.
Follow this Loire Valley road trip between famous cities and marvel at the natural wonders, opulent architecture, charming towns, and breathtaking castles of one of France’s best-loved regions.
You’ll visit the many chateaux on the route, including the famous Chateau de Chambord and Chateau de Villandry, and explore the Loire’s historic towns, learning about French history, architecture and culture and you go.
Discover Joan of Arc’s legacy in Orleans and take a ride on a giant machine elephant in Nantes as you take in the beautiful Loire landscape.
Road trip here if you like…
- Delicious white wines – Touraine, Vouvray, Pouilly-Fume, Sancerre, and Valencay are just some of the well-known whites produced in this region. Take a vineyard tour and make sure to enjoy a wine tasting afterward!
- Historic cities – from gracious Orleans to Gothic Blois and Tours with its beautiful old town, the cities of this region are must-sees.
- Bird watching – La Brenne Natural Park is the hidden gem of Centre-Val de Loire. To the south of the region, this huge park containing over a thousand lakes is a wetland paradise for birders.
Grand Est borders Germany, Luxembourg, Belgium, and a small part of Switzerland so it’s not surprising that this region has multicultural influences.
Grand Est is one of the most accessible regions if you’re taking a France road trip from Calais, a four hour drive will take you to the heart of the rolling Aube, and in six hours you can be in Strasbourg, the capital of the region and home to one of the best Christmas markets in Europe.
Previously known as Alsace-Champagne-Ardenne-Lorraine, the region is home to typical French countryside with an eclectic mix of vineyards, the low-lying Vosges mountains, and some of the prettiest small towns in France, found along the Alsace wine route.
In some less-visited and remote wooded parts of the Vosges, lynx, boar, and wolves can still be found in the wild, making the rich nature and biodiversity of the area of particular interest.
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Route Touristique du Champagne
Reims – Trigny – Epernay – Cumieres – Essoyes
The whole of the Champagne Route stretches for around 700km across the departments of Marne, Aube, and Aisne, with eight marked trails to authentic villages, ancient monasteries, imposing châteaux and churches, and of course, vineyards!
This bit of the route takes you from Reims and its world-renowned champagne houses to the massif of Saint-Thierry where you can enjoy beautiful views from Trigny, a flower-filled village with medieval ramparts.
Visit the Verzenay lighthouse, which watches over a rolling swathe of vineyards and now houses the Musée de la Vigne, where you can learn about the history of champagne before driving on to Epernay, and its famous champagne houses of Moet & Chandon, Perrier Jouet and Pol Roger.
From Cumieres, embark on the Champagne Vallee boat to discover the vineyards along the water in the Marne valley.
Further south on the Côte des Blancs road, admire the panoramic view of the vineyards from Mont Aimé and enjoy the charms of the pretty village of Oger.
In Aube around Bar-sur-Seine, with its half-timbered houses, make a stop at Essoyes where Impressionist artist Auguste Renoir lived for a few years, and visit one of the 28 champagne cellars in the area.
Road trip here if you like…
- Champagne – of course! This champagne road trip is perfect for lovers of bubbles!
- Medieval cathedrals – Grand Est is home to some of the most beautiful cathedrals in Europe, many are UNESCO World Heritage sites.
- War history – the Verdun & Argonne battlefields and war graves cemeteries of WWI can be found in the region, along with the WWII Maginot Line forts. The Surrender Room in Reims is where German forces capitulated to Eisenhower in May 1945, bringing an end to the long war.
- Accessible hiking – easier on the heart and lungs, the hiking routes of the Vosges are a pleasure. With stunning rolling scenery and trails to take you through historic villages and make the most of the views, hiking in the Vosges is a real highlight.
This is is the most northerly region of France and home to the port city of Calais, meaning it’s on the doorstep of the UK and a perfect French road trip destination for those wishing to nip across the Channel for a weekend from the UK, or for anyone looking for a few beach days on a longer trip in Paris.
Not a major tourist region, the area is known for the battlefields of World War I, most notably the Somme, a four month battle in which over a million people lost their lives, and many people come here for the memorials and war sites.
But there is more to see in this part of France, including the incredible beaches, elegant resort towns, and pretty fishing villages dotted along the unspoiled and beautiful Cote d’Opale, or Opal Coast.
Explore the Opal Coast
Calais – Boulogne-sur-Mer – Le Touquet – Etaples – Montreuil – Abbeville
From Calais, head south and visit Cap Blanc-Nez (cape white nose), opposite the white cliffs of Dover, and Cap Griz-Nez, (cape grey nose), the closest point in France to England. Both headlands offer fine views across the channel and coast and some great walking opportunities.
Boulogne is the largest fishing port in France and is home to all things sea! Visit the excellent Nausicca Aquarium, full of fascinating displays, interactive exhibits, and sea life, before visiting the historic old town and port, where you can join an organized tour.
Le Touquet is the jewel of the coast, known as Paris-Plage because this is traditionally where Parisians came for their long August break. Nowadays, it’s a lively resort known for its fantastic beach, water sports, and nightlife, including clubs and casinos.
Don’t miss the lighthouse, La Phare de la Canche, which rewards you with breathtaking views if you’re happy to climb the 274 steps to get to the viewing platform at the top!
Stop at the peaceful nature park of Baie de Canche, situated east of Étaples-Sur-Mer, a protected area of 45 hectares teeming with wildlife, before heading to Abbeville.
The capital of maritime Picardy and your final stop, Abbeville is a beautiful city and boasts rich historical monuments including the flamboyant Gothic style Saint-Vulfran collegiate church, with its magnificent carved facade.
Road trip here if you like…
- Mining history – much of the infrastructure in the northern parts of the region has been shaped by mining, a now redundant industry in this part of France. Visit the UNESCO listed Nord-Pas de Calais Mining Basin for a fascinating insight into the industry and a miner’s life in the pits.
- Beautiful belfries – tall and often ornate clock towers attached to civic buildings, belfries are common in the region and were built to symbolize the power of the local alderman and councillors. The Belfries of Belgium and France is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and features Roman, Gothic, Renaissance, and Baroque styles of architecture.
- Battlefield tours – the battles of Flanders, the Somme, Vimy, and Ypres were all fought on the soil of the Hauts-de France by French, British, Canadian, Australian, and African troops. The memorials and cemeteries marking these battles make for moving visits.
France Road Trip Essentials
Ile-de-France is the small region surrounding the beautiful city of Paris. Surrounded by cities and forests that prospered from the patronage of the Kings of France, the area is rich in royal history, elegant palaces, and medieval towns.
A four hour drive from Calais and on the doorstep for those flying in, it is perhaps not the first destination road trippers think of, but it is the ideal opportunity to combine a five day trip to Paris with a road trip to see the best bits of this compact region.
A Road Trip Around Paris
Chantilly – Provins – Fontainebleau – Versailles – Saint-Denis
Start in Chantilly, a town obsessed with horses, and join the Parisians at the elegant Chantilly racetrack, home of the French Derby (or Prix du Jockey Club).
Head along the pretty country roads to Fontainebleau forest for a spot of activity. Once the hunting grounds of French kings, and home to a beautiful palace, the area is dotted with massive boulders that attract anyone wanting to try bouldering.
If hiking is more your thing, there are more than 500km of marked trails in the forest, with the 25 Bosses Trail being the most well-known. This challenging day hike will reward you with incredible views of the surrounding area.
If you prefer to see it from the air, then hitch a ride on a hot air balloon, a popular way to see the forest.
From here, drive to the UNESCO site of historic Provins, a fortified city full of medieval half-timbered houses and cobbled streets inside the well-preserved ramparts. Built to accommodate an annual fair linking northern Europe with the Mediterranean, most of the buildings here are still in their original form.
Versailles is a once-in-a-lifetime visit and you must book online in advance as it can take five hours to queue in the summer if you don’t have a ticket. This shining, golden Baroque palace was once home to the Kings of France and spreads over 800 acres.
The inside is full of gold leaf, pink marble, and other finishes so opulent it almost hurts the eye. The formal gardens are beautifully symmetrical and soothing, with thousands of trees and water features – the perfect place for a picnic.
From Versailles, head north-east to the beautiful Basilica of Saint-Denis, one of the most important religious buildings in Ile-de-France. The first Gothic cathedral was built at the exact spot where Saint-Denis, the patron saint of Paris and France was buried.
Road trip here if you like…
- Iconic cities – although driving in and around Paris is to be avoided at all costs, you can stay outside Paris and get the train in, just follow this perfect Paris one day trip itinerary to see top sights like the Eiffel Tower and Notre Dame in one of the most cultured cities in Europe.
- Theme parks – meet all your favorite characters at Disneyland Paris, just three and a half hours from Calais and an hour from Paris.
- Modern architecture – there are four Le Corbusier villas in Ile-de-France. Villa Savoye is in Poissy and Villa La Roche, Villa Jeanneret, and Immeuble Molitor are wonderful hidden gems in Paris.
Normandy borders the English Channel and is easily accessible from all the channel ports, the furthest being St Malo around a three to four hour drive. Le Havre is in the region itself and a perfect arrival port popular with UK road trippers, as well as being close to pretty Honfleur.
The whole region was a significant medieval empire and controlled much of England and Wales, leaving a rich history for visitors to explore on a Normandy road trip.
The three huge attractions of Rouen cathedral, the Bayeux Tapestry, and Mont Saint-Michel are the must-sees of the region. Along with the pretty fishing port of Honfleur and the D-Day beaches, this region has much to recommend and is one of the best road trip destinations in France.
The World War II Sites of Normandy
Benouville – Ouistreham – Arromanches – Colleville-sur-Mer – Bayeaux
You could visit the key places on this tour in a day, but to the sites justice and spend time at the memorials, you need three to five days.
Start at Benouville, just north of Caen, for Pegasus Bridge and its museum, the site of a daring landing by gliders of the British 6th Airborne Division in shortly before the sea invasion.
From here, it’s a short hop to Ouistreham to visit Le Grand Bunker, part of the German Atlantic Wall defenses, and the German Battery to the north.
Heading west, you’ll find the landing beaches of Sword (British and French), Juno (Canadian), Gold (British), and Omaha and Utah (American). Each has a number of visitor sites to be explored.
At Arromanches, watch an educational film at the 360-degree cinema on top of the cliff before you descend into the town itself and visit the Landing Museum built near the site of the Mulberry Harbours, which were constructed to aid the Allies in getting supplies ashore.
As you continue west, don’t miss the German Gun Battery at Longues, before arriving at the atmospheric American Cemetery at Colville, where you can hear the Last Post daily at 5pm.
From Utah beach, skirt back to Bayeaux, home of the British and Commonwealth Cemetery and Battle of Normandy Museum (and of course, that famous tapestry).
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Road trip here if you like…
- Medieval heritage – Rouen, where Joan of Arc was burnt at the stake, is chock full of medieval architecture and history. The Bayeux Tapestry, telling the story of the Norman invasion of England in 1066 is on glorious display in the town of the same name.
- Gorgeous gardens – if you are a gardener or painter, then there is no better garden in the whole of France than Giverny, Claude Monet’s country home and garden. Gloriously and unashamedly colorful, this beautiful place has provided inspiration to generations of gardeners and painters alike.
- Impressionist art – known as the birthplace of impressionism after Monet took inspiration in Le Havre and painted ‘Impression, soleil levant‘ (‘Impression, sunrise’) in 1872. Normandy houses two major collections and has no fewer than fifteen museums dedicated to impressionist art and history.
One of our personal favorites for a France road trip holiday, Nouvelle-Aquitaine is the largest region of France. From the ports of Caen or Cherbourg, the capital Bordeaux is a good seven to eight hour drive, making the region an ideal destination for a two or three weeks holiday.
This region in the southwest of France is incredibly varied, from the mountains of the Pyrenees and the gently meandering Dordogne valley, to the almost continuous beach of the long Landes coastline. There’s also great French wine heritage here, along with classic gastronomy which uses the abundance of high-quality ingredients grown and produced in the region.
Pine forests, vineyards, elegant resorts and rustic villages shape this space, along with great regional food and wine which give life and color to a seriously enjoyable region of France.
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The Best of the Dordogne
Bordeaux – Bergerac – La Roque-Gageac – Sarlat-la-Caneda – Rocamadour – Perigueux
Staring in the magnificent city of Bordeaux, known as the wine capital of the world, follow the Dordogne to beautiful Bergerac, a historic city, whose narrow streets are lined with fine houses and filled with blooms and quirky art installations.
Of course, you’ll also find a statue of Bergerac’s most famous son, Cyrano de Bergerac. A French soldier remembered chiefly for fighting many duels often over the size of his nose!
From here, head for the medieval village of La Roque-Gageac, the gateway to the Valley of the Five Chateaux, home to five impressive castles, including Chateau Beynac and Chateau Castelnaud. You’ll also find the stunning Gardens of Marqueyssac hanging on the cliffs above the village.
Head east for the gorgeous town of Sarlat, deep in the wooded hills of the Dordogne. With cobbled streets and Gothic mansions galore, Sarlat makes a great base to explore locally and enjoy some of the fantastic gastronomy of the region.
Cross into Occitanie for Rocamadour, home to the cheese of the same name, and the Gouffre de Padirac, two of the must-see attractions in the area which can be visited in a day if you’re pushed for time.
Allow a full day to explore the final stop of Perigueux, making sure to visit the Saint-Front Cathedral, the quays, and the Vesunna Gallo-Roman Museum.
Road trip here if you like…
- Mountains – the eastern Pyrenees are to the south of the region and beyond the towns and cities provide amazing cycling and hiking opportunities, including this seven day Pyrenees hiking tour.
- Beaches – there are hundreds of miles of soft golden beaches along the coast. Stretching from the glamorous resort of Biarritz in the south to La Rochelle in the north, only interrupted by the river Garonne and the Arcachon Basin. If you like sand, head for the largest sand dune in Europe, Dune du Pilat, with an incredible view of the blue, turquoise and green crystal clear waters of the Arcachon basin.
- Surfing – people come here to surf the huge Atlantic rollers coming in from the Bay of Biscay and there is an annual world surf competition held in Lacanau-Ocean. If you can’t stand up, get a body board, or just spend hours deciding whether to float over the next wave or power under it.
Occitanie (previously known as Languedoc) makes up almost one-half of the south of France and is a region of huge contrast. A solid ten to eleven hour drive from Caen, Occitanie makes a good destination if you have a couple of weeks to travel or, as part of a longer trip.
We think it’s worth the drive time for the atmosphere, history, and beauty you will find in this region.
From the sun-drenched Herault of the deep south and the Mediterranean coast to the wild and raw beauty of the Cevennes and the majesty of the Pyrenees, the landscape and climate differ greatly.
This is a busy part of France, home to Carcassonne, Lourdes, and the Pont du Gard. These three top the busiest tourist destinations in Europe list and are best visited outside of July and August.
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Beaches & Mountains of the Languedoc
Montpellier – Sete – Agde – Beziers – Carcassonne – Gorge d’Heric – Pezenas – Saint-Guilhem-le-Désert
Start in the growing city of Monpellier and head south along the coast to the pretty fishing port and the seaside resort of Sete, surrounded by the Mediterranean Sea on one side and the Etang de Thau salt lake on the other.
The main canal running through the Sete city center is lined with bars and restaurants offering fish and seafood delicacies. Make sure to try a tielle, a local specialty comprising of octopus cooked in olive oil, tomato, and red wine and baked in pastry.
The salt lake Etang de Thau is sandwiched between vineyards and natural scrubland and is the ideal place to learn more about what the area is famous for – shellfish, and in particular oysters. There are a number of oyster farms open for visits where you can learn about the farming process.
Agde, just along the coast, is famous for its black volcanic sand beaches which are unique to the region. La Grande Conque is one such beach, a small bay carved into the coast and a great place to while away the day sunbathing and swimming.
Your next stop is the beautiful town of Beziers, home to the Fonserannes Locks, the famous staircase of nine locks on the Canal du Midi, which allow boats to be raised 21.5m over a distance of 300m. You can hire a bike here and cycle along the canal towpath, for a peaceful afternoon ride.
Head west and inland for the iconic city of Carcassonne. The beautifully renovated citadel, La Cite, is a must-see in this area of France. Vast and imposing, it towers above the Aude and ‘new’ Carcassonne and feels a little Dinsneyesque inside, with lots of touristy (and expensive) bars and restaurants.
From here, if you have more time, you can head into the Pyrenees if you want to hike, kayak, and see the religious castles the area is famous for.
Otherwise, the magnificent Gorge d’Heric is next up, with hiking and wild swimming opportunities in abundance. This dramatic gorge, in the heart of the Haut Languedoc nature reserve, is home to the river Heric as it rushes down from the Massif de Caroux.
You can walk up the Gorge for around 5km, or hike and rock climb the Caroux if you want something a bit more challenging. All the way up the gorge are massive boulders and private natural swimming pools, filled with clear turquoise waters and wonderful for a cooling dip on a hot summer’s day.
From here, pretty Pezenas calls, with its Friday wine festivals through summer, local craft shops, and weekly farmers market. A perfect place to stop for a few days and catch your breath, before taking in the Pont du Diable, perfect for a spot of cliff-jumping and paddle boarding.
A few miles away from the Devil’s Bridge is Saint-Guilhem-le-Désert, nestled in the heart of the Herault Gorges and a major stop for pilgrims making their way to Santiago de Compostela in north-west Spain. The centerpiece of the village is the Gellone Abbey, a 1200-year-old UNESCO World Heritage Site, tucked in the corner of the main square.
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Road trip here if you like…
- Wild swimming – the gorges of the region have some of the best wild swimming and canyoning in France. Tucked into the Montagne Noire or the midi-Pyrenees, the water is crystal clear and refreshing.
- Outdoor adventures – head for the Gard and Lozere departments where you’ll find nature at its finest. Winding rivers like the Tarn are superb for kayaking and often have small river beaches and swimming holes, with perfectly placed rocky ledges to jump from. The Cevennes National Park offers great hiking in a wild and natural environment.
- Religious history – The Aude and Ariege have a strong Cathar history and you can see remnants everywhere. Follow the Route of the Cathars through fortified hilltops, castles, villages, and towns for a fascinating insight into a religion that shaped this part of France for centuries.
Pays de la Loire
The Pays de la Loire is a region of north-western France that adjoins the region of Centre-Val de Loire. Both regions share many characteristics including the Loire Valley and large numbers of famous chateaux.
One difference is the long Atlantic coastline of the Pays de la Loire known as the Vendee, a very popular UK tourist destination due to its proximity to the eastern channel ports, and enjoyed for its gentle waves, sandy beaches, and quintessential sea-side resorts.
An easy three to four hours from Caen to Nantes places you in the heart of this region, with the Loire Valley to the east and the beaches of the Vendee to the west.
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The Coast of the Vendee
Nantes – Saint-Gilles-Croix-de-Vie – Les Sables-d’Olonne – La Tranche-sur-Mer – La Rochelle
Starting in increasingly popular Nantes, home to the Les Machines de L’ile, this west coast road trip is more about the relaxed coastal resorts than cities.
Make for Saint Gilles-Croix-de Vie, stopping at Sallertaine on the route, to explore the peaceful canals of the Marais Breton in an open canoe.
Once in Saint-Gilles, enjoy the chic and lively ambiance, as well as superb sardines, caught locally and on your plate within a few hours.
On the Côte de Lumière or Coast of Light, the coastal resorts here enjoy 2400 hours of sun every year, making this a perfect place to relax on a sun lounger for a few days.
Continue south to Les Sables-d’Olonne, the point of departure for the Vendee Globe round-the-world sailing race. A popular seaside resort, it has a superb sandy beach and a pretty seafront promenade plus a casino and golf course to keep you busy.
Next up is La Tranche-sur-Mer, known as ‘little California’ because of its exceptional sunshine hours and 13km of sandy beaches.
With an authentic vibe and lively family atmosphere, this is a great stop for teenagers, with lots of water sports on offer, as well as free concerts and street entertainment in the evenings in summer.
Your final stop is the historic sea town of La Rochelle, a laid-back resort town with a well-deserved reputation for great seafood, and the best old port on the French Atlantic.
Spend a day meandering around the charming town before exploring the maritime museum and aquarium.
Road trip here if you like…
- Bucket and spade holidays – perfect for family holidays, the Vendee is lined with some of the best French holiday parks offering fantastic facilities. Kids love the beaches for perfect sand-castle building and gentle waves.
- Theme parks – the Puy du Fou historic theme park has over 1,5 million visitors a year and is one of the most popular attractions in the whole of France, and perfect for a day out if you are traveling with kids.
- Beautiful chateaux – one of the main attractions of the region, the chateaux of the Loire Valley are world famous.
A favorite of many, this region, often abbreviated to PACA, covers a large and diverse area. From the sparkling Mediterranean Sea to the French Alps, and from the river Rhone to the Italian border, Provence-Alpes-Cote d’Azur is the furthest of France’s regions from the UK.
It takes a whopping eight hours of driving from Paris and twelve to thirteen hours from Calais, making the journey a road trip to the south of France in its own right.
For the glamorous and fashionable resorts of the French Riviera, the lavender fields and whitewashed towns of Provence, and the off-the-beaten-path wilderness of the Parc Naturel Régional de Camargue, those driving hours are so worth it.
The sun-baked landscapes, beautiful hilltop towns and villages, abundant local produce, and delicious wines just add to the attraction.
The Route Napoleon
Grenoble – Laffrey – La Mure – Corps – Col Bayard – Gap – Sisteron – Digne – Castellane – Saint-Vallier-de-Thiey – Grasse – Antibes
The most picturesque south of France road trip, the historic Route Napoleon begins in the Auvergne-Rhone-Alpes region.
The road trip starts (or ends, as the route starts at the coast, but can be road tripped either way) in Grenoble, the route follows the footsteps of the famous General on his return from exile in Elba, as he headed north for Waterloo.
Inaugurated in 1932, you will see statues of the Imperial French Eagle marking the way, along what is now (mainly) the N85.
The road is really spectacular, with switchbacks, sweeping bends, and challenging mountain stretches making it one of the best road trips in France.
Peaking at 1246m at Col Bayard before passing into Provence and the towns of historic Sisteron, beautiful Digne, and fragrant Grasse, you’ll also pass the stunning Gorge du Verdon and the beautiful lavender fields of the Valensole plateau.
From Castellane to Grasse, the views to the coast from the road are spectacular, across lush green slopes dotted with magnificent villas, to the sparkling blue of the Mediterranean, just one of the reasons to start in Grenoble and head south.
This route smells heavenly too – the scent of hot pine sap and the essential oils of regional herbs being warmed by the sun is the fragrance of southern France.
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Road trip here if you like…
- Glitz and glamour – St Tropez is one of the most famous Cote d’Azur holiday resorts. People on Riviera road trips flock to the vieux port where the rich and famous berth their mega-yachts, and enjoy the honeyed stone buildings and pretty squares of a slightly more relaxed and authentic St Tropez. If you want more, head to Monaco, Nice or Cannes, or one of the ridiculously opulent villas which open their doors to the public.
- Iconic Lavender – field upon field and row upon row of beautiful and fragrant lavender carpets Provence in June and July. Go early in the day for the best photo opportunities.
- Local produce – experience a marchés hebdomadaires (farmers market). Most towns have a weekly market where you will find fresh bread, wonderful fruit and vegetables, pungent cheeses, meaty saucisson sausage, fat olives, and pretty much any other fresh food stuff you might want to buy.
France Country Road Trip Resources
Here are the websites and services we personally use and recommend for traveling in France.
Information About Driving in France
Road trips in France are usually pleasurable, thanks to their extensive and well-maintained autoroute network, and generally good local roads. French drivers can be impatient and are dreadful tailgaters and really, really dislike being overtaken, but, c’est la vie, this is France!
Whether your road tripping France in a campervan, car, or motorbike, follow these tips for driving safely and legally;
- You must have at least three months remaining on your passport (issued in the past ten years) at your intended date of departure from France.
- You must have at least 3rd party insurance for your vehicle.
- Citizens of non-EU third countries may require an International Driving Permit for driving in Europe. You can check whether you need an IDP here.
- You must carry at least one reflective jacket within the passenger compartment of your vehicle and must put it on before you get out in an emergency or breakdown situation. You must also carry a warning triangle.
- You may require a Crit’Air sticker which is placed in the windscreen of your vehicle to provide a visible way to identify the level of emissions produced. If you’re renting a vehicle, the Crit’Air sticker should already be on display in the windscreen. Find out more and purchase Crit’Air stickers from the official certificat-air.gouv.fr website.
- On 1 November 2021 the Loi Montage II or ‘mountain law II’ came into force in 48 French mountainous departments within the Alpes, Massif Central, Jura, Pyrénées, and Vosges regions. Anyone traveling in a car or motorhome or through one of these areas between 1 November and 31 March will be obliged to fit four approved winter tires or carry at least two snow chains or socks in the vehicle.
- French motorways are privately managed and you’re not allowed to request your own assistance company to attend to you if you break down. If you do break down use the orange emergency telephones that are situated every 2km along French motorways to call the police or the official breakdown service operating in that area or dial the emergency services on 112. You will be towed to a safe designated area where you can make onward arrangements for your own breakdown insurer to assist you if you have it. Otherwise, the towing company will be able to provide support or signpost you.
- You do not need to carry a breathalyzer, the law requiring that you do has been repealed.
- You may want to consider carrying an electronic toll pass for the duration of your French road trip itinerary. These devices deduct the toll fees from a credit card automatically, meaning you don’t have to stop at a booth or barrier.
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