France 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. Use our detailed guide and travel tips to find French road trip ideas in every region, and to plan your ultimate France road trip.
France is an easy road trip 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. 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!
French Road Trip Resources
Information About Driving in France
Road trips in France are usually pleasurable, thanks 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;
- Drivers from non-EU countries may require an International Driving Permit. If you are from the UK, your UK licence allows you to drive in all EU countries unless it’s a paper licence or a licence issued in Gibraltar, Guernsey, Jersey or the Isle of Man, then you will need an International Driving Permit.
- You must have at least 3rd party insurance for your vehicle. Update August 2021 – you no longer require a green card to prove you have vehicle insurance cover when taking trips to France in a UK registered vehicle.
- From 28th September 2021, you will have to display a UK sticker on the rear of of your vehicle, instead of a GB sticker, unless you have a new style UK numberplate which displays the Union Jack flag.
- Your headlights must be adapted for driving on the right.
- 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.
- From 1st January 2021, all vehicles over 3,500kg are required to display infographic ‘angles morts’ or blind spot stickers. Stickers must be visible on both sides and at the back of the vehicle and must be placed between 0.90m and 1.50m above the ground. Stickers must be placed in such a way that they don’t cover the vehicle’s regulatory plates and inscriptions, any of the lights or signals, and don’t hinder the driver’s field of view.
- Most European countries, especially those with mountains, have rules about snow tyres and snow chains. Make sure you check these rules if you’re taking a road trip in France in colder weather.
- Over the past few years, there has a significant increase in speeding fines issued by French authorities to Brit drivers. Many get home from a trip to France by car to a nasty surprise in the post. Be aware and stick to the speed limit when driving in Europe, the information sharing arrangement with the DVLA remains in place even now the UK is no longer a part of the EU.
- 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.
- 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. Alternatively, if no orange telephone is available, you should call the emergency services by dialling 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.
- France has very strict drink driving laws compared to many other countries. The maximum allowed is 0.5 mg/ml of alcohol per litre in your blood . If you are tested and found to be over the limit, you may face up to €4,500 fine and have to appear in court.
- You do not need to carry a breathalyser, the law requiring that you do has been repealed.
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, 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 to visit France, especially 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 colours of the countryside.
France Road Trip Map
France Road Trips by Region
France is such a diverse country, it can be hard to decide where to take a road trip, especially if you want to see the less travelled France for a more authentic experience.
Whether you like coasts, mountains or rolling countryside, historic cities, elegant palaces or wild landscapes, you’ll find it here as we share some of the best road trips through France.
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 the east, 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 centre 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, capital of the Rhone region. The historic heart, Vieux-Lyon, stretches across the base of Fourviere Hill and its grand basilica.
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 eastern-most mountains, or explore the the medium-high extinct volcanoes of the Massif Central.
- 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 tends 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.
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.
With a mix of low agricultural lands and the fabulous mountains of the Jura, BFC is sparsely populated and sees relatively little tourist footfall.
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 centre 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 ambience.
- 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, Brittany offers a shared Celtic culture, ancient mysticism and every type of beach imaginable!
Coast to Coast
Saint-Malo – Brest – Quimper – Vannes – Rennes
The peninsula of Brittany lends itself to a jaunt around its coast, enjoying the superb sea food 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 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 it’s pink beaches, one of the most interesting coastlines in France, and across to the west is the Finistere coast with it’s huge beaches and quaint fishing villages.
If you want to dip into every cove, explore every interestting finger of land that protrudes into the sea and visit all the charming towns and villages on 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 wide-spread cultural festivals celebrate Celtic music and dance.
Centre-Val de Loire
Centre-Val de Loire is a landlocked region, located to the south-west 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 destination and makes an ideal destination for a road 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 the Loire Valley road between its famous cities and 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 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 wine – Touraine, Vouvray, Pouilly-Fume, Sancerre and Valencay are just some of the well-know whites produces in this region. Take a vineyard tour and make sure to enjoy a tasting afterwards!
- Historic cities – from gracious Orleans to Gothic Blois and Tours with it’s 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.
Want to plan your own road trip?
Click here for our complete step-by-step road trip planning guide to help organise your perfect trip.
Grand Est borders Germany, Luxembourg, Belgium and a small part of Switzerland so its not surprising that this region has multi-cultural 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 an intriguing 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 bio-diversity of the area of particular interest.
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 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…
- Wine – of course! This area of France is perfect for wine lovers.
- 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 unspoilt 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 organised 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 it’s 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 from 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 symbolise 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 Hautes-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 possible to avoid Paris completely in your car and see 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 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 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 ballon, 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 itinerary to see top sights like the Eiffel Tower and Notre Dame.
- Theme parks – meet all your favourite 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 which is popular with UK road trippers, as well as being close to pretty Honfleur.
Normandy was a significant medieval empire and controlled much of England and Wales, leaving a rich history for visitors to explore.
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 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, 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 defences, 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).
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 colourful, 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 favourites 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 south west 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.
Pine forests, vineyards, elegant resorts and rustic villages shape this space, along with great regional food and wine which give life and colour to a seriously enjoyable region of France.
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, 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, and 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 differs 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.
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 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 centre 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 afternoons 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 is 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 summers day.
From here, pretty Pezenas calls, with it’s 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 centrepiece of the village is the Gellone Abbey, a 1200 year old UNESCO World Heritage Site, tucked in the corner of the main square.
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 which 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, 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 the heart of this region, with the Loire Valley to the east and the beaches of the Vendee to the west.
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 route, to explore the peaceful canals of the Marais Breton in an open canoe.
Once in Saint-Gilles, enjoy the chic and lively ambience, 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, 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 travelling with kids.
- Beautiful chateaux – one of the main attractions of the region, the chateaux of the Loire Valley are world famous.
A favourite of many, this region, often abbreviated to PACA, covers a large and diverse area. From the sparking 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 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 Auvergne-Rhone-Alpes region is the start of the most picturesque south of France road trip, the historic Route Napoleon.
Staring (or ending technically, 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.
Inagurated 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 mountains stretches.
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 are the fragrance of this wonderful region.
Road trip here if you like…
- Glitz and glamour – St Tropez is one of the most famous Cote d’Azur holiday resorts. People flock there the vieux port where the rich and famous berth their mega-yachts, and to 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.