We i-escapers love a good road trip: the sense of freedom and adventure, the chance to take things at your own pace, the opportunity to go where you want, when you want. With its beautiful scenery and excellent infrastructure, France makes a brilliant destination for driving holidays, but narrowing down where to go can be tricky. Here are 4 tried-and-tested itineraries to get you started…
Normandy and the Loire Valley
If indulgent food, world-class wines and bags of history float your boat, a journey through Normandy and the Loire Valley will delight.
Take the early-morning car ferry to Cherbourg then meander along the coast to Honfleur, stopping en route to see historic Bayeaux and its famous tapestry, plus the haunting D-Day beaches. Once in Honfleur, check into pretty little guesthouse La Petite Folie for a couple of nights, and spend your time pottering around the town’s cobbled streets, ancient port, Michelin-starred restaurants and cheese- and cider-laden market stalls.
Next, head inland to the deer-filled Parc naturel du Perche and neighbouring Parc naturel Normandie-Maine. Stay at one of 3 elegant country retreats (La Louviere, Chateau de Saint Paterne or Villa Fol Avril), and explore the dense Forêt d’Ecouves, pretty Alençon and Saint-Céneri-le-Gérei (officially recognised as one of the most beautiful villages in France).
From there, it’s just a couple of hours south to the magnificent châteaux and renowned vineyards of the Loire. Our favourite base is Manoir du Moulin, whose friendly owners can organise cooking classes and winery tasting tours; it’s also handy for the sweeping pine-backed beaches of the Vendée coast. When the time comes to head home, you can motorway up to Cherbourg in under 5 hours for the evening crossing back to the UK.
Top tip: If you have bit more time, tag on a visit to the Ile de Ré, an hour’s drive south of Manoir du Moulin. It’s joined to the mainland by bridge but feels a world away, with tranquil salt marshes, tiny villages and vast beaches connected by cycle path.
Buffeted by Atlantic rollers and dotted with echoes of its Celtic past, Brittany’s wild landscape is the stuff of epic journeys.
Start this circular route at the ferry port in Saint Malo (linked to the UK by regular crossings), then head a few miles south to the half-timbered medieval town of Dinan. It’s home to chic little B&B La Maison Pavie, as well as gallery-lined lanes and a pretty river harbour.
From there, pootle along the craggy coast to majestic Grand Hotel des Bains, which sits by the water in lovely Locquirec. The views en route are spectacular and there are plenty of harbour villages for a lazy lunch, so allow a full day for the journey.
For your last couple of nights, venture inland before heading back up to Saint Malo for the boat home. Unwind amid wildflower meadows at eco-friendly spa hotel La Gree des Landes or stay at turret-topped Chateau des Tesnieres, hidden in parkland near the fortified town of Vitré.
Top tip: Make time for a detour along the narrow Quiberon Peninsula, which pokes out into the Atlantic just south of La Longere. The western Côte Sauvage (‘Wild Coast’) has rugged, sea-lashed cliffs, while the sheltered east coast is fringed with sandy beaches.
Another option combining coast and country is a trip through Gascony, a wonderfully unspoilt corner of southwest France.
Fly to Biarritz, pick up a hire car and head straight to your first hotel – stylish B&B Villa Arguibel, set just outside the glitzy seaside town, or gastronomic retreat Auberge Ostape in the foothills of the Pyrenees. Stay at least a couple of nights, as there’s plenty to see: soaring mountains, surf-pounded beaches, medieval towns… you could even scoot over the border into the Spanish Basque Country.
Next, head inland to the Gers, where you’ll find abbeys, orchards and brandy distilleries.
From there, it’s a couple of hours north to Bordeaux, whose elegant 18th-century boulevards and sparkling new Cité du Vin (wine museum) are well worth exploring. Le Boutique Hotel Bordeaux has a plum location in the city centre.
Top tip: Depending on your time, you could drop off your car at Bordeaux airport and fly home from there, or head back down the coast towards Biarritz for a couple of nights at Lake Loft, a designer guesthouse tucked behind Atlantic dunes.
Dramatic bastides, Roman ruins, rolling fields of lavender… the neighbouring regions of Languedoc and Provence have plenty to tempt road-trippers in search of sunshine and stunning scenery.
We recommended starting in Montpellier, which is served by plenty of airlines. If you have an evening flight, book into city-centre boutique B&B Baudon de Mauny for your first 24 hours and avoid a late-night drive; underrated Montpellier has plenty to keep you occupied, including leafy squares brimming with cafés, France’s oldest botanical garden, and the renowned Musée Fabre.
From Montpellier, it’s a 2-hour drive east to Unesco-listed Carcassonne. Stay at 42 Rue Victor Hugo, a trio of Gallic-chic suites in the heart of town, and spend a couple of days exploring the walled medieval centre (particularly beautiful come evening, after the day trippers have departed), the bucolic Canal du Midi and the many Cathar castles nearby.
Next, head north-west into Provence (avoid the motorway and take the slow but stunning drive through the Haut Languedoc and Cévennes national parks) and check into L’Albiousse. It sits in a magnificent house in the centre of medieval Uzès, and makes a wonderful base for soaking up the town’s cobbled lanes, striking bell tower and excellent market. Further afield, you could also visit Avignon and its famous Papal Palace, the Roman amphitheatre in Arles, and the soaring arches of 1st-century aqueduct the Pont du Gard.
For your last stop, venture south to the Carmargue, a vast swathe of wetland populated by wild horses, black bulls and bird species galore. It’s breathtakingly beautiful and incredibly tranquil – the perfect place to unwind at the end of your trip. Farmhouse B&B Hotel Mas de Peint is a wonderful place to stay; from there it’s an easy drive back to Montpellier for your flight home.
Top tip: If time allows, take a detour north after your stay in Uzès and spend a couple of days discovering the towering gorges and ancient caves of the Ardèche. Our favourite base in the area is the beautifully restored Chateau d’Uzer, whose owners can arrange magical kayaking trips along the river.