Do you, like us, enjoy the journey as much as the destination? Travelling through France and experiencing the diverse characters of each of its regions offers a sense of the country’s varied and distinctive personalities. It’s a real adventure.
That’s why we always try to build in a stopover en-route – and why, if you want to get a deeper sense of where you’re heading, you should too. Fortunately, we make it easy to stopover, with parcs conveniently located across the length and breadth of France. So wherever your final destination, here are just a few of our favourite itineraries you could try.
Because why just focus on being there, when getting there can be this much fun?
Driving from the north of the UK
If you’ve got a long drive from the north of the UK before you even get onto the continent we’d recommend a short stop in Picardy before heading further South. La Bien Assise is just 30 minutes from the port and makes for an easy one night stay before heading down to Paris just over three hours away or further south to the Loire Valley five hours away. Another option for splitting up a journey to Loire is to take the Portsmouth to St Malo crossing, stay locally in north Brittany and then make the two hour drive across to Loire the next morning. Domaine des Ormes is a great choice because it’s under an hour from the port and offers lots of activities – from a treetop adventure course to an 18 hole golf course – so you can start your holiday straight away.
Heading to the west of France
We’d also recommend the same for anyone driving to the west coast of France into Vendee. For the most spectacular road trip, take the two and a half hour drive from St Malo to Carnac on the south coast of Brittany and stay for one night before doing the same distance again to the Vendee. Des Menhirs is an excellent choice and is right next to a smashing sandy beach at La Grande Plage. The drive takes you through the Golfe du Morbihan Natural Park and the atmospheric medieval walled town of Vannes en-route. We’d also recommend stopping at well-heeled Nantes for a spot of lunch on your way down, and a visit to its Machines Of The Isles Of Nantes to wonder at the awe-inspiring over-sized mechanical animals like The Grande Elephant.
Heading to the east of France
If you’re heading to Jura or Burgundy, Calais or Caen are good choices of port depending on where you’re departing from in the UK. We’d recommend a short stopover in or around Paris which is between 3-3.5 hours drive away. Both La Croix du Vieux Pont and International Maissons-Laffitte are both great choices depending on which port you arrive at. It splits the journey well for a four to five hour drive through stunning scenery the next day. If you can, visit the Morvan Natural Park with its enchanting rolling meadows, traditional villages and castles. Or stop for lunch in beautiful Besancon; a UNESCO World Heritage Site packed with historic buildings. Julius Caesar called it the “jewel in my crown”. He’d still recognise it today. For the best views head up to the Citadel on the top of the hill (main pic, above).
Heading to the south west of France
If you’re feeling like a real adventure and want to journey down to the south of France then this is where a strategic stopover is essential. You’re best taking the ferry to St Malo and driving the 3.5 hours to Vendee. Stay at Le Clarys Plage in St Jean-de-Monts and the following day take the coastal road to La Tranche-sur-Mer, drive through the nature reserve around the Bay of Aiguillon and then head on down to Gascony. At around four and a half hours this drive takes slightly longer but it’s well worth taking the scenic route in these parts. You’ll also pass right by Bordeaux too so take some time to pick up a fine bottle of wine (or two) and admire the mighty gothic Cathedral and Grande Theatre.
Heading to south central France
If you’re driving to the Dordogne or perhaps even further south to the Pyrenees, again spending a night in the Vendee is a good choice. The Dordogne is around a 4.5 hour drive but as you head inland spend a few hours in Cognac and visit the famous Remy Martin distillery. Driving to the Pyrenees is certainly more of a challenging drive as it’s a full six hours from the Vendee to our parc, Airotel Pyrenees, but you’ll be rewarded with a beautiful journey through the Landes de Gascogne Natural Park. A stop in Bordeaux could be worthwhile, if wine is your thing a trip to Cite du Vin is a must, or you could spend the afternoon in the old royal city of Pau and visit the castle which was the birthplace of King Henri IV.
If you’re driving to the south east of France
Normally if you want a car in Languedoc-Roussillon or the Riviera we’d recommend flying and hiring a car once you arrive. However if you’re an experienced driver take the ferry or Eurotunnel to Calais, where you can head to Paris for your stopover, visit the capital and then make the eight hour drive towards the south east where these wonderful coastlines are located. The other choice would be to drive straight to Burgundy from Calais – which is around six hours – and stay at Le Domaine de l’Epervière. Then the following day drive a further five hours to the Riviera or Languedoc-Roussillon, stopping in either Valence or Montelimar for lunch, or if you set off early enough take the 40 minute detour to the magnificent limestone gorge at Vallon Pont d’Arc which is the perfect setting for a picnic in the sunshine, and a glorious taste of the heat to come!
No more tears: The good driving guide
For safety and comfort, The AA recommends a maximum of eight hours driving a day. By taking advantage of any of our tactical stopovers you can still make it all the way to your final destination without breaking this sensible rule. Before embarking on any long journey though you should make sure you’re prepared. So here are our top tips to keep everyone happy…
- Plan your journey – Print out your route and mark your stops, or set ‘via’ points on your satnav, to break down your journey into stages. As a general rule of thumb it’s good to take a 15 minute break every two hours. This can also help with the dreaded “are we nearly there yet?” question from children as they can map your progress whilst you drive and answer this themselves.
- Pack the car wisely – Make a list of all the essential items you may need on the journey like food and drinks, blankets and pillows, coats and travel documents. Make sure these are in the front of the car and not buried in the boot, too!
- Take plenty of snacks – Long journeys are made so much more stress-free when everyone is fed and watered. Fruit, nuts and juice (and sweets in moderation) keep up energy levels and help reward well behaved children.
- Embrace technology – If you’re travelling with little ones, tablets can be the perfect way to keep them entertained for a few hours playing games, listening to an audio book or watching a movie. Just make sure everything’s all downloaded and ready to use before you set off, you’ve packed the chargers (and in-car adapters) and that the screens are in a good position so they’re not looking down at them. Children will eventually get bored of playing on the tablet though so mix this up with other games.
- Have lots of travel game ideas up your sleeve – I Spy is always a classic but how about Twenty Questions for older kids (and adults alike). Car Bingo is another good choice where you write down a list of things you’re likely to see along the way in advance and each person crosses them off as they see them. Colouring and sticker books can also be a great way to keep younger children amused so stock up before your journey.