Grey winter days inevitably lead our thoughts to planning warmer summer road trips, and where more cultural, scenic and diverse than France? Quiet roads, at least outside the cities, deliver an on-going conveyor belt of ancient cathedrals, quaint fishing villages, wayside flowers, half-timbered architecture and plenty of auberge signs indicating a good place to stop for a plat du jour or multi-course prix-fixe menu, usually including a glass of wine. How civilised!
Here are three top road trips in France to consider this summer:
Brittany: St Malo to Rennes
Hop aboard an overnight Brittany ferry from Portsmouth or Plymouth and you’ll be dunking breakfast croissants in your café au lait at a waterfront café in St Malo the following morning! St Malo is an interesting walled city of cumbrous stone cottages softened with pretty windowboxes.
Walk the walls, bask on the beach, take a boat trip and sample some delicious Breton seafood before departing. You may want to detour to the rocky citadel of Mont St-Michel before heading to Dinan, a mecca of mediaeval architecture. Dine in the 15th century timbered La Mére Pourcel and enjoy Dinan’s outstanding cuisine. From there, the scenery gets better and better as you approach Montauban, famous for its castle and Chapel Notre-Dame de Lannelou.
Finally to Rennes, a lively small city crammed with history, and home to the stunning Thabor Rose Gardens.
Champagne Region: Picardy to Chaumont
Oenophiles and champagne lovers will thoroughly enjoy this tour-with-a-purpose as you drive from one famous winery to the next sampling the effervescent champagne that made this region world-famous. Pick up the route north of Paris in Picardy, best known for its World War I battlegrounds, massive Amiens Cathedral and delectable macarons.
Plan at least one day in Paris to enjoy the main sights – the Eiffel Tower, Louvre, Arc de Triomphe and Palace of Versailles – before turning your attention to those promised champagne vineyards.
The scenic A4/E50 east is lined with palatial chateaux and vineyards. Have your camera handy in Reims, en route to Châlons en Champagne where UNESCO listed architecture and historic battlefields are at this epicentre of the world of champagne. You’ll want to enjoy wine tours and tastings before continuing through this famous region to Chaumont, a worthy destination of cobbled streets, vainglorious chateaux and immaculate basilicas. This is surely France at its best!
Loire Valley: Nantes to Tours
This premier region of unspoilt river valley scenery, vineyards, orchards and asparagus fields puts cuisine high on its list of priorities and hardly a mile goes by without spotting grand historic castles and turreted chateaux.
Start your trip in Nantes with a visit to the unique Jules Verne Museum, the Cathedral of Saint-Pierre and the Chateau des Ducs de Bretagne. Linger on to sample dinner at this cuisine-centric city before hitting the road.
Art and architecture are the main attractions in Angers, notably in the Museum des Fines Arts, the Pincé Museum and the bulky Fortress of Angers with its 17 towers piercing the skyline. Take the quieter D952 from Angers to Saumur to avoid the traffic and see the many Loire Valley chateaux that line this scenic river.
Saumur welcomes visitors with its world-renowned dessert wines and 10th century Chateau de Saumur, one of several grandiose buildings in this lovely city. Festivals, produce markets and wine tastings will happily fill your time before you move on to Tours, a bastion of French culture. Old-world architecture and top-tiers wines from the nearby Vouvray region provide excellent wine pairing opportunities in upscale brassieres. If you want to linger in Tours, a stay at the sumptuous Chateau D’Artigny would be a fitting finale to this enchanting tour. Viva La France!