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7 of the Most Scenic French Road Trips

A road in summer leading into the mountains in France.
Hi, I'm Anna!

Anna Richards is a travel and outdoor writer living in Lyon, France. Her work has been featured in The Independent, SUITCASE, The Telegraph, and many others.

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Hi, I'm Anna!

Anna Richards is a travel and outdoor writer living in Lyon, France. Her work has been featured in The Independent, SUITCASE, The Telegraph, and many others.

see more

France was made for road tripping. The Michelin guide, now synonymous with haute cuisine, was originally a motorist’s handbook, and as early as 1900, drivers were using it to plan their travels around the country. Whether speeding along the Côte d’Azur in a convertible or climbing the mountains in a campervan, France’s variety never fails to amaze.

Here’s what you need to know before setting off:

Drive on the right. Almost everyone drives a manual car rather than an automatic. Tolls are frequent on the highways, and can end up costing as much as the fuel. Calculate the cost of tolls in advance of your trip using a site such as Sanef. French gas stations don’t all sell gas (yes, really). If you see a highway gas station labeled “aire,” it’s essentially a picnic spot with toilets. Look for the gas symbol to ensure you’ll be able to refuel. If driving in a major city, you may be subject to restrictions depending on how polluting your car is. You can check on the government’s Crit’Air page. Gas is cheaper off the highway. It’s a good idea to have more than one bank card, and even some cash as back up, as machines often reject foreign cards.

Ready to rouler? Buckle up.

Brittany to Biarritz

Boats on Brittany's coastline in France.
If you like to surf, this is the road trip for you. | Photo Credit: Boris Stroujko / Shutterstock

A surfing road trip made for campervans.

In 1956, film director and keen surfer Dick Zanuck was recording Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises in Biarritz. He took a work break to hit the waves, and a surfing culture was born that has endured to this day.

We recommend starting in Brittany (La Torche has particularly good waves) and chasing the sun all the way to the Spanish border (stopping at Lacanau Océan and Hossegor to catch some waves en route). It doesn’t have to stop there, and die-hard surfers can continue across northern Spain and all the way down through Portugal. Nazaré, Portugal, has the highest waves recorded in the world.

Traveling from North Brittany down to Txingudi Bay, Occitanie is roughly 550 miles (885 kilometers), or 680 miles (1100 kilometers) if you hug the Breton coastline.

The Alsace Wine Route

A cyclist heads to a pretty town in Alsace amid the hills.
The Alsace Wine Route is studded with vineyards to visit. | Photo Credit: Pawel Kazmierczak / Shutterstock

Take your time—this is a road trip to be savored.

In the east, spanning 105 miles (170 kilometers) across Alsace, the Alsace Wine Route from Marlenheim to Mulhouse passes through 70 different chocolate box villages. The architecture reflects the cultural shifts of the region, as the Alsace changed hands between France and Germany four times since 1870. This is why many of the regional wines (e.g. Gewürztraminer) don’t sound particularly French. We recommend approaching this road trip slowly. Take at least two days, stop for a night in Ribeauvillé or Colmar, and fill the trunk with wine. (Of course, when stopping at wineries for tastings, don’t forget to have a designated driver.)

Paris to Nice

Marseilles on a sunny summer day in France, which can be visited on a road trip.
You'll eat excellent food on this journey. | Photo Credit: Sergii Figurnyi / Shutterstock

No gas station sandwiches, please.

One of the most popular routes in the original Michelin guides was from Paris down to Nice on the Côte d’Azur, a journey of over 550 miles (885 kilometers), passing through Lyon and Marseille.

As with the chicken and the egg, it’s difficult to tell whether Lyon always had exceptional gastronomy, or whether its restaurants were simply “discovered” by the increased footfall of travelers passing through. The first Michelin stars were awarded in 1933, and Lyon now has some of the most Michelin-starred restaurants in the world (ranking 5th out of all cities globally), including La Mère Brazier, which belonged to the first chef ever to receive six Michelin stars, Eugénie Brazier.

Further south, your journey takes you through Valence, home of Anne-Sophie Pic, currently the most decorated female chef in France and owner of three-starred restaurant La Maison Pic.

The Loire Valley

Château de Villandry in the Loire Valley.
Château de Villandry is just one of many stately homes you can visit on this route. | Photo Credit: boivin nicolas / Shutterstock

Go window shopping for a royal residence.

With roughly 3,000 châteaux, the Loire Valley is a history buff’s paradise. We recommend renting a car in Tours, and heading west through Saumur and Angers. Don’t miss the perfectly manicured gardens of Château de Villandry between Tours and Saumur. Head south to Poitiers, then up to Blois and the multi-turreted Château de Chambord. Ditch the main highway on your way back to Tours, and stop at the Château de Chenonceau, a 16th-century castle straddling the river Cher. Better yet, extend your trip—many of Loire’s châteaux offer overnight stays.

The Corsican coast

Swimmers on a Corsican beach in summer.
Corsica's a wild ride. | Photo Credit: nito / Shutterstock

A rollercoaster ride through the wildest part of the country.

Corsicans will be quick to tell you that they’re not French. A wild, fiercely beautiful island, it belonged to the Republic of Genoa until 1755, before being conquered by the French in 1769.The Corsican language is still spoken, with an estimated 150,000 native speakers.

Road-tripping in Corsica, with hairpin turns, vertiginous drops, and a blatant disregard for speed limits, is as wild a ride as the scenery you pass. It’s also the most practical way to go, as there’s little public transportation.

Most visitors arrive in Ajaccio or Bastia. From Ajaccio, drive down to Corsica’s southernmost town, Bonifacio, dramatically perched on a sheer cliff face. From here, continue up the east coast to Porte Vecchio, which has some of the island’s prettiest beaches. Hug the coast to Aleria, before cutting inland to Corte, nestled in the mountains and home to Corsica’s sole university. A drive of a little over an hour takes you to Calvi, a seaside town with a medieval fortress that looks like a sandcastle. Follow the coast again from Calvi, either south to Ajaccio, or east to Bastia, depending on your port of departure.

Champagne road trip

A vineyard in the Champagne region of France.
You'll find vineyards all over when you're visiting the Champagne region. | Photo Credit: barmalini / Shutterstock

The *caves* of Champagne from your convertible.

Start in Reims, the capital of the region, and drive south to Épernay, on the UNESCO-listed Avenue du Champagne. From here, vineyards spill out in all directions. As it’s a bit of a black hole for public transportation, there’s no better way to explore the vineyards than by car.

Just over an hour south of Épernay is Troyes, a picture-perfect town of half-timber buildings, home to an excellent Christmas market; Reims to Troyes via Épernay takes just two hours. Along your trip, particularly prestigious châteaux for tasting Champagne include Château d'Etoges and De Sousa Avize.

Gorgeous gorges

The French hilltop town of Gordes, which can be visited on a road trip.
Gordes is just one of the charming towns you'll get to visit on this route. | Photo Credit: proslgn / Shutterstock

Experience the highs and lows of France’s gorges.

Sometimes called the “European Grand Canyon,” the gorges in the Ardèche were formed over 5 million years ago and are a paradise for water sports.

Start in Valence and drive south for just over 60 miles (97 kilometers) to reach Vallon-Pont d’Arc, a natural rock arch that spans the river. From here, it’s 75 miles (120 kilometers) to Gordes, a hilltop town made of “dry stones” (layered stones without mortar), followed by Colorado Provençal, a former ochre quarry that looks a little like Mars. A final 60-mile (97-kilometer) stretch takes you to Moustiers Sainte-Marie and Verdon, the deepest gorge in the country.

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Gothic facade of the Palace of Justice in Rouen
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Don’t-Miss Dishes in Paris
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