For my last post from summer I wanted to share the two week road-trip my family took through France in July. We visited many beautiful villages and cities and for anyone dreaming of exploring the French countryside I would definitely recommend it.
We picked up our car from Charles de Gaulle airport and found it quick and easy to exit the city. For anyone thinking of hiring a car a GPS (which you can rent directly or purchase beforehand) is essential because roads were often poorly sign posted and/or in French. While the cost of the car itself for the week wasn’t too bad (we rented through Hertz) the price of petrol and road tolls were very high (an hour-ish drive on a main toll road cost us EU40 at one stage). If you’re on a budget but still want to drive I would recommend trying to avoid toll routes where possible, especially for longer stretches of the trip – though bear in mind of course that this adds time to your trip because free roads are longer and often slower.
Paris – Amiens – Beaune – (Day trip to Dijon) – Aix-en-Provence – (Day trip to Avignon) – Amboise – Paris
AMIENS (1 Night)
We stayed in Amiens because we wanted to visit the Commonwealth War Graves where our family were buried after WW1 and to see the area where they fought. It was a deeply moving experience but in all honesty, for those who aren’t particularly interested in the history of the Great War or who didn’t have family fight at Hemel I wouldn’t recommend it because it is just a quiet area for reflection and there isn’t a great deal to see. If you are looking to visit the area Amiens was a great base.
Stay: This is a recommendation of where not to stay in Amiens unless desperate. Hotel Central ANZAC, 17 Rue Alexandre Fatton / +33322913408
BEAUNE (3 Nights)
Beaunne in Burgundy was the perfect base to explore the wine and Chateau region of the country. The medieval town was an absolute delight to wander and get lost in and the surrounding area was home to some wonderful vineyards and estates. We had three nights here and I would say that was the perfect amount of time to be able to explore the region, including a day trip to Dijon (which to be honest I think could warrant it’s own overnight stay).
Stay: Le Home, 138 Route De Dijon / +33380221643
While the garden could use a little TLC the location and atmosphere of Le Home was really enjoyable. We stayed in a family room which was an excellent size and there was free onsite parking also.
Eat: 21 Boulevard, 21 Bld Saint Jacques, 21200, Beaune / +(33)0380210021
With the exception of Seb’on in Paris this was the food highlight of the trip. A beautiful setting with incredible food to match.
- Take the mini tram which leaves from outside the tourism office to see a great deal of the city and some of the outlying areas.
- Visit the surrounding Chateaus for which the area is famed. We visited many on our trip but these were the standouts:
AIX-EN-PROVENCE (5 Nights)
The highlight of my trip to France was visiting Aix-en-Provence. We gave ourselves 5 nights here and I would say that was the perfect amount of time to be able to explore and relax in this stunning town, as well as give you enough time to travel to the coast or Avignon if you so desired. I chose to stay in Aix rather than go on either day-trip but my family thoroughly enjoyed both.
Stay: Private Apartment, 4 Rue Thiers
We rented an apartment and it was so nice to be able to spread out and not be in a hotel for a change. While the apartment we rented for absolutely incredible (size, location, facilities) I would definitely try to book something with onsite parking because street-parking is very limited in the city centre, not to mention costly, and you often have to run back and forth to top up the metre or move it somewhere else.
- Once you start walking you’ll soon find you’re happy to get lost in the labyrinth of alleys and small side streets which all add to the charm of the city. There is also the option of taking a guided walking tour offered by the city tourism board, or complete a self-guided walking tour.
- Take the city tram to be able to see the outskirts of the city as well as get a sense for the town itself and the significance of some of the buildings you’re passing by.
- Visit the weekly food markets to be able to sample fresh French produce and maybe even find a few things to take away and cook up later. Our apartment was opposite Le Grand Marché which ran three times a week (Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday) but there are a number of other markets in the city also.
AMBOISE (2 Nights)
No French road-trip would be complete without a trip to Loire Valley in the west of the country. We based ourselves in Amboise for two nights which was the perfect amount of time and branched out from there to explore the beautiful surrounding area (more Chateaus, castles and wineries).
Stay: Hotel La Breche, 26 Rue Jule Ferry, Rive Droite / +33 (0) 247570079
Across the bridge from the old town (a 10-15 minute walk if you don’t have a car), the Hotel La Breche was an excellent base. A well sized room and bathroom, a lovely hotel restaurant and onsite parking were all a bonus.
See: Don’t miss the Chateau de Chaumont-sur-Loire which was by far my favourite Chateau in France. The surrounding gardens and the views of the valley were stunning, and during the year it is host to a number of festivals and cultural installations (I was privileged to see the most incredible chapel installation while I was visiting). We also visited the Chateau de Chambord which was very grand but in my opinion rather sparse. If you have the time/inclination I would recommend both, but if you had to pick go with Chaumont-sur-Loire.