France’s winding cobbled lanes and tree-lined rural roadways offer a straight shot into the heart of the country. Incredible countryside vistas merge into unique and highly wanderable villages, castles and coastlines that will etch your journey into your memories.
Grab a set of wheels and hit the road to embrace the best of this magnificent country. Here is a starter kit of fantastic road rides in France – drive on the right and embark on a quintessentially French adventure.
Top Tip for driving in France
France's toll road autoroutes are seductive shortcuts, but be aware that the scenery is much more magnificent on the smaller roads, and that the highways are packed with large trucks and virtually invisible speed-trap cameras. You'll have a gentler, more rewarding drive off the toll routes.
A blend of wine villages in Burgundy
Best road trip for wine and architecture
Chablis–Beaune; 200km (124 miles)
Begin this wine journey in Chablis in the département of Yonne, leaving ample time to taste the seven grands crus (premium vineyards) of this well-known winemaking town. Then connect up with the exquisite Route des Grands Crus, which links many of central Burgundy’s most acclaimed vineyards.
You’ll meander through the vine-carpeted countryside from Gevrey-Chambertin to Puligny-Montrachet, exploring some of the most storied vineyards in the world. Enjoy detours into venerable wine-growing villages whose melodious names – engraved on labels or whispered during a romantic dinner – make oenophiles swoon.
Pair your wine tasting with some of the country’s most memorable Romanesque architecture – for example, the grand Cathédrale Saint-Lazare d'Autun – and you’ll uplift both body and soul. When in Beaune, the town around which the vineyards circle, don’t miss the magnificent Hôtel-Dieu des Hospices de Beaune in the old city, with its exquisite 15th-century altar painting by Rogier van der Weyden.
The castles of the Loire Valley
Best road trip for grand châteaux
Chinon–Chambord; 189km (118 miles)
The extravagant castles along France’s longest river have been the backdrop for royal intrigue for centuries. From warring medieval potentates to the kings and queens of Renaissance France, a parade of powerful men and women have left their mark on the lush Loire Valley.
This drive links up France’s most magnificent collection of castles, ranging from austere medieval fortresses such as Château de Langeais to ostentatious royal pleasure palaces such as Chambord. You can stop along the way and rent a bike to cycle when the weather is fair – don’t miss the graceful arches of Château de Chenonceau reflected in the Cher River near Tours.
South of France & the Côte d'Azur
Best road trip for food and family fun
Cannes–Monaco; 62km (39 miles)
Cruising the glam Côte d'Azur is as dazzling and chic as road trips get. From film-town Cannes to sassy Nice via the corkscrew turns of the Corniches, then on to millionaire's Monaco, this is a drive you'll remember forever. Filmmakers, writers, celebrities and artists have all had their hearts stolen by this glittering stretch of coastline: by the end of this trip, you'll understand why.
Aim to avoid the July and August high season when the roads are jammed. If you want more of the south, Provence offers an embarrassment of road trips – from the charming hilltop-perched villages of the Luberon to Arles and the Camargue with its salt flats and flamingos.
Dordogne villages & markets
Best road trip for food and fortifications
Monpazier–Domme; 96km (59 miles)
The Dordogne holds two special distinctions: It's the home of many of France's top culinary delights as well as being a land of fortified villages. Serenity may reign now, but during the Middle Ages the area was often a battleground because the Dordogne River marked an important strategic frontier between English and French forces during the Hundred Years War.
The region’s châteaux and defensive walls remain – most distinctive of all are bastide towns such as Monpazier, encircled by fortified walls and protected by sturdy ramparts. Each village has a central market square, so if you time your drive right, you can hit a weekly market and sample the local specialties.
Sarlat-la-Canéda is famous for its market, but small villages such as Issigeac are a sleeper hit. Over in the village of St-Cyprien, you can indulge in another of the Dordogne’s great gastronomic gems – the perle noire of the Périgord, aka the black truffle. Wrap up with a turn along the windy road leading up to amazing panoramic views at Domme.
Across the French Alps
Best road trip for dramatic scenery and family adventures
Annecy–St-Véran; 363km (225 miles)
France’s section of the Alps provides an incomparable setting for a summer road trip (from mid-June to mid-September, when mountain passes are snow free). This Alpine drive combines awesome splendor with the charms of time-worn mountain culture.
Curve through the heart of the French Alps from Annecy, perhaps France’s prettiest lakeside city, to the slopes of 4808m (15,774ft) Mont Blanc, Western Europe’s highest peak. Then head over the high mountain pass of Col de l’Iseran to reach Bonneval-sur-Arc, an Alpine village of incomparable charm, and St-Véran – France's highest village. Amongst all these high points, take regular breaks to hike, mountain bike, white-water raft and ride vertigo-inducing cable cars.
The D-Day Beaches
Best road trip for WWII history
Caen–Utah Beach; 142km (88 miles)
On this drive through Normandy, you’ll explore the events of D-Day, when Allied troops stormed ashore to liberate Europe from Nazi occupation in 1944. From war museums to landing beaches, it’s a fascinating and sobering experience. Before you hop in the car, spend some time at the Caen-Normandie Mémorial to get a full D-Day overview.
Several driving routes through the region connect the main battle sites. Look for signs for ‘D-Day-Le Choc’ in the American sectors and ‘Overlord – L’Assaut’ in the British and Canadian sectors. Maps of the D-Day beaches are widely available and local tourist offices have created a helpful e-booklet outlining it all.
A Breton coast loop
Best for rugged Celtic coastlines and fine seafood
St Malo–Vannes; 642km (399 miles)
Devote a week to this sea-salty drive to fully experience the region's serene coastal towns, dramatic storm-lashed headlands and the world’s greatest concentration of megalithic sites. Start at fortified St-Malo and loop the entire coast of Brittany, standing on the precipice of the cliffs of the Pointe du Raz, walking through the profusion of prehistoric megalithic sites at Carnac, and wrapping up with a trip to the foodie paradise that is medieval Vannes.