If you are a road-trip kind of traveller, then France offers to take you for a ride, albeit in a good, memorable way! Enjoy all the trappings of a classic road trip journey and chart your own course along vineyards, villages or the coast- all at your own pace. We recommend a few routes that promise a memorable drive and let you decide whether you’d like to spend 5, 15 days or even more driving around la belle France!
1: La Route Napoléon
© Philip Lee Harvey/Lonely Planet
If you’ve already been researching on self-drive scenic routes in France, then this route may have found more than a few mentions. As the name suggests, the route is linked to the great Napoléon Bonaparte and retraces his footsteps from his exile in Alba (Italy) back to France with the sole purpose of reclaiming the throne. We start from Napoleon’s arrival in Golfe Juan a seaside resort on France’s Côte d’Azur. This 350 km driving experience starts from the Riviera and winds its way into the Alps Mont Blanc with Grenoble as your final destination. As you make your way “Alp-wards” from the Riviera, we recommend a stop in glamourous Cannes . However, if you want to steer clear of cities, then plenty of quaint villages en route don’t disappoint. Take your pick from Grasse-the perfume making capital of the world- or others such as Seranon, Gap, Castellane, Digne to name a few. Keep an eye out for French Imperial Eagle statues that mark this famous route.
2: Côte d’Or
© Beaune Tourism/Francis VAUBAN
Made for those who enjoy their wine, the Côte d’Or takes you across Burgundy’s finest vineyards of the same name. An approximate 60 km drive, this short yet spirited journey starts from Dijon which was once home to the Dukes of Burgundy. Spend an overnight or two in Dijon, exploring the city’s heritage and sampling its local delicacies- the famous Dijon Mustard and the Boeuf Bourguignon. You then make your way to Beaune dotted with verdant vineyards (frequent stops guaranteed for those Instaworthy images). En route, stop over at the commune of Vosne-Romanée that produces the world’s most expensive wine – the Romanée- Conti. Did you know that only 600 cases of this Pinot Noir are produced every year? While in Beaune, stop by at the Hospices de Beaune with its colourful mosaic tiles and renowned for its annual wine auction every November by candlelight! Drive onto your final destination Santenay known for its reasonably priced wines. Make a mandatory pit-stop at Volnay for cellar visits and wine tastings.
3: Montpellier to Nice
© Herve FABRE-Photographies
If you can’t seem to get enough of Vitamin Sea, then this approximately 325km route is pure joy! You’ll be driving along the famous Southern coastline of France. Start off from Montpellier, a university town and home to beaches towards Nice with your first stop at Camargues known for its wild, natural beauty and famous white horses! Further on, you’ll come to the Roman town of Arles known for its amphitheatre and its Van Gogh connection. Its Aix en Provence next that appeals with its Provençal charm and stately houses. But before long, you’re speeding (within limits) to Cassis for a rendezvous with the famous Crème de Cassis liqueur. You soon find yourself in the bustling port of Marseille with its plethora of sightseeing attractions and its vibrant Old Port area. From Marseille, drive on to your final destination Nice which should take you not more than 2hrs30 minutes unless you decide to soak in the starry vibes of Cannes or St Tropez along the way!
4: La Route des Grandes Alpes
The Alps Mont Blanc can be seen in all their glory on this route that winds its way from Lake Geneva to the shores of the French Riviera climbing over a total of 16 passes – including some of the highest in Europe- along the way. Open only from June to October, this 700 km route can be best done between 2 to 6 days and is also a favourite with cyclists. You drive off from Thonon-les-Bains in the Auvergne Rhône-Alpes region and then head towards the charming ski resort of Saint Gervais Les Bains nestled at the foot of the majestic Mont-Blanc. Stop by for some ice-climbing, mountain scootering or sedate walks and hikes. Its Megève next that beckons with its gastronomy and chic chalets. You’re then making your way to Beaufort known for its famous cheese and further on to the enchanting ski resort of Val d’Isère, a favourite with families! You pass through Modane, Briancon and several other villages before you reach your final destination - Menton on the French Riviera; also known for its famous Lemon Festival . From the mountains to the sea!
While there is no dearth of self-drive circuits in France, a few others that may catch your fancy include the Route du Cidre in Normandy that showcases the emblematic cider and takes you through orchards, distilleries and charming Norman countryside. There’s also the drive from Bordeaux to the glitzy Biarritz coast that takes you past medieval village of St Emilion, famous vineyards and fabulous landscapes. If you’d like to chart your own self-drive route, then we recommend the lavender fields in Provence and the quintessential Provençal villages that warrant many a stop!