|Photo by Freeimages.com/Guilherme Coutinho|
by The Daily Telegraph, February 22, 2015
By sticking religiously to the autoroutes, it is just about possible to drive from the Channel ports to southern France in a single day. But it is a gruelling slog: to get all the way to the Med, for example, you are looking at nine to 12 hours behind the wheel.
A much more enjoyable option is to make the long journey south an integral part of the holiday. Many of the regions en route have memorable scenery, towns and sights to take in, and outstanding food and wine to sample.
So we have come up with three more leisurely itineraries spread over several days, with stopover hotels recommended by our expert writers on France (for full reviews of the hotels see the link to our site; for more recommendations see telegraph.co.uk/hotels ).
There are several regulations which could catch out British drivers in France
The routes are primarily geared towards couples. Families may do better to make swifter journeys, and take an overnight break in a chain hotel: the mid-range, family-friendly Novotel ( novotel.com ) has a good selection of properties across France, many located near junctions of the autoroutes.
Eastern route – Calais to Provence/Côte d’Azur
Day 1. Arrive in Calais by midmorning via Eurotunnel ( eurotunnel.com ) or on a Dover-Calais ferry with P&O Ferries ( poferries.com ) or DFDS Seaways ( dfdsseaways.co.uk ) – see overleaf for more advice on Channel crossings.
Pick up the A26, and speed through the plains of Picardy. For lunch, take a minor detour off the autoroute at Arras (one hour 15 minutes from Calais): its splendid central squares, overseen by arcaded Flemish baroque buildings, are reason enough to stop. Or keep going to Reims (two hours 30 minutes from Calais), capital of France’s Champagne region, with a magnificent Gothic cathedral.
Three hours on the autoroute through the Champagne countryside, then the more scenic Burgundy, will bring you to Beaune. The compact town, with a picturesque, rampart-ringed old centre, is ideal for a stopover (and sampling the local wines). Stay at Les Jardins de Lois, a b&b with an extensive garden, four stylish bedrooms and good breakfasts, a short walk from the famous Hospices de Beaune. Or splash out at the luxurious Hostellerie de Levernois, in a park 10 minutes’ drive from Beaune, with a Michelin-starred restaurant and characterful and comfy bedrooms.
Driving: 5½ hours; 450 miles
Vineyards in Burgundy Photo: AP/FOTOLIA
Day 2. From Beaune, it’s 90 minutes down the A6 to Lyon. With a fine old Renaissance centre full of tempting bouchons (traditional Lyonnaise restaurants) and the startling new Musée des Confluences (worth visiting for the building alone) in a regenerated docklands area, France’s often-overlooked second-largest city deserves the best part of a day. If you want to sleep in the heart of Lyon, the Collège Hotel is an intriguing, affordable option near the old centre, with public areas in the style of an old-fashioned school, and designer bedrooms in dazzling white. Or stay 20 minutes’ drive from the city in St-Cyr-au-Mont-d’Or at sister hotel L’Ermitage, a village property with a mix of vintage and contemporary furnishings, a youthful, laid-back ambience, pool and great-value modern French food.
Driving: 90 minutes; 100 miles
Day 3. From Lyon, the A7 (the Autoroute du Soleil) will take you speedily down the Rhône Valley to sunny Provence – to Avignon in around two hours 15 minutes and Aix-en-Provence in three hours. To reach Cannes and Nice on the Côte d’Azur, it’s another hour to 90 minutes behind the wheel on the A8.
Driving: 2-3 hours; 142-186 miles
Total journey: 9-10 hours; about 700 miles
Central route – Normandy to the Languedoc
Day 1. Take a daytime crossing with Brittany Ferries ( brittany-ferries.co.uk ) from Portsmouth to Caen (getting you there midafternoon), or Portsmouth or Poole to Cherbourg (getting you there late morning or early afternoon). Either way, on arrival in France make a beeline for Bayeux. The handsome old town is one of the few in Normandy that escaped damage in World War Two. Check in to the Villa Lara : since it opened in 2012, the smart, modern, purpose-built hotel has become the place to stay in Bayeux. It is ideally located on a peaceful square a short walk from the famous tapestry, and has large and plush bedrooms with views of the cathedral.
Driving: 1 hour; 26-58 miles
Day 2. From Bayeux, it’s a three-hour drive, mostly on autoroutes, down to Saumur, an elegant town on the banks of the Loire with a turreted, fairy-tale château, medieval centre and cellars selling the local sparkling wine. After a potter and lunch, drive 20 minutes on to Fontevraud Abbey, a vast complex dating from the early 12th century that is the resting place of Plantagenet monarchs. One of the historic buildings has recently been turned into the strikingly designed Fontevraud l’Hôtel : expect contemporary-styled bedrooms and creative Loire dishes in its restaurant.
Driving: 3 hours 20 minutes; 200 miles
Day 3. From Fontevraud, head south east, skirting Poitiers and on towards Limoges, then pick up the A20 autoroute down to Souillac, where you divert west along the meandering Dordogne River to the immensely lovely hilltop medieval bastide village of Domme; driving time around five hours. Your base is the family-run, clifftop Hôtel L’Esplanade, with traditional bedrooms (the best with valley views) and an excellent restaurant with a magical terrace.
Driving: 5 hours; 220 miles
Day 4. If it’s a Thursday, you’re in luck – Domme’s market, one of the Dordogne’s most colourful, will be set up right next to the hotel in the morning. In any case, it’s the Med by lunchtime: back to the A20, then the A62 and A61 autoroutes past Toulouse and the Disneyesque walled citadel of Carcassonne to Narbonne, from where the Languedoc’s big beaches are a short drive away.
Driving: 4 hours; 200 miles
Total journey: 13 hours; about 650 miles
Western route – Brittany to south-west France
Day 1. Arrive early in the morning at St Malo on the overnight Brittany Ferries crossing from Portsmouth. St Malo is, by some margin, the most appealing of France’s Channel ports. So before driving off, do have a look around. If nothing else, stroll along the ramparts that enclose the Intra Muros, whose granite buildings were painstakingly rebuilt in 18th-century style following their destruction in the Second World War.
For lunch, drive down to Dinan: with its crooked, arcaded, half-timbered medieval buildings, it’s Brittany’s most attractive inland town. Then continue south for another 45 minutes to Paimpont, a pretty lakeside village west of Rennes set amid a forest with Arthurian connections. Stay in the village’s focal point, Le Relais de Brocéliande, a thoroughly revamped and excellent-value old coaching inn offering spacious and tasteful bedrooms and top-notch meals.
Driving: 90 minutes; 60 miles
Day 2. It’s a five-hour drive on the A83 and A10 autoroutes down to Bordeaux, via southern Brittany, the Vendée and Charente-Maritime. Just over halfway, and the obvious place to break for lunch, is Fontenay-le-Comte, an attractive riverside town with a Renaissance heart.
With boulevards lined with grand 18th-century mansions in its monumental centre, the Triangle d’Or (Golden Triangle), Bordeaux is a supremely graceful city. It also has a reborn riverfront, and, unsurprisingly, lots of tempting wine bars. Push the boat out and stay in the heart of the Golden Triangle at the aptly named Grand Hotel de Bordeaux, which has sumptuous bedrooms and a gastronomic restaurant overseen by Gordon Ramsay. For a cheaper night, book in to La Villa, a first-rate chambres d’hôtes (b&b) offering five light, airy and restful bedrooms and brilliant home-made breakfasts served in a salon or on the terrace.
Driving: 5 hours; 300 miles
Day 3. When you have had your fill of Bordeaux, take the A63 through the vast Landes pine forest: it’s around two hours to the Basque resorts of Biarritz and St-Jean-de-Luz.
Driving: 2 hours; 125 miles
Total journey: 8½ hours; 500 miles
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