We have driven through France, north to south and back, (about 1000km each way), more times than I can remember. As children, both our families took holidays driving through France, often headed for Spain. Slightly crammed between siblings, before cars were air-conditioned, we both had fathers who preferred not to take the auto-routes, so the days in the car were long, yet both of us have cherished memories and a seed was sown. With our own children, especially when we lived in England, we had many holidays driving to France. Today, even though our travels begin in California we always fly to London, to see family and friends and often we then drive to France. Now we keep a car in Lourmarin, we’ve driven back and forth several times, sometime with just one overnight stop but with so much more of France to explore we prefer to take more time. We could easily spend a few weeks just ambling our way through this beautiful country. And I’m often asked, what route do we take and how do we know where to stay?
I’d like to say that we just stop wherever it takes our fancy, but I’m a planner and would rather know that after a long day in the car we have somewhere to rest our head for the night, preferably with easy parking and a place to eat. My go to resource is the English site Sawdays, always reliable, where we’ve found anything from a château with a gourmet restaurant to an old mill eating family style with just the owners and sometimes with other guests. We’ve spent delightful evenings with like minded, interesting people from all over the world all with stories stemming from a shared love of France. If Sawdays doesn’t have good options, Hotel Guru have a very good, wide range of recommendations. They use Booking.com as their reservation tool and as a stand alone site Booking.com is good too.
Haunted by childhood trips, lasting about 8 hours, on a cross channel ferry from Southampton to Cherbourg most of which I spent in the bathroom, I was thrilled when in 1994 the Channel Tunnel opened.
Sitting in our car, traveling by car/train, under the sea, rather than over it, is far more preferable and it only takes 30 minutes!
Routes we’ve taken~ places to stay & visit
Traveling north: Lourmarin to Calais ~ Two night stops Solutré-Pouilly (near Maçon) & Champagne
Day 1: First night in Solutré-Pouilly 8 km (5.0 mi) west of Mâcon ~ Journey time from Lourmarin: 3hours 40mins, 350km
Accommodation: La Courtille de Solutre Rte de la Roche, 71960 Solutré-Pouilly, France
A simple, family run, modernized former inn, nestled in the village square of Solutré, in the heart of the stunning Pouilly-Fuissé appellation, with an excellent restaurant, reservations essential. Rooms per night: 90-115 euros Dinner 25- 50 euros (plus wine) Highly recommended.
View from the hotel of the village square of Solutré
Wines from the Pouilly-Fuissé appellation
Overlooking the village of Solutré-Pouilly, you can’t miss this incredible limestone escarpment, Le Roche de Solutré. We had no idea this rare, geological prehistoric site was there. Occupied by humans for at least 55,000 years, it is also the cradle of the Pouilly-Fuissé wine appellation. It attracted media coverage in the 1980s when President François Mitterrand began making annual ritual ascents up the peak.
Day 2: Second night in the champagne region ~ Journey time, 4hours 15mins, 417km.
Accommodation Lots of great choices on Sawdays, the place we actually stayed has since closed but this area was a good location to stay in giving us time to visit other places on route and its distance to Calais the next day (3 hours, 300km) gave us a 3rd full day to explore.
Visit on route
Dijon: The beautiful medieval city of Dijon, is en-route, and just 1hour 30mins further north. Once the home of the Dukes of Burgundy and today famous for its mustard!
Provins 2hours 50mins 250km northwest of Dijon. The UNESCO heritage site of Provins involved a detour off the most direct route north to the Champagne region but it was well worth it. A jewel of the Champagne fairs, Provins is one of the most authentic and complete 11th, 12th and 13th century medieval towns of Europe.
The city is walled by towering ramparts. its’ fortified gates are still intact and remain the entry to the city.
The medieval buildings are beautifully preserved dating back to when Provins was a trading hub and host to major, annual trade fairs.
The 12th century, hilltop César Tower is a prominent site, possible to climb up and explore the ramparts and extensive views across the area.
St Quiriace Collegiate Church, Provins
Provins is an unmissable place to visit in northern France.
Day 3: Champagne Area to Calais ~Journey time, 3hours 300km
Visit on route
This was a small detour from the autoroute, one that we’ve always intended to make. It’s World War I heritage is both tragic and humbling, I wrote about it here. It’s a place we should all visit and reflect, with so much more to see, we will return.
Battlefields of the Somme
The World War I Museum at Albert
Lochnagar Crater The detonation at Lochnagar, by the village of La Boisselle, on July 1st 1916, signaled the beginning of the Battle of the Somme. The explosion created this enormous crater, approx 30 meters (98 ft) deep and 90 meters (295 ft) in diameter.
Beaumont-Hamel Newfoundland Memorial ~ an incredible Canadian WWI memorial where it is still possible to walk in the original trenches.
Traveling south: Calais to Lourmarin ~ One night stop, Langres
Day 1: Night stop in Langres ~ Journey time from Calais: 5hours 20mins, 515km
Accommodation: Hotel Cheval Blanc 4 Rue de l’Estres. 52200 Langres France
Part of the Logis chain, this is a small, basic hotel, but clean and comfortable with a gourmet restaurant, reservations essential. Rooms per night: 80-120 euros Dinner: 40-50 euros (plus wine) Langres is a great half-way location in the Haute-Marne between Calais and southern France.
Views of the Haute-Marne
Langres is a charming little town famous for being the home of Denis Diderot, father of the Encyclopedia. His statue takes pride of place in Langres’ central square .
Day 2: Langres to Lourmarin ~ Journey time, 5hours 30mins, 545km
Traveling north: Lourmarin to Calais ~ One night stop Nitry, Chablis
Day 1: One night stop in Nitry ~ Journey time from Lourmarin: 5hours 18 mins, 545km
Accommodation: Auberge de la Beursaudière 9 Chemin de Ronde, 89310 Nitry, France.
Close to Chablis in Burgundy, this hotel is recommended by Sawdays ~ a pretty, former priory and collection of farm buildings with wooden verandas topped with patterned Burgundian roof tiles. The simply furnished bedrooms are all decorated in the theme of a local trade; the writer, the laundress, the ploughman, the vintner, etc it’s charming and the staff are warm and friendly. The restaurant is very good and the breakfast excellent. There’s a wonderful terrace in the summer, reservations essential. Rooms per night: 80-120 euros Dinner 25- 40 euros (plus wine) Highly recommended.
The courtyard at Auberge de la Beursaudière
Day 2: Nitry to Calais ~ Journey time, 5hours, 511km
The vineyards of Chablis
Wine shop in Chablis
Driving south, Calais to Lourmarin ~ One stop Noyers-sur-Serein, Burgundy.
Day 1: One night stop in Noyers-sur-Serein, ~ Journey time from Calais: 5 hours 26 mins, 503 km
Accommodation: Le Prieuré 5, rue de la République, 89310 Noyers-sur-Serein, France.
This gorgeous, former priory sits on the edge of the picturesque village of Noyers-sur-Serein, one of Les beaux village de France. There are five spacious, ensuite bedrooms, decorated in a very eclectic style but beautifully equipped and comfortable. Rooms per night: 130-170 euros including an excellent breakfast. Although there is no restaurant, Le Prieuré’s charming owners, Annick and Oliver speak English and are happy to help with restaurant reservations. The village is only a five minute stroll away. Highly recommended
Noyers-sur-Serein ~ allow yourself some time to explore this enchanting little town,
where time seems to have almost stood still.
Day 1: Visit on route
Beaune ~ One of the most splendid town’s in Burgundy. Beaune beautifully showcases one of the architectural characteristics of this region, the multi-coloured polychrome roofs. Made of glazed, flat tiles they are carefully laid in colourful patterns. A symbol of prestige, their opulence reflected that of the owner of the building. Initially they covered many of the great 13th century cathedrals and then the princely residences of the 14th century, before becoming available to the rich urban bourgeoisie of the 15th century.
Hospices de Beaune: the wine-makers’ hospital
Beaune’s most iconic building, and one of France’s most prestigious historic monuments is Hôtel Dieu, or Hospices de Beaune. It was founded in 1443, by Chancellor Nicolas Rolin just as Beaune was coming out of the 100 years war, a period of unrest and plague that had decimated the countryside.
In 1457, Guillemette Levernier made the first gift of vineyards to the Hospices de Beaune, a tradition that was to continue for five centuries. Today, the wine estate is around 60 hectares, of which 50 are devoted to Pinot Noir and the rest to Chardonnay. Beaune and the Burgundy region are a truly beautiful region of France to spend time in.
Day 2: Noyers-sur-Serein to Lourmarin ~ Journey time, 5.5hours 555km
Traveling north: Lourmarin to Calais ~ One night stop in Matougues (south of Reims)
Day 1: Lourmarin to Matougues~ Journey time from Lourmarin: 7 hours 720 km
Accommodation: Auberge Des Moissons 8 National Road, 51510 Matouges, France
Part of the Logis group, this is a modern, fairly basic hotel conveniently located just minutes from the A26 autoroute. The rooms are spacious and clean, family rooms are available. The on-site restaurant is very good, reservations essential. Rooms per night: 100-135 euros . Great breakfast 12 euros. Dinner 30- 47 euros (plus wine). A comfortable, easy night stop.
Visit on route:
Pérouges ~ One of Les beaux village de France, Pérouges is another delightful, medieval, walled town, 30km northeast of Lyon, in the Ain department. Perched on a small hill it overlooks the plain of the river Ain.
House of The Princes who lived here from 1365
Dole ~ this lovely town in Burgundy, 52km (43 minutes) south east of Dijon in Bourgogne-Franche-Comté, is best known for being the birth place of Louis Pasteur, considered to be the father of vaccinations and pasteurisation.
The house in Dole where Louis Pasteur was born, December 27 1822 now a museum.
The Commemorative garden by the Louis Pasteur House
Bust of Louis Pasteur
Day 2: Matougues to Calais ~ journey time 3hours 32okm
Driving south: Lourmarin to Calais via The Normandy Beaches and The Loire Valley ~ Two stops: Crépon, Normandy, Amboise, Loire
Day 1 & 2: Two nights in Crépon, Normandy ~ Journey time from Calais: 3hours 48 mins, 368km
Accommodation Ferme de la Rançonnière, Crépon, Normandy.
A charming 3 star hotel oozing with character and charm. Traditionally furnished, some rooms with four poster beds, several family rooms available. Excellent restaurant reservations advised. Rooms per night: 90-265 euros Dinner 25- 50 euros (plus wine). Excellent breakfast 16 euros each. Highly recommended.
Visit nearby: The Normandy beaches
Visiting the Normandy beaches from England is not on a direct route to southern France. Many people would choose to take the ferry from England to Le Harve or Cherbourg, but as I said earlier, I prefer the 30 minute crossing under the sea on ‘Le Shuttle, despite the longer drive once in France. We stopped here for 2 nights but could have stayed several more. Normandy is picture postcard pretty and its’ history phenomenal. You can read here about the incredible World War II D-day sites we visited:
There is so much to see, including the lovely town of Bayeaux, home of the Bayeaux Tapestry, the 70 meter long tapestry which depicts the Norman conquest of England in 1066.
Further along the coast is the iconic Mont St Michel
Day 3: Pocé-sur-Cisse near Amboise in The Loire Valley ~ Journey time from Crepon, Normandy: 3hours, 311km
Accommodation: Maison de Triboulet 9 Chem. de la Basse Vallerie, 37530 Pocé-sur-Cisse, France
This is a small, 2 bedroom property meticulously renovated, with every possible attention to detail by its charming owners Nathalie and Eric who could not have made us feel more welcome. Rooms per night: 80-120 euros. Dinner: By prior arrangement, Nathalie and Eric will happily cook dinner for you which they serve in their kitchen as if you were their personal guests. Alternatively they can recommend local restaurants. Breakfast is included and is delicious, with home baked croisssants, brioche and preserves. Highly recommended.
Bedroom at Maison de Triboulet
Breakfast at Maison de Triboulet
The hosts Nathalie and Eric
The Châteaux of the Loire
There is the whole of the Loire Valley to explore, its stunning chateau and countryside. You can read a little about it here we could have spent many nights exploring, we will return!
Day 4: Amboise to Lourmarin 7 hours 20 mins 737km
We are always loathe to leave but know it is only au revoir. Do let me know where you have found to stay on your travels through la belle France!