France – a country that is too often ridiculed, especially in Germany. After our road trip through the southwest of France for several weeks, we can only say one thing about it: completely wrongly! Not only are the French much friendlier than often claimed, but the country is also much more beautiful and varied than we initially thought.
High mountains, lively cities, historic villages, white sandy beaches, turquoise sea, ancient castles, delicious food and good wine are just a few keywords we would like to throw into the room.
So that the country will enchant you as much as it did us, we have summarized our complete road trip itinerary through the southwest for you in this article. We reveal all stops, the best highlights, our accommodations and the number of nights per region.
France road trip: overview map
To help you find your way while reading, we have created a map with all the stops on our France itinerary. In addition, we have entered the individual kilometers to get a better understanding of the distances on the ground.
With the right travel credit card you can save a lot of money and withdraw for free. How it works? We explain you here!
Our individual France route
In total, during our road trip through France, we have x different destinations resp. Regions visited. We now present you all the stops in the same order in which we ourselves traveled through the country.
Stop 1: Marseille
Let's get started – with Marseille! The second largest city of the country was the start of our France route and captivated us from the very beginning. Not only the fantastic location on the Cote d'Azur, but also the beautiful old town center give the metropolis its very own atmosphere.
In addition, there is a varied, multicultural way of life as well as numerous sights that should not be missed, such as the church Notre Dame de la Garde, the oldest neighborhood Le Panier, the port Vieux Port, the alternative corner Cours Julien, the new built Mucem and much more.
Another great highlight is the Calanques National Park, which borders Marseille directly to the south. Never before have we seen such a clear, turquoise sea in Europe!
- Accommodation recommendation:NH Collection Marseille*
- Duration of stay in Marseille: 3-4 nights
Our detailed blog posts about it:
Stop 2: Toulouse
Second stop of our France road trip: Toulouse – or "La ville rose", which translated means the pink city. Toulouse got this nickname because of its countless buildings built of pink terracotta bricks.
But the city has more to offer than pink buildings? And how! The historic center alone is a feast for the senses and one big photo motif. Untrue, we just could not get out of the amazement!
In addition, there are impressive sights such as the church Basilique Saint-Sernin, the old Jacobin monastery Couvent des Jacobines, the beautiful city hall square Place du Capitole, the impressive viewpoint on the Galeries Lafayette department store and other highlights.
Moreover, Toulouse is located on the Garonne River and is a very young, hip and lively city. What we want to say in the end: Yes, we also liked it extremely well here and Toulouse is definitely worth a trip!
- Accommodation recommendation:Hotel Albert 1er*
- Duration of stay in Toulouse: 2 nights
Stop 3: Haute-Garonne region
After Toulouse we finally drove into the countryside – far into the rural hinterland of the Haute-Garonne region (to which Toulouse also belongs, by the way).
At the edge of the Pyrenees mountain range, we visited the ancient village of Saint-Bertrand-de-Comminges, whose first settlement was built in 72 B.C. Today, however, the village shines in medieval splendor with gray fortress walls, historic alleys and a centuries-old cathedral.
From Saint-Bertrand-de-Comminges we continued on to the small village of Arbas. Here not only a funny donkey hike was waiting for us, but also a dreamlike night in a big yurt.
Last but not least, the next day was a pretty exciting bike tour with the e-bike on the program. Start was in the center of Arbas, then we cycled through the green valley Vallee de l'Arbas before arriving at the top of the mountain Relais and enjoying a great panorama!
Stop 4: Lot-et-Garonne region
Now we come to a big highlight of our France route: Namely, in the Lot-et-Garonne region, we were allowed to steer a houseboat for two days while cruising along the Baise River.
First we got a detailed briefing, before we were sent off one and a half hours later completely alone, passed several locks and finally docked in the village of Vianne to spend the night on the boat – an incredibly great, albeit sweaty experience. After all, we drove a houseboat for the first time!
The next day we got back on our e-bikes and started a bike tour through the hilly landscape from the landing stage. First we stop at the winery Chateau du Frandat before we made a short detour to the ancient, fabulous village Nerac (picture 1) – very big recommendation!
- Accommodation recommendations:
- Houseboat over Aquitaine Navigation
Stop 5: Bordeaux
After a few days in the green nature of France, the road trip led us back to urban areas – to Bordeaux to be exact. At this point we would like to make it short: Bordeaux is one of the most beautiful cities in France and completely knocked our socks off – even more than Marseille and Toulouse already did!
On one side beats a creative, young and modern heart, on the other side the cityscape is characterized by countless historic buildings and an old town that could hardly be more impressive. Bordeaux has really left us speechless on the conveyor belt!
If you now want to know more about the city and especially the individual sights, then just take a look at our detailed article. We have linked it directly under the further info.
- Accommodation recommendations:La Maison du Lierre (Bordeaux)*
- Stay in Bordeaux: 3-4 nights
Stop 6: Cap Ferret& Dune du Pilat
70 kilometers from Bordeaux is Cap Ferret: an elongated, very popular peninsula bordering the Atlantic Ocean to the west and the large bay of Arcachon to the east.
The Cap Ferret is very popular with surfers, wealthy people and some celebrities in summer. A trip to the island is therefore not cheap, but it is worth it.
The miles of sandy beaches on the Atlantic Ocean alone are amazing. You can also climb up a lighthouse and discover some oyster farms.
But the real highlight is a few kilometers away: We are talking about the gigantic Dune du Pilat (picture 1). More than 2.7 kilometers long and 110 meters high, it is the largest shifting sand dune in Europe. The view from the top of the dune and the ocean can hardly be described in words and is one of our absolute highlights of the route.
- Accommodation recommendations:Home Hotel d'Arcachon (Arcachon)*
- Stay around Cap Ferret: 1-2 nights
Stop 7: Valley of the Dordogne
The valley of the Dordogne – what a name! To our ears it sounds totally enchanted and magical. To be honest, it is. Not only once we had here the feeling to dive into a long forgotten age.
Especially the numerous, medieval villages contribute a large part to it. We visited three of them: Collonges-la-Rouge, Rocamadour (pictures 1& 2) and Beaulieu-sur-Dordogne. All three are picturesquely situated in the countryside and incredibly well preserved. However, we liked Rocamadour the best.
Another highlight in the valley of the Dordogne is the Gouffre de Padirac, a huge cave system with a large circular gorge in the ground. Over one and a half kilometers you can walk through the caves and grottos. Sometimes you even have to get into a small boat to cross a cave lake – a fantastic experience!
- Accommodation recommendations:
- Stay in the Dordogne Valley region: 2 nights
Credits: 3. Picture: ® L. Nespoulous-SES Gouffre de Padirac
Stop 8: Vallee du Loir
From the valley of the Dordogne we went on to the Vallee du Loir – a region which is considered a real insider tip and which surprised us extremely. We didn't see any other tourists, but a lot of beautiful castles.
Especially impressive is the Chateau du Lude (picture 1), but also the Chateau de Ponce and the Chateau de Bazouges should not be missed. It is hard to believe how well the castles have been preserved over the centuries.
Besides the castles, you can also visit some old wine caves in the Vallee du Loir. The most famous is the Domaine des Gauletteries from the 1920s. In the past thousands of bottles of freshly made wine were stored here, today it is more a museum for enthusiasts – very impressive!
The best way to explore the valley is by bike. There are several, well signposted routes, which lead you through the Vallee. You can rent the bikes at the tourist offices of the region. But more about this in the detailed article.
(La Chartre-sur-Loir) (La Fleche)
Stop 9: Western Loire
We continue to the Loire and thus to the penultimate destination of our France route. With over 1.000 kilometers, the Loire is the longest river in the country. During our round trip we therefore concentrated on the western part just before Nantes.
Especially for active vacationers there is a lot to experience around the Loire. We ourselves, for example, did two exciting kayak tours, went on a boat and rode a slightly longer distance by bike.
By the way, a very popular sight on the Loire is the Chaumont Castle. It is located directly on the banks of the river, is over 1.000 years old and looks like a real fairy tale castle. It is also surrounded by a huge park and a botanical garden worth seeing – clear recommendation!
Along the Loire there are many more old castles, all of which are worth a look, such as Chambord Castle or Chenonceau Castle. In total there are over 400 of them!
- Accommodation recommendations:
- Stay in the Val de Loire region: 3 nights
Stop 10: Nantes
Last stop of the France road trip: Nantes. The historic city lies on the banks of the Loire and is once again a showcase for charming French city centers. In general, every single city on the route could convince us with its own appearance. In Nantes, it is the white, almost noble-looking buildings that give the city its unique flair.
In addition to the charming center, Nantes also has several attractions to offer. Worthwhile is among other things the castle Chateau des Ducs Bretagne, the botanical garden Jardin des Plantes, the passage Pomaraye or also the mighty cathedral of Nantes.
In addition, there is the world-famous exhibition of machines, Les Machines de l'île. On a huge open-air area you will find mechanical, often meter-high animals in the style of the steampunk universe. Some of them can even be operated.
- Accommodation recommendation:L'Hotel Nantes*
- length of stay in Nantes: 2 nights
Book a rental car
The rental car for our France road trip we have over the well-known portal billiger-mietwagen.de found* – a very recommendable site, over which we already booked often.
We were able to pick up the car in Marseille, and drop it off in Nantes at the end. Depending on the season, you can rent a car for as little as ten euros per day. For France it is quite cheap!
Hint 1: Always book a rental car with comprehensive insurance. Dented cars are quite normal in France and people like to bump into each other when parking. Allianz offers an excellent, external fully comprehensive car insurance.* Alternatively, you can also buy the insurance at billiger-mietwagen.de book in addition.
Note 2: Be careful not to get caught in a speed camera! Traffic fines are super expensive in France. Unfortunately, we had to pay 90 euros, although we were only nine kilometers per hour too fast.
Note 3: Especially in the south of France, car break-ins are not uncommon. So clean everything out of the car before you lock it and leave it – even if it's just a sweater or an empty water bottle. So thieves see directly that there is nothing to get and leave your car on the left side.
On many highways in France tolls are incurred, which have it in itself! For our complete road trip we had to pay 65 Euro and had to swallow hard not only once. You typically pay at the individual tollbooths. Payment is possible either in cash or by credit card.
Best time to visit
The best time to travel to the southwest of France is between May and October. Perfectly suitable are the months of May, June, September and October, since it is neither too hot, nor too cold. Depending on the region, it rains on average between five and eight times per month.
In July and August there is hardly any rainfall, but it gets super hot – especially in the southern corners like Marseille or Toulouse. We did the route ourselves in July and sweated our asses off at 35 degrees. When sightseeing in cities or doing activities like kayaking, it can be quite challenging.
In addition, it is absolutely high season and many places are overcrowded – especially the coastal regions and also the areas around the Loire River. In the future we would choose July and August only if it is not possible to travel during the other months.
Winter between December and February is much cooler and rainy. In the west, temperatures below freezing are possible at night, in the south less so.
How long to plan for the route?
It took us five weeks to do the whole route, but we spent two weeks in Marseille only. If you take out these 14 days, the complete route is doable in three weeks.
If there are still too many stops within 21 days, you can of course cancel other destinations. We ourselves would most likely take out Cap Ferret. Just think for yourself which of the above places interest you and which do not. With good planning you can shorten the route well.
Do you have any further questions about our France road trip or would you like to add a great stop along the route? Then post it in the comments!
Advertising – For some parts of the road trip we cooperated with the French tourism association Atout France in the framework of the nature campaign #facesfrance. Everything you read in this post is still our own free opinion.
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