The best 14 day road trip to France ... driving through the French countryside, visiting the Loire Valley, the Dordogne and more!
We had such an amazing time driving through France for our holiday this year! A road trip has been on our bucket list for a while now, probably since my husband bought his Jaguar XKR Convertible and then more recently when we found ourselves with an empty nest! France really does have some of the prettiest villages and the most stunning countryside plus delicious fresh food, the tastiest wine and plenty of natural beauty to explore. And the very best way to explore France has to be by car and even better if it is a soft top! We were able to drive around at our own pace, we chose to stay off the motorways and toll roads as much as possible so we could stop whenever we wanted and make the most of the countryside views and sunny weather as we headed south.
Photo warning ... there are lots! But the views were so stunning, I had to share!
When I was planning our epic road trip itinerary I spent some time researching the best route, the best towns and villages to visit and how to do it all on a sensible budget and within a two week period without feeling exhausted! So if you are inspired to plan your own French road trip, read on and get some inspiration from ours!
Fresh french bread, delicious cheeses, olives, wine, medieval villages, beautiful beaches, stunning natural landscapes, gorgeous chateaus, sunflower fields, vineyards and even a bit of cosmopolitan city living ... our trip had it all!
Our French road trip, the itinerary!
Part One! Normandy to the Loire Valley
Ferry from Newhaven to Dieppe - chosen because the timings suited us the best, no early start, Newhaven is only 2 hours from our home in Buckinghamshire. We caught the 11 am ferry with DFDS (booked via Ferries Direct) and arrived 4 hours later in the historic port of Dieppe in Northern France. We were blessed with the weather for our crossing, sunbathing on deck is a great way to cross the channel!
Normandy - getting on and off the ferry was a bit time-consuming with the more thorough customs procedures but within an hour we were on our way towards Caen and our friends house where we were going to spend our first night in France. I met Penny when I was 15 and at school in Beaconsfield, she has been living in a small town in Normandy for a few years now and it was a perfect excuse to go and see her! For this part of our French road trip we chose to use the motorway as we wanted to arrive in time for dinner and to be able to have a relaxing evening.
l'Angles-sur-l'Anglin - the next morning we set off after breakfast, we decided to start with the scenic route to enjoy some of the villages in Normandy (above), we then sped our journey time up with some toll roads, before coming off again to finish the last hour heading towards the Loire Valley, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
I chose the l'Angles-sur-l'Anglin medieval village as it was a convenient halfway point for our trip onwards to the Dordogne but it was also listed as 'one of the most beautiful villages in France' and it did not disappoint, it is truly charming! It's not official in the Loire Valley, but it is very close! We stayed at a very typically french hotel, Le Relais du Lyon d'Or. It is an old coaching inn right in the centre of the village and has a restaurant, courtyard garden and a selection of quaint rooms. Don't expect full on modern luxury or exceptional customer service but it has a beautiful french charm you will fall in love with. Our room was a little small and the towels even smaller but the view through the shutters onto the courtyard and the delicious food in the restaurant made up for any shortcomings. It was also perfectly located in the centre of the village so we could explore the narrow streets without worrying about parking.
We arrived later in the afternoon but we still had plenty of time to wander around. We started with a glass of wine in the café in the main square (although food isn't served during the afternoon but we were able to snack on waffles and ice cream)!! We then visited the tourist office and asked their advice on the best route to follow to make the most of our visit and they were extremely helpful. The online travel guides had suggested that l'Angles-sur-l'Anglin can get very busy and touristy but that wasn't our experience, we didn't feel crowded at all. A really great place and a perfect stopover!
Part Two! Lot and the Dordogne
Onward to meet up with our family, the Dordogne is such a perfect place for a few days break when driving through France, enroute to southern France, or simply as a holiday in it's own right, there is so much to see and do, the countryside is stunning. I've not been to the Dordogne to explore since I was a child and we visited in our touring caravan. The weather forecast was a little overcast and stormy all week but to be honest, after such high temperatures, it gave us the opportunity to have days out without the intense heat slowing us down. We noticed the change in architecture as we travelled through France and whilst the Loire has lots of 'round' towers the Dordogne is more 'square'! I'm sure an architect would interpret that in a much more technical way but that was my observation anyway!
Days out in the Dordogne
Domme - is also 'one of the most beautiful villages in France' and demands a stunning position overlooking the famous Dordogne River, we parked easily and walked along the Promenade des Falaises which has plenty of small shops to explore, then made our way to the viewpoint, the absolute best place to enjoy a stunning view of the famous river. Domme has an interesting and rich history and would be a ideal for a longer day out in the Dordogne.
La Roque Gageac - we then got back in the car and took the very short drive to La Roque Gageac, I absolutely loved this little village and took lots of photos! The village has been built into the limestone rock on the north bank of the Dordogne River. Pretty paths wind their way up and along the cliff, past cave dwellings and through gardens with exotic plants and a view at every turn. It is a gorgeous explosion of cobbled streets, there is a troglodyte fort to visit and a Romanesque church. We had lunch just below the church, looking across the Dordogne River towards Château de Baynac. Take a boat trip from just next to the car park but be prepared for queues as the village does get quite busy in high season, we didn't do this but if you had a full day there you should!
Monpazier - another day out and another 'beautiful village' was to Monpazier, it was founded in 1284 by Edward I of England and is a beautifully preserved medieval village, once surrounded by thick defensive walls, two still remain and the shopping streets are full of interesting finds and local crafts. We stopped in the main market square for a drink and they were setting up for an evening concert - worth looking out for events if you are in the area.
Saint Cirq Lapopie - our final day out in the Dordogne was to Saint Cirq Lapopie, recommended by one of my lovely readers, we nearly didn't make it but so glad we did! The weather had been a bit off all morning and we weren't keen on walking around the medieval streets in the rain! But the sun appeared and we set off, albeit quite late in the afternoon, but it was actually a great time to visit and I am so glad we went! Voted the French's favourite village in 2012, this really is one not to be missed!
Saint Cirq Lapopie is perched high above the Lot Rover, it is spectacular, untouched by modern life, you really do feel like you are stepping back to medieval times, or an exceptionally authentic movie set! The reflection of the pretty houses in the river below is breathtaking. Remember to wear comfortable shoes and be prepared for uneven paths but make sure you climb Rocher Lapopie for the best view. This village really is one of the most amazing natural wonders in France.
There were fewer crowds when we arrived late afternoon although not all the restaurants are open for dinner so we were restricted to the more touristy offering at the top of the village, another time I would plan lunch and choose something more French! We had the best time here, not to be missed!
Part Three! Arcachon Bay and Bordeaux
We felt a bit sad to be leaving the Dordogne but the weather had finally cleared and we were excited about our next stop. We chose the non-motorway route from the Dordogne to Arcachon Bay and loved passing through miles of vineyards and sunflower fields. The stunning weather meant we could travel all the way with the top down on the car and my husband even stopped a few times for me to take photos! Bordeaux is the famous wine-growing region of course, we were sad to see the remains of the forest fires that took place in 2022 with so much damage to the forests but there was a lot of work going on to replace the lost trees.
I'd booked an Airbnb right in the centre of Arcachon, directly on the Place des Halles and it's famous market, surrounded by shops and restaurants and very easy walking distance to the beach and the view from the apartment was simply fantastic, I could relax on the bed or sofa with the french doors open and see the Arcachon Bassin through the rooftops, it was very authentic. I loved exploring all the fresh local produce at the market and choosing delicious picnic lunches!
Having a self-catering apartment also gave us the convenience of being able to prepare our own breakfasts and lunches and catch up on some holiday washing!
Highlights of our 4-day stay in the Arcachon Bassin included catching the ferry to Cap Ferret for lunch, sitting on the beach people watching, wandering along the main promenade, stopping for wine or ice cream, and climbing La Dune du Pilat and watching the sun go down.
We also had a morning wandering in the shops and walking through the botanical garden, the Parc Mauresque, such a tranquil place. I'm not sure I'd recommend the boat tour of the Bassin though, the commentary was all in French, which we did know, but I didn't expect nearly 3 solid hours of commentary, it was a bit much - so I looked up the history of the area and the oyster farming on google when we got back! Next time I'd hire a small boat, for just two of us the cost was a bit restrictive, but if we were with friends, I'd definitely organise it in advance.
This area is great for clean, sandy beaches and ideal for children as well as adults. I'd also like to book dinner at the Pinasse Café, a romantic old villa with the best view of the bay at Cap Ferret. I'd get the late afternoon ferry over, wander in a few shops, have a sunset dinner and return on the evening ferry.
I have so many fantastic memories of driving holidays in France, when I was growing up and we had a touring caravan, in fact we visited Arcachon when I was about 12! My sister and her husband have just purchased a motorhome which is exciting, but they are expensive to buy, have you ever seen a rooftop tent though!? Apparently you can now transform cars into campers! I could imagine it working on our truck but not on the convertible!
Part Four! Saumur in the Loire Valley
Another beautiful drive helped by the ongoing fabulous weather! It was top down all the way! The summer months are perfect for a soft top car and even better to be driving through Europe.
Our next destination, and now heading back up the country, was Saumur in the Loire Valley. Another town with a rich history, the Château de Saumur overlooks the Loire River and is a great spot to take in the spectacular views,
There are a few places of interest to visit in the area including the Cavalry Museum, the tanks at the Armor Museum and you can go inside the medieval castle, we chose not to as we were happy just wandering around the castle grounds and the old town area.
We stopped for a glass of wine at Maison Gaspard and which was so charming, and they have accommodation too, looked fantastic. Saumur was great for a day trip but just one night was enough. Although I wish I'd added in wine tastings! We had a superb dinner at Le Boeuf Noisette, it wasn't your typical tourist restaurant, a bistro style, traditional restaurant with a pretty outside seating area, although a small menu, it is all regional produce and the wine was the best we'd tasted! Next time I plan to visit the wineries and wine caverns the area is famous for. Driving through the vineyards in this area inspired me to be a bit more cultured when we go back!
We stayed at The Originals Boutique, Hotel Le Londres, the location was absolutely spot on, it has a car park (book in advance) and an outdoor breakfast terrace, it is only 5 minutes walk to the Loire River and not much further to the Château de Saumur. A very stylish hotel, with fabulous decor and another traditional window with a juliet balcony and shutters.
Time to go home ... Dieppe, Normandy
We decided to extend our holiday by one day, we realised early on that getting back to Dieppe from our friends house would take at least 4 hours and being booked on the 11 am ferry meant a very early start (after wine the night before)! So we made our final stop Dieppe and travelled there Friday afternoon for the Saturday ferry at 12 Noon. It was a sensible decision and although Dieppe isn't the most exciting of towns, it meant that we could relax, walk along (a very blustery sea front) and have supper overlooking the harbour, and relax before the last part of our journey.
We stayed at the Hotel de la Plage, Dieppe, it wasn't the most economical choice, but then prices are higher nearer the ferry terminals. I did decide on an upgrade to a seaview room which I loved but that night there was some sort of party on the beach area with music and tannoy announcements, fortunately it was finished by 10 pm.
I've spent many years holidaying in France, first with my parents and sisters, we had a touring caravan and would travel all over the place. Then later on, when two of my brothers-in-law decided to settle in France, we have enjoyed some fabulous holidays with our own children visiting areas such as the Vendee, the Loire Valley, Brittany, the Atlantic coast and the South of France, we also ski regularly in the French Alps. But this was our first time in a very long time without children! The last time was 26 years ago for Christmas, and I got back and fell pregnant with our son! I took both children to Paris for one on one time, just me and them - my son and I went when he was 14 and had a fabulous time visiting the Paris sights, Notre Dame Cathedral, the Eiffel Tower, all the main attractions and we hired Vélib bikes and cycled everywhere. When I took my daughter, she was a little older and cycling wasn't her thing but we negotiated the metro or walked - it is always a good idea to spend time with each child alone and we made special memories.
The joy of a midlife holiday in France
This first trip alone worked out so well, we are now wondering when and where to go next time! I'll need a new route, Provence maybe? Or I hear Île de Ré is beautiful. I'd better start researching, recommendations in comments please! And it turns out an empty nest and couples only holiday isn't so bad afterall! It reminded us we can take time off, spend time together and get on, and that we may be 30 years older but we are still young at heart. We have a lot to look forward to.
Meanwhile, life lately ...
Has been absolutely crazy busy! I have so many projects on the go, running my husbands business as we are without an office manager for now. A downturn in business within the construction industry has meant new contracts are sparse and whilst we are managing the quiet period as calmly as we can, we can't take on any new staff currently. We are busy renovating two investment flats though! And my daily struggles with the care system for my mum and making sure my dad is okay keeps me very occupied. I am also helping my son out with a a legal challenge due to the totally incompetent developer at his flats. And of course I want to carry on blogging! I love my blog life and the opportunities it gives me plus I enjoy writing, it gives me space to do something for me. But sometimes there just aren't enough hours in the day. Anyone agree?! Being on holiday makes us slow down, I loved reading my books, and just switching off and not worrying about the to do list.
But lots more to look forward to, I have 5 nights in Dubrovnik at the end of August with my daughter. She could only fit a short break in due to limited holiday time during her qualifying year and it was difficult to decide where to go. We have booked a stunning five-star resort on the outskirts of Dubrovnik, it won't be a sightseeing trip but hopefully we can visit the city in the evening and we'd like to do a boat trip too.
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Disclaimer: this blog post contains some gifted items and affiliate links.
Outfit details (also see my Instagram Highlights):
Co-ord Bea Skirt and Ilana Top from Aspiga
Gilly Hat from Creative DeZigns
Checked bikini from Beach Café UK
Lime green bikini from Beach Café UK
Tie back red jersey dress from Boden (now in clearance)
Miss June beach dress from Beach Café UK
Tara cotton dress from Rooh London
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Hi, I’m Michelle and my blog Fifty & Fab is all about my journey into and through my 50s. I started this blog in 2016 with the purpose of helping other women at this stage of life. I’m delighted that my blog has grown to over 13k visitors per month. Visit my Work with Me page and request my Media Kit for details of product reviews, blogging services and social media content creation.
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