WHEN it comes to self-drive holidays it’s hard to find a country in Europe that comes close to France for the choice of things to do and see.
Thousands of Brits go to France every year. Huge numbers choose northern France – Normandy and Brittany – while others head to the Loire, the Vendée or Aquitaine.
Visitors are drawn to France by the beaches, cuisine and the culture, as well as the simple fact that it’s easy to get to. There are ferry crossings from Dover, Portsmouth, Poole and Plymouth, as well as Eurotunnel crossings from Folkestone to Calais/Coquelles. Outside the peak season the roads are generally traffic-free.
Brittany Ferries managing director David Longden said: “Driving in France is still a delight, especially in uncrowded western France. Baggage is only limited by how much you can fit in the car, so it’s perfect for families.”
Brittany Ferries offers a big choice of self-catering or hotel packages so clients can be sure of accommodation on arrival.
Keycamp marketing manager Dave McKenna said a lot of clients book an overnight stop mid-journey, which means they arrive at their destination refreshed, and also get to experience several regions of their chosen country.
Prices at overnight stop camp sites start from £20 per mobile home per night. Hotel stopovers start at £32 per person per night.
A camping holiday in Brittany
Why: a perfect choice for anyone who wants to keep prices down by taking the car but doesn’t want to drive far. Ferries into Cherbourg and Caen are close, while Brittany Ferries’ Plymouth-Roscoff or Portsmouth-St Malo routes deposit passengers in the region. The best camp sites are on Brittany’s southern coast, alongside sandy beaches. St Malo to Carnac is just 111 miles.
Don’t miss: St Malo – much of the town was destroyed in the last war but has been beautifully restored. See it from the ramparts that surround the old town, then explore the narrow streets. The aquarium in the new part of town is worth a visit, but if time is short take the short drive to Mont St Michel, a former abbey that rises out of the sea off the coast between Brittany and Normandy. Guided tours are in English.
At Carnac look out for the menhirs – there are nearly 3,000 of them – and take a boat from Quiberon to Belle-île for some lovely beaches and Monet-type landscapes.
Sample product: Keycamp has 12 nights in a Villanova mobile home, sleeping up to seven people, at La Pointe St-Gilles camp site in Benedot from £789 in September including return Portsmouth-St Malo ferry.
A short break in Alsace Lorraine
Why: one of the least-known regions of France for the Brits, but one of most familiar for the French and Germans because the area has been fiercely fought over and changed hands many times over the centuries. It’s now firmly back in France, but you can’t miss the German influence when it comes to wining and dining.
The best entry ports are Calais and Dunkirk – from either it’s about 385 miles to Strasbourg, on the eastern edge of Alsace.
Don’t miss: the best route from the Channel ports passes Reims – take a break and visit the cathedral – and comes close to Verdun, site of the bloodiest battle in World War I. You can walk through the underground passages and see scenes from the lives of the French soldiers who fought here.
The Maginot Circuit takes visitors past fortifications built after the first war to prevent another German invasion. The World Peace Centre in Verdun bears testimony to its failure.
Head for Strasbourg for canal trips around the old town, and to visit the wine cellars and local breweries.
Sample product: Cresta has four nights at the Maison Rouge in Strasbourg for £297 per person bed and breakfast from July 1 to August 27, including return Dover-Calais ferry crossing.
Chateaux of the Loire
Why: a British favourite for good reason. Some of the chateaux are stunning and tourists can drink their way through some of France’s finest wines on the ‘vin touristique trail’. The most direct route from the Channel is from either Le Havre or Caen – it’s about 160 miles to Tours.
Don’t miss: take a break at Le Mans, an attractive French town, and even better if the 24-hour race is in town. The cars and their teams parade through the packed streets as they prepare to set off.
Once in the Loire, the chateau at Chenonceau is a must. Built in the 16th century, it is undoubtedly the most picturesque in the region with its arched gallery stretching across the river Cher. Other musts include Ussé, the multi-turreted ‘Sleeping Beauty’ castle, and Beauregard, Chambord, Azay-Le-Rideau and Villandry chateaux.
Sample product: visit the chateaux and stay nearby. French Life has seven nights at the Hotel Val de Loire, within walking distance of Azay-le-Rideau, from £246 per person bed and breakfast including return ferry crossing from Dover to Calais.
Holiday village or apartments in Aquitaine
Why: southwest France is self-catering heaven with an endless supply of holiday villages and apartments geared towards families.
The Pierre et Vacances chain has the area covered, but there are plenty of other villages with good on-site facilities. The best entry port is St Malo, from where it’s a 317-mile run along dual carriageways and motorways to Bordeaux. Caen is a good alternative.
Don’t miss: kids will hate the long journey but an overnight stop at Poitiers, with a few hours at the Futuroscope theme park, will ease the boredom. Alternatively, stay around Niort and take a punt on the waterways through the Marais Poitevins marshes. Further south there are distillery tours and tastings at Cognac.
Aquitaine is a dream destination for children with miles of sandy beaches, cycle paths and canoeing and horse-riding, and don’t miss the world’s biggest sand dune at Arcachon, the city of Bordeaux and the chic resorts of Biarritz and St Jean de Luz.
Sample product: Brittany Ferries has one week at Pierre et Vacance Lacanau Océan, 35 miles from Bordeaux, from £1,399 self-catering for a family of four in August including return Portsmouth to St Malo ferry crossing for a car and four people including cabins.
History in Languedoc-Roussillon
Why: this is one for really keen drivers who love France and have time to break up the journey south.
Dieppe, Boulogne, Calais or Dunkirk are all good entry points; from there it’s 639 miles to the medieval walled town of Carcassonne, put on the Brits’ map of France some years ago by Ryanair. Carcassonne is the star of the region but there are other ancient towns and villages to explore.
Don’t miss: the direct route goes through Paris, which is always worth a visit, but a small detour east will bring drivers to the Champagne region. Anyone fond of the fizz should book a night in Troyes and visit one of the cellars.
Back on the road there are interesting stops at Orléans, where Joan of Arc defeated the British in 1429, and Limoges, famous for its white porcelain. History buffs should make time for Narbonne, the capital of Roman Provence and 35 minutes’ drive from Carcassonne, the medieval village of Villerouge-Termenès and the Benedictine Abbey at Lagrasse.
Sample product: Kirker Holidays has four nights at the Hotel de la Cité in Carcassonne from £875 per person bed and breakfast including return Eurotunnel crossings.
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