The France Road Trip

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The France Road Trip

When Georgia lived in France 10 years ago, she was cooking in a Michelin starred restaurant in Provence six days a week, 14 hours a day. On her few hours off between lunch and dinner service she would take the bus to the nearby town and sip rose at a cafe and catch up with the outside world via email (this was before the smart phone!). On her day off, she would sometimes borrow the restaurant car and drive to spend time with some of the food artisans she eventually wrote about in her book Food Heroes, and she would explore the nearby area. But she always regretted not exploring more of France. As she peeled grapes in the kitchen she longed for what was outside those four walls.

She finally scratched that itch and went back and dug into France the way she does best: diving in head first to soak up as much as possible and experience it viscerally.

Here is her suggested itinerary for your own personal French road trip.

 

|Georgia Pellegrini Guide to A French Road Trip|

Best Time of Year

June 15 – July 20. This is peak sunlight season, it doesn’t get dark until 10pm. It is also when the lavender and sunflowers are in full bloom

Recommended Number of Days

12 days, 11 nights

Recommended Number of People

2 people is ideal. A larger group makes you less nimble, but one extra pal lightens the load of driving, and it’s always nice to have someone to gasp at the sights with

Apps to Download

Google Maps – create a custom map ahead of time to mark your spots, then use it on your phone to help guide you along the way

Orbitz – they send discount codes to your email almost daily which you can use to book each night)
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Relais & Chateaux – it’s fun to see if there are any of these fancy properties in your area, you can sometimes get last minute deals via Orbitz

Michelin Hotels, Michelin Restaurants, Gault Millau Artisanat Gourmand – all of these have great restaurant and hotel suggestions

Best Western – for whatever reason, this hotel chain is especially good in France, and often reliable. They also have a laundry service if you need things freshened up along the way

Recommended Guidebook

Fodor’s Essential France – after inspecting many of the guidebooks, this was the richest in telling detail and very interesting to reference during the trip

Pack – essentials for the car

Small Soft Cooler for road trip snacks
Wet Wipes
Car Charger – a USB plug is also often available in rentals now
Eye Drops – the air is very dry!
Lip Moisturizer
Sunglasses
Sunscreen
Power Converter for your hotel room phone charging

Stay

Book your first night’s hotel in Reims in advance so you have somewhere to rest your weary jet lagged self. Otherwise avoid making many reservations in advance to give yourself the opportunity to see where the wind takes you. If you have your heart set on a villa or estate that you’ve read about and would feel immense joy to stay there then by all means book it in advance and get yourself there. Otherwise pull up your hotel App when you are entering into a city and know that while it may not be incredibly charming, this trip is about wandering, not staying, and you’ll be leaving in the morning anyway. If you plan to arrive to a hotel very late, be sure to call the hotel to let them know. Some of them lock up after 11pm and you want to make sure they wait for you.

Le Grand Schedule

Day 1: Airport + Reims

Land in Paris Charles de Gaulle airport. After surviving the immigration line, grab an espresso and snack from the Starbucks waiting for you on the other side of the door, pick up your rental car and head to Reims (90 mins drive). You will see signs for chateaus and tourist attractions and be tempted to stop, but don’t worry, you’ll be seeing plenty of them soon enough.

Stay

Somewhere in or around Reims. The Best Western here is a nice property if you want to ease yourself into it and don’t want to break the bank right off the bat. If you want to splurge, Domaine Les Crayères is gorgeous and has a famous restaurant to boot.

Day 2: Reims + Epernay

To See

Notre-Dame de Reims (it rivals the one in Paris and has an amazing story)

Drive the Route du Champagne

Visit Champagne Lelarge Pugeot – make an appointment to taste, tour and learn how one family is making biodynamic organic champagne against the odds. Buy a few bottles to enjoy during your trip

Mumm has a beautiful windmill at the top of a hill with a breathtaking view

Stay

Somewhere in or around Epernay (30 mins drive from Reims). The Briqueterie is pure magic and has last minute deals. If you stay there pick yourself up some groceries on Epernay square and prepare yourself a smorgasbord on your personal garden patio.

Day 3: Epernay + Dijon

To See

Walk the Avenue de Champagne

Tour Moet et Chandon and see the breathtaking undergound caves. Check online for tour times

One your way out of town, visit the church in Hautvillers where Dom Perignon is buried in a modest church. After all, you will have just tasted his wine at Moet et Chandon where it is now produced and there is something very peaceful about the place where champagne was perfected

Drive to Dijon (3 hours)

Day 4: Dijon + Beaune

To See

Walking around the city of Dijon is all you need to take it in. There is a Palace that is free to tour and charming squares and shops. It is a true city but still holds its distinct charm

Drive to Beaune along the Route des Grands Crus and see the most breathtaking scenery as vineyard after vineyard float by and you enter deep into Burgundy country

Le Clos du Vougot is a remarkable estate along the drive that has tours and a beautiful history, worth a stop

Stay

Somewhere in Beaune so you can walk this amazing little city at night

Dinner

Anywhere with Boeuf Bourguignon on the menu

Late Night

Bistrot du Coin. Alex is the owner/bartender and will serve you slices of copa or some other charcuterie while you sip your drink. It is a small special little place

Day 5: Beaune, Burgundy + Lyon

Pick up something nice from the bakery for a road snack and head out into Burgundy country. The drive on Route des Grands Crus continues and is breathtaking

Lunch

Les Roches in Saint Romain, a small restaurant in a little village on a hill as you drive through Burgundy. If the chef (husband) greets you he may tell you they are fully reserved for lunch even if you arrive at 11:30am, but if you tell them (his wife) you came from around the world they (she) will likely find room. Order the escargot, they come from the vineyards of Burgundy!

To See

Visit Domaine des Terres de Velle. Sophie and Fabrice Laronze are the owners, and first generation wine makers which is unheard of in Burgundy. Their story is amazing and their private tasting straight from their barrels will be a wonderful education in wine. Be sure to email them and make an appointment in advance. All of the good spots in Burgundy require an appointment

Drive to Lyon (90 minutes)

Stay

Somewhere in Old Town Lyon (Vieux Lyon), that is where the action and charm is. Bonus if you manage to stay there on Bastille Day, the fireworks over the water are wonderful

Dinner

Literally anywhere in Old Town Lyon (Vieux Lyon), the food in Lyon is among the best in France. The seafood is especially incredible here

Day 6: Lyon + Provence

Lunch

Before leaving town have lunch at Paul Bocuse if you’re up for a splurge meal. If there is one special meal to have in France, this is it, he is the godfather of new French cuisine and the meal is like watching a performance unfold. Dessert is a 15 minute procession. Dinner reservations are hard to come by last minute, but lunch can often be secured just a couple days in advance online. He is located in Collonges-au-Mont-d’Or, 15 minutes from Lyon

After rolling out of the 3 hour lunch experience, hop in the car and head to Provence (3 hours)

Stay

While you may be temped to stay in the city of Avignon, it can be particularly packed with tourists in July and it is best to be avoided. The charm of Provence is slowing down a few notches and hearing the hum of the cicadas. Find yourself a place to stay in the country — believe it or not, one of the best kept secrets is a balcony garden room at the Best Western Hotel Le Val Majour in Fontvieille. It has a pool and is breezy, understated and charming

Day 7: Provence – Les Beaux de Provence, Saint-Rémy, L’Il-Sur-La-Sorgue, Sénanque Abbey, Gordes

To See

Drive the breathtaking route through Les Baux de Provence and visit Castelas olive oil tasting room for some of the finest olive oil in the world. Georgia told their story in her book “Food Heroes.” They will ship but it’s also worth packing in your suitcase and bringing home. They also sell beautiful olive wood bowls and serving spoons

Lunch + Shopping

Dine in Saint-Rémy and wind through the streets to visit their shops with local goods

Acquire

Local lavender extract and other scents from the Museum of Aromas and Perfume in Saint-Rémy
Entre Sel et Terre salts and sugars that are infused with flowers and spices in Saint-Rémy

To See

Drive onward to L’Isle-Sur-la-Sorgue which is the antique capitol of Europe. You will be immersed in the markets and stores with the greatest treasures

Next head to the lavender fields at Sénanque Abbey. The drive along a cliff is intense but worth it, especially if you arrive toward the end of the day when it is less crowded and the golden hour is setting in

Dinner

Have dinner at the lovely wine bar in Gordes or the restaurant above it with a view overlooking the valley at sunset. You will never forget it

Stay

Anywhere in or near Gordes

Day 8: Provence – Roussillon, Ménerbes, Bonnieux, Lacoste, Opède

To See

Drive, drive, drive the breathtaking route through these mountain villages of Provence. They are narrow and winding and there will be white knuckle moments, but the views are worth it, especially while sipping a rosé at the top of Opède

Chateau-de-Lacoste is another beauty in Lacoste

Lunch

Bastide de Capelongue, in Bonnieux. They start you off with aperitifs in the garden, along with small appetizers. Next, they move you inside, where you begin with an amuse bouche followed by a salad course

La Bastide de Marie, in Ménerbes, is a very beautiful property to eat, spa and stay. Eating will be the easiest to reserve

Stay

Bastide de Capelongue if you can manage a reservation
La Bastide de Marie if you can manage a reservation
Or, drive yourself back west out of the mountains and stay in a town like Saint-Rémy so you are closer to the next destination

Day 9: Laguiole

Acquire

If you have time in the morning, before heading toward Laguoile, stop by Les Figuières in Graveson on your way out of Provence and meet Francis Honoré who grows 150 varieties of fig trees. Georgia wrote about him in her book “Food Heroes,” and after savoring his confiture in his tasting room, you’ll want to stock up and bring them with you. Be sure to spend some time roaming through the fig trees too

To See

Drive the magical route up toward Laguiole. It will be one of the most beautiful drives of your life. You will pass through the towns of the Roquefort Caves, and drive over the tallest bridge in the world, Millau Viaduct. This drive will give you vertigo but it is once in a lifetime and not to be missed. There are rest stops with the most incredible displays of cheeses and saucisson sec and cake and juice and you should have a little picnic at one because it may be your dinner. Be sure to buy some treats for the road

Stay

Michel Bras has a famous restaurant and hotel at the top of a hill but it is expensive and the hotel is small, but you may be up for it and get a reservation

The Best Western, on the other hand, right in the center of the village, will do your laundry

Day 10: Laguiole + Thiers + Bourges

To See

Visit the Laguiole factory, Forge-de-Laguiole on the outskirts of the main village, this is the maker of the most reputable knives. Also walk the village streets and see all of the other lovely Laguoile shops where you can see small workshops on site. The knives were originally started by Pierre-Jean Calmels in 1829, and two old ladies who are descendants still have a shop there with that name

Acquire

A Laguiole knife from Forge-de-Laguiole, either the factory in the outskirts or boutique in the village

Continue the drive out of town further north, heading toward Clermont-Ferrand and Thiers, it will continue to take your breath away

Stay

Anywhere in or near Thiers or Vichy

Day 11: Thiers + Vichy + Bourges

Continue your exploration of the knife and cheese culture in France in Thiers, Vichy and then Bourges and wind in and out of their Tudor buildings

Stay

Anywhere in or near Bourges or Versailles

Day 12: Your Choice: Versailles? + Paris? + Airport

This will depend on your flight time. If it is in the evening, you could stop in Versailles or Paris, but be warned that the line to get into Versailles is hours and hours long in the summer, so skip the ticket line and tour the gardens for free. You can also see Marie Antoinette’s house without much waiting. You could also dip into Paris, but given the nature of that city, that could be a very un-serene ending to a very serene trip. Perhaps just a leisurely drive from the countryside villages to the airport is in order…

Field Notes

  • Set up your phone plan for international service while you are away. You will be using your phone navigation a lot and will need the data service
  • Rent an automatic car. Seriously. It is worth the extra money. People drive very fast in France compared to the U.S. and the roads are narrow and steep in some places. Now is not the time to brush up on your manual transmission driving skills
  • The French style of eating is quite different than the U.S.: Breakfast is light, often just a baguette with jam or a croissant and a small espresso. Then stores close between 12-2pm for a serious lunch which often includes wine and a nap. If you’re like Georgia and need a lot of protein to start your day, pack yourself some Ultramet Protein Packets and shake them up in a water bottle. You don’t want to get ‘hangry’ and it will help you avoid the morning daze desperately looking for sustenance!
  • Getting on the right sleeping schedule can make or break a trip. Bring an over the counter sleeping aid such as melatonin to force yourself to change sleeping schedules from the moment you get on the plane
  • Skip the heavy makeup bag and jewelry on this trip. Sun screen, lip protection and a concealer are all you need to be countryside fresh. Use this as a time to be natural and free
  • Pack clothes in similar color hues so it is easy to mix and match, and opt for items that can live in a suitcase without wrinkling terribly. You will be driving a lot so want to feel comfortable, but also stylish when you breeze in and out of wineries and quant villages. Comfortable shoes are essential. Don’t weigh your bag down with any shoes you can’t wear around the clock. The weather in France can be cool in summer evenings and in mountain villages, so be sure to have a light jacket, including one for rain
  • Stop off in bakeries, grocery stores, and markets when you can and stock up on road trip snacks. You won’t always have time or patience to sit down for the 2-hour customary French lunch, but there is no reason not to fuel yourself with French delights on your own schedule while taking in the scenery. Pack a Small Soft Cooler to help keep things fresh
  • Enticing road signs with pictures of chateaus will pop up everywhere. It creates serious FOMO, but trust that you will see endless Chateaus and villas and picturesque sites on this trip and not every one needs a visit

Did I not mention your favorite spot in France? Leave it in the comment section!

Shop This Itinerary

2017-07-31T16:26:18+00:00

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