France’s gorgeous mountains of the Pyrenees and the beautiful Basque coastline lend itself to numerous adventures including cycling, hiking, rock climbing, and surfing. Besides finding an abundance of adventures and great food, you will love taking a road trip through France just to experience the culture and its kind-hearted people. Everywhere you walk in France feels like the opening scene from Beauty and the Beast–welcoming us with bonjour or two kisses on the cheek. But the real reason you have to take a road trip to France is for the food. All the food is incredible, but the pastries, bread, butter, and cheese are exceptional.
This road trip goes across the South of France then heads north then east. Make sure you add a little extra money in your budget for toll roads because they add up quickly (well over 100 euros for this road trip here). The nice thing though, is that the rest areas on France’s toll roads are really nice. Many have beautiful picnic areas and there are plenty of gas stations with basics such as coffee, salami, cheese or grab sandwiches at one of the many Autogrills.
Road Trip France Destination: Les Calanques
Our road trips always center around being active and the first stop, Calanques, will give you plenty of ways to earn your carbs.
Hiking in the Calanques is a must and we found a beautiful rock climbing wall overlooking a tranquil turquoise bay, however, the climbing here is polished so keep that in mind when you choose your routes.
The campground Camping Les Cigales is nice and you can easily walk to town from here. The waterfront town is quaint with nice restaurants and a chocolate shop, Puyricard, that we loved.
If you want to hike to a Calanque from the campground, it is possible (we did it) but be prepared for a long hike (pack a lot of water). If you want to do a hike, it is better to park near the university.
Also, if you want to save money and not pay for a campground, there were a lot of places to free camp on the road D559 from the town of Cassis to the University.
Our favorite hike in the Calanques was to Calanque de Sugiton. The hike to this cove was an easy one hour downhill (uphill on the way out) and the cove was picturesque with great rocks to jump off of. It totally reminded me of being in Neverland!
Road Trip France Destination: St Jean De Luz & Gavernie (Pyrénées)
I hope you hiked a lot in the Calanques, because you have to stock up on pastries in Lourdes at Boulangerie Patisserie. The bread, croissant, and pastries are so delicious and affordable you will want to buy the whole store.
Arriving in Luz-Saint-Sauveur was like landing in foodie heaven. It’s a beautiful small town nestled in the mountains of the Pyrenees and had everything we like to eat.
We got boxes full of produce from a warehouse. It was some of the prettiest produce I’ve ever seen. The owner was so kind and went out of his way to make sure I got his best head of lettuce. There was an artisan food shop with chocolates, jellies, and honey. We walked across the street to order our locally grown meat from the butcher. We found gourmet cheese, salami, and wine at a nearby store.
From Luz-Saint-Sauveur we headed thirty minutes further to where the road ended at Cirque du Gavernie. When we arrived it was October and not crowded, however, I don’t think that is the case in the summer. RV camping is easy and cheap here. There is a huge parking lot near the town that charges eight euros a night or you can go up a windy road to a large dirt parking area and camp for free. There is a dump station in the dirt parking lot too. For a parking lot, this may have been one of the most picturesque camping spots we stayed at.
The wall below the camping area is bolted too so you can urban rock climb when you aren’t hiking or taking in the incredible views. There is a lot of rock climbing nearby, but most of it was too advanced for us.
Make sure to hike the Cirque while you are here or backpack to one of the many refuges nearby. If you didn’t stock up on food in St Jean don’t worry, there are plenty of great restaurants here in the town.
Road Trip France Destination: Laruns (Pyrénées)
We happened to arrive here on the same weekend as the cheese festival. All the local farmers give out samples of their frommage, our favorite was Comté and Beaufort.
In additon to the incredible cheese, there were local vendors selling saucisson, pastries, spices, french delicacies, as well as a beer garden and lots of live music. Even without the festival, this town is so perfectly French. We loved the town square and how small the town was so you could walk to everthing. There is great rock climbing area and numerous hiking and biking trails all within walking distance.
Road Trip France Destination: Etsaut (Pyrénées)
At the top of the Pyrenees, ten miles from the Spanish border, is a gorgeous hike that is worth taking a detour for.
This hike starts with the Chemin de la Mature, which is a 1,200-metre path carved into a sheer rock face rising over 200 metres above the Aspe River valley. Sounds scary, but the exposure actually wasn’t that bad and I would’ve taken my six year old on it except that she had had enough hiking and chose to hang back with her dad in the car.
The views on this hike were incredible and I especially liked the diversity from rock to high alpine meadows to forest to rolling hills dotted with the cutest houses. The entire hike is about seven miles, depending where exactly you start from and took us three and a half hours.
Related: How to Hike the Chemin de la Mature
Road Trip France Destination: Hossegor
Hossegor feels like a combination of Hawaii and Oregon, but much less crowded. This is our favorite place to visit in Europe– mostly because of the surf, the small-town feel, and all the delicious food. Camping here is very easy as there are camper stops in the area that charge only 6-12 euros (depending on the season) per night.
There are many surf breaks to choose from depending on your ability and if surfing isn’t your thing don’t worry, There are nice paths to run and bike on that go by the ocean and around the lake.
Hossegor is also one of the World Surf League stops and it is a great experience to be here during the contest. We especially like the signing party all the surf shops throw during the contest and that the few days before the contest starts, you can watch the pros surf without all the crowds. If you plan on surfing don’t forget to pack a wetsuit because the water is a bit on the chilly side.
I recommend also checking out Capbreton, which is only a few minutes south of Hossegor. There are a few more options for grocery stores and restaurants here. I liked that the camper stop in Capbreton had a baker who showed up each morning with his fresh baked breads and chocolate croissants.
Related: 9 Reasons to Visit to Hossegor, France
Road Trip France Destination: Biarritz
Beautiful Biarritz. If you have some money for shopping and eating, this is where you will want to use it. Even if you are on a tight budget like we were, it’s still worth coming to this wonderful city to walk the boardwalk and through the quaint rows of shops overlooking the gorgeous ocean.
There is a camper stop a 1-2 miles south of Biarritz where it is a forty minute walk into town.
Road Trip France Destination: Dune du Pilat
Only an hour north of Hossegor is Europe’s largest sand dune, Dune du Pilat. We stopped and spent a few hours playing on the giant sand dune and had a blast. The hike to the dune is short and the views from the top are worth the detour.
One side is the expansive Atlantic Ocean while the other is a dense forest of trees as far as the eye can see. The kids and I had a great time rolling down the dunes. The parking area (which did charge a fee to park at) is also a beautiful spot to have a picnic.
Road Trip France Destination: Paris
I was worried about not having enough money to truly enjoy Paris, but it was absolutely wonderful without having to spend a lot. We walked miles and miles through this city and enjoyed the Champs de Elyse, Arc de Triumph, and seeing the Eiffel Tower (especially when it put on the light show at night).
Getting into town from the campground is easy and cheap by bus ($2 euros each way) and you can save some time by taking the subway ($5 euros) from the bus station to get you close to the Louvre and Notre Dame. We used public transportation to get us one direction and then walked back from the city to our campground. There is so much great food, but for me, the highlight was sipping chocolate at Angelinas.
Related: Amazing 1 Day Paris Itinerary
Road Trip France Destination: Strausbourg
While not exactly on the way, if you happen to be near the German border I highly recommend stopping in Strausbourg for at least a few hours. The canals and cathedral are stunning and we had some of the most delicious tartes flambe (French pizzas).
Want to head further north? Check out these 12 Beautiful Places to Visit in Northern France
Got questions about a France road trip? Let us know in the comments.
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- Surf Guide to Hossegor
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- What We Pack for Camping and Travel Abroad