Mainland Europe Roadtrip- HELP!
I am currently planning a roadtrip this summer- itinary so far is:
Eurotunnel from UK to Calais, France on 20th July
Eurotunnel from Calais, France to UK on 4th August
We will be driving, so are reasonably flexible about where we can go but as the trip is such a blank canvas, I’d be interested to get people’s thoughts on where we could go.
Initial thoughts so far are that we would like to perhaps see some mountains, perhaps some beaches and definately some sunshine There are 4 of us travelling together, all late 20′s, early 30′s and we are quite active.
If you have any ideas we’d really appreciate some tips!
Mountains, beaches and sun in a couple of weeks? Head to the Basque country mes amis. Southwest France ticks all these boxes without quite the chaos and crowds of Provence during high season (and you are travelling at almost the peak of this – book ahead!). Week 1: load up with tunes and drive to Bordeaux (a full day on the autoroute). Spend a couple of days exploring the old town and take one of the tourist office’s vineyard tours (tinyurl.com/baubwtg). Around Day 5 press on to Biarritz (we love surfhostelbiarritz.com) and learn to ride an Atlantic breaker while working on your tan.
Week 2: You now have an enviable dilemma – spend a few days hiking in the Parc National des Pyrenees (Cauterets, www.cauterets.com, offers the best choice of routes), or continue south to Spain. San Sebastián is only 50min across the border from Biarritz and provides fab pintxos (Basque-style tapas) bars and golden sands. Break up the drive home by overnighting in Saumur in the Loire Valley (5hr 30min from both Bordeaux and Calais) where you can fill the boot with delicious sparkling wine before the return trip on Le Shuttle. For autoroute tolls and driving times check out www.viamichelin.co.uk.
Hi Katie –
We’re quite jealous of your impending European road trip here at RG HQ, so we’re going to put our heads together and come up with some of our favourite places, which will hopefully fill you with inspiration. Watch this space!
There are two obvious things to consider when planning a trip around Europe: on the one hand the continent is small enough to drive from one end to the other in just a few days. On the other, it is so packed with interesting things to see and do that you can barely go a mile without coming across something worth stopping for. I always find that a good trip through Europe is one that strikes a balance between the two. Given that you only have two weeks on the road, my advice would be to aim to visit only a handful of countries rather than rushing around. You could easily drive all the way to Lisbon, Naples or Belgrade and back in the time you have available but, in doing so, you would speed past so many great places.
If it were me, I’d stick to Northern France and the Low Countries. It’ll be lovely and sunny in July/August, with some nice countryside, interesting towns, easy hikes, some fair-to-middling high ground and decent beaches where you’ll be hard-pressed to find another native English-speaker. Starting out from Calais, you could travel through Picardy, Champagne, the Ardenne and Alsace and visit some really pretty towns like Arras and Douai as well as bigger cities like Lille and maybe Amiens. Dive into wine country and head for Metz (full of stunning Medieval buildings), before following the Moselle valley North into Luxembourg. Spend a few days there before heading into Wallonia (Southern Belgium) and discovering lovely places like Namur that deserve far more tourist visits than they actually get. Further North, you have Brussels and then the Flanders coast. Tell people that you’re going to the beaches in Belgium and they’ll probably laugh at you. Ignore them; there’s a reason why thousands of Dutch and German people flock there every summer. You can then drive South-West along the coast and back into France. Pay your respects at Dunkirk and then you’re back in Calais!
Just a few ideas for you. It’s a personal things but, for me, the above (or something similar) would be inifinitely preferable to ‘capital-hopping’ or putting the pedal to the floor and trying to get as far as possible across the continent. The rest of Europe will still be there next time you have a slack two weeks on your hands…
I had a couple of weeks on a road trip of Europe last summer and we had an amazing time!! We piled into a minibus (9 of us in our twenties and thirties) and drove from Amsterdam, through Germany, Switzerland and all the way to Chamonix-Mont-Blanc in France. The bit of the trip that I would most recommend was Lake Geneva (there are beaches that you can swim from – make the effort to find out where the quiet ones are!) and across the Alps into France. Absolutely stunning scenery, and the drive to France only takes a few hours, so you can take your time and stop at viewpoints along the way.
Mont Blanc has loads of trails for hikes and biking… or you can cheat and get the cable car to the top station (3842m). Chamonix itself is a lovely town with lots of nightlife and places to eat. We kept it cheap and stayed on a campsite just outside of town, I’d definitely recommend it, pitches are huge and you can build a campfire.
Have a brilliant time!
This is my first post on RG but I’ve used their guides to Languedoc Roussillon and the Pyrenees every trip for 10 years and this was after checking out over 10 guides before the first trip. The guides were so good (and I really liked the people at the travel bookstore where I bought them) that I’d give the current guide to someone I met while travelling who would benefit from it or I’d leave it in the house I’d rent (south of France, also). Each year a new book, each year more value from it.
And if the RG people read this—why did you stop the English translation of the Guide Routard guide to Hotels and Restos? Fortunately I had kept the 5 years up 2006 so I could keep using it.
When GR came out with the new, completely revised French version I ordered it online. I can understand now with so many things available online that such a large book (the new French one in 2010 was quite large…and small print) so I won’t complain too much. Just want to say how much I enjoyed and benefited from it.
Katie, if you’re going to drive in France I suggest you makes friends with www.viamichelin.com
Forget google maps or mapquest, viamichelin is the first and they’ve got it down pat: more options, more knowledge and they know Europe.
So you arrive in Calais, let’s say you decide you want to see Mont St Michel…you put in the origin, the destination, then you scroll down…put in fuel (gas) or diesel (also known as gasol). Decide if you want to take a peage (pay highway to move rapidly) or the regular national highways (RN).
You’ll have options like Michelin recommended, fastest, scenic, no tolls, and so on.
Now, scroll down more and there are additional options when you open up a pull down menu so the map will add interesting/historic/etc sites along the way and/or hotels and restaurants.
But you can worry about the special stuff later, request the route and it will give driving directions AND tell you how much it’s going to cost, fuel/toll/etc costs.
If you’re on a budget this can be very helpful.
The RN highways are pretty well maintained; there are also D roads which are maintained by each department; they’re usually in very good condtion but they’re often the most scenic ones and slower to travel on. (the ones I preferred).
And since we’re talking about fuel costs: The best prices for fuel (any kind) is to be found at the gas stations located next to the larger food stores ( E LeClerc, SuperU, can’t remember them all). I remember one trip the price difference (from a station on a major highway) was between 6 and 10 cents per litre. I don’t know what sort of mileage you’ll get on your vehicle, but it does add up.
These same markets often have prepared food sections so you can plan on picnicing for lunch or whatever, which brings up…something I really love about France…the ‘aires’.
Whether D, RN or peage, the French provide places to stop and rest, perhaps learn something about the area you’re in, some locations are large and have fuel places, stores and restaurants, some just provide gas with food in the station (prepackaged) but always benches, usually trees and enough travellers coming and going so you’re not alone.
Crossing the Massif Central I came across a station that even had pay showers…that would be nice if someone were traveling in a trailer without bathing facilities!
While I disagree with them about google maps, this site does have info on aires, etc:
Now if you aren’t already aware, if you drive in France you need to be prepared with:
Safety equipment: A reflective vest, a folding triangle reflective hazard signal (wrong word, but you put it out behind your car so people don’t run into you…I forget what else…I rented or leased a car so it was always there in the front passenger seat well. And that is where is needs to stay ALL the time. If you’re AA members they should have an advice on what is needed.
Alcohol breathalizer: It’s the law, you have to have one in the car..and it’s a lot better to have two or three so if you have to use one, you’ll have a spare. I’ve read you can buy them inexpensively online but I’m not in the UK, so check that out also.
Money. If you’re stopped and it’s the sort of offense that merits a ticket-guess what? You have to pay it immediately! The French have cheques vacances (sort of like travellers checks) when I got one for speeding it was almost 100 euro. I had to leave my id (DL and passport) drive back to the closest town, find an ATM, get cash, find a place that sold the special stamp that was needed (and they keep normal shop hours) then drive back, give the officer the stamp, he affixed it to his copy, my copy, had me sign, thanked me for my courtesy, I thanked him for his and I paid attention to the speed laws in built up areas from then on.
I do know the Midi area of France and love it dearly. That fidleity kept me from exploring other areas of France so I am not really qualified to recommend a place or an area completely…and even in Aude and Ariege (departments) there are places that might suit some people and not others.
The thing about France is that there really is something for just about everyone who hasn’t decided they can’t enjoy themselves there.
The French have a great system of ‘gites’ which are rental properties that are listed with and overseen by a national organisation and a department run program which categorises houses, chalets, apartments and so on by what they offer. A basic 1 ‘ear’ (of wheat) is basic…something to cook on, someplace to sleep, you probably have to bring your own sheets and towels..and you pay accordingly. I’ve rented two and three ear houses in rural and semi-rural areas and been very happy with every place. Some places do provide linens on a per week rental basis, I wasn’t going to take up valuable suitcase space with sheets and towels so I’d book a place where I could rent the necessaries.
The prices are based (as noted before) on amenities and season. High season? higher price. Very high season? Highest. Low season…big savings…
Many of the places can be rented through the department offices so if you don’t speak French well, the people in the offices speak English and almost everything can be arranged online (they’ll mail contracts).
The system ( www.gites-de-france.com ) also has listings for chambres d’hotes (b&b), farm stays and so on. And even better than the variety is the fact that places rented thru G-d-F are less expensive than renting from an individual who advertises the place, or through a website that offers all sorts of holiday lets…
The places usually rent from Saturday afternoon to Saturday morning, a week in other words. Some places offer long weekends, but seldom during the high season.
To me the great advantage of renting a place is having a home base from which I could go to the local markets (farmers) to buy my produce, local cheese, etc), cook when I wanted to and eat out when i wanted–and could afford to. There are usually lots of places to check out with an hour’s drive so a week in one location would give you something new to do every day. Just think: Get up in the morning, make coffee or tea –the way you like it…have a leisurely breakfast (or petit dejeuner if you’re feeling French)…and you don’t have to leave by 10 or 11 am.
I have a friend and she and her family used to stay in Dordogne…she had a lot of good reasons for that choice. It’s not as far south and from what I’ve seen driving through, beautiful enough to measure up to most other places. Families seem to flock to beaches so finding places to stay near the ocean could be more difficult (probably already booked in January or Feb.).
Some people love heat, some don’t. I’d suggest looking at each region or department and find out what the usual temperatures are at the location for the time you’d be there. Too hot? Look elsewhere. With changing weather patterns nothing is guaranteed, but you’ll have a good idea.
If you decide you don’t want to rent a house (or houses, one for each week) then you’ll have more freedom to check out more places.
Since you say you do want beaches then I’m going to recommend a site with info on the area I love.
It has a section on the beaches from the Spanish border up to the Rhone delta (well, thereabouts),
info on wines, and so on. Like Rough Guides I found this website to be accurate and very helpful.
You could drive south over the Massif Central and take the wonderful incredible Viaduct du Millau…it was designed by a British architect and it’s…beautiful to look and amazing to drive over. There are youtube videos about it. Follow the road down to the coast and then explore. The Languedoc is among the least known of the regions and there’s so much there. Me, I (and my travel companion) love caves–great caves in the area (including the caves where they age the Roquefort cheese). The Canal du Midi (which runs from the Med to the Atlantic pretty much) is so lovely…I’d bring a lunch and park and watch the boats go by…
You might not recognize most of the names of the wineries in the Languedoc but there are so many AOC and such great values…
But those are my thoughts, and a lot of things I wish I’d know before the first trip or learned on the second or third trip…but in France, learning can be enjoyable. Smile, say ‘merci, bonne journee’ and they’ll wish you the same.
If you have any questions (and you’re still following this thread), let me know. Good luck hope you have a great trip.
I’m excited for you. It’s such a brilliant thing to do a road trip. We used to do them every year on our motorcycles before the kids were born. Now, we will be 50 this year and our kids are in their early teens. We are doing a road trip with some friends from Africa (also 50 this year). 2 weeks. Thought I’d share it here to give you some more ideas.
We’re doing it in an open top Jeep Wrangler, so it should be breezy and get us feeling closer to the landscape, not to mention how super cool we’ll look in our shades with our hair (what’s left of it) billowing over the roll bars in a rockstar kind of way – though sadly, these days, hubby is more Jack Lemon than Jason Orange.
The plan is to pick the friends up from Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris and head straight across to Germany, probably staying in Heidelberg the first night – a fair trip but it gets us onto our route quickly. An alternative would be to stop over at either Reims or Saabrucken, both shorter.
Then we’ll head over to Rothenburg where I once had a strange, been-here-before experience despite having never been to Germany before. After about half an hour of feeling weird, I realised I knew the place because it’s where they filmed Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. Then we’ll and pick up the remainder of the Romatische Strasse (Romantic Road). It’s the route medieval pedlars walked between towns and cities. Those medeival towns and cities still exist, so it’s a beautiful route to take. We’ll head down to Fussen, stopping en route wherever we fancy, especially Nordlingen, where we have fond memories of being almost washed off our bike by torrential rain and staying in a Zimmer in someone’s home. What lovely people they were. We ate in a little restaurant attached to a brewery – what more could a couple of bikers in their late twenties ask for? We’ll also pay the obligatory visit to Neuschwanstein Castle – the tour was brilliant when we were last there and the castle is beautiful. The Wagnerian Scenes painted on the walls are worth the trip alone, but the view from the window partway up the spiral staircase is so perfect it doesn’t feel real. No surprise why Disney was inspired by it when he designed his castle.
We’ll be mostly camping, but the odd treat of a B and B. From Fussen, we’re going across to Austria (maybe Vienna) via Bad Tolz (according to www.guardian.co.uk/travel/2010/feb/06..., it’s a beautiful alpine route). Then it’s down to Venice for a couple of nights (at least). The Grand Canal, a Gondola, St. Mark’s Square. Then back across to Lake Como, up through the alps, possibly back to Paris via the Black Forest and maybe Troyes. A couple of days in Paris and hopefully, they will go home understanding, that, whilst the southern part of Africa is breathtaking in it’s huge splenidferous glory, from country to country it’s pretty similar terrain. Whereas, even in one country of Europe, the geography changes mile by mile and that’s the beauty and surprise of it.
By the way, it’s not set in stone, and, as two of us have already seen everywhere mentioned apart from Heidelberg, Vienna and Venice, any new suggestions of places to see in the area or perhaps good campsites and B and Bs would be more than welcome.