Anyone who’s been following this blog for a while will know that we enjoy a good old road trip in our family and go on a long one almost every summer. A few years ago, before I started writing and documenting our travels, we took a particularly scenic trip across France driving cross-country from home in the South-East across to Brittany in the far West, passing through the pretty volcanic region of Auvergne and the famous Loire valley on the way, and the gorgeous little island of Ré and magnificent walled city of Carcassonne on the way back. This French road trip, our Tour de France, took two weeks and covered about 2800 km.
Seeing as it was quite a while ago I’m not going to go into great graphic descriptions of everything we did, but rather outline our itinerary and leave the “postcards” to do most of the talking.
Apart from the lovely scenery and historical sights we saw, one of the best things about this particular road trip was that we stayed with friends, or in their holiday homes everywhere except Carcassonne. The positive side of a nomadic life means we have friends all over the place and it was a joy to catch up with old mates in the Auvergne, Loire and Brittany, spending a few days with each family in their special places. Finally the last few days we had the run of another friend’s cottage on the île de Ré, leaving us some time to be just the 4 of us. Kind of a perfect holiday really.
Our first stop was in the tiny village of St Anthème between St Etienne and Clermont-Ferrand in the heart of the Auvergne, five hours’ drive from home. This little-visited area of France is home to Europe’s largest regional park which is rather surprisingly dotted with volcanoes, in fact about 80 of them in total. And while the whole area seems sleepy and peaceful, these volcanoes are classified as dormant, not extinct! Unsurprisingly the main attractions to visit are volcano-related and we chose Lemptégy volcano over the bigger “theme parks” where we took a guided tour of the volcano which had also been a mine, exploring the lava flows and historical mining machinery.
Our next stop, after another 5 hour drive was the pretty town of Durtal on the Loir river. That is not a typo, despite Durtal being in the Pays de la Loire or more commonly known as the Loire Valley, it is actually situated on the Loir river! Its castle is one of the Loire Valley châteaux, but not so well known or grand as many of the others. We did however visit one of the most famous of Loire Valley châteaux in the form of Villandry, renowned for its magnificent gardens.
Back on the road again, this time only for only 3 ½ hours, from Durtal to Fouesnant in Finistère, Brittany. We stayed in a large house with two families and had two more lots of friends nearby so this part of the road trip was all about apéros, picnics, sailing and fun on the beach. Not a hardship especially as we had the best weather we’ve ever had in Brittany. We explored the coast more than we’d ever done before and it was a revelation to discover long empty sandy beaches with dunes, as well as the more typical rocky coves.
After 4 lovely days in Brittany we took to the road again for just over 4 hours to the charming island of Ré, over the bridge from La Rochelle in the Charentes-Maritime département. When we set off from home we only had as far as Brittany planned, having decided to play it by ear after that. And that ear played it well; by chance a friend called for a chat while in Brittany. During the conversation she asked where we were and what plans we had. When I said we weren’t sure where we were heading next she suggested her sister’s place on the île de Ré. We didn’t even know her sister had this place let alone imagine that we could stay, so it was just one of those fortuitous travel moments that I’ll never forget and always be thankful for.
Under huge skies we spent 4 days exploring the beaches, salt-flats, pretty little villages and a UNESCO World Heritage fort mostly by bike as the island is completely flat and has a well-developed system of bike paths. The île de Ré is a popular place for French tourists, particularly Parisians, bringing a certain chic to many of the boutiques and cafés, but it is almost unknown to foreigners. For once, in a holiday place in France in August we didn’t hear any English (or Dutch/German/Swedish/yadayada) being spoken!
A crazy coincidence happened on Ré island, we bumped into an old friend, who we hadn’t seen for 15 years, in the street, quite literally coming head to head around a corner in the wonderfully named Ars-en-Ré! He lives in Hanoi – what’s the likelihood of physically crashing into him in a little village in France?
Finally our time was running out, home beckoned and we left the île de Ré completely charmed and determined to go back again one day for longer. We broke our homeward journey for a night, after a 5 hour drive, in the spectacular medieval walled city of Carcassonne, another UNESCO World Heritage sight. The view from our B&B was a show-stopper, we were unbelievably lucky finding such a wonderful place to stay, for 4 people with only 24 hours’ notice, in August, in Carcassonne. Having breakfast on the terrace overlooking a view of one of France’s most iconic sights on the last morning of our holiday was the most fabulous way to end a pretty-much perfect holiday.
Do you like to go on road trips? With your kids? Please share your experiences in the comments, I’d love to hear from you.
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