5 of the Best Scenic Road Trips in France

Are you looking for a unique way to explore France? Look no further than a road trip! With the freedom of your own car, you can avoid tolls and take smaller, more scenic routes to truly experience the heart of the French countryside. As the birthplace of the Michelin Guide, it’s only fitting to explore France on four wheels.

From the stunning coastline of the French Riviera to the charming villages of Provence, these routes are sure to inspire your next adventure. So buckle up and get ready to hit the open road!

1. Mont St-Michel to Étretat

Embark on a scenic coastal road trip from Mont-St-Michel to Étretat, covering a distance of 286 km (460 miles) and taking three days to complete. Begin your journey by visiting the 9th century tidal abbey of Mont-St-Michel, which is situated on an island and accessible via a causeway that is only accessible twice a day during high tide.

From there, drive for half an hour to Avranches and climb up to the top of the château for a panoramic view extending all the way to Mont-St-Michel. Continue your journey for 90 km (55 miles) on the A84 and D572 to reach Bayeux, where you can marvel at the famous tapestry, which depicts the French conquest of England over 68 metres of intricately woven fabric.

Next, skirt around Caen to reach Deauville, where you can take a leisurely stroll along the boardwalk hugging the beach, adorned with metal stars in honor of the 200 stars of the silver screen who have attended the American Film Festival, which Deauville hosts every summer.

Finally, drive for a couple of hours to reach Étretat, where the rocks have eroded to form an ocean sculpture garden of sea arches and needles. These natural wonders were immortalized by Monet, who would row out to paint in solitude.

Remember that parking at Mont-St-Michel and Étretat can be difficult and expensive, so consider parking further out and walking to your destination. Enjoy the breathtaking views and immerse yourself in the rich history and culture of this beautiful coastal region.

2. The Massif Central

The Massif Central is a mountainous region in central France that is known for its stunning natural beauty, hiking trails, and cheese. One of the best road trips in the region is from Clermont-Ferrand to Aurillac, covering a distance of 196km (122 miles) and taking three to four days to complete.

Much of the Clermont-Ferrand to Aurillac route follows the Auvergne Cheese Route, with many farms along the way where you can stock up on Salers, Saint Nectaire, Cantal, Auvergne Blue, and Fourme d’Ambert. If you plan on visiting the farms, it’s best to call in advance as many do not speak English.

Starting in Clermont-Ferrand, you’ll be greeted by the city’s austere-looking black volcanic stone buildings, giving it a gothic appearance. From there, it’s a 28km (17 miles) drive to Orcival, where you can visit the impressive 12th century basilica. Continuing south for another 18km (11 miles), you’ll reach Mont-Dore, a ski station with curiously colorful Victorian-style architecture. During the summer months, people come here to hike Puy de Sancy, the highest of the extinct volcanoes.

From Puy de Sancy, drive south for 85km (52 miles) to Murat, a town that looks like a medieval film set and has been used as such many times. Strap on your hiking boots again and drive the 22km (13 miles) to Puy Mary, where you can hike the volcano ridge trail. Your trip finishes in the charming town of Aurillac, which is full of cheese shops and offers a peaceful end to your road trip adventure.

3. A Loop Through Hérault

If you’re looking for a road trip with stunning coastal views without the crowds, a loop through Hérault is a great option. Starting from Sète, a city located between Étang de Thau and the Mediterranean Sea, this 208km (129 miles) round trip will take you through some of the most picturesque villages and landscapes in the region.

From Sète, take the D2 and D28 for a 47km (29 miles) drive to Béziers, a city with a rich history dating back to Roman times. Here, you can visit the famous Canal du Midi, a UNESCO World Heritage site, and explore the historic city center.

Next, head to the Haut-Languedoc Regional Park, where you’ll be surrounded by dense foliage and charming hillside villages like Roquebrun and Vieussan. A further 50km (31 miles) east of Vieussan on the D908 is Lac du Salagou, an otherworldly red rock lake with a rusty color due to the iron oxide in the sandstone.

After visiting Lac du Salagou, drive 30km (18 miles) to Pézenas, a town famous for being the former home of France’s most famous playwright, Molière. If you time your visit on a Saturday, you can also check out the weekly market.

On your way back to Sète, make a stop at Bouzigues and try snorkeling to see seahorses if conditions are favorable. This charming little village is just 15 minutes away from Sète.

Here’s a breakdown of the route:

Starting PointDestinationDistance
SèteBéziers47km (29 miles)
BéziersHaut-Languedoc Regional Park
Haut-Languedoc Regional ParkLac du Salagou50km (31 miles)
Lac du SalagouPézenas30km (18 miles)
BouziguesSète15 minutes

Make sure to allow for three days to fully enjoy this road trip. With its stunning coastal views and charming villages, a loop through Hérault is the perfect way to explore the region’s beauty without the crowds.

4. Alpine Lakes and Valleys Loop

If you’re a nature lover, the Alpine Lakes and Valleys Loop is the perfect road trip for you. This 324 km (201 miles) round trip from Grenoble is recommended to be taken in five days. You’ll start by taking the D1091 to reach the Serre Chevalier valley, where you can spend at least a day exploring the area. During winter, the valley offers 250 km (155 miles) of ski slopes for both amateurs and die-hard ski fans. The historic fortified city of Briançon, located in the valley, is not only a base for hikers and skiers but also houses a plethora of art galleries.

From Briançon, head south on the N94 to reach the Lac de Serre-Ponçon. The lake is a popular spot for paddleboarding, and you can paddle out to the island chapel of Saint-Michel, the only building to have survived the flooding of the valley to create the reservoir, thanks to its elevated position. Two hours northwest of Lac de Serre-Ponçon is Lac de Monteynard-Avignonet, where the water is sandwiched between the Écrins National Park on one side and the softer cliffs of Vercors Regional Park on the other. The lake also features Himalayan hanging bridges that sway like wind through the trees as you cross them.

The final leg of the trip is a 50 km (31 miles) drive back to Grenoble. It’s recommended to tackle this route during summer, although if you’re traveling in winter, make sure to have snow tires or carry snow chains.

Planning Tip: To make the most out of your trip, consider spending more than a day in Serre Chevalier and exploring the art galleries in Briançon. Also, don’t forget to pack your paddleboard for Lac de Serre-Ponçon and your camera to capture the stunning views of Lac de Monteynard-Avignonet.

5. The Loing Valley

If you’re a history buff, then the Loing Valley road trip is the perfect adventure for you. Starting from Fontainebleau, a hunting lodge that was once the country home of the French royals under Louis IX in the 13th century, you can explore the 130 hectares of grounds and the first marked hiking trails in the country planned by a Napoleonic army veteran, Claude-François Denecourt, in 1842.

As you follow the D607 south towards Nemours for 20 minutes, you’ll cross the Gâtinais-Français Regional Park, a picturesque area criss-crossed with waterways and pint-sized villages. Continuing on the same road, you’ll reach Souppes-sur-Loing, a charming riverside town with the remnants of a 12th-century monastery.

Ten minutes along the étangs (lagoons) to reach Fontenay-sur-Loing is exceptionally scenic. Although Fontenay-sur-Loing itself is a sleepy little place with little to make it worth lingering, the picture-perfect town of Montargis (13km; 8 miles) is a must-see destination. The town is known for its half-timber houses that overhang the canals, creating a stunning view.

If you’re planning a visit to the château of Fontainebleau, it’s open daily except Tuesdays. However, summer is the best time to visit when additional activities like boat cruises on the lake and hot-air balloon rides are added onto the agenda. Allow for a day to fully enjoy this road trip and immerse yourself in the history and beauty of the Loing Valley.

Top tips for road-tripping around France

If you’re planning a road trip around France, here are some top tips to keep in mind:

  • Be wary of toll roads (péages). While they may get you to your destination faster, tolls can often cost as much (or more) than fuel and the fast road is not always the most scenic.
  • Fuel from service stations along the highway is considerably more expensive than elsewhere, so it’s best to fill up before hitting the road.
  • Consider taking carpooling passengers to reduce costs. The lift-sharing platform blablacar.fr is widely used in France.
  • Use viamichelin.fr to calculate the cost of your trip with tolls and fuel.