1. Cruise the Cote D’Azur – Nice to Fréjus, 65km
This is the most glamorous stretch of France’s southern coastline and is ideal for a slow-paced drive, making frequent stops at the resorts en route to enjoy their beaches, old towns, galleries and restaurants. Kick-off in Nice, the quintessential Cote d’Azur town – read more about super-yacht spotting and sunny afternoons rollerblading in Nice here. You’ve packed the car up and got the kids strapped in, but after an hour or so you’re ready to stretch your legs/escape another loop of Springsteen’s greatest hits – but where to stop? Your first port of call should be the relaxed resort of Antibes, built around a charming olde worlde town centre. Relax beneath the ramparts on Antibes’ little beach, or for more space ease along to Jean-Les-Pins (its slick sister resort) and once you’re feeling sufficiently refreshed, push on along the winding coastal road towards Cannes. Glamorous Cannes, home to the famous film festival, is where you’ll want to whip out your glad rags for swanky cocktails. If you fancy living like a film star then there are plenty of expensive private beach clubs, like Bâoli, for you to rub shoulders with France’s social elite in – but there are also some free public sections if you’re a bit more budget conscious. Leave the crowds behind and ease south west along the D559, away from the main highways to less developed stretches of coast that are broken up by cliffs and little coves. The resorts return as you arrive in St. Raphael, a bolthole very popular with the French for its wide beaches and bountiful cafes and restaurants – get to Le 47 for brasserie food at its best overlooking the beach. It is just a short drive now to your journey’s end at Fréjus, a little inland town and a great point to admire the sweeping vistas back along the Cote d’ Azur – arrive on Saturday to catch the market in the cathedral’s square.
2. From second city to jet set escape – Marseille to St Tropez, 150km
A much less heralded drive than the Cote d’Azur route aforementioned, this adventure can easily be tackled in a day – the whole journey should take about two hours. Kick off in France’s grungy second city, Marseille and see first-hand how this seedy city has gone super-sleek in recent years: we’ve got some great tips on what to see and do in Marseille before you hit the road.
If you really want to put your navigator’s skills to the test, and to see another side to southern France, set off from the frenetic Vieux Port on the Mediterranean coast. A brilliant lunch stop lies in wait in Cassis, the location of one of France’s smallest wine denominations. The postcard perfect waterfront is home to seafood restaurants and boat tours around the nearby cliffs. Views of the sea come and go on the approach to Touloun, a lively city with lots to keep you there. If you want to break the trip up then you’ll do right to stay here because there are many great value accommodation options aside from the usual hotel chains.
Heading east, stick to the D559, rather than cutting inland, and stop off in Port Grimaud, another exclusive resort on the shores of the Med, laden with canals and restaurants. St Tropez lies just ahead, a town synonymous with Hollywood royalty like Brigitte Bardot. The centre is a bit nightmarish to drive through though, due to its narrow streets teeming with preoccupied pedestrians. We recommend you park in the large car park on the outskirts and take the ten minute amble down to the town’s pretty centre, quaint shops, and cafés. You’ll find plenty of bars in downtown St. Tropez serving up Spanish tapas and mojitos in the sunshine – sounds horrible doesn’t it?
3. Route Napoleon – Grenoble to Cannes, 439km
This historic mountain route, also known as Route 85, was once taken by the notorious emperor Napoleon Bonaparte in 1815, and it’s just as spectacular now as it was then, cutting right through the Alps and Alpes-Maritimes in search of the balmy climes of the Mediterranean shoreline. If you’re short on time you can just tackle the Grasse to Nice section, and still enjoy a decent swathe of cambered corners and epic scenery. Areas worth stopping off at, as you appreciate this perfectly engineered road artery, include Dignes and Sisteron. Dignes is where Victor Hugo set the opening scenes in his famous novel Les Misérables – it’s where Jean Valjean is convinced by a bishop to turn his life around – and there are lots of great campsites here if you fancy an overnight stay, although we can’t promise any personal epiphanies. Sisteron lies along the A51 or the D4075 and is a small commune of the banks of the River Durance. Things worth stopping off for? The citadel, some climbing or canyoning in the nearby mountains and a healthy dose of vitamin D – Sisteron gets 300 days of sunshine on average a year!
4. Languorous Languedoc – Marseille to Perpignan
This drive eschews the more renowned stretches of France’s southern shores, instead eking southwest in search of Spain along the Languedoc coast. Once free of Marseille’s suburbs, choose from a delightful trio of fabulous towns to stop in – we suggest you hit all three. Starting with historic Aigues-Mortes, moving on to Montpellier and settling in Sète, you’ll climb medieval city walls, discover unsung beaches and munch on fresh French baguettes stuffed with local cheese. Montpelier is also the place to try the apéritif of choice in these parts, Pastis, an aniseed flavoured spirit (when you’re off driving duties of course). Meanwhile, Sète is famous for its salt water lagoon and for being the Med’s largest fishing port – so expect some delicious seafood, especially at L’Annexe, on Rue Andre Portes, the place for fresh mussels and oysters. If you’ve not quite had your fill, then further along the road pull in to the old town of Agde, another worthy stop on your seafood pilgrimage through southern France. Work off your moules with a brisk walk along one of the sandy shores of Cap d’Agde – chose your patch wisely though, some of the beaches here are for the clothes adverse and you might just find yourself more intimately acquainted with the locals than you might desire.
5. In the tyre tracks of Grace Kelly – Nice to Monte Carlo
From obscure nudist beaches and sleepy fishing villages, to the headline act in any line-up of southern France’s best drives. This is perhaps the most famous of them all; Nice, via a spectacular stretch of rugged landscapes, towards the famous Grand Prix street circuit that snakes its way around the principality of Monaco, to its hub, Monte Carlo. Accommodation in Monte Carlo might cost just as much as an actual Grand Prix racing car (slight exaggeration maybe?) but check our hotels search to see what deals you can pick up. Even if you can’t afford to stay there, stop in to the Hotel Metropole Monte-Carlo for a nightcap or some lunch and a taste of what the five-star French Riviera lifestyle is all about. Stopping or not, you can’t leave without cruising through that famous waterfront tunnel in Monte Carlo, pretending you’re Ayrton Senna or Lewis Hamilton. A little tip if you want to lounge around like Lord and Lady Muck all day but can’t shell out for a private cabana – the public swimming pool on the waterfront is open to all, entrance is cheap and it’s about the only place in Monaco where no one can tell how rich you are, although the Louis Vuitton sunglasses and designer beach bags can sometimes give the game away. If you want to get a real taster for the drives around here check out their big screen appearances in James Bond’s ‘GoldenEye’. Golden Eye
Find more tips for holidays in France:
8 top tips for exploring the Cote d’Azur, saving money and doing it in style
How to live it up in Cannes and the French Riviera in style if you’re a few quid short of a super yacht.
14 pictures of France that will make you want to go there now!
We take you on our very own tour de France at its very best – in 14 beautiful photos.
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Article written by Robin McKelvie for Skyscanner