Once you've made the exciting decision to plan a France road trip, the actual hard part is deciding, "Where should I go in France?"
In a country that's filled to the brim with monuments of world heritage, overflowing with engaging historic tales that also contains vast cultural exploration potential, picking just one vacation destination is nearly impossible. Of course you want to see the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre - the necessities - but your focus has to be a bit broader if you want to enjoy a fully immersive vacation experience, and that's why we here at Auto Europe have taken the time to craft a selection of detailed, comprehensive, multi-day road trip itineraries - to help you get the most from your travels abroad.
For those travelers who are visiting France for the first time, a road trip through the Champagne Region is probably the most desirable locale available for exploration. Not only do you get to experience many of the famed vineyards and wineries that France is known for, but you also get to spend time discovering the cultural intricacies of Paris, sample regional culinary delights, and bask in awe of the stunning landscapes found around every corner. For the France-first-timer, Champagne Region encapsulates everything you've probably come to expect from this beautiful country, and so much more.
You've officially made it to Picardy, a region in northern France, located almost directly north of Paris. An abundance of quaint French villages make up the area, providing an excellent starting-base for your exploration of not only the Picardy area, but also the famed Champagne region - from which the eponymous sparkling white-wine hails - to the south. There are plenty of excellent cities to begin your adventures from, including Amiens, Beauvais, and Saint Quentin, but for the sake of this itinerary, we will focus our jump-off point in Amiens.
The Picardy Region is most famous as the location of some of World War I's bloodiest battles, and the subsequent construction of numerous wartime memorials, dedicated to British, French, Scottish, Canadian, Australian, and South African soldiers. Beyond the region's wartime past, Picardy is also famous for being the birthplace of Gothic architecture, home to six of the world's most epic and pristine examples of Gothic-styled cathedrals. History buffs, and culturally curious travelers alike can easily find an abundance of intriguing attractions in the Picardy Region, including but not limited to, the Amiens Cathedral in Amiens, and the Saint Pierre Cathedral in Beauvais. Despite being commonly overlooked as a travel destination and cultural-bastion, Picardy's historical influence on art and architecture is evident throughout the world, and is definitely worth a visit.
Picardy Restaurants, Bars, and Nightlife:
Much like the majority of France, the culinary scene in Amiens is focused around traditional French fare; rich cream-based dishes are commonplace, as well as a variety of fowl and their corresponding pâtés. Beyond the expectadly exceptional cuisine offerings in Amiens and surrounding towns, the city is home to a few local specialties as well, the most famous being macarons d'Amiens - round almond-based biscuits with fruit and honey. Other local specialties include, tuiles amienoises - chocolate and orange covered biscuits, and pâté de canard d'Amiens - duck pâté filled puff pastries. While you're on the hunt for the perfect restaurant while in Amiens, consider Le Tassigny, a rustic home-style restaurant known for its exceptional traditional cuisine, and intimate atmosphere.
As you probably already know, when searching for the best bar and club scenes in a foreign country, small towns rarely bring much to the table. Quite surprisingly then, Amiens quaint village feel belies its status as a hidden gem of exciting nightlife opportunity. Just below the hallowed grounds of the Amiens Cathedral, a variety of bars and clubs can be found, tucked away in a small, cobbled, quintessentially French neighborhood. Whether you desire a relaxed evening at a cocktail lounge or even the brash freneticism of an Irish pub, all can be found in Amiens with relative ease and convenience, as they are all grouped within walking distance from one another.
Picardy Hotels & Lodging:
For your first night of the Champagne Region Road Trip, hotels in Amiens, or south in Beauvais, are probably the two most desirable and convenient accommodation locations. If you're looking to splurge a bit on luxurious lodging, the Ibis Styles hotel in Amiens comes highly recommended, and is located a mere 300 yards from the Amiens Cathedral, nightlife district, and various other downtown attractions. If you instead decide to stay in Beauvais, check out the Mercure Beauvais, again only minutes from the gothic cathedral, and also offering an abundance of in-house amenities including: Swimming pool, rooftop terrace, outdoor fireplace, in-room bathtubs, satellite TV service, and WiFi.
Picardy Road Trip, Scenic Drives:
Depart St. Malo on the D137 heading south, following signs to the E401 expressway towards Dinan. Along this route you will pass numerous scenic vistas and photo-worthy landscapes, as you cruise along the coastline of the English Channel inlet and the quaint villages that line its shores. For those interested in historic architecture, a number of chateau's can be found minutes from the E401 as you approach Dinan. Standouts include the Chateau de la Belliere and Chateau de Dinan.
More Champagne Region Road Trip Resources: Picardy
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As the most popular travel destination on earth, the city of Paris gets more than its fair share of attention, and to a certain extent, not much can be said that hasn't already been said about the City of Light and its many worldly offerings. Of course, if you've never been, you're going to want to make the obligatory stops at the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, the Arc de Triomphe, Sainte Chapelle, Notre Dame, and the Palace of Versailles - all the big Paris attractions. But what about the road less traveled, and the oft-overlooked attractions that despite cultivating mystique and contributing greatly to the fantastic energy of Paris, go largely unnoticed? Well as it turns out, with the aid of this detailed guide, you can easily find, and explore the many incredible sites within Paris that you won't find on an airport postcard.
First order of business, pick up a Paris Museum Pass - a prepaid entry card granting you access to over 70 museums and monuments throughout the city. This will allow you to hit all the big spots without the hassle of milling around in lines, or shelling out the big-bucks for tourist-trap single entry passes to individual sites. Second, be sure to check out the newly constructed Louis Vuitton Museum, not only for the breathtaking art collection found inside, but the Geary designed architecture displayed outside. For an interesting look into Paris' past, Napoleon's mausoleum and the attached war museum are excellent destinations.
If you find yourself in Paris during the month of March, don't miss out on the Fashion Week festivities held throughout the city, including the highly-stylized evening theme park, Nuit Blanche, found in the city center during Fashion Week.
Numerous flea markets can be found all-over Paris, and no better method exists for experiencing the "real" Paris, than walking the long stretches of vendor-stalls, gazing upon priceless antiques, art collections, delectable treats, and Eiffel Tower key chains.
Paris Restaurants, Bars, and Nightlife:
As one of Europe's lost lauded culinary hotbeds, Paris has something for everyone in both the restaurant and nightlife scenes, though the sheer abundance of food and drink offerings can become difficult to navigate, and uninitiated travelers can easily fall for priced-gouged tourist-trap eateries near major monuments. One good rule of thumb for guaranteeing a positive dining experience in Paris is to avoid restaurants and bars in the heavily trafficked areas around the most popular sites, a la, the square surrounding Notre Dame.
Picking the single "best" restaurant in Paris is virtually impossible, as there are thousands of incredible eateries scattered throughout the city. For the sake of conciseness, we recommend making reservations at Ribouldingue. From the exterior, Ribouldingue looks more like a NYC bodega than a 5-star restaurant, but its modest appearance belies the world-class dining experience found inside. Head chef Nadége Varigny spend years working under the famed French chef, Yves Camdeborde, before opening her own bistro style restaurant, serving traditional French cuisine. Ribouldingue is frequented by food critics, and rival chefs on the search for culinary inspiration.
When it comes to the nightlife scene, Paris is internationally recognized as a party capital. Whether you want to relax at a swanky lounge and sip cocktails, or get lost in the frenetic energy and ear-shattering basslines of a VIP dance club, Paris has got you covered. Much is to be discovered in Paris' club scene and personal preference reigns supreme, so hit the streets after dinner and explore to your heart's content. A high concentration of active nightlife can be found near the Place de Bastille, though nearly every arrondissement (district) has something to offer.
Paris Hotels & Lodging:
Choosing a hotel in Paris is just about as difficult as choosing a restaurant, as the city contains a mind-numbing volume of attractive accommodation options, from presidential suite and champagne-laden luxury hotels, to the austere traveler's favorite - hostels. If you're looking to shell out some serious cash (like in the thousands!) and revel in luxury for the evening, both the Westminster and Le Bristol should be on your considerations radar. But for those of us trapped in the realm of possibility - who can't afford such lavish accommodations - have no fear, as there are an abundance of affordable-yet-incredible hotel offerings as well, such as the Royal Saint Honore or Belmont Hotel. Again, these are just a few of the nearly endless hotel options in Paris, and one things for sure - no matter where you stay, vacationing in Paris is an absolutely extraordinary experience.
Paris Road Trip, Scenic Drives:
As depressing as it can be to leave behind the stunning architecture, culinary prowess, and inspiring energy of the French cultural epicenter that is Paris, worry not, as the next leg of your journey will take you to the heart of the Champagne region, where exploratory opportunity and vacation potential are endless. Depart from Paris following the signs for the A4/E50 east, and even though this isn't the quickest route to Châlons en Champagne, it takes you past numerous palatial vineyards and wineries - perfect for scenic vista photography, lunchtime wine-tasting, and tucked away picnics. You will also pass through Reims on your way to Châlons en Champagne, where you can stop off to check out a number of epic architectural attractions and museums.
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You've arrived in Châlons en Champagne, the official capital of the Champagne Region, and beyond the obvious and ubiquitous presence of vineyards and wineries, the city is full to the brim with awe-inspiring architecture, and a rich history forever tied to the proliferation of French culture as we know it today. First item on the agenda is making your way to Notre Dame en Vaux, a UNESCO World Heritage site, originally built in the 12th century, featuring a variety of architecture styles from Gothic to Baroque. Other notable architectural wonders include Saint Etienne's Cathedral, and Saint Alpin - the oldest church in Châlons en Champagne, built in Gothic style around the year 1170. Just outside Châlons en Champagne, numerous historic battlefields can be found, dating back to the Roman Empire, such as the Battle of Châlons, and the Catalaunian Fields.
For a fully immersive day of Châlons en Champagne exploration, consider a kayak tour down the River Marne as it bisects the city, offering unrivaled views of architectural monuments, palatial vineyards, and the hustle and bustle of the city-life.
Châlons en Champagne Restaurants, Bars, and Nightlife:
When it comes to food and drink, Châlons en Champagne is in a category of its own. As the epicenter of the Champagne Region, Châlons en Champagne is home to some of the most famous Champagne vineyards and wineries in the world. No trip to Châlons en Champagne is complete without at least a few wine tasting tours under your belt. Founded in 1825 by Joseph Perrier, a visit to the Joseph Perrier Fils et Cie Champagne House is an absolute must for wine lovers, and curious travelers alike. Myriad other famous Champagne houses offer tasting tours for a small fee, and since you're already in the Champagne capital of the world, you might as well try a smattering of the available offerings, as nowhere else can you find such a comprehensive and artisanal collection of famed vintages than in Châlons en Champagne.
Restaurant options in Châlons en Champagne are considerably less voluminous than in Paris or other major cities in France, but on the flipside, it provides an excellent setting to experience home-style dining in a charmingly rustic atmosphere. Many believe the cuisine at quaint, hole-in-the-wall bistros, found in the smaller French destinations to be the best food in the world, despite being commonly overlooked in favor of established, Michelin-starred eateries. When searching for a good spot to eat in Châlons en Champagne, recommendations from the locals will almost always yield top-notch results, so check out what they have to say, you won't be disappointed.
Châlons en Champagne Hotels & Lodging:
If Paris is the best place to enjoy lavish hotels and VIP services, then Châlons en Champagne is the best place to stray from the common hotel path, and reserve a night or two at a local Bed and Breakfast. Even though B&B's may lack the attentive concierge service, and discretionary amenities, their value comes in the form of fostering lifelong friendships, and enjoying engaging conversations with your gracious hosts. Not only do you get a highly personalized, intimate setting to rest and relax when you stay at a B&B, but you also get a unique insider's perspective of the surrounding locale that you wouldn't be able to get from a hotel chain.
Châlons en Champagne Road Trip, Scenic Drives:
Leaving Châlons en Champagne, take the A26 south, connecting with the D619 towards Chaumont. By taking this route not only do you get to pass through a variety of cute French village towns, but also the seemingly endless natural beauty of the Orient Forest Regional Natural Park, a 170,000 acre nature reserve with numerous hiking trails, scenic vistas, swimming holes, and enchanting landscapes - perfect for a travel photo op! On your way to Chaumont, why not stop for a bit to enjoy a picnic lunch at the Orient Forest?
Additional Vacation Resources: Châlons en Champagne
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Your France road trip through the Champagne Region may be coming to a close, but that doesn't mean your time spent in Chaumont has to be marred by disappointment. In fact, Chaumont is a fabulous locale to finish out your trip, packed with great food, intriguing attractions, and enough exploratory opportunity to fill an entire photo album. Chaumont's relatively small size makes it a perfect destination for a casual stroll, basking in the glowing energy and intrigue of the city, as you traverse the cobbled roads past relics of ancient history. France is chalked full of masterfully designed churches, basilicas, chateaus, and castles, and Chaumont is no exception. The Chapel of the Jesuits, and the Basilica of St. Jean Baptiste, located near the center of Chaumont, are two immaculately maintained architectural wonders remaining to this day with beautiful high-relief interiors, crafted by the famed Jean-Baptiste Bouchardon.
Chaumont is also famous as the epicenter of book and poster art, a collection of which can be found in re-purposed grain silos in town, and currently containing over 20,000 posters of theatrical, operatic, and music venues from all over the world. If you happen to be visiting during the summer months, be sure to check out the annual International Poster and Graphic Design Festival, where artists from around the world gather each year to showcase their work, and participate in workshops.
Chaumont Restaurants, Bars, and Nightlife:
The restaurant scene is Chaumont is widely variable, and finding a restaurant that caters to your individual culinary interests should be no problem at all. Similar to the majority of France, Chaumont is a hotbed of traditional French fare, as well as innovative fusion cuisines. Chaumont's relatively small size makes it conducive to exploration by foot, and a short walk in nearly any direction will yield excellent restaurant options. Stand out restaurants include, Le Grain de Sel - for affordable classic French cuisine in a cute and rustic atmosphere, and Bouddha Zen Sushi - for top quality Sushi and other Japanese culinary offerings.
Nightlife in Chaumont is fairly quiet, especially compared to the dance-club mecca that is Paris. With that said, a small selection of pubs, wineries, and clubs can be found in Chaumont, and depending on your interests can make for an exciting night out.
Chaumont Hotels & Lodging:
After your epic journey through Picardy and the Champagne Region, a good night's sleep in a comfy hotel is paramount. Relaxing the evening away and reflecting on your exciting adventure up to this point is best accomplished from the balcony of a luxurious hotel, which fortunately for you, are more than abundant in Chaumont. A few standouts include, Hotel de France, Hotel Des Remparts, and Hotel Le Grand Val. If you're curious about specific hotel amenities or discount rates, give our hotel reservations department today at 1-888-223-5555, or check out our hotel offerings online at excellenthotels.com.
Chaumont Road Trip, Scenic Drives:
As our tour of Champagne Region itinerary comes to a close, your post road-trip options are limitless. You could pack up and drive back to Paris to fly home, but what fun would that be? Instead continue your site-seeing journey through France, and head in any direction to begin one of our other detailed France road trip itineraries. Are you eager to hit the beach after discovering the Champagne Region? Drive down south to Monte Carlo or St. Tropez and soak up some sun on the many white sand beaches. Want to dive deeper into France's storied past? No problem, head north and explore all that Brittany has to offer in St. Malo or Rennes. Whatever you decide to do, wherever you decide to go, Auto Europe has you covered. From the best prices industry wide on car rentals, luxury or otherwise, to discount hotel and airfare rates, with only a little help from Auto Europe, your vacation dream can become a vacation reality today.
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