As you might know I love road trips and Europe, therefore a long drive to explore France was an obvious choice for our early summer holiday 2 weeks ago!
The past few years we’ve been on road trips through the Netherlands, Italy, Croatia and South Africa already, but one of the most memorable ones was down the coast of the Cote d’Azur!
I have been to Paris and other areas of France many times during my childhood and the past 20 years, and unfortunately we did not always have good experiences with the country. But of course France is huge, and 2 years ago during our visit to the south we were pleasantly surprised by the friendliness of the people, the hospitality, beautiful coastlines, stunning views and unique quaint villages of the French Riviera. Next to the refinement and class of beautiful iconic places like Monaco, Cannes, Nice and Saint Tropez of course. Read more about that in this blog: Beauty of the Cote d'Azur.
And since we couldn’t get enough of the heritage of France and 8 days was not nearly enough to explore the south, we decided to do another road trip in that direction this year, passing by the east towards the Provence to experience more of the French countryside, on a hunt for vineyards, lavender fields and of course beautiful Medieval castles, which France is so well known for.
In 12 days we drove 2,800 kms all the way to the Provence and back in a brand new Peugeot 5008 SUV. This elegant new model is comfortable, refined and drives like a dream, which made our trip even more convenient! Read more about this model's features and design here in English: Peugeot 5008 SUV/UK
We visited 7 locations and explored as much of the region as we could! On below map you can see our exact route, indicated with letters, click on the letter to see the location or read on to find out more about all the places we visited for 1 or several days:
In this blog I will only show you the places I can highly recommend, a selection of the many castles we passed by, and the best spots to find lavender fields on the go!
And in the next blog I will show you all the amazing hotels we stayed in during this trip. Join me through many of my personal pics, which are all original and taken by us.
Our first destination was located in the Bourgogne, one of France's main wine producing areas and just 700 kms from our home in the Netherlands. Here we visited a very authentic town, with beautiful sights and quaint streets dotted with wine houses/factories and surrounded by vineyards!
We stayed here for 3 days to enjoy everything this unique town has to offer and we’ve been truly impressed. The people here are very friendly, the streets and squares quiet, yet beautiful, the food excellent, and the wines top notch.
Just walking around here was a true pleasure, but there are also many things to do! Some of my favourites here below and get an impression of Beaune in this gallery, click on the arrows to slide and see the descriptions:
Hôtel Dieu – Hospices de Beaune
This ‘palace for the poor’ was originally built in the Middle Ages to house the less fortunate inhabitants of Beaune. Now it’s a museum and the 3rd most visited tourist site in the Bourgogne-Franche-Comté region. If you go in the morning the courtyard will be open, which gives you the best views of the building and the uniquely patterned roofs:
Read more about: Hospices de Beaune
Mustard Factory Fallot
Nearby Dijon is famous for its mustard which has become a specialty of the region. Fallot is an authentic mustard factory in Beaune which has been active for many years, renowned for their traditional production process of local, Dijon mustard and many other flavours. We did a very interesting tour of the factory and a mustard tasting here.
Read more about: Moutarderie Fallot
Wine tasting & vineyard cycling
The wine houses and vineyards are iconic for the Burgundy region, so this can not be missed! We had a wine tasting at Aine & Fils, one of the many Bouchards in Beaune, including a tour of the cellar and interesting history of the wine production process.
But a vineyard cycling tour with Guillaume from Active Tours is also highly recommended. Although it was a bit cloudy and we caught a brief shower during our tour, cycling through these impressive fields is a unique experience. This company offers many different tours to cater to your needs and ours was per electric bike, which was very convenient, and enabled us to see more of the surrounding villages, like quaint Pommard:
After Beaune we drove 340 kms to the Drôme region, located between the Provence and Lyon. This area is officially not part of the Provence, but often described as what it used to be like before being discovered by tourism😊
Here we truly felt the charm and peacefulness of rural Provence, with good food, often flavoured with local truffles and many Medieval villages scattered throughout the countryside, with their beautiful castles, quaint streets and local markets. Although we just stayed here for 3 days we were able to find many lavender fields, visit a few castles and several villages that captured our heart:
Château de Rochegude
Our first stop was the very small town Rochegude, dominated by a stronghold, dating back to the 11th century. This castle was transformed during the Renaissance into a refined chateau which is currently a hotel, and member of the prestigious Relais & Chateau group. More about this in my next blog.
Set atop another hilltop, between Rochegude and Grignan, we passed by a Medieval fortress that towers over the quaint village Suze-la-Rousse. In this castle you can learn more about the history of the castle, rebuilt during the Renaissance, including a museum about the wine-producing heritage and activities of the Drôme region.
We truly fell in love with this quaint hilltop village with Medieval-Renaissance castle at the top, surrounded by vineyards and beautiful countryside plains.
See for yourself why and read more about Grignan and the beautiful authentic luxury hotel we stayed at in my next blog:
Grignan accounts for 70% of France's truffles and also has a vast lavender production surrounding the village.
In preparation of this trip I looked up the best spots to find lavender fields in the Provence and the Valensole plateau was often mentioned. It certainly looked gorgeous, but proved quite a drive if you are not staying in the center of the region.
But luckily when we drove from Rochegude to Grignan, especially through the back roads, we found many lavender farms and rows and rows of this fragrant purple plant just by the side of the road.
We were surprised to see that some fields were already blooming and brightly colored when we visited start June, as this area is situated more up north. But usually the best time to see lavender in full bloom and purple colored is start July until half July, depending on the weather.
Château de Grignan
The winding streets of Grignan will naturally lead you to the top, where this castle is the main attraction. Dating back to the Middle Ages it has a turbulent history and still retains certain medieval features. In the 16th century it was however largely transformed, making it one of the finest examples of Renaissance architecture in southeast France.
It became renowned in France in the 17th century, when the Marquise de Sevigne wrote in her letters about the beauty of this place. Read all about it here: Chateau de Grignan
And see for yourself how beautiful the views and surroundings are through this clip:
For the second part of our trip we drove on to explore the Provence for 1 more week. And even though this is one of the most diverse regions of France, many people mainly think of lavender fields and the French Riviera when mentioning it. But we found out that it has so much more to offer.
The Provence has several bigger towns, a multitude of authentic and Medieval villages, mountain tops reaching over 2,500 meters and nature all around, with many peaceful areas not overrun by tourists yet. Let me show you some highlights:
Our first stop here was one of the renowned cities of this area, well known for its turbulent religious history and the infamous bridge. In the 1300’s 7 successive popes resided in Avignon until the French Revolution, when it officially became part of France.
Now it's the capital of the Vaucluse department, with a beautiful historic centre, surrounded by city walls. A big tourist attraction are the many Unesco Sites, like the impressive Palais de Papes (Pope’s Palace), Cathedral, Pont d’Avignon (bridge) and annual festival. Get an impression of Avignon in this gallery, click on the arrows to slide and see the descriptions:
Although these sites can get busy in high season, it was still nice and quiet when we were there start June. Walking around the Medieval city felt very special and these Unesco sites are definitely worth a visit if you appreciate heritage and history. Experience 1 of the Pope's Palace's impressive courtyards in this clip:
Castillon-du-Gard, Uzes & Les Baux-de-Provence
As the Provence is quite big and so diverse, it was hard to choose where to go and what to see next. But these 3 ancient villages situated below Avignon were among my favourites because they are all authentic, and oozing with that quaint French charm that embodies the true spirit of France to me, as you can see here:
Mazan & Mont Ventoux
Our final destination before the long drive home was the small village Mazan near Orange, looking out upon the Mont Ventoux. It's very quiet and there is not much to do here, but it was the location of our amazing chateau hotel and the perfect place to explore the beautiful surroundings from.
From here you can do beautiful hikes through the countryside, olivegroves and vineyards, and several Tour de France cycling routes over the Mont Ventoux. Also Mazan is surrounded by quaint villages like Monieux and Venasque and the more popular Gordes and Carpentras.
But this area is also known for the multitude of lavender fields lined up near the mountain. If you know how to get there you will be surrounded by purple flower fields in just a 40 minutes’ drive from Mazan. We were recommended to drive here through the Gorges de la Nesque, a stunning mountain pass of the D942 up to Sault.
The views along the way were fabulous already and we were amazed to see so many quaint mountain villages and rows of lavender just by the road after we passed Sault and drove up to Mont Ventoux.
If you are a flower lover like me, or want to get some Instagrammable shots like these as well, then this route is a must:
I hope our pictures inspired you to visit these regions of France as well, but I still have many more pics to share! For daily pics you can follow me on social media via the icons at the bottom of this page.
Or check out the website of France.FR in preparation for your own road trip through France for more info.
Have you ever been to Burgundy, Drôme or the Provence and do you like France and road trips as well? Tell me all about your experiences, trip plans or if you have more questions so I can answer them here below!