I honestly wasn't expecting to fall for France as much as I did, on our European road trip. The further down the country we travelled, we felt the temperature rise and the colours we were seeing changed – electric blue skies, peach-white chalky stone buildings and rows of pea-green, shiny grapevines on undulating hills.
Aquitaine, the province which lodges in the south western corner of the country, bordering Spain and then pointing diagonally inland, is stunning and so varied. It’s easy to travel around, bar the pesky tolls, which we just put up with, although I know many Google routes that evade them. We dawdled along in the car, air conditioning lulling us into that weird false sense of security that doesn't prepare you for the fierce heat bouncing off the pavement when you open the door.
Road trip tips for Aquitaine
- Don’t be a sat nav slave – get out a real map and pick a place that looks interesting, and make a detour
- If you see a roadside boulangerie, don’t pass it, stop! We found the most delicious bread and snacks in the tiniest of villages - so much better than a supermarket
- If you or the kids enjoy wild swimming, there are heaps of spots to try in the lovely rivers of the region
- Keep room in your car for wine. We picked up a bottle every couple of days and have enjoyed working our way through it at home ever since!
Here are our favourite stops:
This place is textbook Dordogne, from its medieval covered square and babbling fountain to its pavement cafes with shady tables. It is wildly popular with English second home owners, but don’t let that put you off! We spent hours toddling around its safe streets, taking in the incredible narrow streets and beautiful church. I loved the communal laundry area, now converted into a still pond complete with water lilies.
Bayonne was my favourite random surprise in France. We stopped there on our way down to Spain, as an alternative to Biarritz, and it couldn't be more different. We visited on a Sunday to find an excellent flea market, traders laying out all sorts of treats on blankets in the ancient streets, from surf boards to classic vinyl. We enjoyed some excellent local beer and watched local bands play and families spill into the square to enjoy some time together, children playing safely all around. One of those unforgettable afternoons, I was sorry to leave! And as for the frozen yoghurt stall…worth the trip alone!
The Flea Market in Bayonne.
Delicious frozen yoghurt in Bayonne.
We day-tripped to Biarritz from San Sebastian in Spain in the end as it was that easy to get around. Biarritz’s background is high glamour, a European gentry’s playground, and it still has that feel. The beach is lovely, the shopping is high-end, and the town retains a lot of dignified classic charm. It reminded me of Sidmouth in East Devon, or even Torquay in its Victorian heyday. This place is not a cheap day out in terms of food and drink, but it’s a town which loves dogs, so Mack was in his element meeting lots of tiny French hounds and old ladies who wanted to pet him. Tibbs played with some local toddlers on the beach, while I watched in wonder at their ability to have fun without understanding each other!
Tibbs playing on the bandstand.
If you’re road tripping with kids in France, you need places to stop and stretch your legs. We stopped at Bordeaux’s incredible Parc Bordelaise on the way up the West Coast of France from Spain. What a place! It reminded me of Regent’s Park in London – incredibly spacious and varied, luscious and green, with plenty of shade. We loved letting Mack off his lead and watching him play, and Tibbs loved the ducks and the playground we found in the middle. We ate our first Croque Monseiur of France here, washed down with ice cold coke, just as it should be on holiday!
If you fancy exploring this beautiful area of France, check out Clickstay's villas and apartments in Aquitaine
You can find out more about Eleanor’s european road trip over at The Bristol Parent
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