Imagine you have a week in the south of France and want to see everything. Not easy – you could spend three months travelling across the region and there would still be lots of things you missed. However, we will imagine you are landing at Bordeaux airport and plan to travel from west to east in a suitably fast car and go home with great memories of your visit. Where to start?
Day 1 Saint Emilion
Head east from Bordeaux towards Bergerac and after about one hour you will reach St Emilion. Best known for producing some of the greatest French wines, Saint Emilion is also a very lovely town and now a UNESCO listed world heritage site.
Park at the bottom of the town and head up the narrow streets until you reach the main square, with a church on one edge carved into the rock. Continue upwards through the streets of attractive stone buildings, in the style traditional for the region and you reach a broad pathway with great views back across the town and surrounding vineyards.
Day 2 Dordogne Valley
Continuing eastwards from Saint Emilion, pass Bergerac (nice town but no time to stop!) and follow the Dordogne River. There are several places of interest on the river or close by that deserve a stop – many can be seen very quickly if necessary! Be sure to stop for a great view from the Cirque de Tremolat, to walk through the village and tropical gardens at La Roque-Gageac, and to climb the hill up to the castle at Beynac.
Domme, slightly to the south, should also be a priority both for the beautiful village itself and for the stunning views from the open square at the top of the town. Time permitting you will also enjoy visiting Sarlat, the main town in the region, but if you are visiting in summer this may take more time than your week allows!
Day 3 Rocamadour to Conques
Enter the Lot department and head to Rocamadour, possibly the most famous pilgrimage town in the world. Rocamadour is a beautiful medieval village set along one (steep) street, so it won’t take long to visit, although ideally you will follow the ‘stations of the cross’ pilgrim path up the hill which will add an hour to your visit.
Time permitting head up to the Gouffre de Padirac. Close to the north of Rocamadour this is perhaps the most impressive cave system in France. (You didn’t have time to visit the prehistoric paintings at the Lascaux Caves yesterday, sorry!)
After your subterranean adventure continue towrds the east and the village of Conques, to the south-east. Not unlike Rocamadour in some ways – Conques is also a one street village and an important pilgrimage town with a large abbey. It is also another of the unmissable villages of southern France.
Day 4 Millau to the Pont du Gard – Roman France
Try and arrange your route to include the Millau Bridge – the highest road bridge in the world, and a great modern design by architect Norman Foster. Built to speed the traffic along towards the Mediterranean it is now a major tourist attraction in its own right.
Our destination today is Nimes and the nearby Pont du Gard to admire some of the Roman ruins. Within Nimes itself you will want to see the Roman arena and the Maison Carrée, also the Temple of Diana if possible.
Enjoy your lunch in Nimes but don’t sit in the sunshine too long, you’re in a rush! Just north-east of Nimes is the Pont du Gard. An extraordinary building feat by the Romans the aquaduct was built to carry wate to the city of Nimes. It is found in an attractive setting – you can see the landscape changing now you are heading away from the lush south-west of France and into the hotter, more arid, south-east.
Day 5 – drive along the French Riviera
Well OK you won’t be able to see the whole French Riviera in one day unless you set off at 5am and don’t stop all day, but you can try! You would have enjoyed a chance to see a couple of the perched villages in the Luberon, just north of the autoroute before Marseille. Perhaps next visit!
Another enjoyable trip you don’t have time for is to see the ‘Grand Canyon of France’ – the spectacular Grand Canyon du Verdon’. Not far from the coast on the map but i’m afraid the roads are slow and you will take a long time to get there.
Follow the coast to Marseille – no time for a boat trip around the craggy cliffs of the calanques i’m afraid – then on towards all those towns that make the French Riviera so well known – from St Tropez to Cannes, Nice and Monaco.If you’ve made good progress follow the upper corniche road from Nice to Monaco for fine views across the Mediterranean.
Summary – is it really possible?
Well, could this trip really be done in a week? Probably yes, although you would perhaps spend too much time in the car and not enough soaking up the atmosphere. If you get up early and get the longest part of each days journey done while the roads are still quiet you could quite easily cross France in a week.
Would we recommend it? Why not. We live here so we can spend more time in each place, but when we travel to other countries we tend to rush from highlight to highlight…so I am sure that others do the same when they visit France.
Of course, ideally you would allow two or three weeks or more for your vacation in France and take time to relax, enjoy yourself, and soak up the atmosphere – but if that is impossible for you a whistle-stop tour is better than not coming to France at all!