There are plenty of things to do while you're in France this summer; visit the Eiffel Tower, sunbathe in St Tropez, experience the fast-paced racing scene in Monaco, and trust me, these are all definitely worth a visit. However, if you fancy heading 'off the beaten track' and experiencing a different side of France, then here are five places that you simply must drive to. With the freedom of your car, I know you'll enjoy cruising through France and stopping off at some of my favourite pit stops.
1. Drive along the Route du Champagne...
I recommend stopping off at the champagne houses between Reims and Epernay - there are so many to choose from and you'll have the opportunity to meet local producers who'll teach you everything you want to know about champagne.
Here are a few of my favourite places to visit en-route:
This beautiful champagne house is located in Ludes, in the heart of the Montagne de Reims wine area. They offer tasting sessions from March to December when the vines are in season, and take it from me, the champagne is exquisite.
Champagne De Castellane
If you're looking for somewhere a little different to the large champagne houses, then De Castellane offers something more low-key but equally as exciting. You have the opportunity to visit the museum and climb the historic tower, all topped off with another glass of bubbly!
Champagne Jean Milan
This family-run champagne house is located in Oger near Epernay. It's one of my favourite places to stop on the route; I love the simplicity and family feel. Five generations of wine makers have worked in these vineyards since 1864 and have produced the finest grapes for prestigious names such as Veuve Cliquot and Krug. You can finish your tour of Jean Milan with… you've guessed it, more champagne!
2. Visit Bayonne...
The capital of the French Basque Country and the birthplace of French chocolate, Bayonne is by far one of the most beautiful places in south-west France. The region is renowned for producing some of the finest chocolates in the country. If you've got a sweet tooth, then "l'Atelier du Chocolat" tour is a must – as a self-confessed chocoholic, I couldn't resist.
"Bouquet de Chocolats" from the "Atelier du Chocolat" in Bayonne
During a tour that revealed the history of Bayonne chocolate, I got to see a fabulous collection of antique machinery that was used to transform the cocoa beans into chocolate over 100 years ago. At the end of the outing, you'll have the opportunity for a 'choctastic' tasting session.
While you're in Bayonne, it's worth exploring the city too; there's so much to see and do, and it was recently recognised for its exceptional cultural heritage. If you're interested in history, I recommend a visit to the Basque Museum Bayonne!
3. Visit some of the most exciting and cultural markets...
A French market is different to any other market I have ever been to; there is a distinct lack of hurry and haste, but there's a certain magic about French markets that I cannot describe.
Here are a few of my favourites:
Metz Covered Market
This historic market is one of the oldest in France, and is home to over 40 different stalls. It is in the north east of France and just a four-hour drive from Calais. Many of the locals buy their food here, so the freshest produce is guaranteed. It is underground, so even if the weather isn't great, the show will still go on!
I have been to the Ardres market a few times before, and always return if I'm in France on a Thursday (it's only once a week). It is a large market with lots of choice, selling clothes and other items as well as local food produce. Again, it's popular with the locals, so you can be sure that the quality will be high. It is perfectly located in the Calais area and just a short trip from the Eurotunnel Le Shuttle terminal, making it the perfect end to your adventure in France!
4. Visit Paris, but visit for free...
Been to Paris so many times you could walk around it with your eyes closed? Or seen and heard so much about it in books and films that you feel like you've practically been there? Whether you've visited Paris before or not, there's bound to be so much of the city that's kept under the radar. But you have the perfect opportunity to visit the hidden corners of the city, uncovering some fabulous treasures, for free!
Incredible Eiffel Tower view on the Seine River
Here are some of my favourite things to do whilst in the city of light:
Free First Sundays
Did you know that you can visit some of Paris' most popular museums and monuments free of charge with the Free First Sundays Programme? You can take advantage of this fantastic offer and visit attractions such as the Louvre and Musee d'Orsay.
The Love Wall
As Paris is the city of love, it is only fitting that you visit the Love Wall, a spectacular mural featuring the words "I Love You" in hundreds of different languages. Even if you are not a hopeless romantic, this is still something worth seeing.
Re-enact 'Midnight in Paris'
Venture down to the Square du Vert-Galant and enjoy the river view with a nice bottle of wine in the park. What a perfect way to spend an evening in Paris!
5. Jump on a ferry at Normandy and head over to Le Mont-Saint-Michel...
If you're interested in the history and culture of France, then you must visit Mont Saint Michel, "The Wonder of the Western World" and the most beautiful piece of architecture that you are likely to see in northern France. In fact, this place is so impressive that it has been included on the UNESCO list of World Cultural and Natural Heritage sites. It is home to the Norman Benedictine Abbey of St Michel and is surrounded by a picturesque bay. A phenomenal experience to round off my recommendations.
Mont Saint-Michel, France
When I created this list it was difficult to narrow it down to just five things. I'm sure it comes as no surprise to you that France has so much to offer - hopefully I've let you in on enough secrets, hints and tips to inspire your trip, and help you to explore and create some unique memories.