OK, its a BIIIIG place to sweepingly say “cool things to do”. But lets dive into it like it isnt a massive place to generalise with such a cavalier attitude.
There is a lot to explore and a huge amount of land to cover. But we can do it. You know we can…
So the north west area of France, Brittany and around is a hilly and in places, wind-swept, land. Much of it is very desolate. But the beaches are beautiful. The Finistere is a fascinating place to drive through. The coastal areas and meach campsites around St Malo are worth a plunge in summer time. Too chilly in winter though.
One thing I personally love about Brittany is that it is so easy to get a ferry to, from England. Obviously the further south you go into France, the less viable it is to use the ferry because there is more and more driving to do. So if you love taking the ferry – getting blown to bits up on deck – then you’ll love a trip to Brittany. Maybe on Brittany Ferries!
So definitely check out the French beaches of Brittany. Nice!
The food of Brittany is largely sea-influenced – cockles, muscles, crab, oysters. And Apple influenced – cider and calvados. There is a fab range of different calvados to try. Just dont be driving!
Upper Normandy is where a lot of the World War 2 beach landings happened, so if you are interested to know just what ghastly horrible things had to happen there in order to secure our freedom, then it might be worth a visit. You might want to visit the Bayeux Tapestry at… Bayeux. The cathedral there is stunning. I alwanys cannot help thinking “what a ridiculously HUGE amount of effort went into building this that could have maybe better gone into helping the people”. But then I dont understand because I wasnt alive back then.
In Lower Normandy, they still grow a whole heap of apples so the cider is pretty good. In both Brittany and Lower Normandy, there are “cider routes” which you can walk or cycle along and sample the cider along the way. Again, if you choose to go by car, make sure you’ve got a designated driver. Not cool, I know, but neither is wrapping yourself at high speed around a sturdy oak tree.
Alencon is one of Lower Normandy’s cheeky best kept secrets. It is a wonderful old town that you can get briefly lost in as you stroll around, stopping for coffees and pastries. Some great back lanes and tiny shops.
South of that, you’ve got Le Mans, famous for its race days.
Expect high levels of testosterone. I have heard many, many stories of high jynx at Le Mans. Mostly involving copious quantities of alcohol. Which just goes to show that drinking and driving can go together – so long as you’re not the one behind the wheel.
As you head down through Pays de la Loire, you will pass an insane amount of Chateaux (castles built in regional french style – the architectural style rolls and changes as you move through France).
Like the Dordogne, in the Loire, seeing amazing chateau after amazing chateau, you get a bit awesomeness-numb. You’re soon saying “Yeah, yeah, another amazing chateau. Whatever” (or whatever your dialect for numb tedium might be).
Natnes and Anger have some good night life but are quite industrial for large chunks of it. Like Rouen in Upper Normandy. Going through Rouen is like a drive through the industrial revolution. Plus one amazing bridge and one stunning cathedral. Apart from that, Rouen is pretty dull.
Back to the Loire region…
Ahh, the coast! The Bay of Biscay is THE place to be in summer, if you cant get to the south coast. If you look at a map showing the number of days of sunshine per year, there is a radial area around La Rochelle. This means that is it warmer than most other places in France, other than the south coast. This map shows it fairly clearly…
And this in more detail…
Obviously the reddest areas (warm) are on the south east of France. But you can also see a warmer area half way dwon the west coast. That is why the Bay of Biscay and the La Rochelle area are crazy busy in summer. Beautiful but busy.
Coming down France, the Poitou Charente region starts to get a bit warmer with the summer and spring seasons longer through the year. Which makes for more fun outdoors.
And personally, I’d say the wines start to get better too.
Anywhere on the coast down this area of the west of France is stunning. The Ile de Re and the Ile d’Oleron are hugely popular. Book early. Like about 3 years early! It is fun there though, so worth it.
Coming down to Bordeaux, you’ll find a beautiful town with a fantastic night club. Bordeaux has it all, with the right balance of fun and lively without heading into being grubby or having too much of a seedy underbelly.
Beautiful architecture, mostly clean, and a friendly and lively atmosphere.
OK, now I’m going to break this post up here so it doesnt get too huge to read. I’ll cover more fun things to do in France in the next post. See you then.