The French Escape: Our Road Trip through the Brittany and Loire Regions of France!
Updated: May 27, 2021
When a few friends and I went to a conference at the University of Cambridge in the U.K., we decided to stay on for another week and go on a road trip together. We had a pretty international group and one of our friends is French so he graciously decided to show us around for the week. Here's what we did on our amazing road trip through the Brittany and Loire regions of France.
Day 1-2 Arrive in Nantes:
We started our French Escape in Nantes which is a city on the Loire River in the Upper Brittany region of western France. We flew from Gatwick Airport in the U.K. to Nantes, where our friend is originally from so we had a great setting off point to get us acclimated to the area. On our first afternoon and evening in Nantes, we walked around the town square and old town to get acclimated.
That night, we had a wonderful dinner at the beautiful Belle Epoque restaurant La Cigale. If you're in Nantes you have to go to this restaurant. We had an amazing haricots verts salad, pasta with clams, really nice seafood and of course some creme brûlée for dessert. Trust me you will NOT regret this meal, one of the most delicious and beautiful settings for our first night <3
On our first full day in Nantes, we woke up, went to the corner boulangerie and grabbed some croissants and espresso to get going.
We also decided to go to the Marché de Talensac, which is one of the best markets for every kind of fresh food you can imagine. They source local and seasonal produce from Brittany and Vendée, the Loire Valley and the Nantes region, which I loved. We spent time picking up lots of French delicacies like cheese, produce, baguette and the famous kouign-amann (Breton butter cake). The market is open most days from 8-1 and closed on Mondays.
After we bought our loot for the picnic we went over to the Île de Nantes which is an island in Nantes' city center (similar to Paris) and is surrounded on two sides by the Loire river. In this area you'll also find the famous Les Machines de l'Île, which is a park attraction, inspired by Jules Verne (a Nantes native), that has a giant steam-punk, animatronic elephant and other mechanical creatures you can ride. You can also take a ride on the Carrousel des Mondes Marins (Carrousel of the Marine Worlds) and have fun being transported back to another time. This area also has lots of interesting shops and restaurants so take some time strolling along the bank, have lunch and explore.
Stay in Nantes 1 night: There are plenty of Air BnB's to rent right in the town center.
Day 3 Vannes and Rennes Regions of Brittany:
The next morning we woke up and said goodbye to Nantes and went on to our next stops in the Bretagne region of France. First to Vannes and then to Renne. Brittany is in France's NW-most region and extends out to the Atlantic Ocean and English Channel. It's dotted by rugged coastline, beaches and is sometimes lovingly referred to as 'the end of the world'.
In Vannes, we got out to walk around the beautiful villages with old stone houses and took a short ferry ride over to the Île-aux-Moines to do a little hiking and stroll along the beach. After a quick stop for some cider and a crepe (you can't visit Brittany without trying these) we were on to our next destination.
The Alignements de Carnac are a collection of megalithic, pre-Celtic menhir (single standing) granite stone alignments in the middle of a field near the south coast of Brittany. They're an impressive array of stone rows, stone tombs and burial mounds made anywhere between 3300 BC- 4500 BC! There are over 3,000 prehistoric standing stones and are the largest of that collection in the entire world. Similar to Stonehenge, scientists don't really know why these were built, it could be that they were built around the solstice, but other theories suggest more mythological origins. Some say are they are petrified pagan soldiers who were in pursuit of the Pope, others say they are a Roman legion (hence the straight lines) who were turned to stone by Merlin. Either way, it's a beautiful, mystical way to explore some of what the early settlers in that region built.
This was a long day of driving and seeing sites so we were happy to get to our Air BnB that night and enjoy the picnic of food we got at the market in Nantes earlier that day.
Stay in Plévenon, Northern France near Cap Fréhel 2 nights: Here are a few pictures of our Air BnB.
Day 4: Cap Fréhel, St. Malo and Mont St. Michel
Our 4th day found us waking up in beautiful Plévenon. We decided to see the lighthouse at Cap Fréhel which was awe inspiring. This is what I mean by 'end of the world'... There's a lighthouse, hiking trails and really amazing ocean views over the cliff.
From there we drove to St. Malo which is an old fortified port-city. It was once a stronghold for pirates and you can definitely see that in the ships in port and the different shops around the small town. There's a beach, a casino and a lot of really great creperies around. We stopped at the Creperie des Lutins, which was right up my ally, decorated with elves, fairies and goblins! It also had some some of the best sweet and savory crepes I've ever had. Try the Morgane with steak, potatoes, camembert, egg and salad or The Fougre with egg, mushrooms, cheese, cream and sausage. Afterwards, walk around the town and discover the little shops tucked in between.
Our next stop took us into Normandy (technically) to see the phenomenal Mont St. Michel! What can I say about Mont St. Michel? It's been on my personal list of must-see places for a long time, so when I finally got to see it I wanted to swoon. It's technically on a mudflat that floods during the high tide, but it is connected by a road that you can drive to and then get bused into the town. We spent the rest of the afternoon walking through the city and shops. If you eat there you have to try the famous omelets that are made in giant copper pots!
From here we continued on to the Loire Valley which is about a 2.5 hr drive, so again a long day!
Day 5 and 6: Tours and the Loire Valley
On our 5th and 6th days we woke up ready to explore the famous châteaux and wine in the Loire Valley! There are so many places to choose from and it can seem overwhelming but you really can't go wrong just going from château to château.
Some of our favorites were the massive Chambord (above) (try the local Cheverny wine) and Chenonceau (below) (try the local Touraine wine). I loved learning about the history of these châteaux, strolling through the gardens and drinking the local wine. Happily, I discovered one of my all-time favorite wines on this trip, Sancerre.
After our visit to the châteaux, we spent some time in Tours, walking around the city center and the river for sunset and had an amazing dinner (although I have to say all of our meals were beyond good on this trip).
Stay in Tours 2 nights: I also have to talk about where we stayed in Tours, which was this amazing Air BnB that was technically inside of a cave! In the Tours region, one of the really cool things to do is to explore the troglodyte caves. When looking for a place to stay, we decided to book a cottage that was built into the rock! It was super cool and I guess we could call ourselves troglodytes for a few days ;)
Day 7 and 8: Drive from Tours to Pairs
On day 7 we were done with the châteaux and moved on from the Loire Valley to cap our road trip off in Paris! I mean going to Paris is NEVER a bad idea so I was thrilled to be able to go back. Since this was not my first trip to Paris, I didn't feel pressure to do anything in particular and could take my time doing and seeing some things that weren't absolutely necessary.
But being who I am, I had to fit in a few sites which included a visit to St. Chapelle (above), the Concierge (get a joint ticket for both entrances) and a quick walk through the Musée d'Orsay (below).
Of course I also compared macarons at Piere Herme (for unique flavors) and Ladurée (for more traditional ones). Both were conveniently located very close to one another in the Marais district where we stayed and finally we topped off the evening at Le Barav’ for some more wine and cheese.
On our last day in Paris we checked out an amazing immersive art exhibit that featured interactive art from Van Gogh. This was produced by the L'Atelier des Lumières, which is an art center in Paris that has different exhibits featuring classic pieces brought to life via video and music. The pictures don't really do this justice because there was a lot of movement and sound, but if you get the chance to go, definitely check them out!
Afterwards, strolled through Père Lachaise Cemetery, had a quick drink and crepe in Montmartre and capped off the evening with a picnic on the Île Saint-Louis.
I have to stop a beat and give a shout out to the amazing French cheese we bought in Nantes. We carted that cheese from place to place all week and lo and behold it was still amazing on our last night ;) Finally, we took a nighttime boat trip along the Seine to see the sites along the river and the sparkling Eiffel Tower!
Stay in Paris 2 nights: When you're in Paris (or any city for that matter) it's important to pick a home base that is located near good metro stations and is easily accessible to the sites you want to see. For this trip, we decided to get a 2 bedroom apartment in the Marais district which was centrally located and had lots of shops and cafes.
And that's really it, after Paris we flew home from CDG, which is really your best bet for getting good flights out of Paris. Besides getting to spend this time with an awesome group of friends, and having a French person in the group to show us around (thanks Mathieu!), I really loved that we did things and saw places you wouldn't normally have at the top of your bucket list when visiting France. I like to call these second cities and am so grateful I got to experience these places on our road trip with friends. This was truly one of those once in a lifetime trips that I'll always look back on with pure joy <3
I hope you enjoyed taking a road trip with me through the Brittany and Loire regions of France. Here's a map of all the places we visited as well-- happy road tripping!