This Southern France road trip itinerary ideal for passionate hikers and nature lovers. Explore the best of the South of France by car!
When thinking about the South of France, people mostly start imagining the Eiffel tower, croissants, wine, the riviera, ski resorts, etc. Our first thought is probably never hiking. But did you know that the European version of the Grand Canyon is in France? That you can find crystal blue water just like in the Maldives, in France too?
470 kilometers (290 miles) in total
Yes – France is a dream road trip destination for hiking in picturesque nature. And you don’t need to be a professional hiker with all the gadgets, A pair of New Balance trainers will do just as fine! These places are all about enjoying yourself and the amazing scenery, perfect to be explored during a road trip in France.
Hiking trails and nature parks from this article are located in the South of France. When planning your road trip, try to find flights to Nice Côte d’Azur airport. If it’s your first time there, then take a few days to rest and see the place before hitting the road.
Planning: Before you go
The road trip starts from Nice and ends in Montpellier. If your flights arrive and leave both through the Nice airport, return to Nice after visiting Camargue National Park. The route is 255 km (159 miles) and will take about 2,5 hours.
How long does it take to complete this road trip?
The length of this road trip is about 310 miles (about 500 km / 310 miles) and the total driving time will be about 8 hours. The total duration of the trip depends on you – how long you plan to spend time at each destination.
The minimum recommended program would be 3-4 days but Rentalmoose suggests taking a week off so you can fully enjoy all the locations.
What is the best time to visit the South of France?
The best time for this road trip would be late Spring (end of April until June) or early Autumn (September – the beginning of October) – it’s also ok during the summer months but weather temperatures and prices are way higher than usual and places are definitely more crowded this time of the year.
Keep in mind that it is recommended to have excess coverage when booking your vehicle through Rentalmoose. Make sure to take check-in photos of the rental car to qualify for a 50% rebate from the excess coverage fee. Please also be aware not to leave anything valuable in the car.
There are plenty of rental car options in the Nice airport to fit all of your needs (traveling as a couple, with kids, a group of friends, etc).
Take a look at available car rental options for your travel dates using Rentalmoose.
Road Trip Extensions
If you have the extra time, consider extending your road trip even further! Check out these two recommendations by Rentalmoose.
Drive west to the scenic Basque Country and experience one of the best gourmet experiences in your life. See wonderful cities in France as well as Spain. Click here for the guide.
Normandy & Brittany
After you’ve seen the best of Southern France, make your way up north to Paris. After a few days in the city of love, continue onwards to Normandy and Britany for a total change of scenery, before finishing in Nantes. Click here for the guide.
Can tourists drive in France?
Yes! France is a part of the open-border Schengen Zone, this means crossing countries is quick and hassle-free. France accepts foreign driving licenses from most countries. International Driving Permits are recognized, but not mandatory.
Speeding in France is forbidden and the rules are strictly enforced. Tourists are required to pay any tickets on the spot. Fines for speeding in France range from 45 Euros all the way up to 3750 Euros.
Traffic in France is on the right-hand side of the road.
Now that you’re prepared, let’s dive into this French road trip itinerary!
The heart of Nice looks stunning, even on a cloudy day.
Welcome to the French Riviera! We recommend taking a few days to get to know the city and its pebble beaches before beginning your road trip.
What can you do in Nice?
Day trip to Cannes
You can visit Cannes – a glamorous city where the annual Cannes Film Festival takes place (it’s the end of May, so if you happen to be there at the same time, maybe you’ll see Brad Pitt or Sharon Stone walking around town).
Go see the two famous hotels: InterContinental Carlton and Martinez where all the stars live during the festival. Or why not stay in one of these hotels if the price range is acceptable for you. Cannes is just a 50-minute drive from Nice.
When discovering Cannes is not on your list of things to do and you just want to relax on the beach then you can either enjoy the pebble beaches that Nice has to offer or drive to some beach club close-by.
One of Nice’s pebble beaches.
Anjuna Plage beach club
There is an amazing tropical restaurant & beach club just about half an hour driving distance from the center of Nice – Anjuna Plage in Eze Sur Mer.
And when talking about Eze – it’s a small ancient village in the mountains just above that beach club. Add it to your road trip itinerary if you’re in the area. Continue reading to learn more about it.
When planning to visit the beach, visiting the village itself is a must! It is about a 15-minute drive from the beach. The views from there are something you’ll never forget so take your camera with you.
Post your best photos online using #Rentalmoose for a chance to win a Rentalmoose discount or even a rental car free of charge!
The famous Nice Promenade des Anglais
Where can you find a parking spot in Nice?
There are public parking lots and most of them offer 1-hour free parking. And for paying, keep in mind that the parking machines take only coins. So keep some cash with you always! Read more about the detailed parking plans here.
Parking in Nice can be tricky because it’s not always very easy to find. There is no free street parking downtown – so you might want to check if the hotel you book has a parking space or not.
Once you’ve explored Nice, it’s time to hit the road and begin your French road trip!
Next on your Southern France road trip: Castellane, 2 hours
The historic center of Castellane. Photography by Yannick Moschetti.
Rentalmoose tip: The road trip goes through Route Napoleon- a picturesque Alpine road which has been named as one of the top 10 best roads in the world, don’t miss it!
Route Napoleon- Scenic Driving Road
The Route Napoléon is the route taken by Napoléon in 1815 on his return from Elba, when Napoleon Bonaparte first set foot on Golfe-Juan beach, after one year of exile. By his side, 1200 men ready to conquer Paris and sit their emperor on the throne once again.
It is now concurrent with sections of routes N85, D1085, D4085, and D6085. The road was inaugurated in 1932 and meanders from the French Riviera north-northwest along the foothills of the Alps. It is marked along the way by statues of the French Imperial Eagle.
The route itself is 315 km long so this road trip doesn’t cover all of it. Our road trip will continue along Route Napoleon until Castellane.
When driving around Southern France, you are bound to run into spectacular scenery!
Take the route through Mougins and Grasse to make sure you’ll get to drive the famous Route Napoléon. Both are cute small villages so if you have more time, feel free to check these out too!
Rentalmoose lunch stop recommendation: A few kilometers before Castellane, in a village called La Garde there is an amazing Michelin Guide restaurant “Auberge du Teillon”.
The next stop on your Southern France road trip is the European equivalent of the Grand Canyon!
Next: Gorges du Verdon, 1 hour
Verdon Gorge National Park
Boating in the turquoise water of Verdon Gorge
You have reached the European Grand Canyon! Yes – the water in Gorges du Verdon is exactly as blue there as in this picture here! The park is an absolute must-see on any road trip in France, be sure not to miss it.
Rentalmoose recommends taking some time off and staying here for a few days if possible. One day, take your rental car to lap a circle around the edge of the gorge – only from up there, you can see how deep it actually is.
If you are really lucky like I was – you can see a vulture as well. A huge bird who lives in the caves of the gorge.
Another day, go and see the gorge from below – either rent a small boat or a kayak to discover the breathtaking beauty of the place.
You can easily spend half a day there, so take some snacks and water with you. Take it easy – sunbathe and swim and enjoy to the fullest what this unique place offers.
Where to stay near Verdon Gorge National Park?
For an overnight stay, it’s good to check hotels at the Moustiers Sainte Marie – a village that was once named the prettiest in France.
La Bastide de Moustiers
For a more exclusive stay, check out the La Bastide de Moustiers hotel. It belongs to the world-known French chef Alain Ducasse and of course, his 1* Michelin restaurant is in the hotel.
Alain Ducasse Michelin 1* restaurant
If you don’t plan to spend this much on a hotel on your road trip, another good hotel in the village to look into is Hotel Le Colombier.
Rentalmoose insider tip: Most hotels in the Verdon Gorge area offer car parking and are very helpful in organizing your stay there.
Now that you’ve seen the European Grand Canyon, the next stop during this road trip is a National Park that may remind you of the Maledives!
Calanques National Park
Kayaking in Calanques crystal clear waters
Whenever you are ready to leave the amazing gorges, continue your road trip to Massif des Calanques – another breathtakingly beautiful location in the South of France!
Drive through Aix-en-Provence and perhaps go on a walk and treat yourself to a delicious lunch in this cute French town. If you happen to be there in July, make a photo stop in the beautiful purple lavender fields that Provence is so famous for.
Remember to post your best photos using #Rentalmoose for a chance to win a free rental car!
What can’t you miss in Aix-en-Provence?
Hotel de Caumont
When driving inside this historic town, make sure to visit its Hotel de Caumont – it has everything for a perfect afternoon: amazing French architecture, a gorgeous garden, art exhibitions, and a cute cafe.
Also, go for a walk in the Cours Mirabeau – a great boulevard for people watching and resting your feet before hitting the road again.
Luxury shopping & local markets
There are various markets happening on different days as well. And of course, the shopping streets which also start from this boulevard. You can find both – exclusive designer boutiques and souvenir shops here.
Calanques National Park
About an hour more to drive before you reach your next destination: Calanques. It’s also recommended to take some time to see more of the natural wonders of this place before continuing on your French road trip.
Numerous pre-marked hiking trails in Calanques have different lengths but they will last some time so take water and some snacks with you. Especially when the weather is hot.
You can discover Calanques by hiking on the mountainous routes or by kayaking on the crystal clear waters. Water is very tempting for swimming but it’s quite cold there, so you can try to go swimming after you are getting too hot from hiking.
Dinner in Cassis
Rentalmoose recommends: Treat yourself to the amazing Michelin 2* restaurant La Villa Madie in Cassis. It gets busy, tables should be booked before!
There is also a variety of different restaurants in the fishing port – most with a view to the castle Chateau Cassis. Spend at least one evening in this beautiful port.
Parking in Cassis
There is one parking place in Cassis that is free of charge – Parking des Gorguettes. But it is a bit further from the center so when traveling with small kids, keep this in mind.
Parking places in the center are not free. Pay with coins at the parking machines.
Where to stay near Calanques National Park?
When deciding to spend some nights here, check hotels in the beautiful fisherman village of Cassis. Cassis has many cute boutique hotels to choose from, for example, Chambre d’hotes Clos du Petit Jésus and the beachfront Hostellerie La Farandole.
Next: Camargue, 2 hours
Camargue National Park
Pink flamingos of the Camargue National Park. Photography by Association Posidonia.
Camargue is a natural region located south of Arles, France, between the Mediterranean Sea and the two arms of the Rhône delta. It’s also one of Europe’s largest wetlands and a must-see destination during any great road trip in France.
Is Camargue National Park worth visiting?
Most definitely! From watching thousands of flamingos to horse riding at the beach – there are a lot of fun things to do. The Camargue offers great hiking and cycling opportunities for those who like flat terrain and no hills. There are tracks and trails across the Rhone delta.
To the east of Saintes Marie, there are miles of largely deserted sandy beaches, only accessible along tracks or on foot, on horseback or bike. Some places are accessible by car, but not all.
You can also go on the river trips or see the bullfights (which are not like the Spanish ones – meaning no one gets harmed). Tickets to the bullfights can be purchased in the city or online, which will save you some time from standing in the queues.
Aigues Mortes & the pink lake
Parking in Arles
There are 2600 regulated parking spaces in Arles which are divided into 4 different pricing zones. Some of them offer the first 1 hour for free. For detailed information and map see here.
Where to stay near Camargue?
When spending the night in Camargue there are a few options – Camargue has only small establishments that need to be booked in advance.
There are more options to stay are in the city of Arles which is about a 20-minute drive from this Wild West of Europe.
L’hotel Particulier & Hotel le Rodin
After a day (or more!) in Camargue, it is time to hit the road one last time and drive to the last destination on this Southern France road trip.
Last stop on your road trip: Montpellier, 1 hour
Place de la Comedie in Montpellier. Photo by Ennelise Napoleoni-Bianco
It’s about a 50 minute trip from Camargue to Montpellier airport – the final destination of your French road trip. But it’s also always a good idea to see a new place – so if you haven’t been to Montpellier before it’s a great reason to go now.
Rentalmoose recommends going to enjoy a cup of coffee and croissants in one of many beautiful terraced cafes on pink marble Montpellier city court (pictured above). Or take a little walk to the popular Coldrip Food & Cafe for a great brunch.
What can you do in Montpellier?
Go walk in Place de la Comédie – the link between Old Montpellier and newer city districts.
This area has a lively ambiance with many of its bars, restaurants, and shops. Wonder in and around the Fabre museum which holds one of the best collections of Baroque art.
See Montpellier Cathedral and Arc de Triomphe and if traveling with kids – go see the Montpellier Zoological Park.
There are more than 750 animals in the park and an educational farm for the littlest visitors where are tamed goats and sheep to feed.
Where can you park your rental car in Montpellier?
Overflow car parks are located on the outskirts of the city and linked to the tram line (car park+tram), covered or outdoor car parks and parking areas (nearly 5000 spaces).
This option is recommended when doing a day trip to Montpellier.
If you’re staying overnight and your hotel doesn’t offer a private car park, see your options here.
If your flight goes from Nice and not from Montpellier airport, you can return back via the highway and return your rental car in Nice. If you do find a flight back from Montpellier, you can just drop your car off at the airport.
Don’t have a car you can take on a road trip? No problem!
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