A Road Trip in Southwest France

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When people think of Southwest France, they tend to think of a city holiday in Bordeaux, Biarritz, or Toulouse. Those are beautiful cities with lots to see, but they give a minimal idea of the region. I have visited the area more than a dozen times by now, and in my view, the absolute best way to see it is by car. Every time I go back there, be it via Jettly or any other service, I’m stunned by the beauty, the richness of different landscapes and climates, and the regional food products and wines. What I recommend is that one flies to one of the big cities, spends a few days visiting it, and then rents a car and explores the countryside around the city. I guarantee that you won’t be disappointed. Even after all the times I have visited the region, I still feel I have barely scratched the surface, and I can’t wait to go back to explore more.

Why Hire a Car in the Southwest?

While you stay in the city, don’t hire a car; it’s easier to move around by public transport which is good and cheap in larger French cities, and finding a parking spot is typically complicated. Thus, if you plan to stay in one of the cities for only a few days, you don’t need a car at all. But for a more extended trip, I would definitely recommend that you rent a car for at least a few days. The region is packed with history, culture, sights, natural wonders and stunning landscapes and, with a car, you are able to visit them all during a single holiday. Just the variety of different landscapes makes it worth it. To the east of Bordeaux lies the hilly wine region of Entre-Deux-Mers, filled with historic towns; to the south, there are first the pine forests that cover the former swamplands of the Landes which finally give rise to the mighty Pyrenees, covered by the constant fogs of the Basque region. And in the northeast, one finds the stunning Perigord with its rivers, hills, and towns built on cliffs and in dark forests.

To give an idea of an itinerary, a group of friends and I once spent a week on a road trip during which we had a city day in Bordeaux, visited the beautiful and historical town of Saint-Emilion surrounded by one of the best wine regions in the world, went surfing on the Atlantic coast, kayaked along a river and visited several stunning medieval towns in Lot-et-Garonne. Our schedule was slightly hectic, but with so many things to see in the region, it was impossible to resist the urge to visit quite a few places. However, the area is not huge so, in the end, we only drove perhaps up to three hours per day. We also saved a lot of money in accommodation as the cheapest hotels or B&Bs tend to be outside of towns. Some people might not like to sit in a car that much, but personally, I thought it gave us a nice rest between our activities and a chance to just sit and chat with friends.

Driving Culture in France

France has a car culture, especially in the south. If you live in the countryside, it is necessary to have a car, and it may come as a surprise to some that the current lifestyle in the French countryside is dominated by driving. People usually shop in the hypermarkets located at the edge of towns, and since friends and family members live scattered around the countryside, one needs a car to visit them. As a consequence, the roads are good, and the driving culture easy to adapt to. People are very civil in traffic, and speeding or rude behavior is not common. Larger cities are connected by highways which are in excellent condition and allow one to quickly drive from city to city or region to region. However, they have tolls, and driving on them is very monotonous compared to the small roads that pass through towns. What I recommend is to minimize the time on highways and only use them if you have to cover a considerable distance in a short amount of time. On our road trip, we were on a highway only when we were driving back from Lot-et-Garonne to Bordeaux, but at the beginning of the journey, we drove on the small roads, enjoying the sights. In France, the smaller roads typically go through the towns which slow down driving but allow you to see plenty of views just by sitting in the car.

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