Motorhome touring in France – a 20 day itinerary through South-West France
We’re back. Back in France and back in a motorhome. In an instant, I feel as though we’ve never left and at the same time it feels like it’s been too long. As the golden fields of corn pass me by, and we navigate our way through the small villages built right on the edge of the road, it feels so familiar. As the first boulangerie enters my line of sight, I feel right at home. All that’s left now is to kick back and enjoy our next 20 days on the road.
Even though we have travelled substantially through France, the south-west has remained an area where we hadn’t been.
South West France : 20-day motorhome itinerary
Our trip started in the usual spot at Véron (near Sens), about an hour and a half south of Paris. If you catch the express TGV it’s only an hour trip, making it the perfect spot to pick up a motorhome. This is the home base of France Motorhome Hire, the company we have been using for years and highly recommend.
Trains from Paris to Sens leave Gare de Lyon and take approximately one hour and 30 minutes. The express train, taking about 55 minutes leaves from Gare de Bercy. For train bookings, I recommend using Trainline. I booked all of my train tickets from this online site before I left home. It’s easy to use and tickets and reference numbers can be saved and picked up on your smartphone as well.
Tip: Gare de Lyon and Gare de Bercy are not connected and are about 1.5km apart in terms of walking distance. If you had luggage this would not be an easy approach to transfer stations. The closest metro is Bercy, which can be caught from Gare de Lyon. The walk then from Bercy to Gare de Bercy is about 350 metres.
Limited planning required
Itinerary by region
The map below has been put together to give an understanding of the direction we drove and the locations we visited during our 20-day road trip. It does not cover every single location – there’s not enough room on the map! There are various ways of driving through this area but as a general rule, we avoid the large motorways.
We do use them, usually if we are in a hurry, but to give you a sense of how often we used them, on this trip, it was only twice and for a relatively short period of time. To clarify further, these were A roads, but not toll roads. When you are up on the big motorways you can miss out on so much.
Built to make road transport more efficient, they serve many purposes well, but assisting slow travel is not one of them. If we spent all of our time on these roads, we would miss the beauty of the villages that you will see below.
The first time we got onto a motorway on this trip was a nightmare. With a rolling truck strike occurring throughout the area, the truckies were parking up on the motorway and traffic chaos was the result. We sat on the motorway for hours until the gendarmerie gave us a personal escort off the road!
Hidden in amongst all of the red map markers below is a blue one. This is Véron, our starting and finishing location. We then travelled in an (almost) circular, anti-clockwise direction.
Highlights of 20 days travelling through south-west France
Day 1 -Véron to Gron
Day one is all about the pickup and so this is an overnight stop only. Pickups for the motorhome are in the afternoon. By the time we do the handover and go and get our supplies to stock up the vehicle, we always find it easier to just stay somewhere closeby. The small village of Gron has a great overnight camping spot which has become our go-to place on night 1.
Day 2 – Gron to Châteauroux
There are plenty of small towns like this along the way and they usually have great markets. Nothing spectacular, just every day fresh produce markets selling amazing food. We stopped here and bought some supplies for our first tasty lunch on the road. Fresh beetroot, triple ‘Brie de Meaux’ cheese and a baguette and we were all stocked up. This man below was delighted with our French attempts. His smile alone made all the difference to me.
Region: Centre Val de Loire
Don’t miss the Chateau de La Verrerie as you drive between Bléneau and Châteauroux. We were driving through the forest roads and saw a sign indicating there was a chateau somewhere around. It’s a great spot for lunch, by the lake, and on the right day, tours can be taken inside the chateau.
Vierzon and Châteauroux
Although we didn’t spend much time here, both are equally beautiful places to visit. We stayed overnight in Châteauroux en route to a planned tour of the cognac distillery.
Day 3 – Châteauroux to Roullet Saint-Estephe
Limoges is famous for porcelain. I’ll admit to having seen the label Royal Limoges on crockery before but had no inkling as to its origins. Dating back to the late 1700’s, Royal Limoges is now the oldest porcelain making company in the area. The Old town is compact so very easy to walk around. Parking is difficult in the city, so it’s easiest to park on the outskirts. You’ll need a bit of fitness though as there is a reasonable climb up to the top.
Must see places include the wonderful Gare de Limoges-Bénédictins. Built over the railway, the copper covered domes are an icon throughout the city, as is the 60m clock tower. The Cathedral Saint-Etienne is an incredible architectural example and the adjacent Jardin Botanique de l’Evêché provide a chance to catch your breath amongst some impressive gardens. Like any old French town, a walk around the cobblestoned old town is always worthwhile.
Day 4 – Roullet Saint-Estephe to Virollet-Font Paillaud
This is one city I wouldn’t have missed for the world. The city of Cognac, often I think, overshadowed by its alcoholic drink of the same name, must surely be recognised on its own merits. With a glorious old town located on the Charente river, a river strategically important in days gone by for transportation for the cognac industry, there is history aplenty here. Old houses dating back to the 1400’s, not only still standing but looking every bit as though they’ll stand for another hundred or so years.
Quirky and quaint shops in the streets of the old town, many of them full of yummy food products which I always find hard to pass up. There are beautiful parks, both alongside the river and mixed throughout the city. then, of course, there’s the cognac. Cognac, the city, is home to the big four cognac houses, plus many more. It’s a place to soak up the history of this fascinating liquor and get yourself a taste test at the same time.
Day 5 – Virollet-Font Paillaud to Bordeaux
If you are travelling through France, you will get to know and recognise this branding. Les Plus Beaux Villages de France. Simply, the prettiest villages in France. Villages gain entry into the association and therefore the ability to market itself as such through a rigorous application process. Personally, I’ve always thought that most French villages are pretty, but have to admit that once you see the ones that make the grade, you’ll be overawed by their beauty. On this trip, we tried to fit in as many as we could.
Talmont-sur-Gironde is an old fishing village, built high on the edge of the Bay of Gironde, with many of the ancient fishing huts still being used. As we walked through the brightly coloured village, doors and shutters matching the bright flowers in their gardens, I felt as though I was a giant walking through a miniature town.
Not far from Talmont-sur-Gironde is a town of a similar name. This town was very motorhome friendly, with a municipal stopover area with services located right alongside the marina.
Day 6 – Bordeaux
Bordeaux is quite easily a city where you could spend many days or even a week. If you have a motorhome, it’s easiest to stay out of the city and catch a bus or train into the centre.
Bordeaux is a big city, so it takes some adjusting to when you’ve been driving on the country D roads. More people, more traffic but of course, plenty to see and do.
We grabbed a 48-hour city pass which covered all of our public transport and entrance into heaps of great places.
Historical highlights include Porte Cailhau, Palace Saint-Michel, La Gross Cloche, Pore de Bourgogne, Place Pey-Berland. Walk Rue St Catherine, the longest pedestrian shopping street in Europe (do it on a Sunday and it’s much quieter), or take in the vibrant and noisy food markets at Marche Des Capuchins.
The Miroir d’eau, a flat area on the riverside covered with just enough water to make it look like a mirror, provides a great opportunity to people watch and have a bit of fun. As the mist is released over the ground, people run from all over to stand in it. On Sunday mornings, a food market takes place on the water’s edge and many a large cruise ship can be seen pulling up here to dock for a few hours.
Day 7 – Bordeaux to Lège-Cap-Ferret
Located on a peninsula on the western coast of France, one side fronting the Atlantic and exposed to its wild and woolly conditions, the other side a calm contrast on the Bassin d’Arcachon, this area is the French Riviera that no-one knows about. Home to some of the best oysters in the world, according to my husband. Not being an oyster eater, I’ll have to take his word for it. Or perhaps I’ll take the word of all those who flock here to eat them straight from the ocean. Or, the thousands of people who eat them all over France, given that this area supplies most of the country!
This area was one of my favourite places. Sleepy, casual, beautiful and full of amazing food. What more could you want?
Day 8 – Lège-Cap-Ferret to Arcachon
Across from Lège-Cap-Ferret lies Arcachon and the Dune du Pilat. Arcachon is a seaside town that looks fit for royalty. Retro looking buildings line the foreshore of the Bassin d’Arcachon, reminding me of seaside resorts from the 50’s and 60’s that I would have seen in the movies. In the city part, it’s a little more modern, with the buildings having a unique feel about them. It’s one I still can’t put a label on, but it’s definitely reminiscent of a wealthy location. The food market in the centre of town is our go-to place once again to stock up.
Nearby, the Dune du Pilat stands 110m high and nearly three kilometres long. Growing at 1.5 metres per year, it is Europe’s largest sand dune. People flock here to climb the dune, either by the stairs or via the side of the dune. Once up there, on a clear day, the views over the water are incredible.
Day 9 – Arcachon to Cocumont
Day 10 to 12 – The Lot River
There are way too many small villages and towns here to mention. A trip along the Lot River means crisscrossing back and forth over it to take in as many of the small villages as you can. There are plenty of places to stop and pull over to make the most of slow travel along this route.
The towns and villages of the Lot River cross over two departments within the Occitanie region, but the same experience can be had irrespective of where you choose to include it as part of your itinerary.
The city of Cahors lies on the Lot River and as the capital of the Lot department, is a little larger than many surrounding cities. Its Old Town is near the river and is home to several key attractions including the Cathedral Saint-Etienne. On the other side of town, the Pont Valentré is the place to visit. Straddling the Lot River, the bridge is one of the most iconic in all of France. A medieval bridge with three towers it was built to defend the city in the 14th century.
Without a shadow of a doubt, this was my favourite city during this trip. Another Les Plus Beaux Villages de France, Saint-Cirq-Lapopie is built up the hill, with sweeping 360 degrees over the surrounding valley. With it’s small, winding cobblestone streets, old stone buildings and the remnants of a fortress at the top, we got lost in here for hours.
Day 13 – Lac Parcaloup to Saint-Flour
The home of the best cheese in the world according to my husband. For years during our French trips, he has diligently consumed as much Roquefort as has been humanly possible. We had, to date, however never made it to the source of this blue, smelly cheese. Being so close to it up in the Lot River area, it only took a diversion of a few hours before we were in the home of Roquefort. A tour of the Société des Caves de Roquefort told us everything we needed to know about this cheese and apparently validated his “best cheese in the world” beliefs. The tour was in French, but it’s definitely worth a stop if you are in the area.
Day 14 – Saint-Flour to Saint-Gérand-le-Puy
Another day, another beautiful city on the top of a hill. Saint-Flour is a little unusual in so far as the buildings are built from the volcanic rock that surrounds the area. As a result, many of the buildings are a dark grey, instead of the more often seen sandstone coloured buildings. The view from up here is great, and there’s plenty of wonderful artisanal food shops to wander through too.
This was the town where no-one was home! Another “pretty village of France” with a medieval past. It makes for a nice stop, just don’t expect to do too much whilst you are here.
What an interesting past this city has had. We first met Vichy on a rainy day, when it was packed with people visiting a bi-annual market day. Food growers and producers from across the department had made their way here to tease us with their goodies. Vichy, is a spa-town, a town known for the healing properties of the thermal spring water that lies beneath the surface.
In the Parc des Sources is the Hall des Sources, a retro glass building where locals come to drink from the source. Here, numerous taps sporting names like “Celestines” , “Grande Grille” and “l’Hôpital”, water containing various minerals and at different temperatures are the centre of attention.
Vichy has a history that it can’t shake where Nazi Germany is concerned. During World War Two, France became divided into occupied and non-occupied areas. With the north of the country occupied by the Germans, Vichy and its government became a puppet state to Germany carrying out the orders of the Nazi administration.
The wealth of a previous era is on display here with incredible buildings and architecture.
Day 15 – Saint-Gérand-le-Puy to Moulins
The best way to see Moulins in a motorhome is to park on the other side of the river in one of the best municipal service areas I’ve seen in France. A quick ride over the bridge and you can be in the centre of town in a few minutes. The usual suspects of cathedrals, old town precincts and museums are on offer as is a covered market in the centre of town.
Day 16 – Moulins to Saint-Martin-sur-Nohain
Region: Centre Val de Loire
This town, another Les Plus Beaux Villages de France was a funny story. We had become accustomed to not seeing a lot of people in small villages, but this one was closed. Yes, closed. Everything in this village where people would normally work was closed. The Chateau d’Apremont, where one might visit, was closed. Windows had messages taped to them stating that the town was closed for the year from a particular date and wouldn’t re-open until next year.
We read them several times, stopping to look at each other with a confused face. “Does this say the town is closed”, I asked. A quick search online confirmed this fact. This town opens each year in late March/early April and closes at the end of September. It’s a moment in time I’ll never forget!
One of the best ways to see this city is to follow the thin blue line that takes you around the narrow, sometimes hilly, cobbled streets. It will take in the Cathedral of Saint-Cyr and Sainte-Juliette and the Ducal Palace. Nevers is another medieval town located on the banks of the Loire, a beautiful part of France. Many of the buildings here date back to the 14th and 15th centuries. Parking for motorhomes is easiest on the other side of the river.
Day 17 – Saint-Martin-sur-Nohain to Saint-Père-sur-Loire
Region: Centre Val de Loire
In Briare, we were fascinated by the Briare Aqueduct, built over the Loire River. Built in the late 1800’s, the aqueduct facilitates the crossing of the Canal Latéral à la Loire over the Loire. At 662 metres long, it is the largest steel canal in France. With large yet intricate posts at each end, it’s a beautiful spot to watch the canal barges pass through.
A fairytale city built along the Loire (are you seeing the trend?), joined to the other side of the river by yet another stunning Loire River arched bridge. With tree-lined roads along the river, matching rooflines and a picture postcard setting, it’s hard to imagine this city has been mostly rebuilt following its complete destruction in World War Two.
The Loire is full of exquisite chateaux, but we remembered this one from a previous motorhome trip back in 2012. The Chateau de Sully-sur-Loire is the main reason for stopping here. It’s a magnificent chateau and if you are following the Loire River, as we have done previously, this will be one of many that you will have the pleasure of seeing.
Day 18 – Saint-Père-sur-Loire to Paroy-sur-Tholon
We spent hours here getting lost on their walking trails that took in all of their old town and the major sites. There’s plenty of maritime history to be found both down by the water and in some of the buildings close by. As a major city in this region, it is also supported by a strong cruising tourist population. In the shoulder season, the barge crowds drop off, making it a more peaceful time to visit.
Day 19 – Paroy-sur-Tholon to Gron
Our final city on this trip and what a fantastic one it was. With our 20 day trip behind us, we took time on our final day to hang out in the coffee shops by the covered market and to wander the streets of yet another beautiful French location. We sat by the river eating lunch, watching work being carried out on the barges, covered up and moored ahead of the winter season.
Day 20 – Gron to Véron
Having stayed overnight once more at the village of Gron, we were well placed to return the vehicle the next morning at the required time.
Covering nearly 2,500km gave us a great opportunity to spend some quality time in this area. Whilst 2,500km might sound like a lot to those who aren’t used to driving, over a 20 day period, this really isn’t much at all. We had a couple of days where we drove a little more to get to a preferred location, but they weren’t huge distances. The largest driving day we did was only 263km whilst the lowest (excluding the first and last days) was 31km. Average driving per day was only 131km.
|ODOMETER||LITRES||PRICE/LITRE||TOTAL COST||TOTAL KM||LITRES / 100km||KM / LITRE|
Breakdown of cost
One of the great things about travelling in a motorhome is that most of the cost of the trip is sunk before you start. With deposits and balances needing to be paid prior to pick up, meaning you can budget for this well in advance. Once on board the only additional costs (as a general rule) relate to diesel, gas and toilet chemicals. All other costs are usually discretionary (eg food, wine, travel costs etc)
|DAY||LOCATION START||LOCATION END||OVERNIGHT STATIONENMENT TYPE||COST||STARTING ODOMETER||CLOSING ODOMETER||TOTAL KM / DAY||DIESEL COST||GAS COST||TOILET CHEMICALS|
|1||Veron||Gron||Aire de Service||Nil||11,924||11,934||10||€7.00|
|2||Gron||Chateauroux||Aire de Service||Nil||11,934||12,197||263|
|3||Chateauroux||Roullet Saint-Estephe||France Passion location||Nil||12,197||12,419||222||€57.96|
|4||Roullet Saint-Estephe||Virollet-Fontpaillaud||France Passion location||Nil||12,419||12,550||131|
|5||Virollet-Fontpaillaud||Bordeaux||France Passion location||Nil||12,550||12,712||162||€51.06|
|6||Bordeaux||Bordeaux||France Passion location||Nil||12,712||12,750||38|
|7||Bordeaux||Lege Cap Ferrat||Aire de Service||Nil||12,750||12,840||90||€16.55|
|8||Lege Cap Ferrat||Archaron||Aire de Service||Nil||12,840||12,900||60|
|9||Archaron||Cocumont||France Passion location||Nil||12,900||13,073||173|
|10||Cocumont||Lacapelle-Cabanac||France Passion location||Nil||13,073||13,195||122|
|11||Lacapelle-Cabanac||Cahors||Park n Ride||Nil||13,195||13,278||83||€84.69|
|12||Cahors||Lac Parceloup||France Passion location||Nil||13,278||13,465||187|
|13||Lac Parceloup||Saint-Flour||France Passion location||Nil||13,465||13,690||225|
|14||Saint-Flour||St Gerand Le Puy||France Passion location||Nil||13,690||13,913||223||€83.65|
|15||St Gerand Le Puy||Moulins||Aire de Service (0.10 per hour for overnight parking)||€1.90||13,913||13,961||48|
|16||Moulins||Saint Martin Sur Nohan||Aire de Service||Nil||13,961||14,124||163||€48.60|
|17||Saint Martin Sur Nohan||St Pere sur Loire||France Passion location||Nil||14,124||14,235||111|
|18||St Pere sur Loire||Paroy sur Thurlon||France Passion location||Nil||14,235||14,385||150|
|19||Paroy sur Thurlon||Gron||Aire de Service||Nil||14,385||14,417||32||€42.33|
|20||Gron||Veron||Hand back vehicle||14,417||14,420||3|
|TOTAL DIESEL COST||€368.29|
|TOTAL OVERNIGHT ACCOMMODATION COST||€1.90|
|TOTAL GAS COST||16.55|
|TOTAL ANCILLARY COST||€7.00|
|TOTAL DISTANCE (KM)||2,496||TOTAL ADDITIONAL COST||€393.74|
|TOTAL HIRE COST OF MOTORHOME||EURO||AUD*||USD*|
|COST PER DAY||€125||$195||$148|
|*rates will fluctuate depending on prevailing market rates|
Where to stay when travelling in a motorhome
Generally speaking, there are three choices of overnight accommodation spots when travelling in France in a motorhome.
The first is the official campground. These are great if there are no other options in a town or if you require services like electricity or showers/toilets. Some people prefer to stay in campgrounds every night, liking the implied safety and security of such an area. Depending on the time of year you travel, some campgrounds can require advance bookings (peak season) or may be closed (off season). Staying in a campground is something we try to limit as much as possible due to personal choice.
Aires de Service
The other option is to stay in Aires de Service, an area set aside, usually by the municipal council that offers some basic services for motorhomes. Whilst some will only offer the services, others may offer an overnight stay option. Mostly, these locations are nothing special in terms of location but borne more out of a pure servicing option. They are useful to know about, as sometimes they might be your only option. We’ve stayed in some great Aires, so definitely worthwhile keeping in mind.
France Passion Network
Our favourite place to stay when motorhoming in France is in locations that belong to the France Passion network. Here we choose from over 2,000 winemakers, farmers and artisanal producers to spend a night on their property.
We have been so fortunate in staying at some incredible places such as working goat farms, working vineyards, chateaux, vegetable farmers and duck farms. We’ve got to know countless farmers and their families, usually their dogs too! We’ve supported local communities by buying their products direct from the farmer, and we’ve contributed hopefully, to keeping this amazing France Passion service alive. It’s a free overnight stopover if you can believe that.
With no obligation to pay, it’s all about building community. Of course, being the people we are, we tend to spend more than a few euro in each location, making our hosts very happy indeed.
You can, of course, do what we have also done in the past and wild camp. Wild camping means just pulling up somewhere that you feel safe and it’s legal to do so. We’ve stopped by the Loire River, in beautiful park areas (that aren’t official parks) and generally in spots where we are both out of the way, safe and not annoying anyone.
Overall guide of motorhoming in France – more to come
This article serves as an overall guide for motorhome touring in France, specifically the South-West of France. In time, I will be writing more detailed articles about each of the cities we visited during this trip so be sure to check back.