South of France for passionate hikers

When thinking about France, people mostly start imagining Eiffel tower, croissants, wine, riviera, ski resorts, etc. Our first thought is probably never hiking. But did you know that European version of Grand Canyon is in France? That you can find crystal blue water just like in the Maldives, in France too? 

 Yes – France is a dream destination for hiking in picturesque nature. And you don’t need to be a professional hiker with all the gadgets, New Balance trainers will do just as fine! These places are all about enjoying yourself and the amazing scenery.
 Hiking trails and nature parks from this article are located in the South of France. So when planning your trip, try to find flights to Nice Côte d’Azur airport. If it’s your first time there, then we’d recommend taking a few days to rest and see the place before hitting the road. 

 The length of the journey will be about 310 miles (about 500 km / 310 miles) and total driving time will be about 8 hours. Total duration of the trip depends on you – how long you plan to spend time in each destination. Minimum recommended program would be 3-4 days but we suggest to take a week off so you can fully enjoy all the locations. 

 Also keep in mind that it is very recommended to have excess coverage when booking your vehicle through Rentalmoose. Due to many rich people living in the area, there are also more criminal actions. 

 Please also be aware to not leave anything valuable in the car. And to avoid any misunderstandings don’t forget to use the Rentalmoose app to take photos of the condition of the car when receiving it and before starting your journey and to qualify 50% of rebate from excess coverage

 Other than that France is definitely best seen by car. Traffic in France is on the right side and most driving licenses of the World are accepted.  There are plenty of rental car options in the Nice airport to fit all of your needs (travelling as a couple, with kids, group of friends etc). Take a look at available car options for your travel dates from Rentalmoose: ADD LINK HERE

 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. 

 The journey starts from Nice and ends in Montpellier. If your flights arrive and leave both through the Nice airport then we suggest you return to Nice after  Camargue National Park using the highway. The route is 255 km (159 miles) and will take about 2,5 hours this way. 

1. Nice

The famous Nice Promenade des Anglais

 Welcome to the French Riviera! We recommend to take a few days to get to know the city and it’s stoney beaches before starting the journey. 

 You can also 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 the town). 

 Go see the 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 stoney beaches that Nice has to offer or drive to some beach club close-by. 

 There is an amazing tropical restaurant & beach club just about half an hour driving distance from the centre 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 beachclub.

 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. 

 Parking in Nice can be tricky because it’s not always very easy to find. There is no free street parking in downtown – so you might want to check if the hotel you book has parking space or not. 

 There are public parking lots though and most of them offer 1-hour of 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. 

Next: Nice – Castellane (2 hours drive)

2. Castellane

The historic centre of Castellane

NB! The journey goes through Route Napoléon – a picturesque Alpine road which has been named as one of the top 10 best roads in the world! 

 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 journey will continue until Castellane. 

 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, then feel free to check these out too! 

 Lunch stop recommendation: A few kilometres before Castellane, in a village called La Garde there is an amazing Michelin Guide restaurant “Auberge du Teillon”

Next: Castellane – Gorges du Verdon (1 hour drive) 

3. 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! 

 We recommend to take some time off and stay here for a few days if possible. One day go with your car to drive a circular around the edge of the gorge – only from up there you can see how deep it actually is. And 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. 

 For overnight stay it’s good to check hotels at the Moustiers Sainte Marie – a village that was once named the prettiest in France. 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 there is his 1* Michelin restaurant in the hotel. 

Alain Ducasse Michelin 1* restaurant 

 If you don’t plan do spend this much on your road trip then another good hotel in the village to look into is  Hotel Le Colombier. 

 Most hotels in Verdon Gorge area offer car parking and are very helpful with organizing your stay there. 

Next: Gorges du Verdon – Massif des Calanques (2,5 hours drive)

4. Calanques National Park

Kayaking in Calanques crystal clear waters

 Whenever you are ready to leave the amazing gorges, start the journey to Massif des Calanques – another breathtakingly beautiful location in the South of France! 

 Drive through Aix-en-Provence and maybe have a walk and lunch in this beautiful French town. If you happen to be there in July then make a photo stop in the beautiful purple lavender fields that Provence is so famous for. 

 When driving inside this historic town then make sure to visit its Hotel de Caumont – it has everything for a perfect afternoon: amazing French architecture, gorgeous garden, art exhibitions and a cute cafe. 

 Also go for a walk in the Cours Mirabeu – great boulevard for people watching and resting your feet before hitting the road again. 

 There are different markets happening on different days as well. And of course the shopping streets which also start from this boulevard. You can find both – an exclusive designer boutiques and souvenir shops here. 

 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. 

 When deciding to spend some nights here, check hotel locations from beautiful fisherman village Cassis nearby. Cassis has many cute boutique hotels to choose from, for example Chambre d’hotes Clos du Petit Jésus and  Hostellerie La Farandole. Take a look at Booking.com for all the options. 

 Restaurant recommendation: Treat yourself to the amazing Michelin 2* restaurant La Villa Madie in Cassis. NB! 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. 

 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 go swimming after you are getting too hot from hiking. 

NB! There is one parking place is Cassis that is free of charge – Parking des Gorguettes. But it is a bit further from the centre so when travelling with small kids, keep this in mind. Parking places in the centre are not free but there are parking machines where you can pay with coins. 

Next: Calanques – Camargue (2 hours drive)

5. Camargue National Park 

Thousands of flamingos of the Camargue National Park 

 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.

 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.  

 Also why not visit the medieval city Aigues Mortes which used to be Mediterranean Port back at the times. Also don’t forget to see Salin d’Aigues-Mortes – one of the few pink colour lakes in the world. 

 When spending the night in Camargue there are few options – Camargue has only small establishments which need to be booked in advance. But wider options to stay are in the city of Arles which is about 20 minute drive from this Wild West of Europe. 

 For a more fabulous (and costly) stay opt for the L’hotel Particulier. A really nice hotel is also Hotel le Rodin which is better option money-wise.   

 There are 2600 regulated parking spaces in Arles which are divided in 4 different pricing zones. Some of them offer first 1 hour for free. For detailed information and map see HERE. 

Next: Camargue – Montpellier (1 hour drive)

6. Montpellier (end of the trip)

The city of Montpellier

 It’s about a 50 minute trip from Camargue to Montpellier airport – the final destination of the 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. 

 We recommend to go and 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. 

 Go walk in Place de la Comédie – the link between Old Montpellier and newer city districts. This area has a lively ambience 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 travelling 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. 

 Parking 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. When staying overnight and your hotel doesn’t offer parking, then see your options HERE.

Drop off

 If your return flight goes from Nice and not from Montpellier airport, you can return back straight from the highway for just a few hours time and return your rental car at Nice. If you do find a flight back from Montpellier you can just drop your car off in the airport over there. 

See the direct flights and prices from Montpellier airport.

Or find great deals at Skyscanner or Kayak

Conclusion

 Only about 8 hours of driving and it is possible to visit 3 amazing National Parks in the Southern France region. This trip is suitable for couples, group of friends and families with kids (just keep in mind the hiking track distance when travelling with small kids). Ready to go? Find your best and carefree rental car deals for this future France trip at Rentalmoose: LINK HERE. 

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