Drive Western France, Calais to Bordeaux

Skip the beaten path and explore the overlooked sights of western France on the way to Bordeaux. The country’s fifth largest city, tucked away in the south western corner, is an eight-hour drive from Calais. Fortunately, there are countless stops along the way, all easily accessible by car, helping to break up the trek.

First off, why Bordeaux? The cite du Vin, opened in June 2016, highlights the city’s rich wine-making heritage. The region produced around 700 million bottles from last year’s harvest – but there’s more than just OK reds here. Bordeaux marvels with its iconic Pont de Pierre crossing the Garonne River among its many historically-preserved buildings – including the famous Place de la Bourse – second only to Paris in number. Then there’s the pedestrian street, rue Sainte-Catherine, which leads to little squares hidden within the tangle of the old town. Look for Baillardran, a boutique selling the city’s speciality pastry, the canele, infused with rum and vanilla.

Restaurants such as the elegant Le Chapon Fin serve up a mix of innovative fare and traditional Bordelaise cuisine. Opened in 1825, it’s one of the city’s oldest restaurants and has a reasonable lunch menu. Bordeaux is also an ideal base to visit other attractions just beyond the city, such as the Dune du Pilat, Europe’s largest sand dune, or the medieval town of Saint-Emilion with its world-class wines. The route from Calais to Bordeaux, however, is riddled with destinations that aren’t easily accessed without a car, making for both a relaxed and surprising trip.

For history and architecture buffs, visit the soaring and mismatched towers of the Chartres Cathedral, just four hours from Calais. Heading south, through the Loire Valley, a stop at a former royal residence or two – the beautiful Chateau de Chenonceau, outside Tours is a must – could easily become an overnight event. There are many palaces to choose from, so leave one or two for the return trip.

Arguably the biggest perk to driving is stopping at local producers of regional products, such as the many bee farms in the region of La Vienne. Stock up on a variety of honey at any such artisan, such as Les Apiculteurs Reunis, before driving to France’s “Green Venice” in the Marais Poitevin. This maze of canals dug by monks centuries ago is as surprising as it is serene. Take a canal tour from the Embarcadere de l’Abbaye and let your local guide do all of the hard work. If you drive all this way, stock up on yet another local product, Cognac, at the Chateau de Plassac, just outside the small town which gives the brandy its name.

With so many places to see on either stretch of the journey, just remember to save some stopovers for when you finally reach Bordeaux.