French Road Trip – Calais to Vendee

By Emma

Thinking of an adventure in France? We love travelling in this region; it is so varied, full of history, culture, good food and beautiful architecture. France ticks all the boxes for us as a family. We have done several road trips here and with some sunny Spring days on the horizon I have definitely been thinking about plans for this Summer. Last year we explored a new region of France, taking a road trip from Calais to Bretignolles-sur-Mer in Vendee, via Rouen and Angers.

This was a great route with children; it allowed us to explore some really beautiful historic French towns with easy stops along the way, and we never felt like we were in the car for too long, so distance wise it was great. We were also able to take a different route home, via Orleans and Paris. It was such a brilliant family trip. Don’t get me wrong there were squabbles in the car, everyone was tired and emotional at some point, and someone at some point generally moaned about their feet hurting or being too hot. But that is par for the course right? In general it was a really family-friendly road trip and I would definitely recommend it if road travel is your thing.

We travelled via the Euro Tunnel for the first time. We loved it! It was quick and efficient, and really cost effective, (especially with some club card vouchers!!) and allowed us the road trip we wanted in order to avoid air travel this summer. So here are our top destinations for this particular road trip.

Stop 1 – Rouen

Rouen is just a 2 hour drive from Calais on a good road. It was the perfect first stop, as we were all keen to start some exploring, having already travelled from home to the Euro Tunnel. It is a really beautiful city and we will definitely be heading back. Rouen is situated on the banks of the River Seine and is the vibrant, historical and cultural capital of Normandy. Steeped in history and full of the most beautiful medieval buildings it is an absolutely stunning place to spend time wandering the streets. I was honestly in awe at the architecture; it is beautiful. There are wonderful French cafes, bars and restaurants everywhere and lovely large squares to sit and watch the world go by.

The boys loved wandering the cobbled streets, all of which are car-free and perfect for little adventurers. The ice cream was also exceptional! Of note are the incredible churches in Rouen including Saint-Ouen, Saint-Maclou, Notre Dame Cathedral and the modern church dedicated to Joan of Arc. Definitely do not miss the Gros Horloge astronomic clock; it is mesmerising. Plus the gothic architecture of the Palais de Justice and the Aître Saint-Maclou, whose carved skull and crossbones make it one of the most striking medieval cemeteries in Europe. It really is a beautiful place to walk and take photos and soak up the French culture.

We stayed just outside Rouen’s centre and there was a fantastic tram service; frequent and cheap it took us right in to the centre. We stayed at an Ibis and I would definitely recommend it.

Stop 2 – Le Mans

To break up the next part of the journey we drove from Rouen to Le Mans (this was a 2 hour drive). It is a place we wanted to visit having read good things about the historic centre, and it gave us a nice opportunity for a break on our drive to Angers, which was another hour on. We spent a couple of hours in Le Mans, having some lunch and a walk around the medieval centre. You could easily stay here and spend further time exploring though.

Unlike the medieval quarters of lots of towns and cities in France, the historic centre of Le Mans is completely separate to the modern day town. The magnificent St Julien Cathedral can be seen from below and can be reached by walking up the steps from the car park in the Place des Jacobins.

The old town has beautiful narrow streets, stone houses, many timbered buildings and some lovely eateries. There are numerous half-timbered medieval houses in Le Mans dating from the 14th to 16th centuries: the best known is the ‘Maison du Pilier rouge’, a 16th century building on Grand Rue, with its easily recognisable red-painted wooden structure. The boys were absolutely fascinated by the old streets and buildings and it was great for exploring on foot as it is all pedestrianised. .

Le Mans is also famous for its annual 24 our car race, and you can visit the track. More information can be found here.

Stop 3 – Angers

The journey from Le Mans to Angers only took an hour, so again it was never too onerous with the children in the car! If you wanted to skip Le Mans, a direct route from Rouen to Angers would take just under 3 hours.

Angers is a real mix of old and new; the historic centre is beautiful and it has lots to offer in terms of walking and exploring. This combines with a bustling modern city with lots of shops and restaurants on offer. As you can imagine this was great in terms of feeding 3 hungry boys after lots of sightseeing!

The city’s leading landmark is the very impressive La Châteaux D’Angers. This is visible as soon as you get close to the city and is easily accessible. We found easy on street parking close to the castle and were able to walk around both the historic and modern parts of Angers from here.

Below the castle ramparts you find yourself at the bottom of the Mont Saint-Maurice.  This is a lovely area full of history (and also some great water fountains which our boys delighted in splashing in that evening!). From here if you climb the cobbled steps uphill to the Cathedral, you find yourself at the start of the old town of Angers. The tight cobbled streets and half-timbered houses give a real sense of the medieval city, and we loved exploring here. Once again large areas are pedestrianised and the boys were able to lead the way. One of the finest buildings is La Maison d’Adam (House of Adam) on the corner of Sainte Croix Square. The exterior carvings are exquisite, and the little square here is really lovely to sit and relax in. We had some delicious coffee and crepes sat here.

We stayed in a small hotel just outside of Angers so spent the afternoon and evening exploring, before heading off on our next bit of the journey in the morning. We found we had plenty of time to see what we wanted to, but it would be easy to spend a couple of days here.

From Angers we headed to our final destination in Vendee. There will be a separate blog post on Vendee as it is a great holiday destination. From Angers it took us just under 2 hours to get to our holiday village in Vendee.

Return Journey – Stop 1 Orleans

After a week in Vendee we were off on our road trip back to Calais. We took a different route back to allow us to see some other parts of France and to mix up the journey. Our first stop was in Orleans. This was a bigger drive than we had done on the way down from Calais, but it was a place we wanted to visit and we were keen to make a decent distance on the first leg of the return journey. We had to leave our accommodation by 10am anyway so it made sense to get going early-ish. Orleans was a 4 hour drive from our location in Vendee, but we had a couple of quick toilet and snack stops on the way. France is so brilliantly set up for this, and we love that most roadside stops have outdoor benches and park areas; it is absolutely brilliant with children.

Orleans is one of the oldest cities in France, with strong connections to Joan of Arc and the Hundred Years War. There is history everywhere and some absolutely beautiful buildings. A tram system makes the city really easy to navigate and much of it is pedestrianised, so it was great for exploring with children.

The Cathedrale Sainte-Croix d’Orléans dominates the city centre and is genuinely stunning. From here you can walk in to the city centre itself and explore the historic parts of Orleans. There are lovely large boulevards and squares with plenty of food and drink options. We happened to be there at the same time as a lovely food market in Place du Martroi (Square of the Martyr) and the atmosphere was wonderful. There are lots of restaurants on this square as well as a children’s merry go round. It is definitely a city that is worth seeing and I would stay again as it is a great altar route back to Calais.

Return Journey – Stop 2 Disneyland Paris

After much arm pulling I convinced my husband to make Disneyland Paris our final stop before Calais and home. We only did a day in the theme park (we bought day tickets from Attraction Tickets) and stayed in a motel just outside of Paris, near the airport. This was a cheap and cheerful way of doing Disneyland, whilst staying near to the main road back to Calais the next day.

Orleans to Disneyland was just over 1.5 hours so that was an easy leg of the journey, and our hotel at CDG airport to Calais was just over 2.5 hours, so no journey felt too much and the roads were all really easy to navigate.

I am a huge Disney fan so I cannot put in to words how much we loved it or how even a day felt really special. It was totally magical, and if Disney is your thing I would 100 percent recommend this as a final stop before heading home. Memories to last a life time.

You could do Paris itself instead, or head further on somewhere like Amiens for a different stop. There is so much variety in France and so many areas to explore. More road tripping is definitely in order…

About the author

Hi I'm Emma, mum to two boys, ex-teacher, now on a new career path running my own business. I have always loved to travel and as a big history nerd, love a good city break. We try to travel and spend as much time outdoors as we can with our two little ones, and are passionate about exploring new places with them. Living in Devon provides lots of opportunity to explore, and we are keen to share tips and experiences of travel, days out and good eats. We are a bit obsessed with photography too so will probably have a few of those to share along the way...

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