Our pick of the many delights and distractions you’ll encounter on the Route des Vacances, from one of Europe’s largest arboretums to the former home of the F1 French Grand Prix. Note: This article is part of a bigger magazine feature called “Taking the Slow Road to the French Riviera.
France’s Route nationale 7 links Paris to Menton, passing through Lyon, Avignon, Aix-en-Provence, Cannes, and Nice. It is also known as Route bleue (The Blue Route) and (sarcastically) the Route de la mort (Road of Death) thanks to the summer traffic jams on the way to the beaches in the South of France. Until the 2005 reforms, it was the longest route nationale in France, spanning 996 km.
Sancerre and the Canal latéral à la Loire
Take an 80km detour from the N7 at Cosne-Cours-sur-Loire onto the D955 to Saint-Satur then D920 and D45 to Mornay-sur-Allier, returning to the N7 via the D2076 at Saint-Pierrele-Moûtier. You’ll take in the wine village of Sancerre, the Cyclorail du Sancerrois, and the outstanding village of Apremont-sur-Allier (a Plus Beau Village) while following the pretty Canal latéral à la Loire.
Route des Belvédères
Directly off the N7 at Gervans, north of Tain-l’Hermitage, is the access to the Route des Belvédères, a short detour into the vine-clad hills of the Côtes du Rhône, where you’ll be met with exceptional views of the River Rhône, the hills of the Ardèche and the fruit orchards of the Drôme, as well as a chance to spy on the area’s birdlife. Stop off at observation points Belvédère du Puy de Serves, Belvédère des Méjeans and the Belvédère de Pierre-Aiguille.
Choose forest-bathing or dogsledding in Fontainebleau
Prepare for the long journey ahead with a soothing ‘forest bathing’ session in the Forêt Domaniale de Fontainebleau. If you’d prefer more exhilarating action, go dog-sledding through the forest with national champion Christian Perlwitz.
Fly high above the Loire Valley
Take a 30-minute flight in a light aircraft and see the Loire Valley and the surrounding vineyards from above with the Aéroclub de Cosne-Courssur-Loire. Or book a one-hour flight for the chance to fly the aircraft.
Hike or cycle to Mont Vinaigre
At 641m, Mont Vinaigre is the highest peak in the Massif de l’Estérel. It’s easily accessible on foot or by bike. Park at the viewpoint of Col du Testanier, 12km northeast of Fréjus, then set out on the 6.6km path via the Route du Malpey. You’ll have panoramic views of the Bay of Cannes, Fréjus and Saint-Tropez from the summit. An early start is recommended to watch the sunrise. Shorter walks are also possible from the Col du Testanier.
Watersports on the Riviera
Look to your fun side and view the Promenade des Anglais in Nice while parasailing. Several companies operate along the beach, where you can also choose tubing, banana boating and jet skis. Elsewhere along the coast, you can learn to sail with the Club Nautique de Nice, hire a kayak or paddleboard in Èze and go scuba diving off Cap Ferrat.
L’Arboretum National des Barres
One of the largest arboretums in Europe, and holding the national collection of France, this botanic garden at Nogent-sur-Vernisson holds three separate collections of trees from five continents. Wander at leisure, take a guided visit (daily at 3pm) or take part in one of the many seasonal events held here.
Magny-Cours International Circuit
Motor-racing fans will be drawn to Magny-Cours, in the Nièvre department, the former home of the F1 French Grand Prix that still attracts world-class events such as the World Superbike Championships. If you’d rather be on the track than trackside (and you’re not fed up of driving yet!), book a Car or Bike Track Day, or an F1 Driving Experience.
From France Today magazine
Lead photo credit : Sancerre, renowned for its wine, is well worth a detour – leave room in the boot for a few bottles direct from the vineyards © Shutterstock
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