After about three months of living in Provence, we finally made our plans to visit one of France’s most prestigious wine regions, Bordeaux. We looked at all of our travel options to get there and renting a car was our best bet for getting there and having the freedom to tour the scattered vineyards. Luckily for us, we were planning the trip at the end of June because the prices around the entirety of France skyrocket during July and August for the peak tourist season. For this reason, we were able to find a car at a great price at carhire3000 with no mileage limits and insurance included.
We picked up our sweet Fiat Panda at the nearest train station in Toulon and within minutes were on our way onto the auto routes and towards Aix-en-Provence to reach our next destination in Nimes. Being fans of all things history, we heard there was one of the most well-preserved Roman coliseums still in existence (even more than the one in Rome!). We spent the afternoon walking through the center of the village before getting back on the road towards our destination for the day, Dordogne. **more on Nimes soon…**
A little side-note about driving in france before I continue. Driving across France is something that will test your patience and nerves. First of all, France really isn’t designed to be driven across in the first place. It is rather winding and the French government has put toll stations in place every 100 km or so which really slow down your progress and ends up being very costly. Also, almost all drivers mistake the fact that they aren’t driving on the Autobahn. No matter how fast you go, expect someone to be driving at least 20 km/h faster. Also, you have the choice of taking the main highways or the rural routes through the various villages. With long distances we recommend the autoroutes for faster, more direct travel. The rural routes, on the other hand are more scenic and you don’t have to pay the tolls but take you much longer to get you anywhere. On the plus side, the roads are very well-marked in France and the roundabouts make it easy to turn around if you took a wrong exit.
Continuing on, we made our way from Montpellier to Narbonne and then Carcassonne to Toulouse. According to Mapquest, our entire trip was slated to be about 7 hours long but we had been on the road for nearly 8 hours by the time we drove through Toulouse. Part of the time difference may have been due to significant traffic caused by a tourist bus stopped in the middle of the highway. Still we were starting to get antsy to be in Dordogne and the French radio stations were starting to get old. By the end of the trip, I realized they must have been playing the greatest hits collections of Paul Simon, Phil Collins, The Police and Peter Gabriel in constant rotation because we heard nothing but their music!
We had planned on sleeping at a campsite near Bergerac for the evening before driving into St. Foy La Grande on the outskirts of Bordeaux the next day. Our GPS kept telling us about nearby campsites but the directions only led us through extreme back roads and it was hard to see where we were going in the dark.
In the end, we found a great campsite in Dordogne that had all the clean showers, wash basins and restrooms we needed. Being that it was midnight, we had to open the gates ourselves and pull in quietly for the night. Besides a few bugs outside, we were able to recline our seats and have a peaceful sleep.
We would recommend camping (tent, car or otherwise) for anyone travelling through Europe. Campsites are everywhere and are very well maintained. For only 9 Euro we got our own little private spot and all the amenities we needed. We woke up the next day poised to drive into Bordeaux and begin the real adventure.