A Fine French Romance Road Trip
Gastronomy. Shopping. Romance. France has no lack of selling points, and this 290-mile road trip covers three of the most enduring. Rolling through the Burgundy and Champagne regions to reach Paris, it’s a car journey that links together a string of historical northern cities, each with their own feel. The five calling points cover tastes of all sorts, whether your heart’s set on artisan produce or gourmet dining, objets d’art or designer shoes, a riverside walk or a candlelit dinner. Driving across France doesn’t get much better.
As the former capital of the Burgundy region, Dijon retains a Renaissance-era elegance. This is best witnessed at the Musée des Beaux-Arts, one of France’s finest art museums, but there are medieval buildings throughout the centre. Shop for the city’s most famous produce at the Moutarde Maille outlet (the 30-plus varieties include truffle, and even cassis, mustard) or wander Rue de la Liberté and Rue du Bourg for high-end stores. From Dijon, the road heads north into the Champagne region.
It might be famous for its bubbles, but the Champagne region is far from lightweight. Troyes is a great little city, full of half-timbered houses and traditional restaurants: try the classic dishes at Au Jardin Gourmand. You’ll also find a good range of factory shops selling well-priced branded goods, among them Lacoste and Swarovski. Meanwhile if you’re looking for a snug outfit, you’re in the right place – Troyes has been one of France’s main centres for knitwear since the 1800s. Back on the road, Châlons-en-Champagne lies just an hour away.
The beauty of driving through France is that it lets you combine household-name destinations and lesser-known gems on the same trip. But while the city of Châlons might not be the most famous stop along the route, it offers plenty to take in on a short visit. Take a romantic boat tour along its canals, visit the 13th-century St Etienne Cathedral or book a table at the Michelin-starred Jacky Michel restaurant. The onward drive to Reims takes just half an hour, across broad countryside.
Reims is best known for its 800-year-old cathedral, a gothic masterpiece that hosted the coronation of various French kings. Most famously, Charles VII was crowned here in 1429 as Joan of Arc looked on. Today, the city also gives home to the champagne cellars of both Mumm and Taittinger, as well as some good fashion boutiques along Rue de Talleyrand. Eat at the Café du Palais, where a stained-glass ceiling has been in place since the 1920s. From Reims, Paris is a mere 90 miles to the east.
It’s said that Paris is the most visited city on the planet, and it’s easy to see why. Thankfully, there’s plenty of it to go round. The French capital is a couples’ destination par excellence, with as much atmosphere in the backstreets of Montmartre as the pathways of the Jardin des Tuileries. Seek out “Les Passages Couverts”, the city’s graceful 18th-century shopping galleries. Passage du Cerf, one of the best, is particularly good for jewellery. Elsewhere, sweet-toothed visitors can indulge in pastries and macarons at patisseries like Ladurée and Fauchon. From its museums and monuments to its boulevards and boutiques, this is a city of extraordinary riches.