Trip to France and Spain: our French road trip itinerary

Following last year’s epic Eurocamp holiday in Tuscany, my husband and I declared we needed a dishwasher in our caravan for a bit more luxury. One year later, at the mercy of school holidays and school holiday prices, we ditched lashings of comfort for a return to basics – a road trip to France and Northern Spain in our own tent, with the kids.

Both of us spent mostly all our summers camping in France as kids, tasked with asking for baguettes each morning in French and heading off to the shower blocks to do the washing up, I’m full of nostalgia for our first proper camping road trip to France. Sure, we’ve weekended in a tent here and there, but this time we’ll be under canvas for three weeks. Here’s our itinerary for our upcoming trip to France and Northern Spain…

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Road trip to France and Spain

Here’s a map of our France road trip itinerary…

French road trip itinerary

Day 1: Poole – Cherbourg overnight crossing.

Day 2: Cherbourg – Saumur, one night in a hotel (about 4 hours drive). Click here to see more info about Hotel d’Anjou where we’re staying.

Day 3: Saumur – Hourtin Plage (about 4 hours drive)

Day 3-10: Houtin Plage

Day 10-17: Camping le Capeyrou (about 3.5 hours drive from Hourtin Plage)

Day 17-23: Igueldo San Sebastian (about 4 hours 45 minutes by car)

Day 23-24: Ferry Bilbao-Portsmouth overnight ferry

Why did we pick France?

Aside from the fact that France conjures a ton of family memories for my husband and I from yesteryear, we decided on France as we wanted to travel by ferry rather than plane. There’s something about rocking up in your own car, having completed the whole journey yourself, that you don’t get when you fly A to B – a sense of the distance covered.

We wanted somewhere where we could count on sunshine and warm balmy evenings, delight our girls with history in the form of chateaux or underground caves. Somewhere we could play on the beach, drift down rivers and discover fairytale towns, along with tucking into great food and wine.

France has so much to offer family holidaymakers, I’m not so familiar with Spain so I’m keen to be converted to Pintxos and Spanish campsites! It helps too that I speak French!

French beach west coast france

Living in a tent for three weeks though?

Apart from one night in a hotel in Saumur, we’ve gone for three weeks of pitching our own tent. Why? Because mobile homes practically treble in price during the peak summer holiday season. Living outdoors will be perfect for our slightly feral children – they love being outside and French campsites are so well-equipped with kids’ playgrounds, a swimming pool, onsite restaurants and entertainment, that keeping them occupied is easy.

We’ve also chosen campsites within easy walking distance of local amenities so we can go out for dinner in the evening, pop to the shop for supplies or stroll to the beach.

How did you choose your campsites?

There are a LOT of fantastic campsites in France and it did take me a while to narrow the choice down. I knew we wanted some beach time – so trawled the Cool Camping website for inspiration around Ile de Re and Ile d’Oleron initially (and are definitely keen to go there at some point).

I also looked at Eurocamp sites where you can pitch your own tent and Hourtin Plage stood out for its pool complex, proximity to the beach and huge lake (in case the kiddos don’t appreciate the waves). It also accepted us on a non-Saturday to Saturday basis, is surrounded by flat cycle paths and looked lovely and shaded beneath the pine trees.

I also thought about the historical sites in France that we had on our bucket list and drew inspiration from fellow bloggers’ road trip ideas, France route recommendations and family camping itineraries.

There are also some really helpful suggestions for how to pick a region and choose a campsite in France on The Gap Decaders.

French beach near Hossegor

The second campsite on our France road trip is one we visited several years ago and it so exceeded our expectations that it remains one of my favourites to date – Camping le Capeyrou. The site sits on the banks of the dragonfly-abundant waters of the River Dordogne, beneath the cliff-top sentinel Château de Beynac. It is such a magical spot, with a medieval village on its doorstep, heavenly food, quintessential French markets and bucketloads of history to unearth in the area. We really wanted to take our daughters here, explore a bit more and maybe even paddleboard down the Dordogne!

chateau de beynac campsite Dordogne

The third campsite on our route is Igueldo San Sebastian in northern Spain. This campsite is in Basque country, just across the border from Biarritz. I ‘think’ (it’s a little hazy!) I have potentially been here briefly before, back when I was 21 and being a surf bum in southern France with a couple of uni friends for the summer. At the time we visited, I’d had my phone and camera stolen from my trusty Nissan micra (on my 21st birthday).

The car, which went by the name of “mousey”, once belonged to my late grandfather and ended up covered in flower power stickers after getting us from the UK to Spain and back, only to end its life when my brother drove it into a milk float. LOL. Anyway, I digress, suffice to say it was a great trip and am desperate to give it – and the pintxos – another whirl.

France road trip age 21
me surfing!

Which ferries are you taking on your trip to France?

On the way out, we’re hopping on the ferry from Poole to Cherbourg. My husband’s family have a flat in Poole and we often watch the ferry passing by, so it’ll be fun to drive round the corner and actually get on it! Due to Brexit chaos, Brittany Ferries cancelled our original crossing (which left at 8am and got in at 1pm) and we’re now leaving the night before at 9pm and getting in to Cherbourg at 7am. We got a slight discount on the crossing by using a family member’s Brittany Ferries membership card.

To save driving all the way back to the UK with the little’uns we’re going to catch the ferry from Bilbao to Portsmouth. It’s one of the pricier ferries, but once you factor in the French road tolls and petrol, it probably doesn’t make a huge difference. Plus, I thought it would be easier to entertain the kiddos this way and I’ve always wanted to do it!

Brittany Ferries Poole crossing Brownsea island

Will there be any other transport involved?

Not this time around. We’ll be driving our own car with all our stuff in from home, all the way through France to Northern Spain and returning with it on the ferry.

Had we been flying out (like we did when we camped in Tuscany), I’d suggest using Discover Cars to find cheap car hire from the airport to do your exploring.

Watch this space to find out how we get on during our trip to France!

Keep up with our travels in real time on my Instagram – I’ll be posting stories and shenanigans from our camping trip to France.

Read more:

Tips for surviving a road trip with a toddler: UK to France

Camping Canet Plage: Le Brasilia review

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Trip to France: french road trip itinerary

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