My friend and I are both 23 and hoping to spend two weeks from mid to late May in northern France. We are flying into Paris and wanted to rent a car for a few days. Any advice on cities to visit (mountains, small towns, beaches, anything really!) or certain sites to see. We are hoping to just enjoy the food, wine, culture, history, croissants, etc...
You should get a guidebook. A Rick Steve's France guidebook is a one stop for all the info you will need to pinpoint the places where you want to go in Northern France based on your interests, including how to go about getting places with or without a car.
Guidebooks also have maps showing where everything is located.
In Northern France you have to go west for beaches (Normandy); but the mountains are south near the border with Spain e.g. the Pyrenees or more central east France toward Switzerland.
Most tax payer funded libraries hopefully near you have Rick Steve's guidebooks you can borrow take on your vacation for free instead of having to buy one.
Mid to late May is perfect in southern France, but not quite summer-like in the north; I'd head south/east from Paris rather than north/west. With your interests and with two weeks to play with, you can easily put together a trip to Paris+Alsace+Provence, for instance. Travelling by train between regions and by car within.
The best guide books for road trips in EU are the Michelin Green Guides, of which there are 15 for France. Any guide book that covers all of France is seriously incomplete by comparison. As Alsace is more or less directly east of Paris, I'll include it as "northern France" and point out that having spent more than 200 days sight seeing in France, Alsace is by far the top sight in France (and Paris is greatly overrated). Minimum trip to Alsace: TVG train to Colmar via Strasbourg.
Pitch camp in Colmar. 1 day for Colmar, 1 day for Strasbourg, then rent a car for 1-3 days for the route de vin Alsace, 1 day for the Route de Cretes (I think that's what its called).
If you don't mind changing hotels, when you rent a car, relocate to one of the villages on the Route de Vin. Our favorite is Kaysersburg. The most memorable breakfast (done several times) we have ever had was eating a tart from the bakery at the end of the fortified bridge sitting on the bench in the center of the bridge in Kaysersburg with the castle ruins towering above on the mountain side-- cheap carry out, incredible experience, especially when there are mists rising from the river.
If you must go north of Paris, do it for 9-10 days and get two Green Guides, Brittany & Normandy. Any less time, sit ck with Normandy.
Green guides rate the sights on 0-3 stars. Current guides describe *** as "highly recommended." I like the older version, "worth a journey". Plan your route to go from *** to ***, filling in with lesser sights along the way.
Since sight seeing is the focus of Green guides, you are safe buying cheap old used versions on the web. I actually prefer the 20th C older models because they are better designed for overall planning and I like the pen and ink illustrations better than photos..
"...anything really!" Yes, absolutely, and charming sites too. Why not?
Re: beaches, I would suggest Berk Plage, Stella Plage, La Tourquet, etc.
I have traveled in Northern France for years extensively, always from late May to August. For cities I recommend Arras, (the area of Nord Pas-de-Calais), Lille, Amiens on the Somme. Small towns, depends on your interests...Vimy, Cambrai, Compiegne, Albert, Neuville St. Vaast, St Ouentin, Lens, etc.
I assume by the term Northern France you are refering to the country from Paris to the Belgian border. Sociologically and historically, Northern France is captivating and interesting. Re: the drink...beer you find are mostly Belgian, Dutch and French (Stella Artois, Pelforth, Kanterbräu, Heineken),
No mountains...this area is flat land
You mentioned driving and, yet, nobody threw out the usual caveats about not driving while jet-lagged, whether you'll want automatic transmission, and etc. You can find those on lots of previous threads.
I checked www.autoeurope.com to see whether extra fees for driver(s) of age 23 would be very high. The answer appears to be somewhat hidden under "Rate Details," so do drill down to those on any rental you're pricing out. These vary by the agency providing the car. I copied these two while looking at Economy-sized, manual-transmission cars. It's on top of the base price for the rental and any damage/theft insurance you select. Not prohibitive on their own, but it all adds up.
Europcar: Minimum Age: 18
- Young Driver surcharge: Drivers age 18 -25 are required to pay EUR 37.00 per day (up to maximum EUR 370.00), VAT included, paid locally.
- Additional Driver Fee: Each additional driver is EUR 12.00 per day (up to maximum EUR 84.00), VAT included, paid locally.
Hertz: Minimum Age: 21
- Young Driver surcharge: Drivers age 21 -24 are required to pay EUR 40.84 per day (up to maximum EUR 490.03), VAT included, paid locally.
- Additional Driver Fee: Each additional driver is EUR 12.00 per day (up to maximum EUR 60.00), VAT included, paid locally.
See more about car rental at https://www.ricksteves.com/travel-tips/transportation.