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Paris to San Sebastian and back road trip suggestions

My wife and I are traveling to Paris next month and are looking for suggested itineraries for a road trip in the middle of our time in France. We'll be checking out of our first accommodation in Paris 7th Arrondissement Friday 3/11 and looking to start the road trip that day for roughly 10 days (+/- 1-2days).

So far the rough idea is to see at a minimum Versailles and the Bordeaux wine region on the way there and/or back to Paris to break up the driving. We've been to Paris multiple times and have driven in France so are comfortable with those aspects. But I'm looking for several suggestions/ideas along the way.

I was thinking of renting a car in Paris after we check out on 3/11 to drive to Versailles and either touring the palace and grounds that day before staying one night and leaving the next day for the road trip or possibly staying two nights near Versailles with a full day of touring in between. We value comfort and the freedom of having our own vehicle over taking the train and adhering to rigid schedules so thought it would be best to start with the car in Paris rather than taking the train to Versailles then renting a car there. But not sure if that's unwise due to major cost difference (fees for renting in the city vs. outside, extra tolls, etc.).

From Versailles was thinking of heading south to the Bordeaux wine region and would love some suggestions of a couple "can't miss" stops along the way as well as maybe for lunch. But also really could use some itinerary advice and recommendations on the Bordeaux wine region itself. Staying in Bordeaux proper may be a good option but we really love unique, rural destinations especially in wine country. We love tasting wine but are by no means wine experts and would be looking for budget friendly options. Wondering if it would be better for us to stay in a Chateaux in a particular appellation area such as St. Emilion or Medoc over the hustle and bustle of the city of Bordeaux as a nice way to break up the trip between Paris and San Sebastian? Any recommendations on this front are more than appreciated!

Finally, on the way back to Paris, it would be great to take at least a slightly different (if not entirely different) route to avoid redundancy?

Posted by
27414 posts

I have no experience driving in Europe, or even being in Europe in March, and I am not interested in wine, but:

  • The city of Poitiers is on one of the Paris-Bordeaux driving routes suggested by Via Michelin. Poitiers seems to get virtually no foreign tourists, but it has some very early churches and a pretty, hilltop historic center.

  • I've read good thing about Le Mans on the forum and will include it in my next trip to France. It's also on one of the driving routes.

  • Limoges is not too much of a detour from one of the possible routes. It's known for its decorative-art museums and has a fun-to-explore historic center. The memorial/museum at the WWII Nazi atrocity site of L'Oradour-sur-Glane is not far from Limoges.

  • I enjoyed St-Emilion for its medieval streets, but I don't know what it will be like in March. It gets very heavy wine tourism.

  • Of the three places I saw in the French Basque Country (Bayonne, St-Jean-de-Luz and Biarritz), I liked Bayonne best. Again, there's a nice historic district. There's also an historical museum and a chocolate museum.

  • On the Spanish side of the border, I liked Hondarribia. But while not tiny, Hondarribia's a pretty small place; I wonder whether it would be rather dead in March.

  • I preferred Bilbao to San Sebastian because it wasn't as touristy and has a larger historic district.

  • Vittoria-Gasteiz is also nice.

Posted by
7075 posts

Versailles is basically a suburb of Paris. If you spend a night there (don't spend 2), it makes more sense to rent the car there if you find good options; driving will be easier.
You could then drive towards:
- Chartres, great for a few hours
- Loire Valley, pick a chateau to visit (Chenonceau for example) and stay nearby
- Poitiers, again good for a couple of hours (lunch stop)
- St Émilion area
- and the Basque country at last

On the way back north, you could take a slightly more westerly route north of Bordeaux, by way of La Rochelle (pretty walled city), Angers (impressive castle), Le Mans (stunning yet untouristy 15th-16th c. old town).
Le Mans would be a good place to drop the car off, the high-speed train to Paris only takes 45 minutes vs. a boring 2.5 to 3 hour drive.

This being said, 10 days or even 12 is a hair short for the whole thing. I would consider dropping the car off in Bayonne after visiting the San Sebastián area, and take the train back to Paris.

Posted by
7626 posts

The Loire Valley was my first thought. When we toured Chenonceau, we stayed in nearby Amboise, which has its own castle, complete with full-scale models of Leonardo DaVinci inventions. This was all on our way to the Bordeaux region, where we stayed in charming Saint-André-de-Cubzac. That was the birthplace of Jacques Cousteau, and he’s buried there, too. It was also close to St. Emilion, and to vineyards, wine estates, and villages farther south.

We were stuck in a big, long traffic jam in the city of Bordeaux, so avoiding it might not be the worst thing you could do.