France road trip: Lyon to Nice

This two-week route through some of Frances most beautiful landscapes takes in gorgeous farmhouse stays, camping and kayaking, lavender fields and finally the Med

The capital of French gastronomy and birthplace of cinema, Bateaux Mouches and Jean-Michel Jarre, plus the confluence of two rivers, Lyon is a great starting point to discover the Rhne, the Alps and Provence.

Start with the Lumire villa museum and the Museum of Miniatures and Cinema, before building up to futuristic Lyon in the docks redevelopment, with its vivid orange-and-green cubes, and the starship architecture of the Muse des Confluences.

Lyon Nice map

Spend a day exploring the old towns traboules (passageways) and stock up for the road trip at Les Halles Paul Bocuse food emporium , or with cakes from Le Kitchen Caf ; try the panoramic terrace of the newly opened la Piscine for a meal inside Lyons riverfront swimming pool complex. Stay two nights at Nos Chambres en Ville, a converted silk factory on the slopes of the Croix-Rousse district (doubles from 77 B&B).

 la piscine, lyon, france
la Piscine, Lyon. Photograph: Mat Despeysses

On day three, follow signs for the A43 and A48 past Grenoble and stop at the Vizille chateau, with its museum of the French revolution. Relax in the domaines park before taking the D1091 towards the Lac du Chambon (the tunnel is open during the summer). The Alpe dHuez appears on the left and Les Deux Alpes on the right: both have cable cars working in the summer for walkers and mountain bikers. Stay for a couple of nights at Les Petites Sources (family rooms from 50) in Le Bourg dOisans, which has enormous pine bedrooms and easy access to glacial lakes and mountain footpaths. Include a walk to the Lac Noir and the botanical gardens at the Col de Lautaret.

Old town, Lyon. Photograph: Getty Images

The D1091 ends in Brianon, and from there, drive down the eastern side of the Parc des Ecrins to spend three nights at Camping-les-Ecrins in LArgentire-la-Besse (pitch from 4.30, adult from 4.95, child from 2.05). The riverside campsite has table tennis, volleyball, a boules court, water rafting and kayaking. Visit the nearby silver mine, which has 20km of underground shafts.

On day eight, drive through Embrun, sticking close to the Lac de Serre-Ponon, and head to Barcelonnette and its Mexican villas. Locals travelled to Mexico in the mid-19th century to seek their fortunes and, having become rich through banking and textiles, returned to their hometown and built the huge villas and extravagant tombs in the cemetery. Villa La Sapinire is now a museum and La Bata, in the main square, sells Frida Kahlo shopping bags, panpipes, Mayan calendars and miniature saddles.

Stay a couple of nights at La Bousquetire (doubles from 80 B&B) in neighbouring Jausiers. The restored farmhouse has a basement spa and breakfast terrace with bracing views across the Ubaye valley. Dinner could be a magret de canard la plancha or lamb with green garlic, followed by a blueberry tart or a polite version of Eton mess.

St Croix Lake in Gorges Du Verdon. Photograph: Getty Images

Leaving Barcelonnette, the looping Col de la Bonette route is the highest through-road in Europe (2,802m), but the D900 through Digne-les-Bains to medieval Entrevaux doesnt require driving gloves or holding your breath.

Ignore the glowing line on the GPS screen and take the D900C towards Digne. For the first few miles the road is a narrow ledge cut into a wall of black slate, before it emerges into meadows of wild flowers.

Digne-les-Bains is where the mountains meet Provence, so shops selling hiking boots, binoculars and knives are replaced by boutiques selling honey, nougat, olive oil and lavender soap. The town holds its annual lavender festival in late August.

Nices Promenade des Anglais. Photograph: Alamy

Leave Digne on the route Napolon (N85), which follows the narrow-gauge Train des Pignes railway. At Barrme, have a barbecue lunch at the Auberge du Marronnier (15 for steak frites), a jolly roadside inn with a big car park and hearty portions. Its close enough for a spin along the corniches of the Gorges du Verdon and an hours pedalo on the Lac de Sainte-Croix. Follow the N202 down past the turquoise Lac de Castillon to join the Var river at Entrevaux. Built on a spur in the river, the heavily fortified city has a cathedral and citadel as well as snack bars and a tiny motorbike museum.

Nice is just an hour away, driving along the banks of the Var, right down to the Promenade des Anglais. After a week of heavy Alpine dishes and full-flavoured Provenal cuisine, Caju offers a panacea of juices and superfood smoothies. The vegan restaurant in Nices old town also serves excellent botanical burgers and black-bean brownies.
Total distance covered: 430 miles
Eurostar travels from London St Pancras to Nice in 5 hours 25 mins. Various airlines fly to Lyon and Nice from the UK

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