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Sweet France: the sheer pleasure of driving a classic car

One of the consequences of the pandemic is that it is encouraging more and more people to stay in France for their holidays this summer.

Although many classic car events have been cancelled (rallies, gatherings, elegance contests, competitions, etc.), there's nothing to prevent collectors from setting off, by themselves or with a few friends, to explore France, at the wheel of a classic car or astride a classic motorbike.   


The price of freedom.

Summer is the perfect time to go on holiday, often by car. Every year at around the same time, millions of us (some 45 million, according to the automobile clubs) take to the roads and head for the resorts for which we so yearn for the 11 other months of the year. As well as French people, many foreigners, mainly Europeans, can be found stuck in the traffic jams on the weekends when most people set off. The result is significantly longer journeys than normal, often in unbearable heat, and horribly crowded service stations and picnicking areas. Assuming everything goes to plan and there are no breakdowns, people arrive at their destination having seriously eaten into their budget with petrol and toll charges… not to mention motorway service stations serving food that is only just edible. 

Some people get up very early, others prefer to drive at night. But whatever the case, far too many of us end up – at one time or another – stuck in solid traffic jams. The roads to the south and to the east of Paris are the busiest and you can't begrudge holidaymakers the fact that they all want to head to the most appealing tourist sites and seaside resorts. But why suffer such trials and tribulations in your car?

Because the only way for several people to travel together relatively freely is still by car. You can set off and stop whenever you like, carry large quantities of luggage and then once you get to where you are going, you have a means of transport. Basically, you have freedom! And it's not as though stations and airports were less busy during these periods of mass migration. 

But you could look at things differently, turning the problem on its head: travel for the sheer joy of it, instead of just driving to get to a destination.  

Drive or travel?

For many people, the car is just a means for getting from A to B as quickly as possible. Those people use motorways whenever possible, and keep the number of times they have to stop to an absolute minimum, sometimes at the cost of basic caution. 

But why inflict so much stress on oneself?

On the contrary, we should rediscover the pleasure of travelling – holidays don't begin once you get to your destination. They begin when you set off, at the start of your journey. Or even before that – while you are getting ready. Pampering your car, choosing a quiet route, locating interesting sites along the way – these are all things that make for a pleasant change of scene and contribute to the adventure.

Classic cars or classic motorbikes are perfect for bucolic trips – quiet roads are ideally suited to the way in which these vehicles perform. Driving at 40 to 50 mph is no longer a constraint and protects your engine.

There is more to France than just its motorways, and even though taking the roads less travelled theoretically means going more slowly, these roads pass through fantastic landscapes, charming villages and friendly auberges, making for warmer interactions with people than the type you might expect to find at motorway service stations. So let's rediscover the pleasure of preparing for a trip – poring over guides and maps and choosing notable sites. There is something for everybody – everything from quiet and scenic roads, postcard villages, castles and museums to local festivals and regional gastronomy.

Stopping when you feel like it, taking your time and enjoying a stroll depending on your mood, discovering a charming spot, chatting with villagers – you’ll enjoy a sense of freedom that you won't find anywhere else – and that's worth at least one less day on the beach in Palavas or Le Touquet. Isn't having a quiet picnic on the banks of a river a good way to make you feel as though you are already on holiday?

Once you arrive, you won't have used more petrol, you’ll have spent less money on motorway tolls, you’ll have treated your vehicle better… and most importantly, you’ll have really enjoyed the start of your holiday, spending quality time with your partner, children or friends, engaging in proper travel and not just a trip.            

Choosing is a hard part.

We are lucky enough to live in a country positively brimming with magnificent routes… all the foreigners who flock to France every year can't be wrong about that. But there will be fewer of them this summer. The network of local roads adorned with natural features, beautiful villages and heritage riches across the whole country will enhance any journey. A short getaway or a long journey – anything is possible.

You could rediscover France's famous Route nationale 7 and its vintage charm; it's sort of our version of route 66; or beautiful alpine roads with their sumptuous panoramas (or their Pyreneean equivalents); or the meanders of the Loire, positively effervescing with its castles. Or you could opt for Alsace and its valleys, typical villages and traditions; or the Périgord region which, with its old villages often graced with a castle, provide a pallet of extraordinary colours and wonderful food. Close by are the Charentes and Charente-Maritime départements which – just like the Bordeaux region – will win over wine lovers, while the Landes will delight those who are hankering for coastal landscapes dotted with forests; and the Basque region lies just a little further south. If more untamed is what you're looking for, then consider the Puy-de-Dôme, the mountainous Forez, the Cévennes or the limestone plateaus of the Causses – relatively undiscovered regions where nature enjoys a free rein. And even in busier areas such as Côte d’Azur, you just have to drive a little further up into the backcountry and you'll find charming villages and tree-lined roads. From the Camargue to the Mercantour via the Carcès and Saint-Cassien lakes, your journey will be peppered with villages stretching out along narrow roads where the sound of cicadas is ever present. A drive along the Route Napoléon or up to the Col de l’Estérel is sure to please, and will offer spectacular panoramic views. And then there's Corsica with its beautiful roads which meander from the north of the island right down to the south, through the red rocks of the headland, to the wilder scrubland in the centre and then all the way down to the turquoise calanques of Piana and the majestic cliffs of Bonifacio. And let's not forget Brittany, the interior of which away from the crowd is well worth a visit. Or Normandy, Le Perche or Vendée… or the Hauts de France region, which reveals a few more of its treasures with each visit.   

So yes, if you take to the road unhurriedly and enjoy your journey, it's completely reasonable and even a good idea to go away on holiday at the wheel of a classic car.

Enjoy your holiday and safe driving!

Bruno Camus