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4 French Road Trips Filled with History Lessons

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by Mihaela Schwartz (subscribe)
I am a freelance writer and an avid traveler.
Published May 27th 2013
Combine Fun and Education
Paris is one of the world's top destinations, but France is much more than the City of Lights and its Eiffel Tower, Louvre Museum, Triumph Arch, and Versailles Palace. If you really want to discover France, take the time to explore its less beaten paths once you finished with the French Riviera and Loire Valley. Here are some ideas of road trips you can take through France and learn some important history lessons.

Napoleon's Route
Napoleon's Route - Flickr/albezln

Napoleon's Route

Another French road trip that benefits from a long history, Napoleon's Route (also known nowadays as N85) connects Grenoble to Golfe Juan. Its first name has a historical explanation: it is the route the famous French ruler took when returning from exile. If you are travelling with kids, teach them a history lesson, telling them how in 1815, Napoleon took the same road they are traveling on after he left the island of Elba, determined to get back his throne. He landed at Golfe Juan and borrows the mule trails to reach the Alps via Durance Valley.

Julien Bridge
Julien Bridge - Via Domitia - Flickr/ell brown

Via Domitia

This Roman route whose construction started in the year 118 BC crosses the entire French South. As it used to make the connection between Italy and the Iberic Peninsula, this road crosses the Alps at Col de Montgenevre, follows the Durance Valley, goes along the Luberon, arrives in Nimes and follows the Gulf of Lions until it reaches the Spanish border. If this road connecting the major Gallic cities was initially build with military purposes in mind, it later became a trade route and was used for a long time by the imperial post. Nowadays, it is a popular travel destination with French vacationers as well as with foreign tourists willing to discover this part of France. Here and there you will find signs indicating the distances to major tourist attractions and to inns and hostels. Along the road you will notice ancient ruins and Roman bridges. Stop to admire landmarks like the Triumph Arch of Saint-Rémy-de-Provence and Augustus Gate in Nîmes.

Way of St. James
Way of St. James - Wikimedia Commons/Rainier Brunet-Guilly

Way of St. James

Made up of four secondary routes (Via Turonensis, Via Tolosana, Via Podensis and Via Lemovicensis), Way of St. James was a popular pilgrimage of the medieval Christendom. Although the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela is a lot less popular nowadays, the route has not entirely lost the aura it had about ten centuries later. Today it is crossed by hikers and pilgrims on their way to the legendary apostle's tomb, located in the crypt of the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, Spain. Inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List under the official title of "Ways of Saint Jacques de Compostela in France", this road, that is especially appealing for lovers of Romanesque art, has 71 monuments lined along its trails.

St. Giles' Way

An off the beaten track road trip nowadays, St. Giles' Way was another popular pilgrimage route in the past, more precisely up to the 12th century. Crossing fascinating French regions like Haute-Loire and Ardeche, this 250 kilometers long route is a real pleasure for landscape lovers as well as for those who enjoy discovering a country in all its authenticity.
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I'd love to follow all four of these road trips some time - thanks for the insight.
by Lucy (score: 3|1157) 3528 days ago
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