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Northern France Road Trip ~ A Nostalgic Photo Journal

Last updated on May 24, 2021

It was the summer of 2019 and I spent ten days driving around France, eating and drinking and wandering and taking far too many photos. In fact I took so many photos that I never got round to looking at most of them. But now, after a year in and out of lockdown, feels like the perfect time to share them. 

Note: I edited all of these images with Joe D’Agostino’s Kodachrome Lightroom presets. They’re among the best analogue photography presets I’ve ever used, so definitely check them out if you want to give your photos more of a nostalgic film feel.

It was almost two years ago now. I drove from Asturias in northern Spain, where I was living at the time, across the border and into France. I didn’t know it back then, but it turned out to be my last big trip for a little while (due, of course, to Covid).

It was summer, all bright open skies and pine-scented service stations. Driving in France in such a pleasure. No wonder so many of them spend their holidays on the road – in their own country – towing caravans and little boats and trailers packed with tents and enough cheese and wine to last a week.

I’ve already posted something about Etretat, a historic holiday destination for the rich and famous during the Belle Epoque. And also Bordeaux, the handsome and incredibly storied wine city.

These were the main destinations, as I was working with the tourist board and Les Jardins d’Étretat, but, as you’ll see if you look at a map, there’s a lot of ground to cover if you’re driving up from Spain – pretty much the whole country.

The Route: For this reason I stopped off in Bordeaux, La Rochelle, Nantes, Château de Chenonceau, Rouen, Honfleur, Le Havre, and then Normandy, where I visited Le Mont-Saint-Michel and the various D-Day beaches and memorial sites.

When you’re road-tripping in France, which I think is the only real way you can do it, you realise how big it is as a country.

You feel like you could drive forever. You wish you could drive forever.

Looking back on these photos now, after a whole year spent in and out of lockdown, no travel, I realise how much I took it for granted.

This trip was the trip of a lifetime. But the truth is, I was exhausted and suffering from travel fatigue. I’d only just returned to Europe from my trip to New York and, frankly, all I wanted to do was relax at home.

Lockdown has taught me the importance of travel, how much I need it, but also the importance of rationing it and doing it mindfully. Too much of a good thing… well.

And boy-oh-boy, has it taught me to appreciate (even more so than ever) the little things… sitting in a park in a new city and observing the locals at leisure, having time to wander aimlessly around a foreign city, time to sit in a restaurant with new flavours and a bottle of wine.

French Roadtrip Travel and Street Photography by Ben Holbrook 2019-151

Nowhere feels more European to me than France.

No other country can be so gracefully civilised yet wildly extravagant at the same.

No other civilisation understands what it is to live the ‘good life’ quite as well.

Tip: You can visit the D-Day beaches of Normandy from Paris – check out this day-trip option.

French Road Trip Travel Tips

1. Don’t try to see too many places

I know it’s tempting – you’re in France with the freedom of your own transport but, honestly, sometimes less is more. Although I can reflect on these photos and realise how incredible this trip was, the reality is that I can barely remember some of these places (and would have forgotten many of them if not for my taking thousands of photos). I’d recommend visiting fewer places and spending more time in each. Try and spend at least a night in each place, or ideally two. And at least spend enough time in a place to have a meal and good look around.

2. Be careful where you rent your car

American friends, take heed: when you look at Europe on a map and it can be tempting to plan a multi-country road trip route. You could probably visit two or even three countries quite comfortably in a week or 10 days, but remember there are a couple of things to keep in mind. See tip #1 for a start – you don’t want to spend all of your time driving and only a small amount of your time actually exploring and experiencing things. And secondly, you may not be allowed to cross borders with your rental car. Just be sure to double check this while making your booking, and remember most rental car companies will have trackers, so they’ll know if you’ve decided to try and sneak from France to, say, Spain, for a couple of days.

Check out Orbit Car Hire for deals on rental wheels in France.

3. Try to book accommodation with parking

Driving through France is a wonderful experience, but it can be exhausting when you’re doing it day in day out. And the last thing you need, as you arrive in a strange city or town with your nerves in tatters, is to have to waste precious time searching for a safe place to park (and then have to drag your baggage to your accommodation). This becomes even more stressful when you’re doing it every day (another reason to observe tip #1 above).

4. Consider Hotels and Airbnbs with gardens

Perhaps a strange thing to say, but this was a bit of a revelation for me. After a day on the road and exploring new destinations, it was great to be able to sit out in the warm evening air with a beer and a picnic.

Photography Talk

I shot all of these photos with my beloved Fujifilm XT3 and the travel-friendly 18-55mm zoom lens.

It’s still my favourite setup for shooting video, but since I’ve invested in some nice prime lenses (the 23mm f/235mm f/1.4 and adapted 50mm f/1.8 vintage Canon lens) I no longer love the 18-55mm for shooting stills.

The Fujifilm prime lenses are truly magic and once you’ve shot with them it’s difficult to go back to zoom lenses (and trust me, I’ve been a zoom guy for a long time).

It’s frustrating in a way because I look back on my older photos, from before I had any of these prime lenses, I can’t help but feel they could have been so much better.

But c’est la vie, such is life….

Fujifilm XT3 - the Ultimate Travel CameraI also used this batch of images to test out Joe D’Agostino’s Kodachrome Lightroom presets. I’ve mentioned before that I don’t generally like using presets, but sometimes it’s nice to experiment and try new things.

I wanted to exaggerate the analog film camera vibes that the Fujifilm XT3 is already well known for, and I feel Joe’s Kodachrome presets did the job perfectly. It was also nice to be able to apply the preset to all of the images at once and speed up the editing process – it can take an age to edit this amount of photos individually!

Joe’s packs also come with borders and grain feels, although I kept things simple to fit with my usual aesthetic, while giving it a bit more of a filmic feel.

If you’re looking for analog film camera-feel Lightroom presets, I’d highly recommend checking out Joe’s website. He’s got an extensive array of preset packs, ranging from movie-inspired colour grades to photojournalist looks and specialist monochrome packs.

More France and Photography Journals

Get the Analogue Film Photo Look in Lightroom with the Earth Preset Pack (+ Sample Images)

Canon 50mm f/1.8 with Fuji XT3 ~ Manual Focus for Analog Style Digital Photography

Sarah Drove ~ A Photo Journal (Fuji XT3 + 23mm F2)

“I Do Love October” – Autumn on the Gower Peninsula w/ Fuji 35mm f/1.4 (Samples + Lens Review)

Best Things to Do in Bordeaux ~ A Guide to the “Art de Vivre”

A Short Guide to Etretat, Normandy ~ Escape to La Belle Époque

Essential Things to Do in Marseille ~ The Rebel of the French Riviera

Things to Do, See & Eat in Sète, Southern France ~ La Joie de Vivre Awaits

Best Things to Do in Montpellier, France in 1 or 2 Days ~ A Flâneur’s Guide

8 Best Things to Do in Paris | A No Bullsh*t Guide

A Roaring Road Trip Through Provence and The French Riviera

No Money, No Honey: Paris from the Inside

A Bouchon Révolution: Where & What to Eat in Lyon, France

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