For more than two decades, France has reigned as the world’s most popular tourist destination, hosting 82 million foreign tourists annually. Travellers from all over the world are drawn to France’s sophisticated culture, exquisite cuisine, fine wines, romantic chateaux and picturesque countryside.
Many people immediately picture Paris when they think of France. Whilst the country’s capital is a beautiful city, filled with fascinating architecture and some of the country’s most recognizable monuments, there is a lot more to see around the country.
Try the D-Day landing beaches in Normandy for a taste of modern history or the Germanic culture in the Alsace region. Visit the Loire Valley for castles and vineyards, or Brittany for its earthy Celtic culture. For more wine, there is the globally renowned Bordeaux region next to the rolling hills of the Dordogne valley. There are the French Alps, with Europe’s highest peak Mont Blanc amongst the biggest ski playground in the world. In the south, the endless charm of the French Riviera prevails, including Saint-Tropez and Nice. There is a lot to fit in and wherever you choose you’ll be in for a delight.
If there is one word that British visitors indelibly associate with the north coast France down to Brittany, it’s the beaches. There are great beaches everywhere you look, from the picturesque north-coast watering hole of Dinard, beloved by nineteenth-century British aristocrats, to any number of humbler family resorts strung along the entire, endlessly intricate and gloriously unpredictable coastline.
Normandy – is famous for the Mont Saint Michel, the most visited tourist site in France after Paris, and listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The mount, right on the border between Brittany and Normandy, stands on an outcrop of granite bursting through in the middle of a very flat bay, and has been a sanctuary since the year 709.
The capital of the southern Breton department of Morbihan and benefiting from the mild influence of the lagoon-like Golfe du Morbihan is Vannes. A fascinating city at every turn, it is a typically bright, colourful, laid back and yet enchanting place by the sea.
South-west of Vannes lies the Golfe de Morbihan, almost an inland sea, studded with islands. It was once said that the gulf had as many islands as there are days in the year. That may have been a medieval tourism marketing ploy; there are certainly nothing like so many now, maybe around forty. Most of the rest having been consumed by rising tides. Most people visit Quiberon to take boat trips out to the islands in the bay, Belle-Ile in particular.
If you are looking to visit one of the most impressive regions of France, then the Loire Valley is ideal – indeed the very name conjures up wonderful images in the mind. The châteaux, the translation of ‘castles’ does not do them justice, are magnificent. The scenery is stunning too; in-fact the valley is also known as ‘The Garden of France’ and you can see why. Furthermore the harvest here is very rich: plums, apples and grapes – the area is renowned of course for its fine wines, namely Muscadet, Rosé d’Anjou, Sauvignon and Vouvray.
History abounds here. Every time you turn a corner you see a reminder of Richard the Lionheart, the Hundred Years’ War or Joan of Arc. Visiting the Loire Valley is like stepping back in time; the sleepy towns are a delight to explore and the local people seem to have time on their hands, stopping to chat to each other or drinking endless coffees in the nearby bars and cafés.
You could visit the Château of Fontainebleau, set in a vast forest just outside Paris, and as famous as the place where Napoleon commenced his journey into exile and Fontevraud Abbey, the stunning UNESCO World Heritage Site, arguably the greatest monastic establishment left standing in France. You can also visit the house, and most importantly the garden of one of France’s most famous sons – Impressionist artist Claude Monet. There is much, much more to see, so for a unique combination of culture, wine, superb and interesting monuments, châteaux, beautiful scenery come and see French provincial life at its best.
If you want to travel beyond Paris, be sure to consider the Champagne-Ardenne region and/or Burgundy. These two areas have so much to see and do that you will be very busy and if you are a lover of champagne or fine wine, you will be in heaven.
When you pop a bottle of “champagne”, you can be sure it is produced right here in the Champagne-Ardenne region of France. The lovely rolling hills dotted with vineyards cover the miles of champagne caves below-ground. The Champagne region of France is as magical as the nose-tickling champagne it produces.
The Burgundy region of France is a regular favourite. Burgundy, or as the French call it “Bourgogne” (pronounced Boor GONE yeh), offers unforgettable rolling-hill vistas of vineyards for as far as the eye can see, and is at the crossroads between north and south of France. Some of the most gorgeous towns in France can be found in this region as well as some quite spectacular wine. This region is home to significant Romanesque and Gothic cathedrals and monasteries. The following towns are well worth a visit: Autun, founded by the Roman Emperor Augustus, contains several Roman ruins. Auxerre (pronounced oh SAIR) is a perfect stopping place on the journey from Paris to Dijon. The ancient clock tower alone is worth the trip. Two ancient abbeys in this area are Cluny and Fontenay. Fontenay, built in the 12th century, has been restored to its early glory. Dijon, the cultural and commercial capital of the region, is beautiful and well worth a stay.
A popular and relatively undiscovered region of France, the Poitou-Charentes is defined by the sea and its gently flowing rivers. Bordering the Atlantic Ocean, Poitou-Charentes lies in between the Loire Valley, the Gironde River, and the Limousin region. Home to the wonderful town of La Rochelle and the top-tier theme park Futuroscope, it’s no shock that Poitou-Charentes is among France’s most popular tourist regions.
Historic La Rochelle is the destination that everyone knows and loves thanks in no small part to its old port, kept safe for centuries by those iconic towers. But there’s so much more to the region if you’re ready to travel: Historic UNESCO sites, France’s answer to Venice, innovative family attractions and some of the prettiest towns you’ll ever encounter.
True brandy connoisseurs can brush up their knowledge about Cognac on the designated trail, visiting the world’s most prestigious distilleries and quaffing this delectable drink as they go.
In winter 3,700 miles of manicured, well-marked ski runs show why the Rhône-Alpes region was chosen three times to host the Olympic Games, at Chamonix, Grenoble, and Albertville. With 220 ski resorts ranging in style from chic—Courchevel, Méribel, Megève, or Alpe-d'Huez—to rustique (Gex, Vars in the beautiful Queyras), there are plenty of opportunities for Alpine and cross-country skiing. The département of Savoie alone boasts well over 500 miles of ski trails that thread through the awesome mountain scenery of La Maurienne and La Tarentaise. Resorts at Corrençon, Autrans, and Villard-de-Lans provide fabulous cross-country terrain for novices and veterans alike.
In summer the mountains are a paradise for climbers and hikers. In Chamonix, where alpinism was born in the eighteenth century, the history of the pioneers who first scaled Mont-Blanc is retold at the Musée Alpin. No one should leave Chamonix without making an excursion to the enormous glacier known as La Mer de Glace, but only the daring will want to climb 12,000 feet in a cable car to the Aiguille du Midi peak. The Isère River, which rises in the Alps and flows down to the Rhône, challenges white water rafters to descend its turbulent rapids, but these trout-filled waters also invite anglers to try out their fly-fishing techniques.
The ever-popular Dordogne region of France is famous for some of the world’s finest food, fabulous range of wines and enchanting medieval villages. It is easy to see why the lure of the Dordogne in south-west France is so tempting, many describe it simply as a glorious rural idyll. With the undulating landscape, vineyards, romantic chateaux, farms and honey stone coloured gorgeous architecture, we can see why it is so popular.
The pace of life is relaxed, but during the summer there is a hive of activity at the night markets, gastronomic festivals, live music events and medieval shows. Several villages here are classed among the 'most beautiful villages in France' such as Belves, a very attractive village with a great deal of character; Monpazier, which is among the top five most popular villages in the whole of France.
Bordeaux is a city full of beautiful historic buildings, home of French wine and it is the largest urban area to be given the UNSECO world heritage site status. The city has a mix of medieval streets and wide boulevards with lots of cafes and squares to take in the atmosphere. The riverside area has recently undergone a transformation and is now a must-see part of the city.
Southern France is more than the congested promenades of Nice and the high-fashion coastal towns of the Riviera. The Languedoc-Roussillon region, which spans the Mediterranean coast from Provence to Spain, is a relaxed and affordable alternative to Provence. What it lacks in name recognition it makes up for in sandy beaches that surpass those of the Riviera in beauty and accessibility, in our opinion.
The striking landscape - the snow-topped heights of the Pyrénées Mountains, the dry terrain that supports vineyards and olive groves, and the low, gentle incoming waves of the sea - invites adventurers and leisure-seekers alike. Shaped by its historical role as a crossroads of civilizations, from Roman to Catalan, Languedoc-Roussillon remains a cultural haven that exemplifies the Mediterranean way of life. The capital city of Languedoc-Roussillon, Montpellier, overflows with youthful vitality. Shoppers weave through the narrow winding streets of the pedestrian-only downtown, serenaded by street musicians.
Carcassonne was once the most protected medieval city in this part of France, and the main keep of the castle was so fortified at one stage in history that no one dared to attempt to breach it. The result is that as soon as you step through the main gate you feel like you have been transported back in time. The streets within the citadel are a Disney-esque dreamland of passageways and winding alleys.
With around 300 days of sunshine, gorgeous beaches, picturesque towns and villages, the Provence and Cote d’Azur region is a one of Europe’s favourite holiday playgrounds.
The summer months are understandably busy especially July and August however, there is lots going on with festivals, markets and shows. It can get very hot so we’d recommend escaping in June or early September when things begin to slow down back to the usual French pace, after all you are on holiday to relax. A real taste of Provence can be had on the streets in the centre of Aix. If you are interested in French culture, you will get chance to follow in the footsteps of the icons who lived here, such as Émile Zola, Albert Camus and Paul Cézanne.
Offering miles of gorgeous sandy beaches, the iconic Promenade des Anglais at Nice stretches the entire length of the city, creating a relaxed, beachy atmosphere. Here, you will find artists and street entertainers, as well as an array of bars and restaurants each providing picture-perfect views to accompany your meal. With just over four miles of outstanding sights and an array of entertainment, it’s a fantastic spot to take in the beauty of the coastline, relax and sunbathe, as well as enjoy the captivating buzz of the city. There are many, many more gorgeous beaches waiting to be discovered, jump in the car and explore!