22 Incredible Places To Visit In France

posted on November 21st 2014 in Blog & France with 35 Comments

Is one life enough to discover all hidden gems in France?

I have serious doubts that as the more locals and expats I talk too, the more incredible places to visit in France I discover. Daily.

Usually, when asked “Where should I go in France?”, I pause for a good ten minutes and then start pushing one destination right after another – usually at the opposite ends of the country. You can check my most popular suggestions at 20 Secret Spots to visit in France post.

Yes, Paris is magical, Lyon has amazing cuisine and Nice is a hype beach destination and Provence has those alluring lavender fields…but there are way more off-the-beaten track and tourist-less (not sure if there’s such a word, but oh well..) destinations in France that would steel your breath away!

22 more incredible places around France that you should visit (suggested by locals, French expats and travelers). 

Les Gorges du Tarn

By Jameela from Diary of a Serial Expat: French-native, former expat in the UK and Libya. Currently, on her way to Saudi Arabia.

Location: Cévennes, close to the city of Millau and its famous bridge, one of the highest in the world

Why you should visit: I love this place for the spectacular views, the cool rivers, the roads cut straight into the rocks of the mountains and little villages built on the mountains. I love the winding road up and down the mountains with scary plunging views far below. And the panoramic view from the top is simply breathtaking, reminds you how small you are on this Earth.

Étretat

Étretat

By Sara from Simply Sara Travel – a New Jersey girl in Paris.

Location: Seine-Maritime department, Haute-Normandie region

Why you should visit: This beach town in Normandy is known for its gorgeous arches that are part of the Alabaster Coast. There’s a reason that some of the Impressionist painters (like Monet) found inspiration in this gorgeous natural scene. Walk along the beach and follow the path on either side of the shore to get a higher view of those beautiful cliffs. An excursion is best followed by a bite to eat with a glass of cidre.

Plage des Abatilles

By Catherine from La Mémoire Vive

Location: Bay of Arcachon, Aquitaine (Southwest France)

Why you should visit: La Plage des Abatilles is a gem of a beach hidden just beyond a forest of towering pine trees. You can bring a chair and sit under the trees or walk along a slatted path until you reach the water. The beach is calm and surrounded by a lush open space perfect for cycling, walking, sunbathing, picnicking or simply lounging on the sand, where you can watch sailboats and the water rise along the bay. The area feels private and intimate, like its meant to be part of a movie set. It’s one of my absolute favorite beaches.

 La route de l’absinthe

Location: Starting point – Pontarlier, Haut-Doubs department Franche-Comte region or Noiraigues in Switzerland.

Why you should visit: Did you know that Pontalier is the French capital of absinthe? And the starting point of a 45 km picturesque route linking together all the agricultural, cultural, historic and tourist sites connected with absinthe. Think museums,”smuggling points”, fields of herbs,  dishes and even a whole festival dedicated to the Green Fairy.

Also, it is one of the most spectacular hiking routes in Jura and you can easily walk into Switzerland and back on foot within 3 hours. (how cool is that?). Basically, route de l’absinthe comprises numerous walking trails – all marked and easily tracked. All you need is a warm sunny day, good mood and suitable boots to get lost in the sloppy Jura mounts and emerald fields.

Vallée de la Clarée

By Emma from Voyages of Discovery. Emma is a Finnish girl who lived in New York, Germany and now, Paris with her partner in crime – Dennis.

Location: Hautes Alpes, France

Why you should visit: The Clareé Valley is a pristine valley in the Southern French Alps (Hautes Alpes). It’s located near Briançon, the highest city in the EU, and the French-Italian boarder. Not only this valley’s untouched nature is a treat on its own, but in addition to that, the area enjoys roughly 300 days of sunshine a year, making it an ideal outdoors destination.

Summer, autumn, winter or spring- this valley offers a grand variety of things to do with the most amazing landscapes! And the best part is –  it’s certainly not spoiled by the mass tourism. 

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Grotte de Font-de-Gaume

Grotte de Font-de-Gaume

By Sara from Simply Sara Travel – a New Jersey girl in Paris.

Location:  Vézère Valley, Dordogne, Aquitaine region

Why you should visit: Dordogne is an area known for its prehistoric caves, and the Grotte de Font-de-Gaume holds a special distinction as the last cave in the world with polychrome (multicolored) paintings to be open to the public. It is thus very well-protected and while visitors are allowed to see the cave with a guided tour, tickets can only be purchased on the day of entry.

It truly is an incredible work of art and will forever change the way you think about our early ancestors. They weren’t just hunter-gatherers but talented artists and skilled craftsmen as well!

 Northern Corsica

By Emma from Voyages of Discovery. Emma is a Finnish girl who lived in New York, Germany and now, Paris with her partner in crime – Dennis.

Location: Haute-Corse

Why you should visit: Untouched beaches with crystal clear waters, gorgeous sunsets, charming seaside towns and fresh seafood-these are just a couple things that Northern Corsica throws on your way.

The best way to discover it is to rent a car and take the scenic drive from Bastia to Calvi, via Saint-Florent. Some of the best beaches (Saleccia and Lotu) around Saint-Florent are only accessible by boat but you can hop on a shuttle boat that will take you there in 15 minutes. Alternatively there are many gorgeous beaches in Calvi and its close vicinity. And if you’re not short on time, make the coastal drive all the way down to Ajaccio- I assure you it’s worth your while!

(Comment from Elena: ok, so I’m hawking cheap tickets to Bastia and Calvi already. How about you?)

Nantes

By Diane from Oui in France – an American expat living in Western France.

Location: Pays de la Loire region, Loire-Atlantique department.

Why you should visit: Next time you come to France, head west to the bustling city of Nantes in the Pays de la Loire region. About 50 kilometers from the Atlantic Ocean and just over a two hour TGV ride from Paris, Nantes sits on the Loire River and is the sixth largest city in France with about 900,000 inhabitants in the metropolitan area.

Historically speaking, Nantes was part of Brittany and is still culturally Breton. Catch a soccer match or a concert, discover the area’s history and don’t forget to sample a glass of Muscadet, a white wine that’s produced in the area.

Valbonne Sophia Antipolis

By Catherine from La Mémoire Vive

Location: Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region (Southeastern France)

Why you should visit:  The first thing I noticed when walking through the small Provençal village of Valbonne are the warm regional colors that drape its beautifully aging buildings. They are a mouth-watering array of gelato pastels that draw you into its flag-strewn streets. The town is just a short drive north of the Mediterranean and home to quiet passageways, charming boutiques and markets resembling a spectacular sea of color and activity.

St Guilhem Le Desert

St Guilhem

By Anna from Eat See Do – a Londoner, who spent a year living in sunny Montpelier and now settling in Chicago.

Location: Herault departament, Languedoc-Roussillon region.

Why you should visit:  Away from hoards of tourists but with the sort of charm you expect from fairy tales, is the adorable St Guilhem Le Desert.  An hour away from the city of Montpellier by car or regular bus service, it’s a favourite weekend getaway for locals in the know.

 Wander through the winding streets to find the most glorious local bakery and delicious lavender ice cream at the kind of prices you’d expect from a local French village, not a tourist hub. Take a seat while sipping on espresso in the local square and then use all that energy to hike up to the old monastery and look over the village from high above.

 Haut-de-Cagnes

By Phoebe from The Lou Messugo Blog –  a British/Australian TCK living in the South of France.

Location: Alpes-Maritimes, PACA region.

Why you should visit: Haut-de-Cagnes, the medieval perched “village”, centre of Cagnes sur Mer, is located in what may seem an unlikely position in the middle of the conurbation of Nice Côte d’Azur, only minutes from Nice airport.

Despite being easily accesible by public transport, it somehow gets overlooked for more well-known hilltop villages in the area.  But I love this quiet, pretty village within a town.  Its narrow, steep winding cobbled alleys, bursting with colourful flowers and signs of ordinary life (laundry hanging from windows is a favourite) are a welcome retreat from the hustle and bustle of the French Riviera.

If you’re lucky you may stumble upon locals playing a game of square boules – an ingenious take on the traditional Provençal game of boules, where the “balls” are square to stop them rollling down the steep hills!  It’s a charmingly unexpected place that deserves to be visited more, though with any undiscovered gem I’m torn between telling everyone about it and keeping it a secret just for us locals.

Pont du Diable

pont du diable

By Anna from Eat See Do – a Londoner, who spent a year living in sunny Montpelier and now settling in Chicago.

Location: Herault departament, Languedoc-Roussillon region.

Why you should visit:  Just a hop and a skip from St Guilhem Le Desert is one of the loveliest places to visit in the region of Herailt. Go in the summer for a relaxing freshwater swim and to watch insane people jump from the bridge into the water.

Constructed by Benedine monks in the 11th century, this is a far less frequented bridge than the likes of Pont du Gard and makes for a great alternative to the often more crowded beaches.

Arbois

Arbois

Location: Jura department, Franche-Comte region

Why you should visit: Arbois is the wine capital of Jura region with more privately-owned vineyards and vine caves you can imagine. I would highly suggest trying local Chardonnay 2010-2011 year and rose wines made of Poulsard, Trousseau and Pinot noir grapes.

Come to Arbois on the first Sunday of September during Le Biou ceremony. A fun century-old  fest when the best grapes are tugged into a big installation and carried all around town, way to the main cathedral as a generous offering to the local wine patron Saint Just.

Arbois is also hometown of Lui Pasteur – his family house was turned into museum. Check out a few lovely chateaux and wonder around incredibly narrow medieval streets for a while.

Ville Close

unnamed

by Marianne from Californienne – a cali girl working as an Au Pair in Bretagne

Location: Concarneau, Bretagne

Why you should visit: The “Ville Close” is a distinct part of the city of Concarneau, located in western France in the region of Bretagne (Brittany). It is a very old part of the city, built on an island in the middle of the bay and surrounded by walls on all sides, with a drawbridge connecting it to the mainland. While the rest of modern Concarneau fills the mainland surrounding the “ville close,” you can still walk throughout the walled city and explore the historic shops and restaurants. I highly suggest walking the paths along the walls to see views of the surrounding area.

 

Saline royale d’Arc-et-Senans

Location:  Arc-et-Senans, Doubs, Franche-Comte region

Why you should visit:  Insanely perfectly crafted royal salt works. The architect, Claude-Nicolas Ledoux, was obsessed with the idea of creating a symmetrically perfect circle city, resembling the sun – utopia that never came true due to the French Revolution.

The place still looks grand today. Huge open space and peculiar buildings forming a perfect semi-circle, divided into equally proportional segments. Besides, it’s a UNESCO-listed sight.

Besançon

by Bill – one of my readers whose feedback I always value a lot. He just returned from his trip around France.

Location: Doubs department, Franche-Comte region

Why you should visit:  Besançon appreciates its history and preserves it. Besançon appreciates modern ways including art in all forms and honors that too.  The well kept streets in Besançon old town are reserved for foot traffic and as a result a quiet respectfulness of humanity exudes.

On weekends the tourist traffic seems focused on hiking and other outdoors activity.  One may find restaurants catering to all desires from the most modern trends to true localized fare.  My dining experiences in Besançon were a delight for the food as much as for the hospitality.

I left Besançon with sorrow.  I loved all it had to offer and look forward to returning to walk its paths and drive the surrounding countryside soon.

(comment from Elena – I feel absolutely the same about my new hometown!)

Gorges du Verdon

Gorges du Vernon

by Elodie – my reader from France who loves traveling a lot too!

Location: Alpes-de-Haute-Provence department, Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region.

Why you should visit: Gorges du Verdon  is often called one of the most beautiful gorges in Europe. 25 km of spectacular alpine scenery and turquoise-green waters of river Verdon! It ends with man-made Lac de Sainte-Croix – stunning pristine water and nice beaches to relax after a long hike! However, the beach gets rather crowded in summer, especially in August!

Not to miss: Embut area where river Verdon gets lost among huge rocks and then goes underground to re-emerge a few meters below. Looks just stunning!

Alignements de Carnac

unnamed (1)

by Marianne from Californienne – a cali girl working as an Au Pair in Bretagne

Location: Carnac, Bretagne

Why you should visit: Located just outside of Carnac, the lovely seaside town, you can find the prehistoric Alignements de Carnac – three fields of over 3,000 standing megaliths originally erected around 4500 BC. This site is thought to be the largest in the world and although the exact reasoning behind why the stones were erected is unclear, there are many myths surrounding the impressive lined fields. The stones are fenced but are free to visit, although the accessible areas are switched throughout the year to allow for vegetation to continue to grow.

Gouffre de Poudrey

Gouffre_de_Poudrey

By YannickPatois (Own work) , via Wikimedia Commons

Location: near Etalans, Doubs department, Franche-Comte.

Why you should visit: A huge system of caves and underground halls. Some of them are so big, that you can fit in a cathedral inside! Natural formations are jaw-dropping: bright stalactites and stalagmites, hanging down for a good 10 meters, unusual rock sculptures and grottoes.

Be sure to dress up as it’s rather chilly underground!

Honfleur

Honfleur

by Elodie – my reader from France who loves traveling a lot too!

Location: Calvados department, Lower Normandy region.

Why you should visit: Honfleur is a pretty small town at the north and one of the oldest posts in France. The local skyline looks so special with colorful slate-covered houses and boats of all shapes and sizes. You may have seen them already on Courbet’s or Monet’s paintings by the way!

Wonder around the old harbor and order some extremely fresh fish or fruits de mer – the variety here is incredible!

Peyresq

by my partner who loves mountains a lot and been here without me.

Location: Alpes-de-Haute-Provence department, Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region.

Why you should visit: Peyresq is a tiny village lost deep in the Alps. There are only 3 persons living there permanently (one of them is the local Mayor). However it is a popular conference spot. Plus, there’s some property owned by a French and Belgium university, so the village gets lively during July and August.

During the other 10 months, Peyresq is a serene, gorgeous village to escape for a few days into the wild.

Bonus: Fête des Lumières in Lyon

Fête des Lumières

From December, 5th till December, the 8th Lyon goes crazy in lights and colors. The whole city is turned into one huge stage with light installations scattered all around town during the day and night.

I can’t wait to see it this year and would be in Lyon on December, the 6th. If anyone cares to join or catch up for a glass of mulled wine, drop me an email!

Huge thank you to everyone, who took part! 

Now, who’s traveling where this year? 

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  • independentpeople

    So cool to find one of our most favourite places, Gorges du Tarn on the first position! Aveyron and Tarn are so amazing!
    Дуже кльовий блог, до речі! :)

  • I looove St Guilhem Le Desert! So typical. Charming..

    • Absolutely adorable, agree!

  • What a beautiful collection of pictures from places in France that I have never heard of! I always have such a hard time between deciding to see the “must-see” destinations and going to more obscure places… usually the most obscure places end up being more fun to visit!

    Thanks for stopping by my blog before, I didn’t realize when you first commented that you were from Ukraine too! I live in the US but I was born in Kharkov. Nice to see another Ukrainian travel blogger! I liked your page on fb and will be following your posts :)
    Kate @ NonstopfromJFK recently posted…Day Trip from Lisbon – Sintra, PortugalMy Profile

    • Ah, I had no idea you come from Ukraine too, haha! Small world indeed. Yet I seriously wish more people from Ukraine had possibilities to travel the world too! Found you on FB too and would love to know more about your adventures for sure!

      P.S. Obscure places definitely rule!

  • dear goodness. this is gorgeous! sadly, we’ve only made it to Honfleur and Étretat so far. can’t wait to check off more! xx
    Annie | MontgomeryFest recently posted…Holiday Photo ShootMy Profile

  • Hey, Elena, what a great list! After more than 20 years in this country I still have so many more places to see. I could suggest you add our corner of Lake Geneva – Yvoire, Nernier, Evian… and don’t miss les perches du lac!
    MELewis recently posted…Ode to Madame PipiMy Profile

    • Thank you for you suggestions! Yes, I’ve seen some amazing pictures of Nernier and Evian a while ago. I guess, I’ll need to make the third edition of this post to incorporate even more French hidden (or not so) gems :)

  • Je suis tout à fait d’accord avec cette liste… ayant plutôt grandi dans l’est je connais pas mal des sites présentés ici (Salines d’arc et Senan, Besançon, gouffre de Poudrey, route de l’absinthe, etc.) mais j’ai également eu la chance de descendre les gorges du Tarn en Kayak, de visiter les Cévènes, les causses, le viaduc de Millau… et le verdon aussi.
    Connaissant la qualité de ces sites, je ne peux donc qu’être curieuse pour les destinations que je ne connais pas !!

    Même si je suis française, je suis persuadée qu’il y a des richesses insoupçonnées à découvrir dans ce petit pays aux facettes si distinctes ! :)
    Rory recently posted…Mumbai, la porte de l’Inde du sudMy Profile

    • Oui, France a un potentiel infini de découverte et et je ai besoin vraiment besoin de voyager encore plus, au lieu de travailler 😀 P.S. Désolé si mon français ne est pas parfait 😉

  • Elena, this post came out wonderfully! Thank you so much for including me in this round-up! There are just so many cool places to discover in France – I am certainly going to bookmark this post for ideas in the future. And I’m looking forward to reading more from your other featured bloggers!
    Sara @ Simply Sara Travel recently posted…4 Hours in ParisMy Profile

    • Sara, thanks again for taking part! This list turned out to be so spectacular and now I seriously need to invest some money into TGV tickets!

  • Vu par ICI

    Hello
    please, you must come in the north-east of France and discover Alsace. To help you, see : http://www.vuparici.fr/tous-les-articles-vu-par-ici/
    and i hope you find a place and write a something about this country.

    • Yes, I’ve been to Strasbourg and Colmar already and would love to explore more smaller towns in Alsace :)

  • I’ve never been to any of these places and now I want to visit them all! Your readers take great photos.

    I found you via Californienne and I will definitely be following along from now on. My grandad was Ukranian and I still have relatives there :-)

    • It’s super-easy to get to Alsace from Germany :) And they have seriously good foods there, wine and amazing colorful cities like Colmar or Petite Venice district in Strasbourg! Thank you for stopping by!

      • I’ve been to Strasbourg a few times and was in Colmar this year. Love them both :-)
        bevchen recently posted…Christmas dinner day 2014My Profile

        • I’d love to rent out a car someday and make a serious detour around smaller villages and vineyards around the area as I love the local Riesling 😉

  • France is SO gorgeous. I have friends who have spent 2-3 years there travelling around and still don’t feel like they have seen all that it has to offer!

    • I’m on my 2nd year of exploring and feel like I’ve just touched the surface! It’s cool to know you have soo many different things to explore – awesome beaches on the South and West, Alps on the East and loads of castles, gorges, charming towns EVERYWHERE else :)

      • Don’t forget the huge variety of delicious food everywhere you go… France really is an amazing country. And you know what i appreciate it even more now that i don’t live there anymore, French people like me take their country for granted and forget to explore it properly.
        Jameela Deen recently posted…Photo Visit of Cairo, EgyptMy Profile

  • These places look really awesome! To be honest I didn’t know France had so much great nature and such.

    I think I need to take myself to France!
    Kerri recently posted…Saturday Blog Spotlight || Modern Girl BlitzMy Profile

    • Belgium isn’t that far after all…so if you have time and some spare money for a TGV ticket, France’s definitely worth a trip! 😉

  • This post turned out amazing! Thanks so much for featuring my submissions. I think all of these places sound amazing and I’m definitely adding them to my lists of places to go.

    Something I’m thinking might be a good topic to address as well is reaching these types of French off-the-beaten-path destinations by public transport. Many people who are visiting France do not have cars… Maybe in a different post… or a different collaboration :)
    Marianne recently posted…SS 17: Weekend Drives & CravingsMy Profile

    • Marianne, yes! Great point indeed. I don’t own a car and mainly travel by train or share a car at BlaBla car (or get picked up by friends’ heading somewhere exciting).

      I was planning to publish a post about how to travel around France cheap in a while, so hope it could answer some questions. Tips and suggestions are always very welcomed! :)

  • Thanks for having me i loved the post and there are so many places i have to discover next time i make a stop in France. I’ve got a base in the Herault region and it’s full of hidden treasures. If i could pick only one from the list though it would be Corsica, Elena find us a group ticket lease and we can all go. It’s also nice to discover some French based bloggers, looks like i’ve got a few new ones to had to my blog reading list.
    Jameela Deen recently posted…House and Flat for Rent in LibyaMy Profile

    • Haha, yes! Though I was thinking about a car trip this year as ferries to Corsica are 4 times cheaper comparing to flights. Plus, the scenic roads make it half of the fun in Corsica! Thanks again for taking part, Jameela!

  • What a wonderful list Elena! Thank you so much for inviting me to contribute. I visited Honfleur for the first time a few weeks ago and was so enchanted by this little maritime village… and now want to head straight to Etretat too! Corsica has been on my travel list for a long time now, but it looks like I’ve got a lot more of beautiful French destinations to add to the list. Thank you for putting this together :)
    Catherine recently posted…La Tour EiffelMy Profile

    • You are very welcomed and thank you again for taking part! I haven’t been to Normandy and Brittany yet as I live on the opposite end of the country…but TGV would probably take me there for half of the day :)

      I’d love to re-visit Corisa too this spring and spend some time in Marseille and Provence on the way back!

  • This article makes me realize how much of France I still have to see, I’ve barely scratched the surface. From the above list I’ve only been to Nantes and none of the other suggested places. :(
    Franca recently posted…How Travel Made Me More MinimalMy Profile

    • I’m not sure how much time anyone needs to see everything France has hidden for us :)

  • This turned out fabulous! Can’t wait to discover some of these places. Thanks so much for asking me to be involved. 😉 Bon week-end !
    Diane recently posted…Tom’s take on 45 things French people think when visiting New York City for the first timeMy Profile

    • Thank you, Dianne, for taking part! Oh yes, now I really wish for the warm season to spend a few days hiking both gorges and soaking the sun in Corsica!

  • Thanks for including my suggestion. There are some great places here. I’m really excited to see the Lyon fête des lumières on this list as I have a girls’ weekend booked with 3 friends to go to it this year! Great idea for a post Elena.
    Phoebe @ Lou Messugo recently posted…Christmas traditions in Provence – SantonsMy Profile

    • Yes, I’m incredibly exited to see fête des lumières too this year! (missed it out last year for some reason I can’t remember now). Phoebe, thank you again for taking part!