When most people think of France they think of fine wine and cuisine, exceptional scenery and a laid back lifestyle which is the envy of the rest of the world. The gorgeously diverse landscape – which has inspired centuries of influential writers, artists and poets – include huge mountain ranges, acres of green countryside and long stretches of sparkling coastline. Paris aside, here are ten of the most beautiful places to visit in France (in no particular order):
1. Loire Valley
An area of outstanding natural beauty, the Loire Valley is also affectionately known as the garden of France. The valley spans over 280 km and is located in the beautiful middle stretch of the Loire River in central France. It’s filled with culturally and historically important architecture which has earned it a world heritage site status- so it’s not surprising it’s one of the most visited places in the country. Known for its large collection of fairytale-esque chateaux and mansions, exceptionally beautiful landscapes and one of the most striking rivers in Europe the Loire Valley is a gentle but most definitely bourgeois paradise.
2. Mont Saint-Michel
Second only to the Eiffel Tower as France’s best-loved landmark, Mont St-Michel is rocky, peaked island connected by a causeway to northwest France. It’s an imposing sight sitting amid sandbanks and powerful tides, the heritage site is most celebrated for its Gothic-style Benedictine abbey. Directly below the grand monastery is a medieval village complete with winding streets, small houses and souvenir shops. The island is accessible at all times except when the tide is very high.
If you’re visiting here then you also might as well explore the rest of the Normandy region. Filled with history and lush green landscapes expect to see dry-stone farmhouses, chalk-white cliffs, half-timbered buildings and many other fine examples of picturesque architecture. The historically important site of the Normandy Landing beaches and the famous Bayeux tapestry is also located here.
3. Côte d’Azur
The Mediterranean coastline of southeast France is otherwise known as the French Riviera. Although expensive and over-developed to some, with its miles of gorgeous coastline and azure waters it’s still one of the most beautiful places to visit in France. The sun-drenched area has attracted and transfixed many visitors over the years including royalty, celebrities, writers and artists such as Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse. The Côte d’Azur is also famed for its stylish coastal cities such as Nice, Cannes and St-Tropez, which still remain exclusive holiday resorts even today.
Giverny is a riverside rural idyll located on the borders of Normandy which is most famous for being the birthplace of impressionism. The small village was once Claude Monet’s cherished country retreat and now both his pink shutter-board house and photogenic country gardens are open to the public. Planted by Monet himself, the walled water garden (which inspired so many of his famous paintings) features white and purple wisterias, water lilies, weeping willows, bamboo and the iconic green Japanese bridge.
5. The Palace of Versailles
A wealthy suburb of Paris, Versailles is an important administrative centre and a proud tourist attraction in its own right. It’s most famous for its chateau – the hugely grand and ornate Palace of Versailles which once housed the kings of France (including the ill-fated Louis XVI and his wife Marie Antoinette). Both the perfectly preserved palace and manicured gardens are extraordinary and the palace, as well as being very easy-on-the-eye, offers an insight into the lives of 18th century French royalty before the start of the legendary French Revolution.
6. The Dordogne
The Dordogne which lies to the south west of the country is an exceptionally beautiful region which is unlikely to disappoint even the most discerning of travellers. Its roads and rivers wind through lush, unspoiled agricultural pastures and spectacular prehistoric landscapes of caves and gorges, interspersed with charming medieval towns and villages of rich historical heritage. Make sure you visit the sacred pilgrim’s monuments en route to Santiago de Compostela, sample the local wines still produced by many of the chateaux and explore the ancient fortified towns such as the visually striking Beynac-et-Cazenac.
The birthplace of champagne is also one of the most beautiful regions in France and not surprisingly it’s very popular with wine trail tourists. Champagne-Ardenne can be found in the northeast of the country, bordering Belgium and in addition to the miles of Champagne Routes, the region has plenty of scenic countryside, medieval chateaux and vineyards as far as the eye can see. Make sure you visit the region’s capital Troyes for impressive art and architecture and Reims for its famous cathedral and acres of underground wine cellars.
Located right on the border of Germany and France this heritage city has characteristics of both countries. It’s a picturesque – almost twee – town which really draws the visitors with its old world charm. Famous for its riverfront half-timbered houses, gothic cathedral and obvious fondness for flowers, it also makes a great base for those wishing to visit the nearby Black Forest or the River Rhine.
The Provence countryside definitely deserves a mention of its own. If you head for the Luberon area, located at the heart of the region, you’ll find the most archetypal scenery of rural Provence – beautiful landscapes filled with endless lavender fields, lush olive groves, undulating vineyards and pretty ancient hilltop villages filled with shutter-board houses. Make sure you also include trips to the picturesque villages of Baux-de-Provence and St. Rémy and the dazzling walled city of Avignon. Long lazy days and alfresco lunches await you in this rural chic paradise.
10. Annecy, The Alps
The French Alps are probably best known for their up-market ski resorts, but the region is also home to some very attractive towns which are great to visit, summer or winter. One that really stands out is Annecy which is also known as the ‘Venice of Savoie.’ The city is built around a 14th century Chateau and the whole town is interspersed with small canals. With its unusual centre and backdrop of snowy mountains, Annecy is easily one of the most photogenic towns in France.
Of course it’s impossible to mention all the beautiful places in France in a Top 10 list. Still want more? Then also consider the tranquil and unspoiled countryside of the wine region Burgundy, the chic coastal cities and sunny shores of Corsica, the world heritage cities of Lyon and Bordeaux, the picturesque villages and high mountains of the Mid Pyrenees, the low-key traditional wine region of Languedoc and the Gorge du Verdon, France’s answer to the Grand Canyon. Enjoy your stay!
Where to stay – Popular, unique and reasonably priced hotels in France
- Hotel Diderot, Chinon, Loire Valley – Charming family run small hotel in beautiful location from €56pn
- Auberge de Launay, Limeray, Loire Valley – Affordable but gorgeous country hotel from €65pn
- Hotel de Biencourt, Loire Valley – Traditionally French hotel in village location from €68pn
- Mouton Blanc Hotel, Mont-Saint-Michel – Characterful hotel located on Mont-Saint Michel from €80pn
- Nice Garden Hotel, Côte d’Azur – Small and stylish budget boutique hotel from €60pn
- Ideal Sejour Hotel, Cannes – Stylish Budget Boutique hotel with pretty garden from €66pn
- Villa Nais, Côte d’Azur – Good value eclectic boutique hotel in a beautiful location from €100pn
- Hotel La Chaine d’Or, nr Giverny – Normandy riverside retreat not far from Monet’s Garden from €85pn
- Mercure Versailles Chateau, Versailles – Well presented hotel with good amenities from €85pn
- Hotel Du Centenaire, Dordogne – Sophisticated but traditional hotel with gorgeous garden from €120pn
- Chateau De La Fleunie, Dordogne - Unique hotel housed in a historic stone chateau from €78pn
- Hotel Le Chateau Fort, Sedan, Champagne-Ardenne – Medieval fortress turned unique hotel fr €70pn
- Hotel De France, Strasbourg – City hotel with funky decor from €65pn
- Hotel Du Dragon, Strasbourg – Stylish and tasteful lower priced hotel in good location from €60pn
- Chateau des Alpilles, Provence – Stunning 19th century countryside small castle from €150pn
- Mas Des Carassins Hotel, Provence – Beautifully located country hotel in St.Remy from €90pn
- Hostellerie Du Luberon, Vaugines, Provence – Peaceful rural retreat with great views from €80pn
- Hotel du Palais de l’Isle, Annecy - Lovely hotel in fairytale location from €90pn
- Allobroges Park Hotel, Annecy - A popular modern budget hotel in a central location from €60pn
Useful Travel Resources
- The Paris Pass – A great way to save money on your city trip, the Paris Pass is a sightseeing card which gives holders FREE ENTRY to over 60 sights and tourist attractions in Paris and the city Metro. More information on the Paris Pass
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- City Tours - City Discovery has a wide range of amazing tours and activities at good value prices. Activities include trips to the Eiffel Tower, wine tasting in Bordeaux and a glamorous tour of Nice and Monte Carlo
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- Car Rental – Budget rent a car offers good value car hire in over 3,400 locations in over 128 countries including France. More information on Budget Rent-a-Car.