One of the most visited countries in the world, France conjures up an image of long hot summer days and probably the desire not to come home again. When we think of France we usually think of fine wine and cuisine, exceptional scenery and a laid back lifestyle which is the envy of the world. The diverse landscape – which has inspired centuries of influential writers, artists and poets – include huge mountain ranges, acres of green countryside and miles of gorgeous 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- unsurprisingly it’s one of the most visited places in the country. Renowned 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 which is connected by a causeway to northwest France. 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 make time to 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 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 shutterboard house and highly 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.
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 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 beautifully preserved palace and manicured gardens are extraordinary and they also offer an interesting insight into the lives of 18th century French royalty before the start of the legendary Revolution.
6. Annecy, The Alps
The French Alps are best known for its prestigious ski resorts, although the region is also home to many pretty towns which are great to visit, summer or winter. One of the most attractive is Annecy which has a medieval picture-postcard quality. The centre is built around a 14th century Chateau and the whole town is interspersed with small canals which is why some locals refer to it as the ‘Venice of Savoie.’ With its canals and backdrop of snowy mountains, Annecy is easily one of the most photogenic towns in France.
The birthplace of champagne is also one of the most beautiful regions in France and of course it’s very popular with wine trail tourists. It is located in the northeast of the country, bordering Belgium and in addition to the miles of Champagne Routes, the region has exceptionally 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 distinct characteristics of both countries. It’s a picturesque, almost twee town radiating an old world charm which really draws the visitors. Famous for its riverfront half-timbered houses, beautiful gothic cathedral and fondness for flowers, it also makes a great base for those wishing to visit the nearby Black Forest or the River Rhine.
Although this region encompasses other places on this list, Provence deserves a mention of its own. It has a very diverse geography but Provence is best known for its irresistible countryside landscapes filled with endless lavender fields, lush olive groves and ancient hilltop villages. Long lazy days and alfresco lunches await you in this rural chic paradise. Make sure you include a trip to the impossibly picturesque villages of Baux-de-Provence and St. Rémy and also the spectacular walled city of Avignon.
10. The Gorges du Verdon
Europe’s answer to the grand canyon, this deep cliff gorge located in the Provence region is a visitor hot spot. Here you’ll find bright turquoise green waters, outstanding scenery and an abundance of wildlife – it’s not difficult to see why this gorge is so popular. Easily accessible from the French Riviera, the national park is a great spot to climb, hike, kayak or just go for a scenic drive.
Of course it’s impossible to mention all the beautiful places in France in a Top 10 list. You should also consider the exceptionally tranquil and unspoiled countryside of the wine region Burgundy, the chic coastal cities and sunshine of Corsica, the UNESCO world heritage cities of Lyon and Bordeaux, the picturesque villages and high mountains of the Mid Pyrenees and the prehistoric cave paintings and picture perfect ancient landscapes of the popular Dordogne. 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 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
- 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
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
- Flights - Skyscanner is an invaluable tool for the independent traveller. It searches over 600 airlines and 670000 routes to find the cheapest deals on flights and then you can book direct with no fees added. Compare all cheap flights with Skyscanner
- Apartment rentals – Renting apartments can save up to 40% on a trip compared to staying in a hotel. HomeAway.com has one of the largest collection of short term rentals properties all over the world. Find Worldwide Rental Properties
- Rail – Trains are a great way to visit multiple European countries in one trip. Rail Europe are the leading specialists in tickets for European rail travel and offer good deals on travel. Click here for Rail Europe
- Tours and Activities - Isango! is the leading provider of sightseeing trips, wine tours, destination experiences, historic tours, romantic activities, theme park visits, cooking classes, bike tours, diving expeditions, hop-on -and-off bus tours, off-the-beaten-track trips and guided historical attractions. More information on Isango
- 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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- Adventure Vacations - G Adventures is the largest small group adventure travel company in the world and offer adventurous trips to many countries including France. More information on G Adventures.
- Deals on Travel – LivingSocial is a daily deal website which offers a variety of savings on travel, to save 50-70% off with LivingSocial’s Daily Deals!
- 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.