12 charming locations to add to your French travel list
I can’t resist writing a post about France, it’s one of my favourite countries to explore, from north, south, east to west, it’s all magnificent.
Gary and I love all the differences between each region of France, the exquisite historic architecture, the diverse, picturesque landscape, and of course, the delicious cuisine.
Living in the southeast of the UK, we’re so lucky to have France on our doorstep; this allows us a few options when we travel. Depending on our mode of transport, usually by car, we love road-trippin’ through France and exploring some off-beat locations; we can either jump on Le Shuttle and arrive in Calais in 35 minutes or leisurely cruise with Brittany Ferries on the open waves.
We have discovered so many charming places during our plentiful tours through France. Some of the French towns we’ve visited intentionally, others we just stumbled upon while touring.
There will be some places on our list that you’ll be familiar with; however, with any luck, there be a few that will lure you into booking a trip to France for your next holiday.
If you fancy a relaxing road trip through France, then I can highly recommend an adventure discovering the Alsace wine route.
All through Alsace are striking medieval villages, and one in particular that we enjoyed visiting was Riquewihr, slightly northwest of Colmar.
The beautiful 16th-century village of Riquewihr is awash with vibrant timber-framed buildings and overflowing with fragrant window-boxes. Not only is Riquewihr renowned for its tempting and tasty wines, but it also named one of France’s most beautiful villages.
This Alsatian region of France shares a border with its German neighbours, and its culinary influences can be found throughout its cuisine.
Visiting Riquewihr is like stepping into a fairy-tale story; its architecture is magnificently preserved, and it’s one of the lucky locations to have escaped the devastation of World War II.
Riquewihr is located along the Alsace wine route, in the north-eastern Grand Est region of France; it’s such a verdant and beautiful part of France.
While visiting Riquewihr, I’m sure you’ll be tempted by the incredible wines of the Alsace region. Why don’t you leave your car back at the hotel in Colmar and jump on an intimate full-day tour? Visit four medieval Alsatian villages and enjoy the wine tasting at your leisure.
Where to stay in near Riquewihr
Our accommodation during our Alsace road trip was in Colmar at the Le Colombier. This stylish hotel was perfectly located in the Little Venice district of Colmar. Just a couple of minutes walk into the historical old town.
Chargeable onsite parking is available at the hotel. However, there are parking options on the street in front of the hotel.
If like us, you love visiting different regions of France then this Michelin guide will definitely assist in your planning.
We used a previous version of this book to plan our eastern France road trips, now you can grab the revised copy.
There appears to be a theme here as Chinon is also renowned for its wines, especially red.
The charming town of Chinon is located on the River Vienne within the beautiful landscape of the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Loire Valley.
The incredibly historic town of Chinon is distinctive by the eye-catching Château de Chinon sitting high above the commune. The striking fortification was originally erected in the 10th-century, and I can imagine it stood as imposing then as it does now.
Château de Chinon changed hands many times over the centuries and was the home of French and English Kings alike. Briefly, it was in possession of the Huguenots and where Joan of Arc resided for a time.
The magnificent castle recently underwent a huge restoration project, which was completed at €14.5m.
The medieval old town of Chinon was formerly fortified and is such a delight to stroll around with many attractive squares. The historic architecture amongst the narrow-cobbled streets is a pleasant mix from the Middle Ages to Renaissance.
Chinon’s lovely location by the river really encourages you to stay for a while and explore the historic town; it would be rude not to visit for lunch and head to one of Chinon’s many bistros or brasseries.
Essoyes village is located around 30 miles south of Troyes and was so peaceful. We explored Essoyes as part of a mini road trip from Bar to Bar in a Car. We started at Bar-sur-Seine, weaved our way across the rolling vineyards of Champagne and finished at Bar-sur-Aube.
More details of the route can be found on The Comité Champagne site.
Essoyes is a charming village located on the banks of the Ource River, and throughout the delightful streets are references to its famous resident, the Impressionist artist Pierre-Auguste Renoir. Renoir’s wife Aline was born in Essoyes, and the family later moved here.
Although Renoir didn’t die in Essoyes, his gravestone and that of his wife and his film director son Jean can be seen in Essoyes cemetery.
As you stroll through Essoyes, especially along the Chemins de Renoir, you’ll see large images of Renoir’s paintings on the side of homes. It really is a nice touch to the great painter.
Where to stay near Essoyes
The accommodation we chose during this section of our Champagne road trip was in Troyes. We stayed at the Maison M, a delightful 19th-century guesthouse situated along the quayside, just a short stroll to the town centre.
The location was very peaceful and had free onsite parking.
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Or alternatively, catch a Brittany Ferry and tour through France under your own steam.
The city of Bayonne is located in the far-southwestern part of France in the Nouvelle-Aquitaine region and also the Basque Country, which is important to note. The Basque culture has huge influences through the local traditions and cuisine.
The charming city of Bayonne lies in the convergence of the Nive and Adour rivers. Basque architecture can be admired along the banks of the Nive, which divides Bayonne into Grand Bayonne and Petit Bayonne.
The beautiful homes stand shoulder to shoulder along the river with distinctive wooden shutters often painted in the Basque colours of red and green. Five bridges link the two quarters.
Bayonne is such a pleasant city to meander around; it has so much character and is full of welcoming pintxo (tapa) bars. Its strong Basque and Gascony influences can only be a win-win.
While strolling around Bayonne, head to the impressive gothic Cathédrale Sainte-Marie, which beautifully dominates the skyline. The cathedral’s construction began in the 13th-century; however, it wasn’t completed until the beginning of the 17th-century.
During our stay in the city of Rouen, we ventured out for the day to visit Giverny (Monet’s home) and Jumièges Abbey; however, we popped into the delightful village of Lyons-la-Forêt for a spot of petit déjeuner on the way.
The attractive village was so quaint; colourful half-timbered Normandy-style houses lined Market Square. The main focal point of day-to-day village life was the 17th-century wooden covered market, selling fresh fruit and vegetables.
Take a slow amble around the village and spot the many attractive characteristics of Normandy.
Where to stay near Lyons-la-Forêt
The accommodation we chose during this section of our Normandy road trip was in Rouen at the Mercure Rouen Centre Champ de Mars.
The hotel’s location is about a 10 to 15-minute walk to the heart of the old town, an ideal place for discovering Rouen and its surrounding towns & villages.
If you are driving, this hotel has a chargeable underground car park with direct access to the hotel. We had no problem parking here for the 3 nights and ideal if you have a larger vehicle.
We love visiting France and each region so different from one another. I find the DK Eyewitness Guides really helpful in planning a trip and so often find interesting little snippets of info.
Take a peek at this revised Top 10 Pocket Travel Guide and see what you can discover.
I appreciate that Monaco isn’t technically France; its own Sovereign state and country; however, I couldn’t resist including it, as it is on The French Riviera, and I’m easily persuaded.
We’ve visited Monaco on a couple of occasions while staying at Villefranche-sur-Mer. It’s just a short hop around the bay either in your car or on the train, which follows the route of the French Riviera.
Monaco is opulent, lavish, and magnificent all at the same time; you just need to see it to believe it. The harbour is where I’m automatically attracted, as I love the ocean and can’t resist admiring the luxurious super yachts.
Stroll up the hill towards the Casino de Monte-Carlo, continually admiring the views across the glorious bay. The casino slowly comes into view when you reach the top, having passed by all the elegant boutiques. The casino is so iconic to Monaco; you just have to visit.
The other famous lure to Monaco is that it has held a Grand Prix around its streets since 1929.
I’m a Formula 1 fan, so I love to see the red and white road markings that signify the edge of the racing circuit and all the references to past and present racing drivers.
Where to stay near Monaco
Our accommodation, while were in the French Riviera, was at Villefranche-sur-Mer, in the luxury Welcome Hotel. It is an incredible place to stay,and the location overlooking the picturesque harbour is unbeatable.
It may be a bit of indulgence but believe me, it is worth it.
Oh, Provence, my favourite region of France.
The striking hill-top town of Gordes in the Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur region of southern France is stunning. As you approach the town by car, you can see Gordes perched high above on a rocky outcrop just waiting to be explored.
I recommend you visit early in the morning or late afternoon, as this pretty village is quite popular. When you stroll around the narrow lanes between the honey-coloured homes and observe the magnificent countryside beyond, it is easy to see why Gordes is such an attraction for visitors.
You may even recognise the attractive village from the movie ‘A Good Year’.
Where to stay near Gordes
It was a pleasure each morning strolling down into the patio/lounge area to enjoy your Provençal breakfast in the dappled sunshine.
If you love Provence as much as we do, you'll want to start planning your visit now.
I so enjoy using the DK Eyewitness books, as they are extremely informative, easy to follow and the pictures and maps tempt you into discovering more.
We used a previous version of this book to plan our Provencal road trip, now you can grab the revised copy.
We had a lovely stroll around Lisieux town on market day, visited Lisieux Cathedral and then headed up to the Basilica of Sainte-Thérèse of Lisieux.
The Basilica of Sainte-Thérèse of Lisieux came as quite a surprise when I first saw it, as it is quite imposing and very impressive.
The Basilica was completed in 1954, so it’s a reasonably recent construction and is the second largest pilgrimage site in France after Lourdes. Built in the shape of a cross, the Basilica stands 90 metres (300ft) in height and has a magnificent dome above the crossing point of the church. It can accommodate a congregation of 4,000 people.
Sainte-Thérèse of Lisieux was born in Alençon and, at the age of 15, felt a call to religious life and became a nun. In Thérèse’s short life, she left her mark on the world and died in 1897 at the age of 24 from tuberculosis.
Thérèse was Canonised by Pope Pius XI in 1925.
We stay in Normandy and head further west to Bayeux, which is close to the historic beaches from the Normandy Landings.
Bayeux is in the department of Calvados, and home to the famous Bayeux Tapestry, which was a ‘must see’ for us. The tapestry is located in the Bayeux Museum.
The Bayeux tapestry is incredible; the embroidered cloth is 70 metres (230ft) in length and depicts 58 scenes from the events leading up to the Norman Conquest of England. Each scene meticulously details William the Conqueror leading his troops to England and the ultimate defeat of the English at the Battle of Hastings against King Harold II.
The earliest record reference of the Bayeux Tapestry was in 1476 as part of a treasury inventory of Bayeux Cathedral. Although, it is believed to have been created around 1070, shortly after the legendary battle in 1066.
Bayeux is a charming town to wander around as it has an incredible amount of history and is quite picturesque, with the Aure River running through the historic centre.
Bayeux was also the first major town to be secured by allies during Operation Overlord in 1944.
Where we stayed near Bayeux
Our accommodation for the four nights in Caen was at the Hotel Restaurant Le Dauphin et Le Spa du Prieuré.
The Hotel Restaurant Le Dauphin et Le Spa du Prieuré in Caen is reasonably central and just a short stroll across to the charming Place Saint-Sauveur.
If you are driving, this hotel has free onsite parking, although the spaces are limited.
In our opinion
The hill-top village of Roussillon is a beautiful place to visit and will always remain in my memory as it is so evocative of a Provence village.
As you approach crossing the tranquil landscape of pine trees and undulating hills, the land beneath your feet has turned into magnificent shades of orange, gold and red from the nearby ochre quarry.
The village is enchanting, and you feel like you’ve inadvertently wandered into a movie set. Every home appears to be painted in another captivating shade of ochre, and its wooden window shutters are thrown open to the Provence sunshine.
I appreciate that Roussillon may be over touristy; however, it is still a pleasure to visit.
If Roussillon has charmed you and you’d love to gain an insight into family life in Roussillon during the 1950s, when it was a quiet rural village, then take a peek at Laurence Wylie’s book ‘A Village in Vaucluse’.
We’re back to the beautiful Normandy region northwest of France to Étretat.
Étretat can get a little busy, so it’s advisable to head there early to witness the stunning view of the white chalk cliffs. Tremendous forces of nature have carved their way through the chalk to form three natural arches and L’Aiguille (the Needle), which rises 70 metres (230ft) above the sea.
If time is of the essence and you are unable to walk to the top of the cliff, a superb view can be seen from the esplanade.
Artists old and new are drawn to Étretat for its unique white cliffs, including the French impressionist Claude Monet who lived in Giverny, Normandy.
Don’t miss parts I, II, III and IV of our adventures in France
Besançon is located far east of France in the Bourgogne-Franche-Comté region, which is very close to the Swiss border.
The city is nestled within a horseshoe meander of Les Doubs River and is considered to be the first green city in France.
What’s great about Besançon is that it appears to have dropped off many tourist radars and is a pleasure to visit. Sitting high above the city on Mount Saint-Etienne is the 17th-century Citadel of Besançon set within 27 acres.
Additionally, in Besançon is the Museum of Fine Arts and Archaeology; the museum was created in 1694 and can claim to be the oldest public museum in France. It has some fine pieces of art from many notable names across Europe.
Take a stroll around the historical streets and ensure you head to Place de la Revolution, a charming square in the centre of the city and also visit Besançon Cathedral.
I love nothing more than planning a trip through France and so often I use the DK Eyewitness books. I find them extremely informative, easy to follow and the pictures and maps tempt you into discovering more.
We used a previous version of this book to plan our French road trips, now you can grab the revised copy.
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