France’s hidden gems

While we may not be able to travel at the moment, there’s nothing stopping us from dreaming! France boasts the exquisite cities of Paris, Nice and Marseilles, but what of its places more off the beaten track? France is laden with some fantastic but lesser known nooks and crannies, just waiting to be explored. So, without further ado, here are 12 suggestions for your next French adventure.

1. Èze

Just a stone’s throw away from Nice, Èze is a small coastal commune with incredible views out over the Mediterranean. For the nature-lovers among us, the Nietzsche path is a must-do; a mountainous coastal walk with some stunning scenery, this hike will most definitely not disappoint. Or, for those of us who are more historically inclined, be sure to visit Èze village, a medieval settlement perched on top of a mountain, along with Fort de la Revère and the botanic gardens. 

Image: Campus France on Flickr.

2. Gorges de l’Ardèche

The gorges de l’Ardèche are best viewed from canoe or kayak – so don your life jacket and grab a paddle! Navigate your way through rapids, rocks and various forms of wildlife before reaching the famous Pont d’Arc – a view that is not to be missed. Along the way, be sure to stop off at nearby towns and villages – and don’t forget to sample the local cuisine!

Le Pont d’Arc. Image: Tristan Schmurr on Flickr

3. Finistère

Located in west Brittany, the Finistère region boasts countless quaint coastal towns and villages, alongside magnificent landscapes. The Armorica regional natural park is certainly one for your itinerary, and a coastal hike (I see a theme emerging…) is, of course, a must-do. If you’re feeling particularly adventurous, then don’t be afraid to travel further afield to some of Finistère’s islands – especially the charming l’île Louët.

Image: Falcon® Photography on Flickr

4. Rocamadour

Built into a cliffside in southwestern France, Rocamadour is an ancient medieval village that towers above the Alzou canyon. With a rich religious history, Rocamadour is the perfect destination for history and religion-lovers alike and is also popular among pilgrims. 

Image: Will Verhulst on Flickr

5. Chamonix

Perhaps my all-time favourite place in France, Chamonix and its surrounding mountains are truly astounding. Aiguille du Midi (3842m) is a must-see and is the closest point you can get to Mont Blanc by cable car. Le Brevent is another fantastic viewpoint for Mont Blanc, and is also easily accessible by cable car. Alternatively, a mountainside tram will take you all the way up to Montenvers, where you can walk down to its rapidly receding glacier – a stark and shocking reminder of the effects of climate change in this area. In terms of hiking, Lac Blanc is a must-see – but be prepared for snow if you’re not going in summer! Of course, Mont Blanc is always an option if you’re an experienced hiker, but it is not to be underestimated; be sure to go with a knowledgeable guide and suitable equipment. 

Aiguille du Midi (3842m). Image: Anna Stringer

6. Chambéry

Nestled among several mountain ranges, Chambéry is the perfect base for exploring the local nature. Lac du Bourget and Lac d’Aiguebelette are fantastic spots for swimming or water sports, and the cycling around Chambéry is second to none. While there are countless hikes to do, I’d highly recommend the Nivolet Cross circuit – it isn’t too physically demanding and you’re rewarded with views of the Alps at the top!

En route to the Nivolet Cross. Image: Anna Stringer

View over Lac du Bourget. Image: Anna Stringer.

7. Annecy

Simply wandering the winding streets of this alpine town is an experience in itself, and at least a day must be dedicated to its old town in order to fully appreciate it. The Palais de l’isle is Annecy’s most famous attraction, but there are some more lesser known sights that could take your fancy. I’d personally recommend seeking out Annecy’s wall murals scattered around the old town, visiting the weekly market, or spending time inside some of its ancient churches. There are also some fantastic hikes to be had from Annecy (quelle surprise) – my favourite of which has got to be the Mont Veyrier hike, which you can walk to from the town centre. 

Mont Veyrier. Image: Emma Selbie

Lake Annecy. Image: Emma Selbie

8. Étretat cliffs

Another great place for – you guessed it – a coastal hike! These chalk cliffs truly are a sight to behold, and are quite unforgettable. Certainly a destination for when you need to get away for a while and reconnect with nature. Make sure to explore the beaches in this area too – they really are something!

Image: Maëlick on Flickr

9. Beaune

Beaune is a small town in Burgundy, famous for its wines and intricate rooftops. The Hôtel-Dieu museum is a wonderful activity for history lovers, and is home to Beaune’s most famous rooftop (pictured below). A wine tour is obligatory if you’re visiting Beaune, but fear not – it doesn’t need to break the bank! We found a fantastic wine-tour for €10 at Le Cellier de la Cabiote

Hôtel-Dieu rooftops. Image: alh1 on Flickr

10. Corsica

Corsica is a diverse and mountainous island in the Mediterranean sea, with endless possibilities of what to do. From canyoning, hiking (have I mentioned this yet?) and water sports to historical villages and local cuisine, Corsica has it all. While I’m yet to be blessed with a visit to Corsica, I already know that it’s one for the bucket list!

Image: Grace Priestley

11. Verdon Gorge

A jaw-dropping canyon in southeastern France, the Verdon Gorge is another natural wonder best seen from boat. Whilst there, definitely make the most of the surrounding areas and try your hand at the various water sports and activities on offer. 

Image: Shadowgate on Flickr

12. Alsace 

Perhaps one of my favourite regions in France, Alsace is home to countless picturesque towns and villages by the likes of Colmar, Eguisheim and Riquewihr – to name a few. It’s well worth a visit even if just to wander round and explore these towns, or to sample Alsatian wines – you are in France, after all…

Riquewihr. Image: Stefano Avolio on Flickr

Featured image: Grace Priestley 

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