My 5 Favourite Places To Visit In France
My 5 Favourite Places To Visit In France
From Paris to the French Riviera, from the Loire Valley to Marseille.
Wonderful food, world-class cities, a unique culture, luscious beaches, towering mountains, and storied history: it’s little wonder that France remains the top tourist destination in the world.
It’s also the perfect destination for a long, winding road trip with open, scenic roads and beautiful sights to see around seemingly every corner.
© Clémence Bergougnoux
It’s something I did in 2018. Arriving in Calais, I headed to Paris, onto the Loire Valley, south to Bordeaux, across to Toulouse, east to Marseille, down the French Riviera, up through the Alps to Lyon, back to Paris via Burgundy, and finally returned to Calais.
I packed a lot in, 3000km in all. Though with so many amazing beauty spots to stop off at, the journey from destination to destination was rarely longer than 3 hours.
These are my 5 favourite destinations from that journey.
© Alex Harmuth
It’s hard to start anywhere else.
I was on quite a low budget, so my experience of Paris will be very different to some, but what’s great about this magnificent city is that appeals to so many different kinds of people.
From the best art galleries in the world to Disneyland, from the thriving fashion scene to the Moulin Rouge; Paris is a cultural delight.
In my time there, I did little but stroll around with my eyes fixed open in awe, because upon every corner, you will see something stunning, be that the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame Cathedral, the Champs-Elysees, the Arc de Triomphe, or the Louvre.
It’s also a very walkable city, especially in the glorious summer, so for those like me who just like to potter around, it’s perfect.
There are also beautiful scenic spots too with the 61 acre Luxembourg Gardens situated within the city centre and the Seine river that cuts its way through the heart of Paris.
It’s a city that you could spend weeks exploring and it’s a city where you could equally enjoy within a matter of days.
But it’s a city you have to experience.
The Loire Valley
© Dorian Mongel
If you head just over two hours southwest you’ll arrive at a land the great Leanardo da Vinci once called his home.
Nicknamed the “Garden of France”, the Loire Valley starts in the east near the city of Orleans and snakes its way along the River Loire to Angers close to the west coast.
Aside from its natural splendour, what makes this place so unique and marvellous is that it’s made up of over 300 chateaux, ranging from 10th century fortified castles to 15th-century aristocratic residences.
For those like me interested in their history and architecture, the Loire Valley is simply awe-inspiring. And for those who love their Disney movies, you’ll adore this place.
Arriving at the Loire Valley feels like you’ve been plonked on the set of Little Mermaid, Frozen, Cinderella or Sleeping Beauty such is the resemblance these castles have to fairytales.
It’s actually a little bit of an overwhelming experience too, because there are just so, so many beautiful buildings with matching gardens and monuments that you really have to be cute with which ones to prioritize.
If you were to visit five, I would go for (from east to west):
- Chateau de Sully-sur-Loire
- Chateau de Chambord
- Chateau de Chaumont-sur-Loire
- Chateau de Amboise
- Chateau de Villandry
From the photos below you can see why I fell in love with this place.
© Elisa Schmidt
I absolutely adore this city.
Marseille ticks every box for me: a working-class culture, beautiful beaches, wonderful landscapes and a real pervading sense of community.
Marseille can feel a little gritty in areas, but that’s what I loved about it. It has character, and an abundance of it at that.
It also has tonnes of beauty too.
In the day you can venture to the staggering Mediterranean retreat of Calanques National Park, before heading a few miles to Marseille’s stunning downtown harbour to rendezvous.
Then next day you can visit the striking Basilique Notre-Dame de la Garde atop of the city before heading across the water to the 16th-century fortress of Chateau d’lf a mile off the coast - Marseille’s very own Alcatraz.
Marseille is one of those cities where you can just get lost in the culture. It’s packed full of old forts, dazzling churches, and breathtaking architecture, while the cuisine, especially at the backstreet eateries, is to die for.
The French Riviera
© Anastasiia Chepinska
Unofficially starting in the west at Toulon, the French Riviera extends down 71 miles worth of Mediterranean coastline through the plush cities of Saint-Tropez, Saint-Raphael, Cannes, Nice and on to the sovereign-city state of Monaco.
Though it’s only 50 minutes down the road from Marseille, the French Riviera is everything Marseille is not.
Every year, the French Riviera hosts 50% of the world’s superyacht fleet, and since the 18th century has been the destination of choice for the super-wealthy due to its 300 days of sunshine a year and ever-increasing number of luxury resorts.
However, it’s not so exclusive that you can’t enjoy it without having money. Like so much in France, there is so much to marvel at.
There are the aforementioned cities that are picture-perfect, there are copious towns and villages dotted along the coast that are bursting with character, and there are the beaches that are amongst the best in the world.
It can feel a little pretentious in certain areas, but there are so many different places to check out that you pick and choose what works for you.
I’d recommend visiting all the cities above for an exploratory pursuit and also:
- Corniche de l'Esterel - One of the best driving roads in the world, you’ll be treated to some truly breathtaking views down this coastline
- Eze - This fortified medieval village sits 1,400ft above sea levels and gives you truly wondrous views of the Mediterranean
- Saint-Paul de Vence - A fortified medieval town upon a hilltop, the location is so extraordinary that it offers views of the sea, the surrounding countryside and the Alps
© Chantal Garnier
A fitting place to finish, the Alps are the highest mountain range in mainland Europe and stretch across France, Monaco, Italy, Switzerland, Australia, Germany, Liechtenstein and Slovenia.
For lovers of natural beauty, this 77,000 square mile region is an absolute paradise with alpine lakes, heaven-reaching peaks, meadows, glaciers, waterfalls, wildlife, forests and everything in between.
For the adventurers, you can do almost anything you’d like: climb, hike, bike, paraglide, ski. Indeed, skiing resorts are open all year - though it’s best advised to go in the winter to experience it at its best.
There are also some beautiful towns throughout the region with Grenoble, Annecy and Chamonix all gorgeous places to spend a night or two.
The Alps simply has it all.
© Baudouin Wisselmann
Before we finish, I also want to touch on a few more great places worth a visit if you head to France because there’s just so much on offer:
- Burgundy - Rolling hills sprinkled with vineyards, quaint villages and heaps of preserved history, Burgundy is a beautiful relaxing part of the world that is fairytale-like in its feel
- Normandy - Famous for its war-filled past, Normandy in France’s north is brimming with history and even more unbridled natural beauty
- Biarritz - The surfing capital of the country, Biarritz is close to France’s south-western border with Spain and is home to some of France’s best beaches
- Mont Saint-Michel - A tidal island just outside of Normandy, the castle that dominates this fortified village was the inspiration for Rapunzel’s castle in Frozen and it’s not hard to see why