Most of us heading to France have Paris' famous sights at the top of our 'to do' list, and these rarely disappoint. But for something a little different, here are five fabulous things to do in France that will really have you feeling like you've visited the 'real' France not just the tourist precinct!
1. Cruise the canals
France is home to some magnificent canals and there's no more relaxing way to take in the beautiful French countryside than on the deck of a canal boat or barge.
With no experience required, self-drive canal boats give you the option of cruising at your leisure and tying up ashore when the mood takes you. Enjoy the magnificent scenery as you float past cute villages and rolling green fields during the day, and then choose a 'port' to tie up for the night and settle into your comfy cabin - after a delicious meal at a local restaurant!
Or for an even more relaxing holiday, book a crewed canal barge and let someone else do the work.
2. Stay in a chateau
Treat yourself like royalty and stay in a French chateau. Stunning chateaux can be found throughout the country, but nowhere are they more prominent than in the Loire Valley.
Chateau hotels dating from the 18th and 19th Centuries are the perfect mix of old-world charm and modern comforts. With their superbly manicured gardens and elegant turrets, you'll feel like an aristocrat the moment you enter the chateau grounds.
And with chateaux to suit every budget, you don't have to pay a king's ransom to have the pleasure of an overnight stay.
3. Visit a bustling market
There's probably nothing more quintessentially French than a bustling village market and you'll find one in most towns and villages throughout France. Often held weekly (or twice-weekly in some larger towns), the market is not only the shopping mecca of town, it is also the meeting place where the locals gather to share news and gossip.
Regardless of the season, your senses will be on overload with the colour and aromas of the produce, baskets, clothing and handicrafts. Market stall holders pride themselves on selling only the freshest in-season produce, and more than likely it will have been grown or home made by the stall holder himself.
Be warned, though - having all those delicious foods on display in front of you is very tempting and it's easy to over-indulge!
4. Eat seafood by the coast
Famous for its Atlantic and Mediterranean coastlines, France has a long seafaring history and is home to some of the most delicious seafood in the world.
Locals and visitors alike enjoy nothing more than feasting on the local specialities at a seaside cafe or picnicking on the beach. Favourites include moules (mussels), langoustines (scampi) and huÓtres (oysters), but there's no reason you can't enjoy a French version of fish and chips, either!
5. Cycle through the vineyards
Blessed with the climate and soil to grow healthy vines, France is the world's largest producer, bottling between seven and eight billion bottles per year - that's a lot of wine!
To make all that wine you need a lot of vines and the best way to appreciate the vineyards, especially in spring and summer when they are bursting with fruit, is by bike. The relaxed pace of cycling gives you plenty of opportunity to admire the vines as you ride from village to village, perhaps popping in to a cellar door here or there to sample the local drop.
If you're a wine connoisseur, a guided cycling tour might be the go as your guide will instil you with their local knowledge.
So, next time you are planning a vacation to France, why not include one of these activities in your itinerary? It's sure to enrich your French holiday.
Do you have a favourite way you like to spend your time in France?