Tips and Inspiration for your European holiday

As the top tourist destination in the world, France offers a plethora of gorgeous towns and village to visit. No matter which region of the country you plan to spend time in, you'll find an abundance of lovely towns and villages that will take your breath away with their natural beauty and quaint town centres.  France's most well-known towns and villages are busy year round as tourists flock to discover their charms for themselves, but venture off the tourist track a little and you may find your own hidden delight.


5 Special Places to Visit in France


I've chosen five special places to visit in France that are off the beaten path. They may not be as well known to Australians as some other French towns and villages but I'd return to each of them in a heartbeat. 


Yvoire

I’ve previously written about Yvoire and although I have only visited the town once (and very briefly at that), I still rate it as one of the prettiest places I have visited in France.


There’s no doubt that my arrival by paddle steamer from Geneva may have had something to do with my instant affection for the town. First impressions do count and as soon as the boat had pulled into the dock, I could see this was one very special place.


Classified as one of France’s most beautiful villages and nicknamed ‘The French Flower Village’, it was clear to see that the residents take great pride in their town. On my summer visit, an abundance of colourful flowers spilled out of the window boxes of the medieval buildings that line Yvoire’s streets and tourists licked ice creams as they meandered amongst the boutiques and art galleries.


I would have loved to have had the time to sip a coffee at one of the lakeside cafes whilst watching Lake Geneva lap at the shores. It wasn’t to be – but one day I will.


Why I love Yvoire

Flowers, flowers, flowers – need I say more?! And of course, the pretty stone buildings and lakeside location are an added bonus.


Region: Rhone-Alpes

Location: 27 km NE of Geneva, 580 km SE of Paris

Yvoire, France

 

Cabourg

It was quite by chance that I stumbled across the seaside resort of Cabourg in Normandy. After a day of sightseeing in Bayeux we were headed back to our accommodation in Honfleur when the hunger pains set in and a stop was called for. Taking the next exit off the motorway, we found ourselves in the town of Cabourg on a busy Sunday night and we instantly nominated it as a place we’d happily return to.


Situated on the Norman coast of the English Channel, the town is a popular summer destination for both Parisians and the English. The narrow main street is lined with all manner of cafés, restaurants and shops, but all with a down-to-earth ‘beachy’ feel. There’s a casino, the Belle Epoque Grand Hotel, and plenty of other attractions nearby but it’s the four kilometre-long, wide, sandy beach that attracts the summer crowds.


Why I love Cabourg

A town with a real buzz to it yet with a relaxed atmosphere, there is lots to do for all ages.


Region: Normandy

Location: 218 km NW of Paris

Cabourg, Normandy, France

 

Saint-Guilhem-le-Desert

Widely regarded as one of France’s most beautiful villages, and classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, a visit to St.-Guilhem-le-Desert was one I was looking forward to very much.


Famous for its 11th Century Abbey of Gellone around which the town is built, a tidier and more beautiful hamlet you’ll be hard pressed to visit. Wandering the narrow, winding alleyways lined with medieval houses, it struck me that this was one place where the pride of the residents could not be doubted.


After browsing the boutiques, ice creameries and creperies, we strolled down to the River Verdus where canoeing and rafting are popular.


At the heart of the village, alongside the Abbey church, is the town square, Place de la Liberte, dominated by a massive plane tree. After strolling the town’s lovely streets and admiring the centuries-old beauty, it was the perfect place to sit and watch the world go by and dream about living in such paradise.


Why I love St-Guilhem-le-Desert

The flower-decked, honey-coloured buildings and narrow streets make this a picture-perfect village.


Region: Languedoc-Roussillon

Location: 45 km NW of Montpellier, 730 km S of Paris

St Guilhem le Desert, France

 

Brancion

Regarded as Burgundy’s most authentic medieval village, Brancion is small in size but it oozes charm. Built on a hilltop overlooking beautiful vine-clad slopes, a picturesque winding road leads you to the town which you enter via the Castle’s archway.


A tour of the castle, which is believed to date back to the 5th Century, gives you a glimpse of what life was like in years gone by whilst a climb up the tower rewards you with stunning views of both the village and the lush countryside below.


From the castle, a cobblestone street leads you through the village, past the 15th Century covered market and medieval houses to the tiny Romanesque Church of St. Pierre. The church may look unremarkable from the outside but step inside and you’ll find magnificent 14th Century frescoes.


Why I love Brancion

A quaint village that allows you to step back in time with great views to boot!


Region: Burgundy

Location: 378 km SE of Paris

Brancion, France

 

Mirepoix

If you’re visiting the famous Cite de Carcassonne in France’s south, it’s worth the time to take a side trip to Mirepoix, about 48 kilometres away.


Medieval, half-timbered houses are the feature of Mirepoix. Built around the town square, the houses are supported by wooden pillars which create a covered arcade and just walking along the arcades you can almost imagine yourself back in medieval times. Many of the towns houses feature carved sculptures, the most ornate being the Maison des Consuls (now a hotel), which is decorated with nearly 150 carved heads.


On the south side of the town square you’ll find the 19th Century market, built of wrought iron, whilst the Cathedral of St. Maurice dates back to the 1300’s. For a modern take on Mirepoix, browse the myriad shops surrounding the square or dine on local specialities at a café underneath the medieval arcade.


Why I love Mirepoix

The lovely colourful half-timbered houses built around the town square transport you back to medieval times.


Region: Languedoc

Location: 90 km SE of Toulouse, 768 km S of Paris

mirepoix-france

 

Have you visited any of my special places in France that are off the beaten path?  Perhaps you have your own special place in France to share in the comments below.

 


Planning a visit to France?  My other articles about France might be useful.

 

Comments   

# Carolyn 2015-02-08 20:32
Quoting Jim:
Lovely summary of your favourite French hidden gems, Carolyn. We were in France a year or so ago and were lucky enough to visit the little town if Lorgues, about an hour north of St Tropez over the mountains.
Such a beautiful little place. But then there are so many of those scattered about the French countryside, aren't there? What a lucky country!

Absolutely, Jim. There are so many beautiful little villages in every corner of France. I'll be sure to keep an eye out for Lorgues when I visit France this year.
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# Jim 2015-02-08 17:27
Lovely summary of your favourite French hidden gems, Carolyn. We were in France a year or so ago and were lucky enough to visit the little town if Lorgues, about an hour north of St Tropez over the mountains.
Such a beautiful little place. But then there are so many of those scattered about the French countryside, aren't there? What a lucky country!
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# Carolyn 2015-02-08 13:58
Quoting Aleney de Winter:
I dream of retiring to rural france. So much history, so much food and such a wodnerful way of life. #teamwanderlust

Sounds fab, Aleney. I'll be over for a cafe creme and a croissant!
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# Aleney de Winter 2015-02-07 08:55
I dream of retiring to rural france. So much history, so much food and such a wodnerful way of life. #teamwanderlust
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# Carolyn 2015-02-05 09:58
Quoting KidBucketList:
The mere mention of flowers and you had me hooked! France is such a beautiful, diverse place. I love your post #teamwanderlust

Thanks! Glad you enjoyed it.
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# KidBucketList 2015-02-05 00:22
The mere mention of flowers and you had me hooked! France is such a beautiful, diverse place. I love your post #teamwanderlust
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# Carolyn 2015-02-04 15:57
Quoting Sarah:
Wow these are such beautiful places! I've only done the tourist hot spots - Paris, Cannes and Marseille and would love to visit some small towns next time.

You must, Sarah! You won't be disappointed.
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# Sarah 2015-02-04 15:05
Wow these are such beautiful places! I've only done the tourist hot spots - Paris, Cannes and Marseille and would love to visit some small towns next time.
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# Carolyn 2015-02-04 12:39
Quoting Lydia C. Lee:
they all look so beautiful!!

My photos don't even do them justice, Lydia. They are all stunners!
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# Lydia C. Lee 2015-02-04 09:21
they all look so beautiful!!
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# Carolyn 2015-01-14 10:37
Quoting AS @ Sublime Finds:
We are France-trip planning at the moment... this was perfectly timed! Can't wait to trail through on the weekend for you other tips for France! Great post, thanks Carolyn! x

How exciting, Andrea. I hope you'll find plenty of useful info on the website and please don't hesitate to ask me any questions you have. I'd be happy to help.
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# Carolyn 2015-01-14 10:36
Quoting themadeupmaiden:
The only one of these I've visited is Yvoire, and indeed, it's one of the most picturesque places I've been to!

If you ever make it back there, make sure you try the crepes, they are pretty popular. :)

Glad you enjoyed Yvoire, too. I will definitely have to get back there now to try the crepes. Thanks for the tip.
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# AS @ Sublime Finds 2015-01-13 22:45
We are France-trip planning at the moment... this was perfectly timed! Can't wait to trail through on the weekend for you other tips for France! Great post, thanks Carolyn! x
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# themadeupmaiden 2015-01-13 17:26
The only one of these I've visited is Yvoire, and indeed, it's one of the most picturesque places I've been to!

If you ever make it back there, make sure you try the crepes, they are pretty popular. :)
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