1. The wild North of Brittany in spring
With its fabulous wild open spaces and pretty little fishing ports, Brittany is a must-visit destination, and many of its main cities are easily accessible by train. Take the train to Quimper for a taste of real Breton culture, with its half-timbered houses and gorgeous old quarter, plus the Breton County Museum, offering real insight into the vast history of this region, just a 10-minute walk from the main station.
However, this region is most of all lauded for its nature and the best time to get the most out of its wonderful flora and fauna is spring when the moorland erupts in flower, and you may even spot the extremely rare Glénan Narcissus. Another reason to visit in the spring is for the scallops – Brittany’s most prized culinary possession. Called Coquilles de Saint-Jacque in French, these delicate morsels can be eaten in a variety of ways, so the best option is to head straight for one of the Coquilles Saint-Jacques Festivals held in several coastal towns. The pretty fishing port of Paimpol is the easiest to get to by train, served by Paris connection through Guingamp just 45 minutes away. Here, you can delight in eating scallops in the most idyllic Brittany fishing setting.
2. The heat and scents of Provence in summer
When deciding where to spend a summer break in France, many often aim automatically for celeb hotspots like Cannes, but we want to tempt you to the heady-scented valleys and vineyards of Provence. Yes, you can take the train to Nice for its fabulous beaches, making sure to reserve a table a Le Chantecler for Michelin-starred Niçois dishes. But we’d recommend deeper Provence to really breathe in the lavender and enjoy the region’s olive and grape harvests. Aix-en-Provence has its own TGV station for easy access and offers that picture-perfect Provençal setting of pale, sun-baked buildings, narrow cobbled streets and vineyard-carpeted hills. Just one hour north lies Avignon, a walled Medieval city that really comes to life in summer during its July festival, flooding the streets with juggling, jousting, music and theatre.
3. The castles and wines of the Loire valley in autumn
Look up any picture of the Loire valley and you will find sparkling rivers winding lazily around rocky outcrops holding magnificent castles. The region is, in all honesty, gorgeous in all seasons, but particularly beautiful in autumn, when the vibrant russets and golds of the foliage transform the magnificent castles dotting its hilltops. In fact, autumn is a fantastic time to visit most countryside areas of France, as September is when you will find a great exodus of French tourists back to their cities, castles like the Château de Chenonceau – walking distance from Chenonceaux station – and Chambord – accessible by bus from Blois-Chambord, quieter. What’s more, autumn is the time of the grape harvest, meaning a whole new facet of Loire culture opens up its doors for a sneak peak. The vineyard of Domaine du Closel – just 5 minutes’ walk from Savennières-Béhuard train station – lets you pick the grapes, trample them with your feet, press them in the winery, then enjoy your reward of a wine tasting and slap-up meal.
4. The Christmas magic of Alsace
Out to the east of France, the landscape, architecture and even dialect gradually change, becoming more like a Grimm fairy tale than French paysage. This is Alsace, a region of German-inspired meaty cuisine, sweet white wines and chocolate-boxy Christmas towns. Take the train to Strasbourg to enjoy their Christmas market – the oldest in Europe. While the section surrounding the beautiful gothic cathedral is full of typical ornaments and candles, we recommend heading to the Place du Marché-aux-poissons and the riverside terrace for the gourmand section with plenty of wine and foie gras. If you have time, hop onto a bus to Riquewihr too, famed for being Alsace’s prettiest village, where the walled ramparts, medieval towers and year-round Christmas shops keep the Christmas spirit alive — even as early as October!
5. The wintery wonderland of the Alps
As winter snow sets in later and later in the year, the best time to visit the bustling, thriving ski resorts of the Alps is February or March – and to ensure great snow, we recommend heading for spots where there are glaciers. One of the best options has therefore got to be Les Deux Alpes – just a 50-minute coach ride from the well-served Grenoble TGV station, which offers much more than just skiing. Have your fill of the slopes during the day before heading to one of the many great English pubs for a much-deserved beer or grog – Smithy’s Tavern is a great choice for those craving raucous English atmosphere, while Le Raisin d’Ours has all the cheesy-potatoey Savoyard dishes your aching muscles will crave.
Have a browse of our vast array of destinations in France and choose which French region you’d like to visit next!